When is dopamine released

Submitted by vercyngetorix on
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I have an inquiry, for everyone here. In the litterature I've found on this site, something strikes me as contradictory. It's about what releases dopamine. Sometimes I read that dopamine is directly released by the absorption of certain substances (drugs, food) or practicing certain activities (sex). But elsewhere, I read that dopamine actually initiates the desire for this substance, and for these activities. So is dopamine released as a result of consumption of the gratifying substance or activity, or is it the neurotransmitter that actually sets you in a mood to want these kinds of things?

Thanx for helping (eventually)


Both the anticipation (a

Both the anticipation (a thought) and the direct stimulus increase dopamine. For example, eating a juicy steak (sensory stimuli)) elevates dopamine. As does smelling (sensory stimuli) it cooking. Firing up the barbecue grill (a thought) to cook the steak may also increase dopamine (anticipation).

Dopamine is not the only neurotransmitter involved with reward. Opioids are released at orgasm, and when we eat, and may be more important in the “liking” of the rewrd. Dopamine may be more involved in the wanting phase of reward.

Addictive drugs act directly on nerve cells in the brain elevating dopamine, opioids, and probably other neurotransmitters.
Anticipation of taking the drug – seeing someone smoking (if you’re a smoker), or driving by a bar (if you are an alcoholic) can elevate dopamine causing an increase in wanting.

Addictive activities (gambling, shopping) increase dopamine through thoughts (activated nerve cells that send impulses into the reward center), that are associated with novelty.

Dopamine is central to choices we make throughout the day, everyday. We continuously decide what is rewarding, what is aversive (painful), and weigh those against what is long-term rewarding and long-term aversive.


Thanx for your answers, that really helped clear some things out. So I want to masturbate or have sex or eat because of dopamine rushes created by thoughts, but the actual released neurotransmitters once the thoughts are acted upon are opioids. I wish I knew more, but for now, the question is: is prolactine an opioid? What is it doing there after orgaasm or satiation?

Dopamine, opioids, oxytocin

Dopamine, opioids, oxytocin all increase due to orgasm. Prolactin quickly follows along and rises also. Prolactin is not an opioid. Prolactin inhibits dopamine - it is thought to be the hormone of sexual satiation. It's not clear how long prolactin is "normally" elevated in humans, but its sharp and consistent elevation may signal a cascade of events that lasts much longer. Or prolactin may have daily surges - as it does in rats - for up to 2 weeks.
Many years from now science may have it all figured out... but all the neurochemical players and the complete story is far from complete.