Dopamine vs Serotonin - What's the Difference?

Kaylee Noland
Dopamine vs Serotonin - What's the Difference?

Everyone wants to be high on happy hormones! So what is the key to unlocking these naturally? Your gut microbiome affects the production of neurotransimitters when you make certain lifestyle choices. Let's discuss the differences of dopamine an serotonin.

An Addictive Reward

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is associated with pleasure. Dopamine in manufactured in the brain and located in the central nervous system. More significant amounts of dopamine can make people feel euphoric, and this motivates people to repeat the behavior that triggered the euphoria. Many activities that encourage dopamine release include coping strategies and survival mechanisms. 

If serotonin and dopamine were twins, dopamine would be the more rebellious twin and a "bad influence." Why? Mainly because we receive dopamine from more addictive activities. If we excessively participate in these addictive behaviors, they could potentially harm us. People receive dopamine from drinking alcohol, eating, gambling, having sex, and taking recreational drugs. The activation of dopamine that is obtained from these sources can potentially play a role in addiction, as it activates the reward center in your brain and leaves you craving more. 

On the contrary, dopamine is vital to survival and regulates motivation. Dopamine encourages behaviors that increase the likelihood of survival. Eating calorie-dense foods also reinforces dopamine

A Stabilizing Reward

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is most associated with mood. The brain manufactures serotonin and contains it both in brain and digestive system. Best known for stabalized mood and overall sense of wellbeing is sertonin. Low serotonin can potentially contribute to anxiety and depression as several antidepressants act on serotonin specifically in the body. 

Sunlight, meditation, laughing, exercise, and eating a healthy diet are a few ways to increase serotonin production. Unlike dopamine, many activities that increase serotonin are not considered as addictive and are believed to be more stabilizing. Because serotonin does not only affect mood, serotonin levels can affect other body processes such as digestion, sex drive, nausea, and sleep. 

Dopamine vs. Serotonin: The Main Differences

Although both hormones bring "happiness," dopamine is seen more as an addictive pleasure than true contentment. Dopamine is short-term, like eating a piece of cake or winning some money at a slot machine. On the other hand, serotonin is more long-term, like doing a yoga class or spending a day at the beach. Unfortunately, dopamine inspires more taking. For example, it inspires cashing in your chips at the casino, whereas serotonin inspires giving, like helping out a friend or volunteering at a soup kitchen. 

Dopamine typically makes the brain say, "this feels good; I want more," and serotonin typically makes the brain say, "this feels good, and it's enough." Unlike serotonin, dopamine does not signal satisfaction or contentment but a desire for more. Ultimately, dopamine provides feelings of pleasure and reward. Serotonin provides with emotions as well, but it also affects digestion and even metabolism.


Interestingly enough, dopamine has a role in our food preferences. As mentioned before, the dopamine response can lead to different types of addiction if overstimulated, and hyper-palatable food can cause a food addiction or, at the very least, intense cravings for sugary, fatty and salty food. 

Humans evolved to seek foods containing substantial quantities of fat, sugar, and salt because these foods were scarce for our ancestors. That’s where dopamine came in and motivated us to find these rare, highly palatable food quantities. Sadly, our wiring to consume them has not changed, leaving (particularly those of us with lower dopamine and dopamine receptor levels) susceptible to overconsumption and food addictions.

Serotonin and Digestion

Did you know that your gut microbiome houses and manufactures 95% of the body's supply of serotonin? Thus, this neurotransmitter is a lot more connected with our physical and overall digestion than researchers originally thought. The gut-brain axis is the connection between our mood and digestion. The gut-brain axis is the two-way biochemical signaling that takes place between the gastrointestinal tract and the nervous system. 

Our gut contains GI lining embedds part of our enteric nervous system.  Millions of nerve cells such as serotonin direct movement through it. Serotonin affects many functions of your gut such as how fast food moves through the GI, how much fluid is secreted in the intestines, how sensitive the intestines are to fullness. Because of the gut-brain axis, many researchers have looked at the links between depression, IBS and serotonin. One study found that serotonin levels in the colon were ten times higher in IBS participants than control participants. Thus their conclusion was that imbalance serotonin may cause symptoms of IBS. 

The Bottom Line

Hormones rule our body physically and mentally, even our happy hormones affect us on a physical level. For instance, if our gut microbiome is off balance not only can it potentially affect our serotonin production, but it can also affect how we digest and even how restful our sleep is! Thus, it is extremely important to nurture hormones through proper nutrition, healthy lifestyle habits, supplementation and making an effort to get outside! Although serotonin and dopamine both bring a form of joy, how you receive them and how these hormones affect the body differ greatly. It’s best to try and chase serotonin for lasting contentment, but relishing in a spike of dopamine every once in a while can be just as healthy too.