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.

Random Thoughts and Questions

What follows is somewhat disjoined and I'm not sure if it makes sense. Gary, I'd appreciate any comments you have.

I think I’m on the right track to stop masturbating and not to feed the fantasies that arise. I think the fantasies hook into two aspects; one, the fantasies increase the anticipation. On the other hand, I’m still getting my dopamine fix with the fantasies (the thoughts)

In order to really beat this addiction I need to deal with the fantasies (thoughts) It seems to me that the thoughts create pictures (sensory stimuli). This probably explains why seeing a porn shop or a place where I had engaged in sexual activity was such a trigger for me. In the deepest throes of my addiction, I simply could not pass up a porn shop when I was on a road trip. Anticipation (watching videos, seeing pictures or even fantasizing about watching)

My fantasies are about past “acting out” activities. Over the years of my addiction I’ve created my own virtual library stored in my head. I don’t need to buy more porn!!

Anticipation – Thought – (fantasy?)
Direct Stimulus
Viewing Porn (sensory stimulus)

So, by avoiding orgasm I avoid the opioids that are released at orgasm. Am I really avoiding the opioids entirely?
Where do “wet dreams” come into play in all this? I’ve noticed that I often have an intense pornographic fantasy just before the wet dream. BTW, my wet dreams result in the “ejaculation” of a clear sticky substance as opposed to the white stuff that comes out when I fully ejaculate.

More Dopamine

On wet dreams: Are you describing a true wet dream with an orgasm? Clear, sticky is not necessarily ejaculate.
Opioids, just like dopamine serve many functions. Both are involved in reward. Eating involves opioids. So no, you cannot avoid opioids, or any other neurotransmitter.

The triggers and fantasies you describe seem to elevate dopamine as described. Triggers activate certain pathways you've created in your brain. If we walk the same way in a field of grass, we trample down the grass, making it easier to walk that exact same way each time we cross the field. We create pathways (learned behaviors) in the brain by traveling along a group of neurons, creating stronger connections (synapses). By avoiding pathways, and choosing other pathways, we can allow grass to grow and fill in the old pathway - the synapses lose their strength, and it's easier to travel a different pathway.


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.