Molecule of Motivation (and Salience)

de: Struktur von Dopamin; en: Structure of dop...
dopamine molecule

“Dopamine has lately become quite fashionable, today’s “it” neurotransmitter, just as serotonin was “it” in the Prozac-laced ’90s.”

New York Times science writer Nathalie Angier, attending the neuroscience meetings, writes a very lucid piece on the current understanding of the crucial role of dopamine.


Sex, Love, and SSRIs

“Doctors have been grappling with sexual dysfunction since SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) were introduced in the 1980s. Approximately 70 percent of people taking SSRIs suffer from sexual side effects. But these drugs may also compromise the ability to feel love.

Rutgers University anthropologist Helen Fisher, for one, believes SSRIs are wreaking havoc on human courtship. SSRIs alleviate depression by upping the levels of serotonin in the brain and curbing the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Unfortunately, dopamine is also responsible for the feelings of elation and ecstasy that accompany falling in love. By suppressing dopamine, Fisher argues, drugs like Prozac block your ability to have these feelings, thus making it harder to fall in love and stay in love.

…Even if you’re one of the lucky ones who manage to find love while taking SSRIs, you still have some obstacles to overcome, says Fisher. …[You] may lose the ability to orgasm, and this could cause long-term relationship issues. Orgasms trigger the release of the hormone oxytocin—one that has been linked with pair bonding. Indeed, those who fail to orgasm, thanks to SSRIs, may be at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to mating and bonding.” (Psychology Today)

Of course, this becomes much more of a problem in an era of “cosmetic psychopharmacology” in which the distinction between tweaking a blue mood and treating a clinical depression has been lost. Those who are clinically depressed and truly require antidepressant treatment are usually in no position for love and bonding at this time in their lives in the first place. This issue highlights just one of my misgivings about the potential indiscriminate overuse of these medications.