The Science of Boosting Dopamine to Motivate an ADHD Brain

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that affects millions of children and adults worldwide. Through our work in neurofeedback therapy, I’ve observed firsthand how our patients with ADHD often struggle to maintain focus for prolonged periods and control impulsive behavior. They usually experience episodes of hyperactivity that can impact many aspects of their daily lives like school, work and relationships.

According to the American Wellness Center in Dubai, roughly 3-7% of school-aged children in the UAE have ADHD, with prevalence rates in larger cities possibly reaching up to 10-15%. Since this condition often begins in childhood, these numbers speak to the need for early diagnosis and treatment of ADHD in Dubai and across the UAE to mitigate its symptoms and enhance a person’s overall quality of life.

In the last few decades, researchers have made significant advances in understanding the underlying causes of ADHD. Central to those scientific discussions was always the role of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that regulates our brain’s reward and pleasure centers and allows us to control emotional responses.

In this article, we’ll explore what dopamine does, how it’s linked to ADHD, and – drawing on our experience in the field – how to increase dopamine in an ADHD brain.

What Is Dopamine?

Dopamine is a kind of monoamine neurotransmitter that’s made in our brains. It acts as a chemical messenger, transmitting signals between nerve cells (neurons) in the brain and the rest of our bodies. In this way, it influences several functions like memory, motivation, movement, mood, learning, sleep and more.

Dopamine is part of our reward system. From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s a system designed to reward us for doing things essential to our survival, like eating, drinking, or reproducing. As such, our brains have become hard-wired to seek out and repeat behaviors that release this feel-good chemical.

Adequate dopamine levels help us feel motivated and can make learning a new skill or mastering challenging tasks rewarding. Conversely, people with low levels of dopamine may feel tired and unhappy, experience mood swings, and struggle with focus, memory, and attention — all the tell-tale signs of ADHD.

Dopamine Levels and ADHD

Although there’s yet to be a definitive answer to the exact cause of ADHD, some researchers suggest that low dopamine levels in the brain may be a contributing factor.

They observed that dopamine levels differ in people with ADHD compared to those without. This variance is believed to be due to the heightened concentration of dopamine transporters (certain proteins in the brain) in the neurons and nervous system of people with untreated ADHD.

This increased concentration, referred to as dopamine transporter density (DTD), can result in a decrease in dopamine levels in the brain. However, does this automatically mean a person with high DTD has ADHD? The answer is no, which is why doctors typically adopt a more comprehensive approach that involves conducting ADHD tests for children and adults as well as analyzing their personal and medical history before confirming a diagnosis.

How to Increase Dopamine in an ADHD Brain

Managing ADHD usually involves taking medications, receiving therapy sessions, implementing lifestyle changes, or a combination of all three. The primary goal of every type of treatment, however, is to increase dopamine in the brain. Here’s how:

1. ADHD Medications

The medication approach to treating ADHD entails using prescribed drugs to boost dopamine levels in the brain and improve cognitive functions (e.g., memory, attention, focus, and impulse control). These are stimulants that are categorized into two classes:

Both types of medications work by blocking the reuptake of dopamine, a process that happens when neurotransmitters are reabsorbed by the very same cells that released them. As a result, more dopamine remains in the neurons, giving your brain a chance to use it for longer periods.

However, as with any medication (and such stimulants, in particular), most people are likely to run into the possibility of three less-than-ideal scenarios:

2. Therapy

Therapy has long been a successful route to ADHD treatment that can be used with or as an alternative to medications. Its ability to take a holistic view of the patient’s behavior and symptoms, and teach them to build mechanisms to manage their condition long-term and potentially increase dopamine levels, is what makes it an effective method for treating ADHD.

There are different types of therapy that someone with ADHD can benefit from, but it mainly comes down to the person’s age, severity of symptoms, any existing mental health conditions and other factors. They can include:

This entails the use of an EEG (electroencephalogram) and computer software that monitors the patient’s brain function and teaches them how to enhance their brainwave patterns to manage their symptoms better.

Neurofeedback is an effective ADHD treatment for both children and adults. For its lasting effects, drug-free, non-intrusive nature and ability to help patients change on a neurological level, it’s currently being used to treat several other conditions, including anxiety and depression, as well as for helping people reach peak brain performance and enhance memory skills.

For real-world cases showing how neurofeedback can help with ADHD symptoms, see our client stories and video testimonials.

Lifestyle Changes

A few other natural ways to increase dopamine levels in an ADHD brain through minor changes in your daily habits include:

Sustainable Ways to Manage ADHD

While the road to managing ADHD symptoms and increasing dopamine levels may seem a bit rocky at first, it’s essential that you realize that change is possible. Through cutting-edge treatment methods like neurofeedback therapy, patients can learn how to train their brains into a state of optimal performance and achieve long-lasting results.

Reach out to us today to learn more about our ADHD treatment programs and how we can help you or your loved ones reclaim control of your brain power and use it to live a happier, more fulfilling life.

Dr. Upasana Gala is the founder and CEO of Evolve Brain Training, a Neurofeedback-centered institute that focuses on using non-invasive brain training techniques to maximize the brain's true potential.

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