Mavericks, misfits, and productivity powerhouses, we are about to dive, tumble, and somersault into the astonishing world of dopamine and ADHD. 🤿 🌎
Why dopamine, you ask?
It helps narrow our focus, drown out the noise, and allow us to get stuff done.
But ADHD brains are thought to have a deficiency of natural dopamine production.
Our brains don’t quite connect the dopa-dots the way a neurotypical brain might.
Ain't that a barrel of laughs? [Nope]
But guess what?
Healthy and sustainable dopamine levels are within our reach, even with our ever-distracting wingman, ADHD.
Now, don’t despair, neurodivergent and even neurotypical folks!
We all lack focus and dopamine at times.
Whether you're an ADHD season ticket holder or simply seeking ways to channel your inner zen during another riveting day of remote work, stick around.
We've got secrets to spill, tips to share, and dopamine to distribute.
Are you ready to ride this whirlwind of wisdom?
Strap in because this is gonna be dope[amine]!
What is Dopamine & Why it Matters
Ever been caught up in a riveting book or had a run where you just couldn't stop?
If you have, you’ve experienced a dopamine high.
Think of dopamine as a conductor in your brain, directing an orchestra of motivation, drive, and pleasure.
As the conductor points and waves, your brain is in harmony. But when the conductor's out of sync, it feels like a cacophony of cats screeching to be fed.
You’re trying to focus, but your mind feels awkward, distracted, disoriented, and slightly offbeat.
Dopamine is a neuromodulator essential for how we feel and behave and it's the primary driver of our reward system.
People often consider it the “pleasure” hormone, but it's not just responsible for pleasure.
Dopamine is a primary driver of motivation, desire, and willingness to push through effort. It also controls our time perception, focus and movement.
Check out, how can you take back control of your time with the monk mode.
We think a better term for this lovely little neuromodulator is the “desire hormone”, as it’s primarily responsible for motivation, drive and even our cravings.
Symptoms of Dopamine Deficiency
The sneaky thing about dopamine deficiency is that its symptoms can seem as ordinary as forgetting where you put your car keys.
A standard hallmark of ADHD or anyone bad at leaving their keys in the same place.
And while it's easy to blame that on your disorganised ADHD or just being forgetful, knowing the telltale signs is crucial.
When dopamine levels nosedive, you might feel extreme fatigue and could experience mood swings.
Well, that's straight out of the window.
You'll probably struggle with motivation (especially if doing boring and tedious tasks) or notice a physical coordination dip.
Time also feels different for people with ADHD.
We use memory, attention and dopamine to predict time, and all those are impacted for people with ADHD.
Key signs of dopamine deficiency may include:
- Losing motivation or interest in activities you usually enjoy
- Time blindness: being late, forgetting appointments, poor time perception
- Disrupted sleep or irregular sleeping patterns
- Low energy: to the point you may feel unwell
- Mood swings: often untriggered and severe
Dopamine is the maestro behind our brains' motivation, focus, drive, desire, and attention.
It’s why you’re likely connecting those dopa-dots with ADHD symptoms right about now!
Why Do People with ADHD Crave Dopamine?
Why do those with ADHD seem to have a bottomless appetite for dopamine?
It's not because we're greedy, I promise!
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurological condition that exhibits inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity symptoms. All of which correlate with the need for a healthy supply of dopamine.
That’s only a whistle-stop tour of the complex ADHD symptoms, and honestly, it’s like describing the ocean as 'a bit wet'.
ADHD can challenge AND enrich a person’s life. It depends on how the symptoms are managed.
Because ADHD brains can have lower dopamine levels, we're often on a scavenger hunt for dopamine-boosting activities.
That might be why you're addicted to the thrill of last-minute deadlines or the rush of starting new projects (even when we've got a dozen unfinished ones).
When the brain lacks something, it will do everything it can to source it - even if it comes in unhealthy forms.
It’s why there’s a common trend among diagnosed and undiagnosed ADHDers for self-medicating activities and stimulation that offer instant dopamine boosts.
These might include:
- Binging on caffeine - energy drinks & coffee are the prime suspects
- Binge eating high sugar, carbohydrate foods - your takeaway delivery driver knows you by name
- Excessive video game playing - why live actual life when you can spend 8 hours building a dream house on Sims?
- Impulsive spending - anyone else’s hobby browsing Amazon for “fun”?
- Binge drinking - interestingly, dopamine levels DECREASE after the first unit of alcohol, but further intoxication leads to dramatically reduced impulse control, especially for those with ADHD
- Substance abuse - Stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamine have huge dopamine outputs, and could increase baseline dopamine levels 10 times
We’re not here to judge anyone’s coping mechanisms, but many self-medicating activities can seriously affect our health, life and relationships.
It’s why it’s important to understand how we can manage our dopamine levels and ADHD symptoms in tandem to gain control over our motivation, drive, cravings, and impulses.
ADHD and dopamine seem to have some shared responsibility over how our brains work, but how?
Is ADHD creating a rumble in dopamine’s schedule?
Or is dopamine late to the daily meeting of “stuff we need to get done and when”?
There are always two sides to a story!
Here's the kicker:
ADHD isn't just a quest for dopamine; it's a journey of understanding and managing these cravings.
Other factors like genetics, other neurotransmitters, lifestyle and co-existing mental health conditions also need to be accounted for.
We’re all different, regardless of diagnosis, so be sure to consider additional elements that may be contributing to your symptoms.
Link Between ADHD and Dopamine
Let's delve deeper into the working relationship between ADHD and dopamine.
Understanding the dynamic between dopamine and the brain is a hot ticket to solving ADHD’s complexity.
Focusing, remembering, or mustering the energy to finish tasks are harder when dopamine levels are depleted.
The "running on empty" feeling is often linked to many ADHD symptoms, especially those runaway ones, such as focus and impulse control.
No one FULLY knows the cause of ADHD, though, but researchers suspect that our friend dopamine might be one of the chief culprits.
Some research suggests those with ADHD experience disruption in the dopamine transport network.
It's also believed that there are naturally less dopamine receptors in the ADHD brain, leading to less dopamine being naturally produced.
Think of your brain and its neuron system like the interconnected tube lines of the London Underground.
The Dopamine Line keeps breaking down because of signalling issues due to lower levels of dopamine receptors in your brain’s prefrontal cortex.
When these receptors aren’t receiving a signal, they grind any dopamine-driven tasks to a halt.
As a result, the other neuron lines begin firing up to relieve some pressure, but the only problem is that these neurons don’t share the same destination routes as the Dopamine Line.
They, instead, take your brain on a whole other journey, next stop distraction, confusion and frustration.
When the Dopamine Line moves again, your brain seizes the opportunity to reach its desired destination.
It jam-packs all its dopamine carriages to get where it needs to go and fast.
Unfortunately, tickets for dopamine transporters in ADHD brains are expensive and gobbled up way faster than if there’d been no disruption.
It’s like surge pricing from dopamine reuptake.
What a pickle!
How to Increase Dopamine with ADHD?
So, what are ADHDers to do?
- Just grin and bear these inconsistent dopamine journeys and accept not all routes in life are easy
- Find natural ways to increase dopamine for ADHD brains
- Dive deep into the theory and find solutions to take back control by exploring some excellent ADHD books and educational ADHD Podcasts
- There’s also the option of ADHD stimulant medication which promotes boosted dopamine levels and inhibits dopamine reuptake
Group 2, we’re about to rock your socks!
This is where lifestyle changes can turn the tide.
Regular physical activity can be like a turbo boost for your dopamine car to get you to the concert.
Getting enough sleep gives your brain the much-needed rest to create new dopamine the next day.
Dopamine regulates sleep and the ADHD difficulty waking up in the morning is not suprising.
And a balanced diet?
Your gut produces 50% of the body’s natural dopamine resources. A healthy, nutritious diet is the secret to getting extra goodness in your brain and life while caring for your overall health.
So, where can you find these tips for a dopamine-rich lifestyle?
We’ve got the ten best-kept dopamine secrets that’ll have you feeling balanced in no time. Here is a sneak peak:
- Balanced diet
- Regular exercise
- Sunshine & vitamin D
- Cold showers
- Delay the coffee
- Focus on snoozing
- Break tasks down
- Meditation & mindfulness
- ADHD body doubling online & ADHD coworking
- Supplements & medication
Most of these are zero cost and can help you avoid that pesky ADHD tax.
Hop over to part 2 of our dopamine blog series ("10 Natural Ways to Increase Dopamine with ADHD") to find your ready-made dopamine-increasing action plan!
Learn more about dopamine and how it affects mindset and drive with this brilliant video from Professor Andrew Huberman.
And if you live in the UK check out our access to work ADHD guide - it can help you cover some of the cost of managing ADHD.