Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) is a mental health condition that involves someone who consistently disregards the rights and feelings of other people. Another dominant symptom of ASPD is when someone with the disorder shows a lack of consideration between ethical and unethical behaviors. People living with ASPD tend to antagonize, manipulate and treat other people harshly, and they may not show any signs of guilt or remorse for their behavior.

Dopamine is a chemical in the brain called a neurotransmitter that relays information between neurons. Dopamine, known as the brain’s reward neurotransmitter, is also responsible for regulating movement, attention, learning and emotional responses. Dopamine is often involved with addiction because of how substances affect the neurotransmitter and the release of pleasure and satisfaction in the brain during substance use.

How Dopamine Contributes to Antisocial Personality Disorders

In a study conducted by Vanderbilt University, researchers found that people who possess symptoms of ASPD tend to have an exceptionally responsive reward system also referred to as the nucleus accumbens. The amount of dopamine that released in people with psychiatric disorders was up to four times higher compared to people who scored lower on the personality profile. Researchers hypothesize that because of heightened responses of an anticipated reward in people with ASPD and other psychiatric disorders, these people are less concerned with the consequences of their behavior. This lack of respect for rules and authority combined with reduced empathy may contribute to manipulative and aggressive behaviors commonly observed in people with psychiatric disorders.

Because of an overreactive dopamine system, researchers conclude that this could explain why aggression can be as rewarding for people with psychiatric symptoms as drug use can be for others. Another conclusion made by researchers is the possibility that because of these exaggerated dopamine responses, people with ASPD and other psychiatric disorders may become so focused on a reward that they’ll do anything to get it including harming others or themselves.

The heightened reward response in people with ASPD may cause drug addictions. If you or someone you know struggles with substance abuse and a co-occurring disorder like antisocial personality disorder, help is available. At The Recovery Village, a team of professionals provides several treatment programs for substance use and co-occurring disorders. Call and speak with a representative to learn more about which treatment program could work for you.

National Institutes of Health (NIH). “Impulsive-Antisocial Personality Traits Linked to a Hypersensitive Brain Reward System.” March 15, 2010. Accessed February 20, 2019.