Run for Focus: ADHD and the Dopamine Chase

Kate Smoliakova
3 min readJan 18, 2024

When I was in my twenties, I often said that I needed regular changes, typically in the context of work, relationships, or living spaces. It was somewhat of a joke, but a realistic one — I remember times when I changed jobs every three months, had attractions but no lasting relationships, and moved to new apartments each year, frequently rearranging furniture.

It was only when I realized I have ADHD and began to learn more about it that I discovered this behavior was largely driven by a quest for dopamine.

Although I still experience a lack of dopamine, my approach to fulfilling it has completely changed.

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Photo by afiq fatah on Unsplash

Dopamine acts as a messenger in our brain, influencing mood, attention, and motivation. Individuals with ADHD have kind of dysregulation in dopamine levels, which affects ability to focus and find satisfaction in everyday activities.

This imbalance often leads to seeking out high-stimulation activities or experiences as a compensatory mechanism.

However, understanding this dopamine-ADHD link is crucial.

It’s not just about seeking more dopamine; it’s about finding balanced and healthy ways to stimulate its production

For someone with ADHD, this might mean engaging in activities that provide just the right amount of challenge and interest to trigger dopamine release without leading to unhealthy behaviors.

I discovered that my way is running!

I started running 15 years ago and continue to do it regularly, though I pause from time to time. Setting up any habit is challenging for individuals with ADHD.

Now I understand that running is my coping mechanism.

Running goes beyond physical fitness; it’s a neurochemical powerhouse, providing a natural and consistent way to boost dopamine levels. After running, I feel energized and have a more balanced mood.

The nature of running is meditative, offering a sense of calm and focus that might be hard to achieve in daily life for someone with ADHD. When I’m running, I can focus solely on the tree I see, the bird singing I hear, or something triggered by my sight or hearing, especially…

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Kate Smoliakova

Product Manager | Write about my experience as manager and writer, ADHD and my interests as running, travelling, art and food