How Chronic Stress Feeds Suffering by Eating Up Our Dopamine


From Gary Sharpe Substack: “Although originally written for people with Parkinson’s, [this article] is actually very relevant to suffering of all types. So it is not only just as applicable to other ‘dopamine deficiency’ issues, including dystonia, restless leg syndrome, and ADHD, but also to chronic conditions more generally (when we feel like crap, we have low  dopamine), to trauma, and to addictions, of all sorts. Indeed, for some of the more general causes of low dopamine, see ‘The Role of Disappointment in Chronic Illness and Modern Society.’

I have somewhat refined the concepts of the dopamine-adrenaline link since I originally wrote the article ‘The Dopamine-Adrenaline Connection,’ to account for chronic stress as being causal of the low dopamine in the first place . . .

Why Stress Reduction is at the Heart of Disease Management

One of the things which really bemuses (but no longer angers!) me about the medical treatment of people with Parkinson’s, is that the doctors just aren’t informing people affected by the disease about something very, very basic to the problem. Actually, I suspect, having looked into the training of doctors, even specialists, in this regard, they themselves are simply ill-informed [pun intended] about these basic, but absolutely crucial, facts themselves.

. . . So what the doctors aren’t educating us about is the Dopamine to Noradrenaline (Stress Hormone!!) conversion step. What’s Noradrenaline (called Norepinephrine in the US), I hear you cry! Let’s ask Wikipedia:

‘The general function of norepinephrine is to mobilize the brain and body for action. Norepinephrine release is lowest during sleep, rises during wakefulness, and reaches much higher levels during situations of stress or danger, in the so-called fight-or-flight {note freeze is missing here!!!} response. In the brain, norepinephrine increases arousal and alertness, promotes vigilance, enhances formation and retrieval of memory, and focuses attention; it also increases restlessness and anxiety.’

You see now the problem? Stress depletes Dopamine almost instantly [by converting into noradrenaline]. And people with PD are already chronically short of Dopamine! This is why acute stress impacts people with PD like nothing else. Yet, we know that chronic stress is a major precusor to most forms of PD. We know that there is a typical personality type that ‘thrived’ on stress for years prior to diagnosis. We know that people with PD are, naturally, caught in a vicious circle between physical pain and mental anguish. We know that people with PD get stuck mid-way in the grief process (particularly in anger mode). We know that people with PD suck up other people’s negative energies like an old dry sponge.

We know this.

The Doctors know this… don’t they?

But then they give us L-Dopa without any proper integrated stress management support.

Do you see… the links in the chain…

In doing so, the doctors are feeding our voracious fight-flight-freeze monster that played a very large part, for most of us, in our descent into dis-ease in the first place…

[because by feeding us l-dopa when we are still chronically stressed and stressful people, this is not really feeding our dopamine supplies at all, which is just an intermediate step, it is really feeding our ability to keep on creating the adrenaline stress hormones, and hence keep us going in our stressful ways].

By ‘doping’ us up without helping us with stress, the doctors are encouraging Parkinson’s Disease to take an ever greater hold on us.

Because, sadly, instead of breaking the chains which lock us into place, they are locking us down, frozen, unable to move forward, in time [why this ‘drugs only’ route requires ever increasing dosages – because it is just kicking the can down the road – until they stop working, or end up causing side effects worse than the symptoms].

Friends, very few doctors or healthcare systems are doing anything to help you get better because of this.

[This is why trauma healing and all the stress reduction support we can get, are crucial and vital, so that we stop converting our dopamine directly into stress hormones all the time, and hence the drugs will then work much better, or not be needed at all].

[I think similar arguments can be made for ADHD – doping kids up on dopaminergic drugs is just helping them run on adrenaline, and continue to operate in an environment of chronic stress, which long term is likely to be a disaster. Rather than this, we should be identifying and removing the chronic stressors and threats in their environment, so they don’t have to turn their dopamine supplies directly into adrenaline all the time just to operate. In particular, a positive first step would be for the adults in the room to take responsibility for their own chronic stress and stressful behaviours that send threatening signals to the nervous systems of the kids, see: ‘Book Review: Grounded: Discovering the Missing Piece in the Puzzle of Children’s Behavior.’]”

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