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Drugs & Health Blog

Word of the Day: Serotonin

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
Sara Bellum

Have you ever noticed all the different emotions you experience in a normal day? For example, you can feel happy in the morning when you find out you passed your bio quiz, grumpy at noon when you haven’t eaten since breakfast, and then sad when the football team loses the big Homecoming game.

Chemicals called neurotransmitters, which carry messages across the gaps between neurons in your brain, influence your changing mood. One neurotransmitter, dopamine, increases alertness and makes you feel happy when something good happens. Lots of abused drugs raise a person’s level of dopamine.

Serotonin, another neurotransmitter, affects the brain in a different way. Known as the “calming chemical,” serotonin eases tension and stress. It lifts a person’s mood, lessens anxiety and aggression, promotes sleep, and also affects appetite, memory, and perceptions.

“It’s a molecule involved in helping people cope with adversity … to keep going and try to sort everything out,” says Philip J. Cowen, a serotonin expert at Oxford University and the Medical Research Council. To quote his Manchester University colleague Bill Deakin, “It’s the ‘Don’t panic yet’ neurotransmitter.”

Serotonin also puts a brake on the excitement and sometimes recklessness that dopamine can produce. When the overall brain chemical system is working well, it seems that these chemicals interact to balance out extreme behaviors. That’s why it can lead to problems when a person takes illegal drugs that affect serotonin or dopamine.

Many different drugs affect serotonin levels in complex ways. For example, when a person uses MDMA (Ecstasy or “Molly”), serotonin increases in different parts of the brain, causing elevated mood and feelings of empathy. Some studies show that elevated serotonin from illegal drug use plays a role in the person wanting to take more of the drug, possibly leading to addiction.

For more information on how drugs affect brain chemicals, check out NIDA’s article, Impacts of Drugs on Neurotransmission.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


stop doing drugs
there are plenty of better ways that you could colm down or release stress than using drugs.
Easier said than done. Trust me, I am going through it right now.
Adolescents and Teens go through a lot of mood changes and there has to be a way for parents and teachers to gain an accelerated learning curve. As adults, parents & teachers, are the two most important people in the life of each individual child as they must learn how to make moral decisions that will factor on Saying Yes or Saying No to Drugs. Life lessons come from adults and believe me young people (12-21) really pay close attention even though many may say not after a young American reaches the age of 18. The duties and responsibilities of serving as a member of the Armed Forces or attending a College or University does weigh heavy on the heart and mind of each young individual under the age of 25 years of age. Therefore, parents and teachers, must be ready to assess the ability of each youngster on how well they choose right over wrong in terms of life endeavors. If there's ever just one word to fit the bill in the Growing Up In America is the conditions & circumstances of how our children will have to learn how to navigate between evil & good waters. By them learning discernment at school and then at home, and for sure having it reinforced by demonstrations in the behaviors of faith-based organizations and churches who are always serving as Mentors who instruct Mentees on how not to walk on the "Wild Side."
Teens do go through lots of emotions and drugs can make them worse.
drugs are bad
drugs are very bad
drugs are very bad
drugs shouldn't be used unless they are needed for legit medical purposes.
Drugs are ok for you in some sittuations... (O.o)!
Drugs can only be good if they are absolutly positivly nessasary!!!!!!!!!!!
Not sure drugs are every o.k.... seriously my biggest fear is getting hooked.
same my comrade drug is bad
Drugs Would never be OK in some situations. They are the worst thing for you.
AND NO DRUGS ARENT GOOD 4 U UNLESS U TAKE AS A PILL ONCE A DAY im in health right now and all i know that cocaine dissolves in water XD LOLOL
Drugs are just bad, Mmkaaay?
so true drugs can kill just ask my dad
so does marijuana increase serotonin output

There is some evidence that at very low doses THC can boost serotonin production, having an anti-depressant effect, but at higher doses THC seems to reduce serotonin (and has a depressant effect for that reason). More research is needed to better understand this.

I can understand why kids would want to relieve their stress and taking this drug seems like an easy fix. Between school and planning for their future and parents, it can be straining and overwhelming. But the consequences outnumber the temporary relief it may give.
Some teens may use drugs as an antidepressant because the serotonin can boost their mood.
Using tobacco products is dangerous for the brain since it can affect how you perceive things by altering serotonin levels.
So if you increase serotonin and dopamine would the effects counter act each other or create something worse?

Serotonin and dopamine are not “opposites,” so they don’t balance each other. You can think of them like different chemical ‘languages’ spoken by different types of neurons within brain circuits. Raising dopamine too much can cause racing heartbeat and agitation and other symptoms; raising serotonin too much can cause something called “serotonin syndrome”—a kind of poisoning that is highly unpleasant and potentially fatal.

drugs can have negative affects if they RE USED INCORRECTLY
serotonin is a depressant drug not a stimulant drug.
Dealing with stress is part of everyday life and should be coped with naturally not with drugs.
I was forced to do drugs
I think it is so interesting to see how people's brain chemistry can be altered using illegal substances. Why would anyone want to alter themselves like this ?
It isn't their fault. Even just looking at the pill or the pill bottle or whatever, the drug will form a voice in your head telling you that "Hey, I am the only solution to your pain. Sure, I will mess you up a little but isn't it worth it?" and some people can resist it and just get over it, but for others, yeah they can hold off that urge for a little while, but it starts getting worse. They start believing that voice, and soon, they do those drugs, as an "immediate" relief. Trust me. I know. I haven't just been there. I am there right now.
There are better and safer ways to relive problems you think drugs help with..
I would never screw up my body chemistry just to kinda feel good for a few minutes.
It is not just "a few minutes." The effects last for hours and some people feel that they need those few hours to feel "in-control" or to not feel anything. (I do not support drug use though)
Young people today need more time with family, it seems both parents work just to put food on the table. Then divorce brings more issues. We need mentors or other families that would take time to include these kids in activities. I was a single Mom for 18 years, very difficult to work, cook, shop, go to all those soccer games, drive them to practices. Have friends here so I know who and what was going on. I learned so much. We ate hotdogs, pizza, etc. just to fill the empty chair during dinner. Friends helped make that work out. I took my sons to activities at our church where they had fun with friends. Sleepovers on weekends, an idea that worked well. Five Families took a weekend each month. It was worth having three to have some time to relax as I felt exhausted I worked two jobs. Taught Kindergarten during school year, made extra money in eve. Doing crafts, calligraphy, stained glass, sweatshirts. I was home and the boys and I spent time together. Now, today, everything is so different, teens feel lost. As adults, educators there must be a way to keep kids busy, loved, secure and mostly accepted for who they are. Listen more, 1/2 hour a day isn't that long. The rewards are worth it all. My boys were not without problems along the way. At times I didn't know where to find male mentors. Boys are difficult too, if they didn't know the people who volunteered to be with them, it didn't work out. My grandchildren are adults, struggled, too. I tried sending cards with 5$ inside with a hand written message on encouragement and love. I recently had hip replacement and then more health problems. I want to volunteer again. After retirement I volunteered for years with hospice, seniors who needed time to share their lives, have lunch. I pray I can do all the things I enjoy once again, soon. Only God knows that answer. Teenagers, young adults need us, we need them. Hopefully we will find a way.
I’m touched and inspired by your story, Liz. May God bless you and your descendants!
All y’all saying drugs are bad...please remember that alcohol is a drug. I believe it has ruined more lives than heroin. It’s legal for adults but that doesn’t mean it’s safe. It’s accepted in society but that doesn’t mean it isn’t addictive. Be as careful with alcohol as you are with illicit drugs.