Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter or chemical messenger in the brain that plays a role in various functions, including reward, motivation, memory, attention, and even regulating body movements. Because of its impact on mood, motivation, and reward, dopamine is also referred to as a “feel-good” chemical. When released in large doses, dopamine can produce euphoria, well-being, and a rush of joy. Unfortunately, many people artificially achieve this high by using drugs. Whether you’re in recovery from addiction or you simply want to improve your overall mood, we’re sharing some natural ways to increase dopamine in the brain.
What Is a Natural High?
A natural high occurs from any activity that elevates your dopamine levels, makes you feel good, and doesn’t involve drugs. Activities that release dopamine can include anything from bike riding to watching your favorite movie to listening to music. Dopamine is usually at the source of any high since it’s the chemical in the brain predominantly responsible for mood, reward, and motivation.
When dopamine levels are high, you may feel euphoric and joyful. As we mentioned previously, many people become so reliant on a high to feel good that they turn to the quickest ways to get high - drugs. What they often neglect to consider is that with the abuse of drugs like heroin, prescription narcotics, cocaine, and meth comes addiction and a variety of other physical and mental repercussions.
By simply doing things that make you happy and “spark joy,” as the great Marie Kondo would say, you can get high naturally without the added dangers of addiction, heart problems, liver failure, and more.
How to Release Dopamine Naturally in the Brain
The main contributing factors to low dopamine levels are medical conditions (such as depression), poor diet, substance abuse, and taking certain medications. Although drugs can increase dopamine levels, these highs are usually short-lived, and after a while of drug use, your brain’s ability to produce dopamine naturally diminishes. Fortunately, there are plenty of natural ways to increase dopamine production you can try.
Get Enough Sleep
It’s normal to feel moody, exhausted, and downright cranky when you don’t get enough sleep. So it’s no wonder that one of the simplest ways to increase dopamine naturally is to get enough sleep. Lack of sleep is shown to disrupt our bodies’ natural rhythm of waking up and going to sleep.
When you sleep enough hours, dopamine is released in large doses in the brain when you wake up in the morning, creating alertness and wakefulness. When it’s time to go to sleep at the end of the day, dopamine levels drop. However, when we aren’t prioritizing sleep, this pattern changes.
When shift workers are forced to stay awake throughout the night, or when we stay up on our phones or watch tv longer than we want to, the availability of dopamine drops drastically by the time we wake up the next morning. Not only is this physically and mentally exhausting, but low dopamine levels can also lead to poor coordination and concentration, which can make any tasks at work, school, or home difficult to complete.
Listen to Music
Another great way to boost dopamine levels for a natural high is by listening to music. Several brain imaging studies have found that music increases activity in areas of the brain linked to reward and pleasure that are high in dopamine.1,2
One small study on the effects of music on dopamine found that dopamine levels increased by 9% when people listened to instrumental songs that gave them chills or goosebumps.3 What’s more, not only can music boost dopamine levels, research also shows that listening to music has helped people with Parkinson’s disease improve their fine motor control.4
While the impact of music lyrics on dopamine has yet to be studied thoroughly, all studies on music and dopamine have shown that increases in dopamine are due to melodic music and rhythm, not lyrics.
Proteins are made up of smaller building blocks called amino acids. There are 23 amino acids, some of which the body synthesizes, and others that are only absorbed through food. One major amino acid that plays a role in dopamine production is tyrosine.
Enzymes in your body convert tyrosine into dopamine, so having high levels of tyrosine is crucial for dopamine production. Tyrosine can also be made from another amino acid called phenylalanine, and both are linked to high dopamine levels in the brain, which could improve mood, cognition, coordination, and memory. On the other hand, when tyrosine and phenylalanine are eliminated from one’s diet or low in levels, dopamine levels also drop.5
Arguably one of the most popular ways to get high naturally, exercise is highly recommended for boosting endorphin levels and improving mood, which is why our Massachusetts drug rehab recommends exercise for addiction recovery to our patients. Studies show that improvements in mood can be seen in as little as 10 minutes of physical activity but tend to be highest after 20 minutes.6
One three-month study found that an hour of yoga six days per week significantly improved dopamine levels. The same study found that frequent engagement in aerobic exercises also benefited people with Parkinson’s disease, a disease in which low dopamine levels inhibit the brain’s ability to control motor function.6
Reduce Your Sugar Intake
While consuming high-sugar foods like candy and donuts can spike dopamine levels at the moment, this increase is artificial and temporary, similar to a drug-induced high. Sugar can provide temporary boosts in dopamine while impacting the body’s ability to produce it naturally.
Frequent sugar consumption is also linked to diabetes, heart disease, and other problems aside from low dopamine levels. So while you may feel like you’re floating on cloud nine when you take a bite from a donut, this sugar high is only temporary and is usually followed by a crash marked by fatigue, drowsiness, and sluggishness.
Eat Less Saturated Fat
As with sugar, consuming high quantities of saturated fats can also reduce dopamine levels and impair the brain’s ability to produce it naturally. Eating fatty things like animal fat, butter, full-fat dairy, palm oil, and coconut oil may disrupt dopamine signaling when consumed in large quantities.
One study found that rats who consumed 50% of their calories from saturated fats had reduced dopamine signaling in reward regions of the brain compared to animals that received the same amount of calories without saturated fats. Although this study was on rats, it’s still interesting.7
With that said, a clean diet is super important for managing dopamine levels and your overall physical and mental health. The less processed foods you eat, the more your body and mind will thank you.
Get Enough Sunlight
Especially if you work from home, getting some vitamin D is crucial to improving your mood and maintaining your dopamine levels. Often even people who live in sunny states like Florida have low vitamin D levels. Low sunlight exposure can be so impactful that there’s a form of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD) that occurs during the winter season to some people when they don’t get enough sunlight.
There’s plenty of research on the role of sunlight exposure in elevated, mood-boosting chemicals like dopamine. One study in 68 healthy adults found that the two who received the most sunlight exposure in 30 days had the highest levels of dopamine in the reward areas of their brains.8
However, keep in mind that too much sun exposure can be harmful, leading to skin damage and an increased risk of skin cancer. So get sun, but don’t forget to wear sunscreen.
Consider Vitamins & Supplements
In addition to sunlight, sleep, a healthy diet, and physical activity, our bodies also require basic vitamins and minerals to produce dopamine, including iron, niacin, folate, and vitamin B6. If you’re deficient in any of these nutrients, you may have trouble creating dopamine, which will become evident in your mood, motivation levels, activity levels, and more.
Speak to your doctor about getting blood work so you can see which nutrients you might be deficient in. If so, you can take the appropriate supplements to regulate these levels. Some supplements that boost dopamine include magnesium, vitamin D, curcumin, oregano extract, and green tea.
However, always speak to your doctor before changing your diet or taking anything, even supplements. You might unknowingly consume more of a nutrient than you need, which may lead to other issues.
Are You Using Drugs to Get High?
Although there are many tips on how to get high naturally, millions of people still struggle with substance abuse. Addiction can be a challenging disease to manage without the right kind of help. If you or a loved one has a substance use disorder, Banyan Treatment Center offers Massachusetts drug and alcohol treatment that can help.
Whether you need help for alcohol abuse or prescription drug addiction treatment, our Boston rehab administers treatment on various levels of care and creates individualized addiction recovery plans that meet the needs of every patient. No matter how long you’ve been addicted, our specialists are here for you.
Call Banyan Massachusetts today at 888-280-4763 to learn how to get started.
- NIH - Brain correlates of music-evoked emotions
- NIH - Intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion
- NIH - Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music
- NIH - Stimulating music increases motor coordination in patients afflicted with Morbus Parkinson
- NIH - Reduction of brain dopamine concentration with dietary tyrosine plus phenylalanine depletion: an [11C]raclopride PET study
- NIH - Exercise duration and mood state: how much is enough to feel better?
- NCBI - Dampened Mesolimbic Dopamine Function and Signaling by Saturated but not Monounsaturated Dietary Lipids
- NIH - Sunshine-exposure variation of human striatal dopamine D(2)/D(3) receptor availability in healthy volunteers
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