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Dopamine Deficiency in Brain Causes ADHD and ADD Symptoms

dopamine deficiency in brain adhd addPublished in the current issue of the Journal of America Medical Association is a study linking lower protein levels in the brain with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD/ADD) symptoms. The study, aimed at adults who had not yet treated their ADHD/ADD symptoms with medication, took nine years to complete and shows people suffering from the disorder also suffer from a dopamine deficiency in their brain.

The Symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD)

The three main characteristics of ADHD/ADD are inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. While many adults do not get diagnosed as children, the symptoms are often noticeable between the ages of three to seven years of age. Most children are not diagnosed until they reach school age, when they are involved in a structured setting and compared against a set of behavioral standards.

Inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity as common ADHD/ADD symptoms:

  • Inattention (not being able to focus on tasks on hand or complete expected tasks). Paying attention and avoiding distractions is a common trait for those suffering from ADHD/ADD. Being careless, disorganized, appearing not to listen and putting off completing tasks are also common for those suffering for the disorder.
  • Hyperactivity: Also present before the age of seven is the hyperactivity component of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Not being able to sit still, constantly fidgeting and having to get up and walk around are common characteristics of hyperactivity.
  • Impulsivity:A person suffering from impulsivity will often be unable to wait their turn for games, blurt out answers or comments without thinking and not wait for the right time to speak. They also touch and grab items that are not theirs, begin working before full instructions are given and disturb others.

Lower Dopamine Levels Linked to Causing ADHD/ADD Symptoms

Several studies have indicated the brain's dopamine system may somehow be involved in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and a recent study by U.S researchers is now providing proof that there is a link. The study subjects were adults suffering from ADHD/ADD who have never treated their symptoms with any types of medications or drugs. Consisting of 53 ADHD/ADD adults and 44 healthy control patients, brain scans were performed to monitor the levels of dopamine in the brain. It was found that the ADHD subjects had lower levels of dopamine receptors and transporters in the midbrain and accumbens.

Dopamine helps to regulate the drive for motivation and reward. Lower dopamine levels can bring on symptoms of inattention as well as reduced motivation. Certain drugs, like ritalin, increase dopamine levels, which, for some, alleviate they symptoms of ADHD/ADD. Some studies indicate many people who have ADHD/ADD abuse drugs because they are unconsciously trying to increase their dopamine levels. Since dopamine helps regulates the motivation and rewards system, those with lower dopamine levels may not be as interested in a subject or task primarily because they can not see the reward in it.

Dopamine Deficiency Possibly Responsible for Disorders Other Than ADHD/ADD

Umesh Jain, staff psychiatrist at the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health's division of child and family is looking at the recent study as a possible link to other mental disorders. Activities dealing with impulse control may be explained by dopamine levels in the brain as well.

Other mental health disorders dopamine deficiency may be responsible for:

  • gambling
  • addiction
  • shopping
  • bulimia
  • mania
Symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may be explained by recent studies showing lower levels of dopamine in the brain. People diagnosed with ADHD/ADD may show all or some of the symptoms, including inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Most often noticeable before the age of seven in children, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder usually persists into adulthood.


The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a doctor for advice.


Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. "Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder" (accessed September 16, 2010)

Centre for ADD/ADHD ADvocacy, Canada. "The Symptoms and Different Types of ADHD" (accessed September 16, 2010)

The Globe and Mail. "ADHD study ties brain proteins to symptoms" (accessed September 16, 2010)

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