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Can we change our dopamine baseline levels? High dopamine levels improve alertness, problem solving, but may also cause anxiety and aggression.

I've read that smiling and laughing, eating certain foods, or having unexpected rewards can elevate dopamine levels in the brain. I also read that expecting a reward in the future (such as an upcoming vacation) elevates dopamine levels. Can these actions, if repeated over a prolonged period, increase baseline dopamine levels? Or will dopamine return to original levels once these actions are stopped?

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Bio. I slightly changed the wording of the question. Feel free to roll back if it is not to your liking. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Jul 23 '15 at 2:00
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    $\begingroup$ Usually the nervous system undergoes an adaptation. So you would need stronger stimuli to elicit the same response. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Jul 23 '15 at 9:37
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Feelings of pleasure and reward are transient in nature. Similarly, the dopamine release in the reward centers (the limbic structures) is transient, namely in the order of seconds (Rebec et al., 1997).

One way to chronically elevate dopamine levels is by administering certain drugs. A notable/notorious example is methamphetamine, which elevates mood and generates euphoria for 8-12 hours. However, after chronic use, people may report a lack of motivation and anhedonia when they stop taking the drug. Anhedonia is an absence of pleasure in response to acts that had previously been pleasurable. Anhedonia may be reported as long as 2 years after the last use of methamphetamine in addicts. Chronic use of the drug overstimulates the dopamine neurons in the limbic system (and elsewhere), and destroys the dopamine receptors, explaining the anhedonia.

Hence, even with hard drugs like meth, the effects on dopamine levels are transient, just less transient as with physiological reward responses.

Reference
- Rebec et al., Brain Res (1997); 776(1–2): 61–7

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  • $\begingroup$ Actually, I was wondering what would happen if a person was born with naturally high baseline dopamine levels. From what I've read, high baseline dopamine levels can also cause anxiety, like low baseline dopamine levels. So I was wondering if this person could permanently lower baseline dopamine levels. $\endgroup$ – Yvonne Liew Jul 24 '15 at 2:51
  • $\begingroup$ That is an entirely different question altogether, as your original post is quite explicitly asking for dopamine enhancement. When formulating questions be aware that folks like me can't read your thoughts, only your post. I suggest to post your question as a new one. It sounds interesting :) $\endgroup$ – AliceD Jul 24 '15 at 2:54
  • $\begingroup$ No worries Yvonne. We're here to help. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Jul 24 '15 at 2:59

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