ADHD & low dopamine: what’s the connection?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that influences mood, attention, motivation, and pleasure and is essential for optimal brain functioning. Current research suggests a potential connection between ADHD and a lack of dopamine.

ADHD, characterized by challenges in attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, may find its roots in dysregulated dopamine function. A dopamine imbalance could contribute to the manifestation of ADHD symptoms, considering its role in regulating focus and impulse control. [i] [ii]

For decades, the Drake Institute has used advanced technologies to create customized treatment protocols for patients with brain-based disorders like ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorders. Brain map-guided neurofeedback and neurostimulation help our ADHD patients reduce their symptoms and lead better lives.

To learn more about how the Drake Institute treats ADHD and several other brain-based disorders, please fill out the consultation form or call us at 800-700-4233.

What is dopamine?

Dopamine is a chemical messenger that facilitates communication between nerve cells. It plays a crucial role in various physiological functions, like mood regulation, motivation, motor movement, and attention.  It plays an important role in the brain’s reward system. When we engage in activities that bring pleasure or satisfaction, dopamine is released. [iii]

How are low levels of dopamine linked to ADHD?

Some evidence suggests that ADHD and dopamine deficiency are linked. In some cases, individuals diagnosed with ADHD may exhibit diminished levels of dopamine, particularly within brain regions relating to reward processing and motivation. [iv]

When a person has ADHD and a lack of dopamine, they may engage in ADHD dopamine seeking behavior. This is the subconscious, intentional seeking out of activities that boost dopamine levels rapidly through a dopamine surge. [v]

So, do people with ADHD have less dopamine? Older research suggests that some ADHD individuals may have lower levels of dopamine. [vi]

It has been suggested that lower levels of dopamine may lead to increased theta slow brain waves. Brain map-guided neurofeedback treatment training reduces the abnormally increased theta brain waves, which results in a reduction of ADHD symptoms.

How are stimulant medications used to manage ADHD?

Stimulant medications like Ritalin and Adderall are traditionally used to treat ADHD. These medications are believed to slow down how much dopamine the body reabsorbs so that there’s more available throughout the day, which in turn, improves focus and attention. [vii]

However, it’s important to note that the benefits of stimulant ADHD medications are often short lived, and a patient may have a negative rebound effect late in the day when the peak effect of the medication wears off. And an individual may develop a tolerance to the medication so the dosage may have to be increased over time to have the same clinical effect. Furthermore, once an individual stops taking these medications, his or her symptoms are likely to return.

Dangers of ADHD stimulant medications

Dealing with ADHD dopamine deficiency can present a challenge, and you may be wondering how to increase dopamine in ADHD. 

Using stimulant medications to help treat ADHD isn’t for everyone. Unwanted negative side effects associated with drugs like Ritalin and Adderall can be unpleasant.

Stimulant medications may induce side effects like insomnia, loss of appetite, growth suppression, and elevated heart rate. These physiological responses highlight the need for careful and consistent monitoring. For precautionary reasons, a family history of heart disease should be explored before medicating a child with stimulant medication. Another risk is the potential for substance misuse and addiction. [viii]

Patients seeking treatment for ADHD should be given a non-drug option to make an informed decision. At the Drake Institute we feel that sometimes stimulant medication can be helpful in the short-run as a temporary bridge until the patient has improved their own brain functioning through brain map-guided neurofeedback.

The first goal of our treatment for patients on medication is to improve their symptoms, not to reduce medication initially. Once symptoms are improved, then we assess for the possibility of reducing medication. Not every patient gets off medication completely, but many patients are able to reduce their medications and sometimes eliminate medications entirely as symptoms improve from our treatment. Following completion of treatment, some of our ADHD patients no longer meet diagnostic criteria for ADHD.

How the Drake Institute Treats ADHD

Over the last 40 years, the Drake Institute has clinically pioneered the use of advanced treatment technologies to treat a variety of brain-based medical disorders such as ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, PTSD, anxiety, panic disorder, depression, insomnia, and more. Using a combination of brain map-guided neurofeedback and sometimes neurostimulation, our Medical Director creates customized treatment protocols to address each patient's needs.

Brain Mapping

To develop our individualized treatment plans, we first complete a qEEG brain map analysis for each patient. Brain mapping helps us identify which specific regions or networks of the brain are dysregulated and linked to symptoms.

To collect this data, 19 sensors are placed around the scalp in areas of the brain responsible for language, focus, memory, executive functioning, social/emotional understanding and behavioral/emotional regulation. The 19 sensors measure and record brainwave activity that is processed through a normative database of neurotypical individuals.

When we compare the patient's results with those of neurotypical individuals, we can identify regions or networks of the brain that are dysregulated and causing symptoms. This information also allows us to determine how these areas are dysregulated so that we can develop specific treatment protocols that help improve brain functioning and reduce symptoms.


During neurofeedback training/treatment, sensors are once again placed on the scalp. The sensors record and display instantaneous brainwave activity visually in real-time on a computer screen with simultaneous auditory feedback as well.

During neurofeedback sessions, the patient is seeing the results of how their brain is working and with this information, they learn to improve their brainwave activity by guiding it toward healthier, more appropriately functional brainwave patterns.

We do not administer any drugs or perform invasive procedures during this process. Instead, the patient is improving their own brain functioning, guided by visual and auditory feedback.


As an adjunct to neurofeedback, we may also use neurostimulation guided by qEEG brain map findings to gently stimulate the brain into healthier functional patterns. In our experience, some patients may benefit even more from neurofeedback if we also use neurostimulation. We have found this particularly helpful for lower-functioning children on the Autism Spectrum.

Contact The Drake Institute Today!

In the last forty years, Drake has helped thousands of patients with various disorders such as autism, ADHD, PTSD, anxiety, panic disorder, depression, insomnia, migraine headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, and hypertension reduce or resolve their symptoms and thereby achieve a better quality of life. Call us at 1-800-700-4233 or fill out the free consultation form to get started.










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dr david velkoff headshot

“David F. Velkoff, M.D., our Medical Director and co-founder, supervises all evaluation procedures and treatment programs. He is recognized as a physician pioneer in using biofeedback, qEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neuromodulation in the treatment of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and stress related illnesses including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Dr. David Velkoff earned his Master’s degree in Psychology from the California State University at Los Angeles in 1975, and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta in 1976. This was followed by Dr. Velkoff completing his internship in Obstetrics and Gynecology with an elective in Neurology at the University of California Medical Center in Irvine. He then shifted his specialty to Neurophysical Medicine and received his initial training in biofeedback/neurofeedback in Neurophysical Medicine from the leading doctors in the world in biofeedback at the renown Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. In 1980, he co-founded the Drake Institute of Neurophysical Medicine. Seeking to better understand the link between illness and the mind, Dr. Velkoff served as the clinical director of an international research study on psychoneuroimmunology with the UCLA School of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. This was a follow-up study to an earlier clinical collaborative effort with UCLA School of Medicine demonstrating how the Drake Institute's stress treatment resulted in improved immune functioning of natural killer cell activity. Dr. Velkoff served as one of the founding associate editors of the scientific publication, Journal of Neurotherapy. He has been an invited guest lecturer at Los Angeles Children's Hospital, UCLA, Cedars Sinai Medical Center-Thalians Mental Health Center, St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, and CHADD. He has been a medical consultant in Neurophysical Medicine to CNN, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Univision, and PBS.”

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