A Good Mood in Your Coffee Cup? Caffeine and Dopamine


Let it be known there are many of us who truly enjoy the taste of coffee that has not been diminished by the decaffeinating process. Any physical addiction to coffee is an un-looked for byproduct of its great taste, speaking unscientifically.

Still, it is interesting to know that coffee lovers may be (gulp) dopamine deficient.


The Dish on Caffeine and Dopamine

Dopamine is one of our brain’s nimble neurotransmitters. Research indicates depression may be due, partly, to dopamine deficiency. Indications of a deficiency are the tendency to use stimulants (chocolate, No-doz, coffee), trouble concentrating, lethargy, low motivation, apathy, and introversion.

Most of us know that caffeine (trimethylxanthine) causes our body to release adrenaline. The hormone adrenaline is part of our stress (fight or flight) response and gives us a temporary boost of alertness and energy.

The coffee scoop is that caffeine does more than boost our adrenaline. It causes our brain to increase production of dopamine as well. Increased dopamine typically helps people focus and get moving; it stimulates motivation and energizes.

This dish on dopamine has also stimulated some buzz that the addictive quality of coffee is not the caffeine adrenaline rush, but is owed to the uplifting effects of dopamine. If true, it could be that many coffee drinkers are dopamine deficient and cope by stopping at Starbucks. It also may mean that dopamine is the culprit behind caffeine withdrawal headaches, irritability, brain fog, and depressed mood.

Unlike amphetamines and cocaine which cause a dopamine increase in the shell of our nucleus accumbens, caffeine stimulates a dopamine rise in the prefrontal cortex. The nucleus accumbens is our brain’s main neural apparatus for motivation, reward, and addiction. Our prefrontal cortex plays its part in complex emotional, cognitive, and behavioral functioning.

Although cocaine, amphetamines, and caffeine all stimulate the human cerebral dopaminergic mechanism (release of dopamine), caffeine does not work on dopamine areas connected with motivation, reward, and addiction. So, caffeinated coffee only partially meets the standard criteria for dependency drugs.

Coffee Pros and Cons, and Other Stuff

The coffee-dopamine benefit is tempered by the temporary boost in adrenaline we get from caffeine that may cause a corrosive systemic build up of cortisol (stress hormone). The cycle of drinking coffee, followed by crashing from an adrenaline rush, can also precipitate states of anxiety, tiredness, lowered immunity, and irritability.

However, there is still much for coffee cravers to celebrate beyond the obvious attraction of java’s textured bouquet and rich multi-layered, bright, or smokey qualities.

Leaded coffee has been in the news recently because of its preventive possibilities. Research shows it may protect against diabetes, Alzheimer’s, prostate cancer, depression, and Parkinson’s disease. Coffee is also rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory chemicals, stimulating brain function, strengthening the immune system, and halting early signs of aging.

A body’s dopamine supply can run low because of genetics (the body’s not set up to make enough), lack of vitamins and minerals (not enough fruits and veggies), not enough protein, continuous high stress, and poor thyroid function (hypothyroidism).

Tyrosine, an ingredient in dopamine, helps many people increase their dopamine levels and can be taken as a supplement. If you want to stop the coffee habit, using this supplement may reduce withdrawal symptoms. Talk to your doctor before using tyrosine if you are on a MAO inhibitor, have bipolar disorder, migraines, hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, or any other serious illness or injury.

A Little Literary Cream for Coffee Lovers…

Here is a quote by Honore de Balzac who, in light of his eloquence over coffee, may have had a dopamine deficiency : )

This coffee falls into your stomach, and straightway there is a general commotion.  Ideas begin to move like the battalions of the Grand Army of the battlefield, and the battle takes place.  Things remembered arrive at full gallop, ensuing to the wind.  The light cavalry of comparisons deliver a magnificent deploying charge, the artillery of logic hurry up with their train and ammunition, the shafts of with start up like sharpshooters.  Similes arise, the paper is covered with ink; for the struggle commences and is concluded with torrents of black water, just as a battle with powder.” (The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee)



The information provided on the PsyWeb.com is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her health professional. This information is solely for informational and educational purposes. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Neither the owners or employees of PsyWeb.com nor the author(s) of site content take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading this site. Always speak with your primary health care provider before engaging in any form of self treatment. Please see our Legal Statement for further information.

PsyWeb Poll

Are you currently taking or have you ever been prescribed anti-depressants?
Total votes: 3979