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Benefits of Neurotransmitter Therapy for Mental Health and Addiction

Last Updated on June 30, 2023 by Carol Gillette

Neurotransmitter therapy

Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Medically Reviewed by Dr Samuel Lee MD

Neurotransmitter therapy is a form of treatment that seeks to restore a natural balance of important chemicals in the brain known as neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the messengers that carry signals between neurons, so an imbalance in neurotransmitters can result in physical and mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and the impulse for harmful substance use. Neurotransmitter therapy for mental health and addiction seeks to restore the balance of chemicals in the brain through proven non-pharmaceutical treatment methods.

Increasing the production of neurotransmitters or blocking the reuptake of neurotransmitters by the brain allows them to remain active in the brain for longer. Neurotransmitter therapy is a proven treatment for depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other mental health issues, as well as some physical health issues.1

How Neurotransmitters Relate to Mental Health

There are more than 150 neurotransmitters that work as messengers, sending messages between the brain and body to tell you that you feel tired, hungry, or one of the hundreds of other feelings. Imbalances in these chemicals are believed to have a significant effect on depression, anxiety, sleep, eating, sexual behavior, impulse control, drug-seeking behavior, and more.2

Five primary neurotransmitters crucial for the optimal functioning of the brain, nervous system, and body are detailed below.


The role of acetylcholine in the central nervous system is to provide a link between motor neurons and the muscles. It is a primary player in the prefrontal cortex, which facilitates memory, navigation, learning, arousal, talking, walking, breathing, and regulation of the sleep/wake cycle. Along with dopamine, acetylcholine also contributes to smooth movement. An overabundance of acetylcholine can cause symptoms of anxiety and depression. A deficiency may lead to poor memory, difficulty with mental calculation, decreased spatial awareness, and trouble recognizing people.3


Dopamine plays a key role in motor movement and emotional response. It is also related to motivation and the desire to complete tasks, thus its reputation as the chemical of achievement. Physical and mental well-being is contingent on maintaining the right balance of dopamine. Dopamine deficiency may be linked to symptoms of depression, especially those like hopelessness, anger, low self-esteem, dread, irritability, and weight gain. High dopamine levels can contribute to paranoia, agitation, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.4

Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA)

GABA in the sympathetic nervous system acts as an antidepressant, antihypertensive, and anti-diabetic. Decreased GABA function has been shown to accompany manic or depressed moods in individuals. Furthermore, sleep disorders and substance use disorders are linked to chaotic GABA functions in the brain.5


Norepinephrine is essential to executive functioning, regulating cognition, intellect, and motivation. Studies show that depressed people have significantly lower levels of norepinephrine. This effect is particularly marked when levels of serotonin and dopamine neurotransmission are also affected.6


In the central nervous system, serotonin regulates physiological functions such as appetite, eating behavior, digestion, sleep, sexual behaviors, cognition, emotion, perception, and mood. It is a common belief that serotonin imbalance as a result of damaged or lacking receptors, impaired signal communication, and diminished serotonin release contribute to depression.

Also, a lack of tryptophan, the amino acid chemical responsible for making serotonin, can alter mental well-being. Low serotonin contributes to unhappiness, depression, and insomnia. High serotonin can cause rapid heart rate, anxiety, muscle twitches, and loss of coordination.7

What Is Neurotransmitter Therapy?

Neurotransmitter Therapy

Neurotransmitter therapy is a treatment that attempts to restore the balance of neurochemicals in the body. Benefits of this treatment approach include improved stress management, better control of food cravings, overeating, and food addiction, greater focus and energy, and relief of emotional disorders, including substance use disorder, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, mood instability, and more.

What’s more, is that neurotransmitter therapy does all these things without the dangerous repercussions of prescription drugs. It works to repair the body to its naturally intended state that it was meant to be in, so it performs at its optimal level, and all systems work together in symbiosis. It promotes better well-being by addressing a key set of relationships among neurotransmitters, the gut, and mental health.8

How Does Neurotransmitter Therapy Work?

There are multiple therapies proven to be successful in restoring neurotransmitter function. What’s more is that when used together, treatment efforts are even more successful. Below are the most prominent neurotransmitter therapy practices.

Eating a Neurotransmitter Conducive Diet

Studies show that an imbalance in the gut microbiome – the diverse assortment of bacteria in the gut – is linked to an imbalance in neurotransmitters and can affect mental health. This results in a triangular relationship among gut microbiota balance, mental health symptoms, and neurotransmitters, as expressed here:

  • Gut health regulates neurotransmitters, and an imbalance of neurotransmitters can affect gut microbiota.
  • Gut microbiota disturbances can cause mental health symptoms, and mental health disorders can cause disturbances in the gut.
  • Mental health symptoms are affected by an imbalance of neurotransmitters, and mental health disorders can cause a neurotransmitter imbalance.

What this means is that adjusting diet to better facilitate the microbiome within the gut and digestive system is instrumental in healthy neurotransmitter production. This, in turn, can restore balance in the body and mind and reduce mental health symptoms.

With the delicate relationship among the gut, neurotransmitters, and mental health, it makes sense to adjust the nutrients taken into the gut—the component we have the most control over. By doing so, you can regulate the other two.9

What Kind of Diet Produces Neurotransmitters?

Certain foods are neurotransmitter-friendly and helpful in the production of neurotransmitters. By contrast, certain foods are not conducive to a symbiosis of neurotransmitters and can thwart neurotransmitter production and even deplete existing supplies. This can cause an imbalanced and chaotic environment in which mental disorders like depression and substance use disorder may run rampant.

Attributes of a diet that supports a healthy balance of neurotransmitters include:

  • Gluten-free
  • Soy-free
  • Sugar-free
  • Caffeine-free
  • Probiotic-rich

Neurotransmitter-Specific Foods

A diet that sustains neurotransmitter balance is rich in foods that promote neurotransmitter production. Studies have found these specific foods to be the most beneficial in sustaining a balance of neurotransmitters:10

  • Acetylcholine: eggplant, orange, beans, peas, spinach, squash, and strawberries
  • GABA: beans, peas, tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms, oats, barley, rice, sweet potatoes, and chestnuts
  • Dopamine: banana, plantain, avocado, oranges, apples, eggplant, spinach, peas, beans, and tomatoes
  • Serotonin: mango, banana, plantains, passion fruit, pineapple, plums, pomegranates, strawberries, beans, spinach, tomato, wild rice, cabbage, hazelnut, kiwi, green onion, lettuce, paprika, and potatoes

Amino Acid Therapy

In addition to incorporating a diet like the one outlined above, it is crucial to recognize the importance of amino acids in restoring and maintaining proper neurotransmitter function. Amino acids form chains called polypeptides within proteins and deliver them to the body via the digestive system. Amino acids are fundamental in the production of neurotransmitters in the body. For example, the amino acid tryptophan is a necessary component in the production of serotonin. Some other essential amino acids that are required for the central nervous system to function properly and are used in the brain for neurotransmitter synthesis include tyrosine, arginine, and histidine.11

The body can synthesize some amino acids, but to get essential amino acids, the diet must include foods that naturally include them. The best source of amino acids is a diet that includes a healthy level of proteins.

Detoxification Therapy in Neurotransmitter Rehabilitation

While diet is essential to neurotransmitter therapy, diet changes can be largely ineffective if an overload of toxins is present within the body. In fact, diet is only part of a comprehensive neurotransmitter treatment plan because the key component in neurotransmitter therapy is detoxification.

It’s important to note that this type of detoxification process is a bit different than the supervised medical detox often utilized at the beginning of substance use disorder treatment. However, the two can be used together to address toxic load and the resulting mental health symptoms and drug cravings it can cause. Detoxification in neurotransmitter rehabilitation is primarily concerned with the removal of heavy metals and other environmental toxins, which bind to neuroreceptors and inhibit the proper function of neurotransmitters. If toxins are present, neurotransmitters are impaired significantly.

Heavy Metals Testing

Patients undergoing neurotransmitter therapy are initially tested for toxic metals because a buildup of these toxins can accumulate over time and disrupt chemical interactions within the body. This directly interferes with mental health and addictive behaviors.12 Some of the most common toxic heavy metals include the following:

  • Aluminum
  • Arsenic
  • Cadmium
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Pesticides
  • Organic toxins

Once the heavy metal toxins in an individual are discovered via testing, a unique and personalized treatment plan can be formulated. The most effective approach is often what’s called an orthomolecular approach. This type of plan aims at eliminating toxins and restoring nutritional deficiencies through targeted supplementation and diet.

Heavy Metals Detoxification Process

To properly detox from heavy metals, many patients undergo sauna detox. Because these toxins are fat-soluble, they bind to fat in the body, where they essentially remain. The detoxification process involves first taking chelators, supplements that bind to toxins to facilitate their breakdown and remove them from the receptors. Chelators are claw-like proteins that have a stronger attraction to heavy metals than the heavy metals do to the fat. Then, in the conjugation phase, the liver attaches an additional molecule to the toxin to make it water-soluble. The toxins are then more readily flushed out of the body.11

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IV Therapy

IV Therapy

One essential component we use to facilitate healing in our patients is IV therapy. Because there are likely problems in the gut and digestive system associated with toxins and neurotransmitter imbalance, it’s important to get nutrients restored in the body immediately. Unfortunately, waiting for digestion and absorption to occur and restore balance can be too long to wait. Our patients need relief from dehydration and nutrient deficiency immediately. IV therapy re-introduces vitamins and nutrients back into the body to maintain a healthy state in which to heal and experience recovery.

IV therapy also has positive effects on the reward system within the brain – a system that, in many of our patients, has been damaged due to toxic overload and prolonged medication use. IV provides a head start for recovery, providing relief from withdrawal and quickly diminishing symptoms that would otherwise take weeks or months to curtail.13 With this kickstart, many patients have greater success in recovery because they can reach a place of clarity sooner. This can establish hope and create a better focus on other aspects of sobriety.

Coping Skills Promote Long-Term Recovery

Another important part of neurotransmitter therapy is learning coping skills, so when a patient completes their treatment plan, they have the self-confidence and capabilities to face issues as they arise rather than turning to medications or former addictive habits. Practiced skills and therapies include meditation and mindfulness, support and family system therapy, learning to authenticate the self, and changing perception in general. Some common therapies used to supplement other components of neurotransmitter therapy are detailed below.

Reality Therapy

Reality therapy is a form of counseling that views behaviors as choices. It states that psychological symptoms occur not because of a mental disorder but because of unmet needs and unsatisfied desires. Reality therapy focuses on current issues affecting a person seeking treatment rather than the issues the person has experienced in the past, setting goals, and finding effective solutions. The goal of reality therapy is to help clients learn to fulfill their basic needs. Reality therapists are mentors, advocates, and communicators, helping clients identify and take responsibility for their choices and actions.

Unconditional Positive Regard

Unconditional positive regard (UPR) is a concept developed by Carl Rogers, who is largely regarded as one of the founding fathers of humanistic psychology. It is defined as a state of acceptance and respect for another person, regardless of the situation. It does not mean that one likes or approves of another person’s behavior, but rather that one values a person’s worth and recognizes that they are doing their best in their current circumstances. It is a non-judgmental attitude that allows for understanding and acceptance of the individual without conditions.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on understanding the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It works to identify and change unhelpful thought patterns that can lead to undesired emotions and behaviors. CBT is used to treat a wide range of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, phobias, and substance use disorders. It is also used to help people develop effective coping strategies for dealing with difficult life events and stressful situations. It is based on the belief that the way you think has a direct impact on the way you feel. Retraining the brain to think and react differently is a key component in the success of long-term recovery.

Social Cognitive Theory

Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) provides a framework for understanding how people learn through observing others and how their environment, behavior, and thoughts all interact to influence how they learn. It also focuses on the role of social interaction and observation in learning and emphasizes the importance of self-regulation, self-efficacy, and self-reflection in the learning process. SCT is often used to explain how people acquire knowledge, skills, and attitudes and has been successfully applied to a wide range of contexts, including health, education, and the behavior of people with substance use disorders.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a subset of cognitive behavioral therapy. This therapy employs practices like mindfulness, positive change, and acceptance to help people manage their emotions and behaviors. It focuses on helping people develop skills for managing distress, regulating emotions, and improving relationships. When difficult situations arise, the individual will be less likely to turn to former behaviors to relieve stress.

How Long Does Neurotransmitter Therapy Take to Work?

It can take longer for individuals who have experienced more severe damage to neurotransmitter balance due to prolonged medication use to complete neurotransmitter therapy. This is because the brain takes time to heal, just like any other body part. Even with neurotransmitter therapy, clients may experience a gradual healing that takes place over months.

For example, dopamine balance may improve in about 90 days. Serotonin axons, the fibers that transmit electrical signals between neurons, have the incredible ability to regrow and repair even when severed, showing substantial regrowth after three to six months.14 By contrast, some patients may feel the effects of amino acid therapy immediately as nutrients become more balanced.

What Are the Risks of Neurotransmitter Therapy?

The primary risk associated with undergoing neurotransmitter therapy is ceasing therapy before balance is restored in the body. At this time, any repair that has occurred will start to regress. It is important to continue treatment and avoid regression of the brain and body’s natural ability to support a balanced neurotransmitter state. The goal to balance neurotransmitters by re-establishing gut health and the other mentioned forms of damage control, along with other components of treatment, should be completed in full.

Neurotransmitter Rehabilitation in Sedona, AZ

Neurotransmitter Rehabilitation

Alternative to Meds Center offers a comprehensive approach to neurotransmitter therapy. Our program provides the diverse range of neurotransmitter services and treatment components outlined above. We believe in a holistic approach to treatment that addresses every potential aspect of a substance use disorder, not just the associated behaviors. That’s why our research-backed treatment program and therapeutic techniques are so successful. If you’re still wondering whether neurotransmitter therapy could help you heal from substance use disorder, we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible.


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  2. Mandal, P. K., Gaur, S., Roy, R. G., Samkaria, A., Ingole, R., & Goel, A. (2022). Schizophrenia, Bipolar and Major Depressive Disorders: Overview of Clinical Features, Neurotransmitter Alterations, Pharmacological Interventions, and Impact of Oxidative Stress in the Disease Process. ACS Chemical Neuroscience, 13(19), 2784-2802.
  3. Smart, K., Naganawa, M., Baldassarri, S. R., Nabulsi, N., Ropchan, J., Najafzadeh, S., … & Hillmer, A. T. (2021). PET imaging estimates of regional acetylcholine concentration variation in living human brain. Cerebral Cortex, 31(6), 2787-2798.
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  7. Jones, L. A., Sun, E. W., Martin, A. M., & Keating, D. J. (2020). The ever-changing roles of serotonin. The International Journal of Biochemistry & Cell Biology, 125, 105776.
  8. Huang, F., & Wu, X. (2021). Brain neurotransmitter modulation by gut microbiota in anxiety and depression. Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology, 9, 649103.
  9. Liu, T., Feenstra, K. A., Heringa, J., & Huang, Z. (2020). Influence of gut microbiota on mental health via neurotransmitters: a review. Journal of Artificial Intelligence for Medical Sciences, 1(1-2), 1-14.
  10. Briguglio, M., Dell’Osso, B., Panzica, G., Malgaroli, A., Banfi, G., Zanaboni Dina, C., Galentino, R., & Porta, M. (2018). Dietary Neurotransmitters: A Narrative Review on Current Knowledge. Nutrients, 10(5), 591.
  11. Rao, P., Yallapu, M. M., Sari, Y., Fisher, P. B., & Kumar, S. (2015). Designing Novel Nanoformulations Targeting Glutamate Transporter Excitatory Amino Acid Transporter 2: Implications in Treating Drug Addiction. Journal of personalized nanomedicine, 1(1), 3–9. Retrieved February 27, 2023, from
  12. Oves et al., (2016). Heavy Metals: Biological Importance and Detoxification Strategies J Bioremed Biodeg, 7:2
  13. Blum, K., Oscar-Berman, M., Stuller, E., Miller, D., Giordano, J., Morse, S., McCormick, L., Downs, W. B., Waite, R. L., Barh, D., Neal, D., Braverman, E. R., Lohmann, R., Borsten, J., Hauser, M., Han, D., Liu, Y., Helman, M., & Simpatico, T. (2012). Neurogenetics and Nutrigenomics of Neuro-Nutrient Therapy for Reward Deficiency Syndrome (RDS): Clinical Ramifications as a Function of Molecular Neurobiological Mechanisms. Journal of addiction research & therapy, 3(5), 139.
  14. Jin, Y., Dougherty, S. E., Wood, K., Sun, L., Cudmore, R. H., Abdalla, A., Kannan, G., Pletnikov, M., Hashemi, P., & Linden, D. J. (2016). Regrowth of Serotonin Axons in the Adult Mouse Brain Following Injury. Neuron, 91(4), 748–762.
Benefits of Neurotransmitter Therapy for Mental Health and Addiction
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