Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Selection from Carver, Joseph, PhD. “The Chemical Imbalance in Mental Health Problems.”

Full text at http://www.drjoecarver.com/clients/49355/File/Chemical%20Imbalance.html


One type of dopamine works in the brain movement and motor system. As this level of dopamine decreases below the “normal range” we begin to experience more motor and gross-movement problems.

  • Falling when walking
  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Gait (walking pattern) disturbance, smaller steps
  • Slow movements and difficulty with voluntary movements
  • Stiffness and aches in muscles
  • Tremors and shaking
  • Fixed, mask-like facial expression
  • Impairment of fine-motor skills
  • Impairment in cognitive/intellectual ability - inability to concentrate
Dopamine in the thinking areas of the brain might be considered the neurotransmitter of focus. Low levels impair our ability to focus on our environment or to “lock on” to tasks, activities, or conversations. As dopamine levels in the brain begin to rise, we become excited/energized, then suspicious and paranoid, then finally hyper-stimulated by our environment. With low levels of dopamine, we can’t focus while with high levels of dopamine our focus becomes narrowed and intense to the point of focusing on everything in our environment as though it were directly related to our situation.

Mild elevations in dopamine are associated with addictions. Alcohol or any addictive substance produces a feeling of excited euphoria by increasing dopamine levels in the brain. Too much of these chemicals/substances and we feel “wired” as moderate levels of dopamine make us hyper-stimulated – paying too much attention to our environment due to being overstimulated and unable to separate what’s important and what is not.


When serotonin is low, we experience problems with concentration and attention. We become scatterbrained and poorly organized. Routine responsibilities now seem overwhelming. It takes longer to do things because of poor planning. We lose our car keys and put odd things in the refrigerator. We call people and forget why we called or go to the grocery and forget what we needed. We tell people the same thing two or three times.

Symptoms of low serotonin include chronic fatigue, sleep disturbances/early-morning awakening, loss of appetite or sweet cravings, loss of sexual interest, social withdrawal, sadness, low self-esteem, loss of personality, headaches and upset stomach.

Extremely low serotonin leads to focusing on negative memories, not knowing how you feel about your life, marriage, job, family, future, significant other, etc., temper tantrums/outbreaks of anger and irritability, escape fantasies, a need for change in lifestyle (divorce, affair, new job, new car), OCD-like behavior, magnification of existing personality traits.

At the bottom, everyone with severely low serotonin hears:  1) You’re a bad spouse, parent, child, employee, etc., 2) You are a burden to those who love or depend on you, 3) You are worsening the lives of those around you, 4) Those who care about you would be better if you weren’t there, 5) You would be better if you weren’t around, and 6) You and those around you would be better off if you were totally out of the picture. At that point, you develop suicidal thoughts.

One in four adults will experience clinical depression within their lifetime. Depression is the “common cold” of mental health practice – very common and much easier to treat today than in the past.

Treatment includes SSRIs.


Norepinephrine sets threshold levels of stimulation and arousal. Anxiety and depression are related to norepinephrine levels in the brain, as this neurotransmitter seems to maintain the balance between agitation and depression.

Low levels of norepinephrine are associated with a loss of alertness, poor memory, and depression. Norepinephrine appears to be the neurotransmitter of “arousal” and for that reason, lower-than-normal levels of this neurotransmitter produce below-average levels of arousal and interest, a symptom found in several psychiatric conditions including depression and ADHD.

Excessive amounts of norepinephrine and adrenaline give us extra strength, increased energy/arousal, muscle tightness (for fighting or running), and a desperate sense that we must do something immediately.

Low levels of norepinephrine are often treated using newer antidepressants. Many new antidepressants, known as Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRI’s) with brand names like Effexor and Serzone, treat depression by increasing levels of both serotonin and norepinephrine neurotransmitters.


Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter that decreases the ability of other neurotransmitters to work. GABA is involved in our level of excitability. Rather than encouraging communication between cells such as dopamine, serotonin or norepinephrine, GABA reduces, discourages, and blocks communication. This neurotransmitter is important in brain areas involving emotion and anxiety.

When GABA is in the normal range in the brain, we are not overly aroused or anxious. At the same time, we have appropriate reactions to situations in our environment. GABA is the communication speed controller, making sure all brain communications are operating at the right speed and with the correct intensity. Too little GABA in the brain, the communication becomes out of control, overstimulated, and chemically unstable. Too much GABA and we are overly relaxed and sedated, often to the point that normal reactions are impaired.

Low levels of GABA are associated with bipolar disorder and mania. With GABA levels below average, the brain is too stimulated. We begin talking rapidly, staying up for days at a time, and develop wild and grandiose ideas. In a manic state, we are so “high” and out of control that social problems are quick to develop, often due to hypersexuality, excessive spending, reckless decisions, risk-taking behavior, and grandiose ideas.

Low levels of GABA are also associated with poor impulse control.  When GABA is low in the brain, impulsive behaviors are not inhibited (stopped) by logical or reasonable thinking. Alcohol works by increasing GABA levels, producing mild euphoria, loss of social anxiety, and other symptoms of intoxication.

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