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Studies show that Dopamine is Motivation Creator

It is well documented, as I keep saying-that low levels of dopamine in the ADHD brain is a large factor that creates the negative symptoms in executive functioning we as ADDers experience.

Until now, dopamine has been thought of as the "pleasure" chemical in the brain, and therefore it was assumed that that is why ADD people seek stimulation through caffeine, drugs and alcohol, sweet food binges, adrenalin boosts through arguments, daredevil seeking entertainment etc.
John Salamone, a professor of psychology and longtime researcher of the brain chemical dopamine has spent most of his career battling a particular long-held scientific idea  that high levels of brain dopamine are related to experiences of pleasure.

As increasing numbers of studies show, he says, the famous neurotransmitter is not responsible for pleasure, but has to do with motivation.

Scientific Research can be Very Slow

“It takes a long time for things to change in science,” he says. “It’s like pulling on the steering wheel of an ocean liner, then waiting for the huge ship to slowly turn.”

Salamone’s studies and those of others started revealing problems in the previous thought that raised dopamine levels indicate pleasure.

Salamone noted that in animals, dopamine levels can spike after stress, such as losing a fight with another animal. Soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder also show activity in dopamine-rich parts of the brain when hearing recorded gunshots and other combat sounds. He noted that low levels of dopamine make people and other animals less likely to work for things, so it has more to do with motivation and cost/benefit analyses than pleasure itself.

So, he asked...if dopamine was really the pleasure element, then why all this association with negative experiences?

Salamone’s research over the past 15 years has attempted to find an answer to that question. His work involves artificially raising or lowering dopamine levels in animals, then giving them a choice between two rewards with different value, which can be obtained through different amounts of work.

For example, what will a rat do when on one end of a corridor there’s a pile of food, but on the other end there’s a pile of food twice as big with a small fence to jump over on the way?

As Salamone’s studies have showed, animals with lowered levels of dopamine almost always choose the easy, low-value reward, while animals with normal levels don’t mind exerting the effort to jump the fence for the high-value reward.

Other studies in humans have corroborated these results, such as research with depressed patients.

“Often, depressed people say they don’t want to go out with their friends,” says Salamone. But it’s not that they don’t experience pleasure, he says – if their friends were around, many depressed people could have fun.



This is Good News on the ADHD Front

I think this is good news for people with ADHD, and the  doctors who treat them who misunderstand dopamine, and therefore regard ADHD people as addictive pill seekers, thrills seekers, and lazy only seeking pleasure or a high through the stimulant drugs that have proven for over 50 years to boost productivity in the dopamine deficient ADHD preson

Maybe now, we can begin to move away from the belief that ADHD people will abuse ADHD drugs to feel pleasure in an addictive way. But ,finally really understand that they need dopamine increasing medications in order to be able to function better day to day, and that medication vacations to discourage addiction in ADDers is hogwash.

Just as it would be ill advised to tell diabetics to take insulin vacations to lower risk of addiction to synthetic insulin they require in order to be able to metabolize sugars properly to be able to function better day to day.

This new information can benefit ADHD and Autism research, possibly open doors for drug companies to create new more efficient drugs to help boost low levels of dopamine for medical issues with a  neurological basis, such as Parkinsons, Alzeimers, MS, and pretty much all mental health disorders.

I think having evidence to prove these findings will begin to create a change for the positive in the way mental health issues are looked at, and treated, and how patients themselves feel about their afflictions, making it less stigmatic to seek professional medical help.

If there is hard proof that their brain is chemically unbalanced, this could lead to actual tests to see why people have addictive personalities and seek street drugs and alcohol to self treat that imbalance, and allow new treatments in addiction recovery etc.

To me this is a BIG finding, so I hope it is not swept under the rug.


“Low levels of dopamine make people and other animals less likely to work for things, so it has more to do with motivation and cost/benefit analyses than pleasure itself,” Salamone explains.

"In essence, this is how amphetamines work, which increase dopamine levels and help people motivate to focus on tasks at hand."

“When you give people amphetamines, you see them putting more effort into things,” he says.

That single statement speaks volumes to me as an ADDer.  Since ADHD drugs are predominantly amphetamines, and help my ADHD dopamine deficient brain operate better, keep me on track, and I am able to put greater efforts into my daily jobs and get far more done when my dopamine levels are raised. And, since he mentioned stress raising dopamine levels in study trials, it would also explain why I can clean nobody's business when my husband pisses me off :)

Salamone summarizes and comments on the evidence for this shift in thinking in a Nov. 8 review in the Cell Press journal Neuron, which you a link to here. http://www.cell.com/neuron/abstract/S0896-6273%2812%2900941-5?script=true

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