I frequently hear expressions like "Dopamine flooding the brain" or "X neurotransmitter flooding the brain" used to communicate with general audiences. For example: "Following [orgasm]? oxytocin floods the brain, causing feeling of deep connectedness between people"

What exactly do they mean by "Oxytocin flooding the brain"? I'm interested in where and how it happens. Do they mean that excess neurotransmitters are released in the synaptic cleft? Is it localized to some brain areas, or is it indeed throughout the brain?

If they are indeed talking about the synaptic cleft, then I'm interested in how such "flood" triggers the change in state - the answer to this question suggests that the half life of dopamine is only about 2 seconds in prefrontal cortex. Assuming that the half life of oxytocin is similar, in the "oxytocin floods the brain and produces feeling of connectedness" example, does it mean that a single burst of oxytocin(x seconds in synaptic cleft) is enough to produce such feeling, or are they talking about sustained release or some kind of release loop mechanism?

  • $\begingroup$ WOW! Whenever I have read about drug addiction, I have come across"flooding" but never wondered what actually it meant ! +100000000000 $\endgroup$
    – biogirl
    Jan 26, 2014 at 18:53
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure the answer is that it's a sensationalistic media term with no specific meaning. It probably covers a variety of different underlying biological mechanisms. $\endgroup$
    – octern
    Jan 26, 2014 at 19:24
  • $\begingroup$ @octern I disagree, my answer elaborates... $\endgroup$ Apr 3, 2014 at 13:44

1 Answer 1


It is very likely what they mean by "neurotransmitters flooding the brain" is the phenomenon called Volume Transmission.

I paraphrase from this source:

When a neurotransmitter is released at a synapse, it reaches its highest concentration inside the narrow space of the synaptic cleft, but some of it is certain to diffuse away before being reabsorbed or broken down. If it diffuses away, it has the potential to activate receptors that are located either at other synapses or on the membrane away from any synapse. The extrasynaptic activity of a neurotransmitter is known as volume transmission. It is well established that such effects occur to some degree, but their functional importance has long been a matter of controversy.


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