A depressed, mid-aged woman sits on her couch with her eyes closed and hands clasped close to her mouth.

How Does Depression Work in the Brain?

Living with depression can feel like you’re adrift in the ocean with no life vest and no rescue boat in sight. Like powerful waves hitting your face and controlling your every move, depression can feel commanding, terrifying and without end.

For those dealing with a substance use disorder, self-medicating to manage feelings of depression can sometimes seem like a viable way of coping with symptoms. While alcohol or drug use can provide short-term relief from depression, it consistently leads to severe substance addiction and even greater ongoing emotional issues. Understanding how depression affects you can help you find ways to manage it and recover from substance abuse.

How Depression Works in the Brain

Depression has been shown to literally alter your brain, changing the actual neural pathways and shrinking the size of your hippocampus – an area of the brain that regulates memory and emotions. Depression can make you feel foggy and exhausted, since your brain has to work harder to process information and feelings.

Research has shown that an imbalance in neurotransmitters in the brain can also contribute to depression. Fortunately, there are ways to restore this balance of brain chemicals and help alleviate symptoms. Holistic treatment interventions – including mindfulness training and nutritional management – are essential components to repairing existing neurological issues and alleviating feelings of depression.

Effects of Depression on the Brain

Problems with depression typically occur when excessive amounts of cortisol are sent to the brain due to stressful experiences or a chemical imbalance in the body. In a healthy brain, brain cells are produced throughout a person’s adult life in a part of the hippocampus called the dentate gyrus. However, in people with depression, the long-term exposure to increased cortisol levels can slow the production of new neurons and cause the neurons in the hippocampus to shrink.

This can lead to three identified issues that impact the brain:

• Brain Inflammation
Brain inflammation during depression is linked to the amount of time a person has been depressed. One recent study indicated that people depressed for more than 10 years showed 30 percent more inflammation compared to people depressed for less time. This type of long-term inflammation exacerbates a person’s feelings of depression, making the process cyclical and extremely difficult to break.

• Brain Shrinkage
Current studies have shown that the hippocampus, amygdala and prefrontal cortex can be affected by excessive feelings of depression. When experiencing depression, these parts of the brain have been shown to shrink in response to the reduction in essential neurotransmitters that help the brain stay healthy. The amount these areas shrink is linked to the severity and length of the depressive episode that is experienced and vary from person to person.

• Oxygen Restriction
People who experience depression have also been shown to deal with reduced oxygen in the body. This is caused by alterations in breathing patterns, which are triggered by the excessive emotionality being experienced. This hypoxic reaction is directly related to depressive symptoms and can have an identifiably negative impact on your brain.

Addiction, Depression, and the Brain

The relationship between depression and substance abuse is co-occurring – meaning that people who struggle with substance addiction are more likely to experience depression. This routinely leads individuals to self-medicating or excessive substance use to lift their mood or escape from their feelings of hopelessness and despair.

The problem that people struggling with addiction run into is that a substance like alcohol actually increases feelings of sadness within a person. Alcohol may relieve symptoms for a short time, but once the high wears off, they’re left feeling worse than before.

If you are dealing with both depression and a substance addiction, then you are experiencing a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. This refers to any combination of addiction and mental health disorder (anxiety and depression) that’s impacting an individual’s life.

When a person struggles with substance abuse and a mental illness, the results can be devastating to both their physical and mental wellbeing. Fortunately, addiction treatment is available to address all aspects of your co-occurring disorder.

Holistic, Co-Occurring Drug & Alcohol Addiction Treatment at Ranch Creek Recovery

Your new life starts the moment you declare you have complete control over your actions, health and future. At Ranch Creek Recovery, we provide holistic dual diagnosis treatment that offers personalized and long-lasting care.

To learn more about our life-changing co-occurring treatment programs or to begin your recovery contact us today.

CALL NOW: (877) 293-8607