Drug and alcohol addiction are diseases that affect millions worldwide and there are a number of reasons why people are more likely to develop it. Understanding the roots of addiction is crucial for effective treatment, which is why addiction is being consistently researched.

A factor that is currently being studied as part of addiction research is serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that has shown some signs of being related to the development of substance abuse.

Serotonin plays a vital role in regulating mood and behaviour which could be related to the development of drug or alcohol addiction if levels of serotonin are low.

Find out how serotonin levels can influence addictive behaviours and learn about the potential connection between serotonin and addiction here.


What is Serotonin?

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which is a type of chemical messenger that carries signals between nerve cells in the brain and throughout the body. It is often referred to as the “feel-good” neurotransmitter because it plays a key role in regulating mood, emotion, appetite, and sleep.

Serotonin is produced in the brain and the intestines and it is involved in a wide range of physiological functions, including the regulation of mood, anxiety, depression and more.

Imbalances in serotonin levels have been linked to various mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety, as well as conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and migraine headaches. This is also why the link between addiction and serotonin is currently being researched.

Medications that target serotonin levels such as antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly used to treat depression, anxiety, and other related disorders.

Many people who experience depression and anxiety also develop drug or alcohol addictions as a way to self-medicate. Therefore, people with low serotonin levels are potentially more likely to experience a substance abuse disorder.


Serotonin is related to addiction, both in the potential for addiction development and the negative impact serotonin levels experience as a result of drug or alcohol addiction.

Serotonin plays a complex role in addiction, particularly in the development and maintenance of substance use disorders. See more:

Reward Pathways in the Brain

Serotonin interacts with the brain’s reward pathway, which is closely associated with addiction. Drug abuse often increases the release of serotonin which can make users experience pleasure when consuming the drug or drink.

Drug and alcohol use leads to feelings of pleasure and reinforces the behaviour of substance use as users chase the feeling. This is particularly key in cases where a person is experiencing depression or anxiety, as substance use can become a method to experience a rush of happiness.

Regulation of Mood

Serotonin also influences mood regulation. Imbalances in serotonin levels can contribute to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, which are commonly linked to addiction.

People may use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate these mental health problems, which causes a dangerous link between serotonin and addiction.

Cravings and Withdrawal

Changes in serotonin levels can contribute to cravings and withdrawal symptoms during alcohol or drug addiction.

When a person stops using a substance, serotonin levels may drop, leading to negative mood states, anxiety, and extreme cravings for the substance.

Impulse Control

Serotonin is involved in regulating impulse control and decision-making. Lower serotonin levels may impair judgment and increase impulsivity, making it harder for individuals to resist drug cravings and engage in healthy behaviours.


Medications that target serotonin levels, such as SSRIs, may have a role in treating addiction by addressing underlying mood disorders and reducing cravings. However, the effectiveness of these medications can vary depending on the individual and the specific substance of abuse.


Drugs That Can Impact Serotonin Levels

Substances can cause a momentary boost in serotonin levels which then deplete after the drug has worn off. This can have a negative effect on your mental health and also increase the risk of an addiction developing.

The most common addictive substances that can impact serotonin levels include:

  • Alcohol
  • Opiate painkillers such as codeine
  • Cannabis
  • Cocaine
  • Prescription Drugs

Although not all people who use substances will develop a mental health problem or addiction, lower serotonin levels that are improved after the use of substances make a person much more likely to become reliant and develop an addiction.


Help for Addiction and Depression

Serotonin’s involvement in mood regulation, reward processing, and impulse control makes it a significant factor in addiction, influencing both the development of addictive behaviours and the challenges associated with recovery.

If you are experiencing mental health and drug or alcohol addiction, get in touch with our team today. We offer dual diagnosis programmes to help treat your psychological and physical health.

Recovering from an addiction can be difficult, especially if you are experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms and cravings. We offer medically assisted detox and therapy sessions as part of our rehab programmes, just get in touch today to learn more!

Phone us on 0800 880 7596 or fill out our contact form for more information and a callback.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: March 25, 2024

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.