Mood Chemicals and Their Effect on the Brain

Mood Chemicals and Their Effect on the Brain

The brain is a complex organism that uses neurotransmitters to regulate bodily functions. These neurotransmitters are chemicals that deliver information between the brain and the rest of the body by relaying signals between nerve cells. Neurotransmitters tell your heart when to beat and your lungs when to breathe and control every other autonomic function of the body. Neurotransmitters can also affect mood, weight, sleep and concentration and can cause a number of adverse reactions when they are out of balance. These brain chemicals can be depleted in a variety of ways. Poor diet, stress, lack of quality sleep, genetics and environmental toxins all play a role in an overall lack of healthy neurotransmitters. Serotonin, dopamine, GABA, glutamate, norepinephrine and epinephrine are neurotransmitters closely associated with mood, depression and the ability to focus.


According to Dr. Ananya Mandel, M.D. for News Medical, dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is associated with movement, memory, pleasure and reward, attention, sleep, mood, behavior and cognition. When this chemical is depleted it can lead to diseases like Parkinson’s and drug addiction. Dopamine levels are closely associated with drug addiction because they are directly linked with the pleasure-reward response. Dopamine is released during pleasurable activities and motivates the seeking out of pleasure. Drugs like cocaine and amphetamines inhibit the reuptake of dopamine to the brain, increasing the presence of dopamine in the body. Increased levels of dopamine lead to drug seeking behaviors to feed the pleasure-reward response.


Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for maintaining emotional equilibrium. Some researchers associate a lack of serotonin with depression. Although it is still unknown whether a lack of the brain chemical causes depression or whether depression causes a depletion of serotonin. Serotonin is manufactured both in the brain and the intestines. Along with mood, serotonin can affect social behavior, sleep, appetite and digestion, memory and sexual desire and function. As with dopamine, cocaine and other recreational drugs inhibit the reabsorption of serotonin. This results in a “high” due to abnormal levels of the chemical within the body.


(gamma-aminobutyric acid) contributes to vision, motor control and a number of other brain functions. Drugs that increase GABA are often used in the treatment of epilepsy and other neurological diseases. GABA also helps in the regulation of anxiety.


is most closely connected with memory and learning. A lack of this brain chemical is also associated with Alzheimer’s disease. GABA balances glutamate in the brain. However, glutamate is a stimulating neurotransmitter, whereas GABA is a calming neurotransmitter. A glutamate deficiency can cause low energy, inability to concentrate and mental exhaustion.


Norepinephrine, also known as noradrenalin, is the neurotransmitter that stimulates the heart, blood vessels, sweat glands, large intestines and the adrenal medulla in the brain. This neurotransmitter also plays a role in long-term memory and learning, the fight or flight response, arousal and energy levels. Certain foods that naturally increase the levels of norepinephrine in the body include some of the following:

  • Almonds
  • Apples
  • Avocado
  • Banana
  • Beef liver or kidney
  • Cheese
  • Fish
  • Green vegetables
  • Lean meat
  • Grains
  • Pineapple
  • Poultry
  • Tofu

Too much norepinephrine in the blood stream can cause fear and anxiety, while too little of the chemical can lead to depression.


Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, is the neurotransmitter responsible for metabolism. It also regulates attention, arousal, focus and cognition. Low levels of epinephrine can result in fatigue, the inability to focus and difficulty losing weight. Too much epinephrine has been linked to anxiety, ADHD and sleep problems.

Balancing Neurotransmitters

Because neurotransmitters are so vital to bodily functions, keeping them in balance is important. Recreational drug use and addiction to prescription drugs keep neurotransmitters in a constant state of flux. The brain no longer produces the needed chemicals to keep the body in balance, because the drugs replace the natural neurotransmitter release and reabsorption. High levels of neurotransmitters in the blood stream result in a chemically induced “high.” People who struggle with addiction need the drugs to feel and function “normally” since their own neurotransmitters are so out of balance. Getting the right kind of treatment for drug addiction can bring brain chemicals back in balance as the body rids itself of the toxins of the drug.

Finding Help for Drug Addiction

Unbalanced brain chemicals impact every bodily function in some way or another. Anxiety and depression, lack of focus and energy, sleep problems and metabolism issues are all connected to these neurotransmitters. Using drugs to create a euphoric experience can cause neurotransmitters to stop functioning in normal ways. Getting treatment for addiction can help bring your body back into balance. If you or a loved one struggles with drug addiction, we are here for you. Call our toll-free helpline 24 hours a day to speak to an admissions coordinator about available treatment options.