Histamine-dopamine interaction linked to addiction, compulsive behaviour

dice gambling on dark wooden background.

Research tells us histamine is linked to a number of compulsive behaviours that depend on dopamine reward. That’s alcoholism, drug abuse, and although it’s not mentioned in the studies I’ve read, possibly gambling. References always at the bottom of post. 

According to the UN world drug report, over 200 million people use illegal drugs yearly, and 200 thousand of them will die from it. An additional estimated 18 million suffer from alcohol addiction.

Histamine is involved in a number of brain functions like arousal, sleep regulation, body temperature, pain perception and appetite. Histamine can contribute to, or cause symptoms of, depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.

Histamine receptors are found in the brain, heart, stomach, breasts, and all over the body. Receptors allow histamine to “bind” to that area. It’s this binding that allows the body to maintain a number of needed functions, but it’s also what causes symptoms.

There are four histamine receptors we know of. Activating the H3 receptor regulates the release of histamine (this is good) but it also inhibits the release of neurotransmitters including acetylcholine, glutamate, GABA (the chill out chemical), noradrenaline and dopamine.

Researchers have long known that the abuse of drugs or alcohol can affect brain dopamine levels, and there’s now a growing understanding that histamine plays a role in addiction.

A number of studies have shown that the brain histamine content of rats that liked to drink alcohol was higher compared to controls. Alcohol consumption of these rats was reduced by giving them a medication that blocks the H3 receptor.

Studies also tell us that both cocaine and methamphetamines (MDMA is one of the latter) significantly raised brain histamine levels in animals, especially in the amygdala.

Though I’ve long known of this link, I was surprised to read today that women have higher brain histamine levels, which is actually not that surprising given that one of histamine’s roles is to regulate the stress response.

Other scientists have discovered that histamine is involved in appetite and food anticipation responses, as well as in how we consume food. Which would be why histamine can control appetite in times of stress, or adaptive anorexia as the researchers call it, which leads us to the finding that anorexia patients have also been found to have higher brain histamine levels.

This doesn’t mean that high histamine levels make you crave alcohol and drugs. It’s not that clear cut despite all the latest findings.

I’ve certainly noticed in the past that once I eat higher histamine for a few days I feel like I’m on a high of sorts and I wanted it to continue, by ingesting more histamine. That no longer happens thankfully. It was difficult putting myself back together physically and emotionally after a three week histamine bender.

But it’s not just that. Before sorting out my diet, my appetite knew no bounds, and I put on an incredible amount of weight because I just couldn’t stop myself. The hunger was so awful that I would wake up a number of times and head to the fridge to gorge myself. I’ve even woken up to find food in bed with me (but that’s probably more to do with the Ambien I was prescribed for years before understanding the role of histamine in my psych misdiagnoses).

Even worse is that while not an alcoholic, I did grow up in a resort town (think something like Cancun) where my friends and I began ingesting copious amounts of alcohol nightly for the three months of summer vacation and then every weekend till I became a journalist. Unfortunately covering war zones makes for heavy drinkers but I finally cut alcohol down to a reasonable amount once I left journalism and buckled down to get healthy.

Once my moods stabilised thanks to the diet changes and presumably less histamine driving my compulsive reward seeking behaviour in alcohol, it seemed that the perpetual hangover was no longer worth it.

So how do we get a boost from the feel good brain chemical dopamine without engaging in addictive behavious?

Boosting dopamine naturally

Eat protein rich foods. I would go for grass fed and finished proteins if possible to minimise inflammation

DHA rich frozen at sea or fresh salmon or a good vegan DHA/EPA supplement


Magnesium can help increase dopamine

Folate rich foods (like greens) are needed to produce dopamine



Eggs: uncooked egg white is considered high histamine, some who can’t tolerate chicken eggs do well with duck (please check with your doctor)


Meditation, exercise, massage and stress relief all work wonders




Processed sugar


Ellenbroek, B. A. “Histamine H3receptors, the complex interaction with dopamine and its implications for addiction.” British Journal of Pharmacology 170.1 (2013): 46-57. Web.

“Histamine Affects Alcohol-related Behavior.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 June 2009. Web. 16 June 2017.

White, T. “Histamine in the Brain.” Histamine and Anti-Histaminics (1966): 789-96. Web.

Ito, Chihiro, Kenji Onodera, Eiko Sakurai, Mitsumoto Sato, and Takehiko Watanabe. “Effect of Cocaine on the Histaminergic Neuron System in the Rat Brain.” Journal of Neurochemistry 69.2 (2002): 875-78. Web.

“Histamine and motivation (PDF Download Available).” N.p., n.d. Web. 16 June 2017.

Jabr, Ferris. “How the Brain Gets Addicted to Gambling.” Scientific American. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 June 2017.

“54 Natural Supplements, Agonists and Drugs to Increase Dopamine (and 12 things to AVOID).” Selfhacked. N.p., 31 May 2017. Web. 16 June 2017.


Check out these other Healing Histamine blog posts


Yasmina was an award-winning broadcast journalist with a decade of experience covering war zones for CNN and the BBC. She devoted her journalism skills to researching and writing about histamine. Click here to learn about her. Each post is carefully and fully referenced with the latest scientific research. Not sure where to start? Here’s a four week meal plan and overall Histamine Reset.

4 Week Histamine Reset

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