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Serotonin vs dopamine: 5 differences between the happy hormones


Serotonin and dopamine help promote happiness, but they are not the same. Here are some key differences between serotonin and dopamine.

When we talk about our moods and happy hormones, dopamine and serotonin are often used together. They are known to affect how we feel. Both are neurotransmitters that are crucial for mood regulation and emotional well-being. They influence feelings of happiness, satisfaction as well as stability. Clearly, there are similarities between them. But there are also some key differences between serotonin and dopamine.

What is serotonin?

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter crucial for mood regulation, appetite, and sleep. It promotes feelings of well-being and relaxation, influencing emotional stability, says psychiatrist Dr Pankaj B Borade. Low serotonin levels are associated with conditions like depression and anxiety, highlighting its role in maintaining mental health.

Smiling woman
Serotonin and dopamine are linked to happiness. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

What is dopamine?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter linked to the brain’s reward system, motivation, and pleasure. It plays a pivotal role in reinforcing behaviour and motor control. Disturbances in dopamine levels are implicated in disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia, emphasising its significance in overall mental functioning.

What are the similarities between serotonin and dopamine?

Serotonin and dopamine are often referred to as “happy hormones” because of their roles in promoting positive emotions and pleasurable experiences. They contribute to feelings of joy, satisfaction, and motivation, collectively influencing a person’s sense of happiness. Here are some similarities:

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1. Both are neurotransmitters in the brain

Serotonin and dopamine are chemical messengers that transmit signals between nerve cells in the brain, facilitating communication within the central nervous system, says the expert.

2. They play essential roles in regulating mood

They influence feelings of happiness and satisfaction. They are important when it comes to mood regulation and emotional well-being, and stability.

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3. Influence aspects of behaviour and emotions

Serotonin and dopamine impact various behavioural and emotional aspects. They contribute to motivation, pleasure, and overall mental functioning.

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4. Implicated in mental health disorders when imbalanced

Imbalances in serotonin and dopamine levels are associated with mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, apathy, and schizophrenia, emphasising their role in maintaining mental well-being.

5. Subject to complex interactions with other neurotransmitters

Serotonin and dopamine do not operate in isolation. Their functions are influenced by interactions with other neurotransmitters, highlighting the complexity of the brain’s chemical signaling.

What are the differences between dopamine and serotonin?

While there are similarities between the two, there are also some differences between dopamine and serotonin.

1. Function

Serotonin primarily functions in mood and sleep regulation, contributing to emotional stability, says Dr Borade. Dopamine focuses on the brain’s reward system and motivation, reinforcing behaviour and influencing pleasure and desire.

Smiling woman
Serotonin and dopamine have different functions. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

2. Implications

Low levels of serotonin correlate with depression, while excess can lead to serotonin syndrome, which is potentially life-threatening drug reaction. Low levels of dopamine are associated with apathy, while elevated levels are linked to schizophrenia.

3. Neural pathways

Serotonin acts mainly in the limbic system, impacting emotions, shares the expert. Dopamine operates in the mesolimbic and mesocortical pathways, affecting motivation and reward.

4. Physical effects

Serotonin influences appetite and digestion. Dopamine affects motor control and coordination.

5. Normal levels

Serotonin typically ranges from 101 to 283 nanograms per milliliter. Dopamine is varied, ranging from 0.28 to 0.60 nanograms per milliliter. Normal levels vary individually, and diagnoses are symptom-based rather than relying on absolute levels. It is important to note that it is not the absolute deficiency, but functional dysregulation that causes problems.

Imbalances in serotonin and dopamine levels can significantly impact mental health. So, regular monitoring and appropriate interventions are crucial for maintaining optimal mental health.



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