What is the difference between serotonin and dopamine?

Among the best-known neurotransmitters in the brain are serotonin and dopamine. They are involved in important functions of the body and can evoke positive feelings, which is why they are popularly known as happy hormones. However, in addition to their similarities, there are also important differences between serotonin and dopamine.

Dopamine and serotonin - what's the difference?

Serotonin Unterschied Dopamin

Serotonin is involved in regulating mood, acting primarily as a stabilizer that inhibits impulsive behavior. If serotonin is present in sufficient quantities, we feel happy and content. Too low a serotonin level is associated with depression, and the neurotransmitter is said to be responsible here in particular for the general negative mood that can be observed in depression [1]. Even though the exact relationships are still unclear [2], the treatment of depression with so-called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which increase serotonin levels in the brain, is showing very good success.

In addition, serotoninplays an important role in the control of the sleep-wake rhythm, body temperature, digestion and blood clotting.

The neurotransmitter dopamine is released primarily when we achieve a goal or are otherwise successful and produces a feeling of pleasure and euphoria. It is more of a mood booster compared to serotonin and enhances impulsive behavior. Dopamine plays an important role in the development of addictive behaviors, as almost all addictive substances increase dopamine levels. Low dopamine levels are associated with diseases such as Parkinson's disease, anxiety disorders, and also depression, although in the case of depression, it is primarily the disease-typical listlessness and lost interest in previously pleasurable and preferred activities that is associated with dopamine [3].

Unterschied Serotonin Dopamin

In addition to its effect on mood, dopamine controls the brain's reward system, but also regulates muscle movements and coordination ability and is important for learning processes and short-term memory.

As messenger substances, serotonin and dopamine do not act independently of each other, but are part of a very complex structure in which all elements (must) contribute to the functionality of the body. Too low or too high a level of one neurotransmitter can throw the whole system out of balance and also affect other messengers: for example, it is possible that a high serotonin level slows down dopamine activity or vice versa. Depending on what the imbalance is, a different treatment is needed in each case.

Conclusion on the difference between serotonin and dopamine

Serotonin and dopamine regulate similar bodily functions, but perform different tasks. While both are involved in mood regulation, dopamine also plays an important role in muscle movements and for the reward system, whereas serotonin is primarily responsible for controlling body temperature and digestion. Too much or too little of one or the other neurotransmitter unbalances the complex neurotransmitter system and can cause physical or mental discomfort and promote disease.


[1] https://www.healthline.com/health/dopamine-vs-serotonin
[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26043325/
[3] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326090