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What Is a Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitor?

By Lee Prangnell
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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In psychopharmacology, a dopamine reuptake inhibitor is a class of drug that is designed to inhibit the action of the dopamine transporter. The dopamine transporter is a protein that helps end the action of dopamine, a natural chemical that increases one's mood and feelings of pleasure. By inhibiting the dopamine transporter, a dopamine reuptake inhibitor increases the body's extracellular concentrations of dopamine, which in turn increases dopaminergic neurotransmission and creates feelings of pleasure or even euphoria.

A dopamine reuptake inhibitor has a number of medical applications. For instance, the drug methylphenidate is a popular dopamine reuptake inhibitor. Methylphenidate is a psychostimulant medication that is primarily prescribed to patients who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These medications are prescribed to patients for the purpose of treating conditions such as obesity, anxiety, depression and Parkinson's disease. These drugs are often used to augment other psychopharmacological medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitions (SSRIs), particularly for the treatment of psychological disorders, including depression and anxiety.

All pharmaceutical drugs have an element of physiological toxicity. A dopamine reuptake inhibitor, although relatively safe and well tolerated, can produce side effects in patients. These side effects are classified as either psychological or physiological. Some of the psychological side effects experienced by patients include an altered state of subjective consciousness, euphoria, mood lift, improved memory, increased energy and insomnia. The physiological effects side effects include dilated pupils, nausea, jaw clenching and trembling.

These medications can produce intense feelings of pleasure, so they're often subject to substance abuse; cocaine and phencyclidine (PCP) are in this class of drugs. Cocaine is notoriously addictive, primarily because of the extreme euphoria associated with its ingestion. Likewise, PCP — also known as "angel dust" — is a psychostimulant that is commonly abused because of the feelings of pleasure that it produces.

If a patient of pharmaceutical medications such as methylphenidate or an addict of illicit substances such has cocaine ingests an amount of the drug that far exceeds the recommended safe dosage, then he or she could potentially suffer life-threatening consequences — which could lead to coma or death. Furthermore, if these drugs are overused by an individual, he or she could experience a condition known as stimulant pychosis. This condition is characterized by symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, paranoia and disordered thinking. There have been instances in which individuals have been sectioned in a secure unit — for mental illness — because of their abuse of dopamine reuptake inhibitors.

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Discussion Comments
By OeKc05 — On Mar 14, 2012

I have a friend who had to be taken to a mental hospital after using PCP. He began hallucinating, and he was trying to get away from what he saw. In doing so, he kept hurting himself by running into walls, and he almost walked out in front of a bus.

It was scary to watch him lose it like that. I knew that he was at fault, because he chose to abuse a dopamine reuptake inhibitor, but I still felt sorry for him. He was in a world that no one else could see, so no one could rescue him from it.

By seag47 — On Mar 14, 2012

My husband takes methylphenidate for his ADHD. It is a lot like an amphetamine, but rather than speed him up, it slows him down and allows him to focus.

People who abuse this drug do so because it is a strong stimulant in people with normal dopamine function. My husband needs help in the dopamine department, so it makes him think and act more normally.

I am glad that he started taking it. His work performance has improved, and he is able to listen to me while I’m talking now. I’m not worried about him becoming addicted, since he hasn’t mentioned any feelings of pleasure.

By Perdido — On Mar 13, 2012

@lighth0se33 - I had severe social anxiety disorder, and dopamine reuptake inhibitors really helped me. My anxiety had gotten so bad that I hated going to work every day, because I would have to be around people.

You’re right. I didn’t feel as if I had taken cocaine or anything. I simply felt mellowed out. It was so nice to be able to talk to people and function normally, without shaking, sweating, and stuttering.

I eventually had to quit taking it, because it gave me heart palpitations. I have friends who have been on it for years with no issues, though.

By lighth0se33 — On Mar 12, 2012

I definitely see how a dopamine reuptake inhibitor could combat depression! It seems like the danger of becoming addicted would be too great.

Maybe since people suffering from clinical depression are also suffering from a lack of dopamine, these drugs only level things out for them. If someone without depression took the same drug, it might make them feel euphoric, whereas a depressed person would merely feel normal.

It’s a good thing that these drugs are available for people with mood disorders. I’m sure they appreciate the lift in spirits.

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