What neurotransmitters are linked to anxiety?

The following neurotransmitters are known to play a role in anxiety:
  • Dopamine is essential to movement. It also influences motivation and plays a role in how a person perceives reality. Some research suggests dopamine may have connections with social phobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder -- characterized by obsessions (distressing and intrusive thoughts, worries, or urges that are involuntary and occur repeatedly) and compulsions (ritual behaviors that a person uses in an attempt to feel safe and decrease anxiety). Dopamine-enhancing antidepressants, such as monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors, are more effective in treating social phobia than tricyclic antidepressants, which have little effect on dopamine. On the other hand, too much dopamine may contribute to obsessive-compulsive disorder in some patients. The anti-anxiety drug buspirone (BuSpar), which blocks dopamine slightly, has been helpful for some people with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid known as an inhibitory neurotransmitter because it's thought to hinder the activity of other neurotransmitters; it may help quell anxiety.
  • Norepinephrine constricts blood vessels and raises blood pressure; it plays a role in sensitization, fear conditioning, and stress response. Excess norepinephrine may trigger anxiety. Most neurons that release norepinephrine are located in the locus ceruleus, a part of the brain that may induce anxiety when it malfunctions. Norepinephrine is also involved in some types of depression.
  • Serotonin helps regulate mood, sleep, and appetite, and inhibits pain. Research supports the idea that some depressed people have reduced serotonin transmission. Low levels of a serotonin byproduct have been linked to a higher risk for suicide. Low levels of serotonin are also believed to play a role in anxiety.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.