Depression or Major Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States, but it’s still not very well understood. There are a lot of misconceptions both about depression itself and about the people who have depression. That’s a big problem because it can prevent people from recognizing what they’re feeling or from seeking help even if they understand that they are dealing with depression. 

Misunderstandings of what depression is and how it affects the people who have it can also lead to unnecessary stigma and shame in social situations. That stigma can cause additional suffering and make it even harder for people to admit what they’re dealing with or seek help with their condition. 

So it’s important to understand depression, at least a little bit, for everyone. It’s even more important if you think you have depression or if you’ve been diagnosed with depression but don’t know what that means for you. 

In this article, we’ll talk about what depression feels like, how depression works, and why depression can leave you more vulnerable to addiction because we understand that it’s especially important for people who have depression to understand the warning signs of addiction and to know that there are resources out there that can help. 

Sound like what you’ve been looking for? 

We’re glad you’re here. 

Let’s get started.

What Does Depression Feel Like?

Depression feels different for everyone who experiences it. This description is just meant to be a starting place for understanding or recognizing depression when you have it. 

There’s a common misconception that depression and sadness are similar feelings. But depression doesn’t necessarily mean you feel sad or even that you’re feeling an identifiable emotion. Depression exists even when you feel other emotions but can block them out. 

One of the most persistent descriptions of depression is that people who have depression take little pleasure in life, even sometimes, especially in the things they used to enjoy. 

People with depression often have low self-esteem. People with major depression may think poorly of themselves and often experience severe negative self-talk, where the thoughts and feelings they direct toward themselves are mostly negative. 

Depression also comes with feelings of hopelessness. It may be difficult to imagine things getting better, and experience may reinforce the idea that things don’t get better, especially in people who have had depression for a long time. 

People with depression may recognize that they don’t have a clear picture of their life and situation, but that doesn’t necessarily make it easier to combat their low self-esteem, negative self-talk, or hopelessness. Many people with depression feel like they have little or no control over their emotions or their disorder. 

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Depression may also show up in other ways. It’s common for depression to make it more difficult to sleep or to make sleep less restful. In addition, you might notice someone with depression undergoing big weight changes, especially when they first develop the disorder or when it worsens. People with depression can lose weight or gain it, depending on how their depression manifests. 

Lack of interest in activities, social life, and even your professional life can also be tied into depression and are common.

What Does Depression Do To The Brain?: Can Feeling Depressed Lead To Substance Abuse?

Depression causes a wide range of effects in the brain, including changes in structures within the brain and the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain. There are more than 100 neurotransmitters in a healthy brain, and not all are well understood or have all the ways they interact with your brain and influence your mood. 

The longer you have depression, and the more severe your depression becomes, the more likely you will have more significant changes to the balance of neurotransmitters and brain structures. 

When structural changes occur, that can also feed into some of the functions of those structures, which can cause further changes in mood and behaviors. 

The good news is that those structural and chemical changes to the brain can be reversed with treatment, though finding the right treatment options can be a process. Many options include talk therapy, medications, other treatments, and skills building. 

Structural Changes In The Brain

Structural changes are more easily tracked and studied than neurotransmitter changes, so those are somewhat better understood than the neurotransmitter side. 

Here are some of the critical changes that depression can cause in your brain. 

Hippocampus: Your hippocampus is involved in memory processing, processing space, and movement. When it’s impacted, you may experience memory retention and processing changes. You may also experience changes in movement and coordination – which is why people with depression may be noted to be moving faster or slower than average. 

Thalamus: Your thalamus communicates information between your pre-frontal cortex and brain stem. 

Amygdala: Your amygdala is involved in processing emotions and memory, and structural changes to the amygdala may be involved in emotional regulation problems in depression and changes in the emotional content of memories. 

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There may be other changes, and these changes may be related to depression or other situations, including medication conditions, medications, or experiences. 

Not everyone with depression will have these kinds of structural changes, and the extent of any existing changes may differ between patients. That’s important to note because everyone who has depression is going to have a different experience of the condition as well as different symptoms and symptom presentations. 

We’re emphasizing that because it’s important to know that having depression doesn’t mean that those structural changes will be permanent or that you have them. Depression, like all mental health disorders, is a complicated issue that is still being studied. More details about depression and the nature of depression’s effects on the brain are still being discovered, and our understanding of depression is still changing. 

Unfortunately, one of the big problems with depression and substance use disorders is that both of these conditions can feed into one another. Someone with depression may be more willing to engage in risky behavior if they think there is a possibility that those behaviors will provide relief from their symptoms. 

But, many drugs and substances that someone with a substance use disorder may use can cause changes to the brain’s normal function in ways that can make depression worse. But the person experiencing depression and substance use disorders may not see the connection and may be resistant to the idea that their substance use is making the problem worse, especially if they see substance use as their only relief from the symptoms of depression.

Why Feeling Depression Should Be Treated Before An Addiction Can Occur & What To Do If Already Struggling With An Addiction

Depression doesn’t have to lead to an addiction, and early and effective treatment can help prevent symptoms of depression from getting worse or leading to more risk-taking behaviors. 

While depression is a complex disorder, getting treatment and finding the combination of treatments can make depression manageable or even resolve depression symptoms. 

There is still hope for people who have both depression and substance use disorder. These disorders can be difficult to treat when they occur together, but addressing the root causes of the problems simultaneously can make it easier to deal with depression and substance use disorder or addiction simultaneously. 

If you’re dealing with depression or have depression and a substance use disorder, there are options for you. One option that may help address both a substance use disorder and depression is a residential treatment center. 

Residential treatment centers have the advantage of being able to offer comprehensive care for both disorders. They can offer medications to help deal with substance use disorder, depression, or other mental health disorders. Additionally, treatments can include coping mechanisms and other skills that will help you deal with depression in the future. 

If you’re dealing with depression and want help, especially if you’re dealing with depression and a substance use disorder simultaneously, Infinite Recovery is here to help. 

Contact us to learn more about our programs, what treatment for depression and substance use disorder can look like, and how getting into treatment for depression and substance use disorder can help you. 

You don’t have to do this alone. And if you are dealing with depression, a substance use disorder, or both and are ready to seek help, you are anything but weak. Reaching out for help is hard. But, it’s a sign of your strength that you’re here and considering getting the support you deserve. 

Don’t give up. Remember that depression is treatable and that the worst symptoms and side effects of depression can be recovered from. You don’t have to feel this way, and Infinite Recovery can help you get where you want to go. 

We do believe that the potential for recovery is infinite. 


  1. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Major Depression. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Accessed September 18, 2022. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression
  2. Borenstein J. Psychiatry.org – Stigma, Prejudice and Discrimination Against People with Mental Illness. Published August 2020. Accessed September 18, 2022. https://psychiatry.org:443/patients-families/stigma-and-discrimination
  3. Berry J, Ames H. What does depression feel like? Published July 28, 2022. Accessed September 18, 2022. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/314071
  4. How Depression Affects the Brain. Yale Medicine. Accessed September 18, 2022. https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/neurobiology-depression
  5. Wilson S, Burford M. 5 Ways Depression Can Physically Affect the Brain. Healthline. Published February 22, 2022. Accessed September 18, 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/depression-physical-effects-on-the-brain


Amanda Stevens, BS

Medical Content Writer

Amanda Stevens, BS

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magnum Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. As a person in recovery from disordered eating, she is passionate about seeing people heal and transform. She writes for popular treatment centers such as Ocean Recovery, Ascendant NY, The Heights Treatment, Epiphany Wellness, New Waters Recovery and adolescent mental health treatment center BasePoint Academy. In her spare time she loves learning about health, nutrition, meditation, spiritual practices, and enjoys being the a mother of a beautiful daughter.

Last medically reviewed September 18, 2022

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