Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on August 28, 2023



When you go through something traumatic, your brain triggers a “flight-or-fight” response. Most people recover on their own, but some get posttraumatic stress disorder. PTSD causes your amygdala -- the part of the brain that controls emotions -- to be overactive. And it lowers activity in your prefrontal cortex, a decision-making area. It can also shrink your hippocampus, which forms memories.




Depression doesn’t affect just your mood. The disorder can change your brain. Experts say it lessens activity in some brain areas, including your prefrontal lobes, which are involved with things like reasoning, personality, and judgment. One study found that people who were depressed for more than a decade had about 30% more brain inflammation. This may lead to brain cell loss, which would make memory problems and dementia more likely.  




Strokes happen when blood flow to part of your brain stops. They cause permanent brain damage and can lead to death and disability. Your symptoms will depend on where your stroke happens. If it’s on the left side of the brain, you may have weakness or numbness on the right side of your body, and speaking may be tough as well. If your stroke is on the right side of the brain, you may have weakness or numbness on your left side. 

Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol Use Disorder


It’s no secret that alcohol affects the brain. It can cause blurry vision, slurred speech, and memory loss. That’s because alcohol kills brain cells. Over time, drinking too much can damage your brain. Research shows that it can shrink certain parts of your brain, too. Some experts say that people with alcoholism have a smaller hippocampus -- the area important for learning and memory -- than those who don’t drink often.




People with schizophrenia have different brains than those without this mental disorder. Scans show they lose gray and white matter, the fatty material that makes up the brain. White matter sits deep in the brain, where information travels. Gray matter surrounds it and, among other things, helps the brain process information. In people who have schizophrenia, gray matter tends to leave first, with white matter going away over time.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease


Your brain has cells called neurons. They “talk” to each other through chemical and electrical signals, and send messages to the rest of your body. Alzheimer’s disease disrupts this communication. It’s thought that the breakdown comes from a buildup of two proteins, amyloid and tau. Both create tangles that might disrupt messages.




People who get migraines have faulty wiring in their brain. Certain nerves overreact to triggers, such as stress or bright light. This sets off a wave of activity, which causes chemicals to narrow blood vessels in the brain. That brings the headache and other symptoms. Over time, chronic migraines might cause you to lose some gray and white matter.

Brain Aneurysm

Brain Aneurysm


A brain aneurysm is weak spot in a blood vessel. It usually balloons or bulges out and fills with blood. Many look like a berry hanging on a thin stem. They often form on arteries at the base of the brain. Some aneurysms leak or rupture. That causes bleeding in the brain or the area between your brain and its lining. These are hemorrhagic strokes. They can start as headaches but can lead to nausea, seizures, and death.




Any number of mishaps, such as a car crash, contact sports, or bump to the head, can cause a concussion. During impact, the brain slides and bumps into the inside of the skull. This can bruise the brain and tear nerve tissue. Concussions also shake up the balance of chemicals in the brain, harming nerve cell function and triggering inflammation. While the brain usually heals on its own, getting multiple concussions may lead to long-lasting damage.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder


Scientists are still looking at the brain changes responsible for the intense mood changes of bipolar disorder. They think they’re the result of imbalances of neurotransmitters. These chemicals send messages between brain cells. They play a role in things like mood, sleep, and memory. For example, too much of a neurotransmitter called noradrenaline can cause mania, while too little sets the stage for depression.

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis


When you have MS, your immune system attacks the nerves in your brain and spinal cord. Your body sends white blood cells to harm the myelin, the layer of insulation around nerves. This causes nerve damage, and disrupts the flow of information to and from the brain. Over time, scar tissue forms on the nerves and creates lesions.  These changes lead to things like numbness, tremors, and vision problems.




Experts think ADHD symptoms, like inattention and hyperactivity, come from brain differences. Research shows there’s less gray and white matter in people with ADHD. Certain areas also take longer to take shape. What’s more, networks of nerve cells work differently. These networks send signals in the brain, and they play a role in attention and focus.




This mind-body practice eases stress and boosts mental health. Now, research reveals that it may actually change your brain. One study found that meditating for 2 months increased gray matter in parts of the brain that control emotions and learning. Meditation also strengthens the connection between brain cells. It may also ease inflammation in the brain and protect against Alzheimer’s disease.




Getting moving is good for the body and brain. Exercise pumps blood to the brain, which delivers oxygen and nutrients. It also stimulates the release of proteins that keep brain cells healthy and help grow new ones. Research shows that exercise may grow the areas of your brain that control thinking and memory.

Show Sources


1) Bill Hathaway, Yale University

2) Steven Needell / Science Source

3) Lars Neumann / Getty Images

4) Science Source / Science Source

5) Wellcome Department of Cognitive Neurology / Science Source

6) Alfred Pasieka / Science Source

7) Charing Cross Hospital / Science Source

8) Chris Bjornberg / Science Source

9) Living Art Enterprises / Science Source

10) Science Source / Science Source

11) Scott Camazine / Science Source

12) BSIP / JACOPIN / Medical Images

13) Fernando Da Cunha / Science Source

14) Science Photo Library  / SCIEPRO / Getty Images



Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research: “Hippocampus Volume Loss Due to Chronic Heavy Drinking.”

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: “ADHD & the Brain.”

American Heart Association: “Effects of Stroke.”

American Stroke Association: “What You Should Know About Cerebral Aneurysms.”

Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences: “Amygdala, Medial Prefrontal Cortex, and Hippocampal Function in PTSD.”

Archives of Neurology: “Association of Alcohol Consumption with Brain Volume in the Framingham Study.”

Biological Psychiatry: “Alternations in Resting-State Functional Connectivity Link Mindfulness Meditation with Reduced Interleuken-6: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” “What Happens to the Brain During and After Concussion?”

Current Opinions in Neurobiology: “The Amygdala and Emotion.”

Current Opinions in Psychiatry: “Evidence for White Matter Abnormalities in Schizophrenia.”

Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience: “Traumatic Stress: Effects on the Brain.”

Harvard Medical School: “Regular Exercise Changes the Brain to Improve Memory, Thinking Skills.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “How a Migraine Happens.”

Journal of Neural Transmission: “Longitudinal Brain Volume Changes in Major Depressive Disorder.”

Lancet: “Association of Translocator Protein Total Distribution Volume with Duration of Untreated Major Depressive Disorder: A Cross-Sectional Study.”

Mayo Clinic: “Concussion, “Meditation,” “Multiple Sclerosis.”

National Health Service (UK): “Bipolar Disorder.”

National Institute of Mental Health: “ADHD,” “Bipolar Disorder,” “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” “Schizophrenia.”

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: “Alcohol’s Damaging Effects on the Brain.”

National Institute on Aging: “What Happens to the Brain in Alzheimer’s Disease?”

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: “Definition of MS,” “Diagnosis: The Basic Facts.”

National Stroke Association: “What is Stroke?”

Neurochemistry Research: “Inflammation, Depression, and Dementia: Are They Connected?”

Neurology: “Migraine and Structural Changes in the Brain.”

Psychiatry Research: “Mindfulness Practice Leads to Increases in Regional Gray Matter Density.”

The American Journal of Psychiatry: “Accelerated Gray and White Matter Deterioration with Age in Schizophrenia.”

The Association of Migraine Disorders: “Causes of Migraine.”

The Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives: “How Does Exercise Affect Your Brain?”

Word Psychiatry: “The Underlying Neurobiology of Bipolar Disorder.”