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Symmetria Wellness Group

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Jack Adams
Jack Adams

What Is A Chemical Imbalance

Countless doctors have repeated the message all over the world, in their private surgeries and in the media. People accepted what they were told. And many started taking antidepressants because they believed they had something wrong with their brain that required an antidepressant to put right. In the period of this marketing push, antidepressant use climbed dramatically, and they are now prescribed to one in six of the adult population in England, for example.

What is a Chemical Imbalance

Most antidepressants now in use are presumed to act via their effects on serotonin. Some also affect the brain chemical noradrenaline. But experts agree that the evidence for the involvement of noradrenaline in depression is weaker than that for serotonin.

Although viewing depression as a biological disorder may seem like it would reduce stigma, in fact, research has shown the opposite, and also that people who believe their own depression is due to a chemical imbalance are more pessimistic about their chances of recovery.

While research has led to a significant understanding of obsessive-compulsive disorder, scientists have not found the exact mechanism that triggers the illness. However, recent studies have linked obsessive-compulsive disorder to imbalances in brain chemistry. These changes usually involve serotonin, which controls moods and feelings.

Two categories of medications are approved for use in treating obsessive-compulsive disorder: tricyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These medications counter the brain's imbalance of serotonin, the chemical linked with obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is important to monitor your response to medication, which usually becomes fully effective within several weeks.

While medication helps level chemical imbalances, behavior therapy helps patients to learn to resist their obsessions and compulsions. In therapy, patients are gradually exposed to the things which cause their anxieties and provoke the obsessive behaviors. However, they are not allowed to perform the rituals that usually relieve the anxiety. Over time, patients learn that their feared consequences do not occur, and their anxieties decrease.

Although the chemical imbalance theory is the dominant causal explanation of depression in the United States, little is known about the effects of this explanation on depressed individuals. This experiment examined the impact of chemical imbalance test feedback on perceptions of stigma, prognosis, negative mood regulation expectancies, and treatment credibility and expectancy. Participants endorsing a past or current depressive episode received results of a bogus but credible biological test demonstrating their depressive symptoms to be caused, or not caused, by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Results showed that chemical imbalance test feedback failed to reduce self-blame, elicited worse prognostic pessimism and negative mood regulation expectancies, and led participants to view pharmacotherapy as more credible and effective than psychotherapy. The present findings add to a growing literature highlighting the unhelpful and potentially iatrogenic effects of attributing depressive symptoms to a chemical imbalance. Clinical and societal implications of these findings are discussed.

If you believe anxiety disorder is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain rather than your underlying factors, you would take a medication to correct the imbalance rather than working on addressing your underlying factors.

Christ is not alone in her opinion: According to surveys, more than 4 in 5 people believe that depression stems from imbalanced brain chemicals and, specifically, to low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. This explanation of depression has a corresponding treatment -- antidepressants known as SSRIs that are designed to boost serotonin levels and correct the so-called imbalance.

"I can't help but think and feel that it definitely has a chemical impact on me," Christ said during a HealthDay Now interview. "What happens with the serotonin exactly? I don't know. But clearly, if the research hasn't strongly backed that up, then there must be other things happening that they haven't figured out." She said she hopes this new research inspires a renewed push for answers.

"I remember commercials of drug companies showing us neurons and serotonin levels changing, and that's oversimplifying and suggesting that we understood what was going on," he said. "I think we should be humble now that we don't, but also clear that understanding is not what drives our treatment recommendations."

Regular drug use actually causes the brain to produce, absorb, or transmit less dopamine, resulting in a chemical imbalance in the brain. When the drugs are not active in the brain, dopamine levels can drop, causing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and powerful cravings. Drug dependence sets in, and individuals may feel compelled to keep taking drugs to avoid these negative emotional and physical withdrawal symptoms.

Addiction can then occur quickly, leading to a loss of control over the frequency and amount of drugs taken. The brain will no longer function normally without the drugs, and this imbalance can take time to heal. Much of the damage caused by drug abuse can be reversed with prolonged abstinence; however, some of the side effects may not heal entirely. Behavioral therapies, medications, ongoing support, and other measures that are part of a comprehensive addiction treatment program can help the brain to heal.

Stimulant drugs like cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamine stimulate an overproduction of neurotransmitters and may also prevent them from being reabsorbed normally, causing a large amount of these chemical messengers to be present in the brain at once. Drugs like ecstasy (3,4-methalynedioxymethamphetamine) interfere with the regular transmission method of neurotransmitters like serotonin and the way they are transported along natural pathways in the brain, ScienceDaily warns. Other drugs, such as heroin, prescription opioids, and marijuana, actually mimic natural brain chemicals and bind to receptors sites themselves, activating the neurons in their own way and thus disrupting the natural transmission and production of neurotransmitters and brain chemicals. With repeated drug abuse, the brain can actually be rewired as it struggles to keep chemically balanced.

When addiction is present, dopamine, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters affected by drug abuse may no longer be produced, transmitted, and absorbed the way they were before introduction of the drugs. Neurons may be damaged, and the regular functioning of these chemical messengers is impeded. It may then be difficult to feel pleasure from normal and everyday activities. Depression, anxiety, insomnia, irritability, restlessness, trouble with memory and cognitive functions, difficulties regulating moods, and issues controlling cravings may arise without the interaction of drugs.

Once the brain has become imbalanced due to drug abuse and dependence, it can take some time and effort to restore things. Cravings and emotional and physical withdrawal symptoms can be significant; with some drugs, they may be dangerous or even life-threatening. The safest method to restore a chemical balance to the brain is through medical detox.

The belief that chemical balances cause of depression is still widely held by the general public. This indicates a need to communicate the more current understanding that depression is a heterogeneous condition that may have many underlying causes.

Depression is a multi-faceted condition. While researchers do not fully understand what causes it, having an awareness of brain chemistry can be useful for medical and mental health professionals, researchers, and many people with depression.

It is important to remember that we do not fully understand how imbalances in these chemicals affect mental health conditions such as depression. While research indicates that serotonin levels may not cause depression, other neurotransmitters and interactions may play a part.

It is often assumed that the effects of antidepressants demonstrate that depression must be at least partially caused by a brain-based chemical abnormality, and that the apparent efficacy of SSRIs shows that serotonin is implicated. Other explanations for the effects of antidepressants have been put forward, however, including the idea that they work via an amplified placebo effect or through their ability to restrict or blunt emotions in general [19, 20].

The chemical imbalance theory of depression is still put forward by professionals [17], and the serotonin theory, in particular, has formed the basis of a considerable research effort over the last few decades [14]. The general public widely believes that depression has been convincingly demonstrated to be the result of serotonin or other chemical abnormalities [15, 16], and this belief shapes how people understand their moods, leading to a pessimistic outlook on the outcome of depression and negative expectancies about the possibility of self-regulation of mood [64,65,66]. The idea that depression is the result of a chemical imbalance also influences decisions about whether to take or continue antidepressant medication and may discourage people from discontinuing treatment, potentially leading to lifelong dependence on these drugs [67, 68].


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