It might seem obvious that someone who is depressed would abuse cocaine. This drug can temporarily neutralize many of the most unpleasant and debilitating symptoms of depression by elevating mood, confidence, and energy. However, these effects are very brief, leaving many persons stuck in a cycle of repeated use that can rapidly progress to dependence and addiction.
Even when individuals who have depression and abuse cocaine do not develop a substance use disorder, they may eventually exacerbate their depression. Repeated cocaine use alters brain chemistry in a manner that deepens and prolongs dysphoric feelings and makes it more challenging to feel happy. When people use cocaine to improve their mood, they prevent themselves from sustaining long-term recovery from depressive symptoms.
What Is Cocaine?
Cocaine is a potent substance that has stimulating effects on the brain and body. It is derived from the coca plant native to South America. It is classified as a Schedule II substance per the Drug Enforcement Administration, and in the vast majority of cases, it is found illicitly. Moreover, it does have some limited medical use but also has a high potential for abuse.
What Is Depression?
Depression, clinically known as major depressive disorder, is a common and potentially severe mental health condition that negatively affects how people feel and act. Depression is characterized by feelings of sadness or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to various emotional and physical problems and decrease an individual’s ability to function at work, school, and home.
Depression symptoms must last for at least two weeks and can vary from mild-severe and may include the following:
- Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Loss of energy or increased fatigue
- Increase in purposeless physical activity or slowed movements or speech
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
- Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
Does Cocaine Cause Depression?
Jokes about cocaine in popular culture often highlight how the drug can make individuals feel invincible. Unfortunately, fewer persons are aware of the lows that will inevitably follow the cocaine high. For those who use cocaine, depression after use is common, even if they do not use it routinely.
The reason why depression and cocaine have this relationship has to do with how the brain works. Cocaine is a stimulant and activates the sympathetic nervous system, which regulates the fight-or-flight reaction. This state of hyperalertness and surging energy instigated by the release of adrenaline can’t be maintained for long and will soon be followed by a “coming down” period or crash.
This shift isn’t an issue most of the time because people feel relieved to have escaped a threat or have overcome a stressful challenge and enjoy resting afterward. However, when substances trigger these changes, there is nothing to feel relieved about when their effects wear off. The disappointment individuals feel as the drug rapidly wears off is one way cocaine use can give way to depression, especially after repeated use.
Cocaine changes the brain, and this is how cocaine causes depression. On top of norepinephrine, cocaine boosts concentrations of both dopamine and serotonin. The brain is inundated with these chemicals, which causes the user to experience euphoria.
But once the effects of the cocaine subside, the brain must work to reestablish the normal balance of these neurotransmitters. When this happens, most users feel even worse than they did prior to taking the cocaine.
So, does cocaine cause depression that lasts long enough to require treatment? Yes, it certainly can, especially if people progress to cocaine dependence and start experiencing cocaine withdrawal symptoms.
Cocaine Withdrawal and Depression
For people who use cocaine, depression the next day can become part of a familiar and worrisome pattern. This post-cocaine depression is more pronounced for people who are dependent on cocaine compared to people who are not reliant on it.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), substance dependence involves the presence of at least three of the following symptoms:
- Tolerance, or needing increasing amounts of a substance to experience sought-after effects
- Withdrawal symptoms or unpleasant physical or emotional effects that occur when use is discontinued
- Using a substance in higher quantities or over a more prolonged period than initially intended
- Making unsuccessful efforts to control or decrease substance use
- Spending a significant amount of time obtaining and using a drug and recovering from its effects
- Neglecting important social, work-related, or recreational activities in favor of substance use
- Continuing to abuse a substance despite knowing it induces or worsens a psychological problem
Although cocaine does not cause physical withdrawal symptoms as alcohol and opiates do, it can cause lasting and recurring psychoemotional withdrawal effects, such as the following:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased hunger
- Drug cravings
- Sleep disturbances
Among of the most pronounced and expected effects of cocaine withdrawal is depression. This mental condition may arise because long-term cocaine use causes neurochemicals in the brain to be reduced to chronically low levels because abusing cocaine damages cells in the brain’s pleasure and reward center. Cocaine alters the brain and can lead some people to develop chronic depression or have acute depressive episodes.
The good news is that long-term recovery from cocaine abuse allows the brain to heal and recover its former level of functioning.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Cocaine Addiction and Depression
It can be daunting to seek treatment for co-occurring disorders. The effects of addiction and unaddressed depression can make life feel chaotic, overwhelming, and hopeless. Persons seeking relief can begin to feel as if there is no way out.
However, the reality is that both conditions can be successfully treated, often using the same interventions. Although addiction requires specific treatment, cocaine depression treatment has little difference from that of typical depression. For many individuals, elevated depressive symptoms are relieved with continued abstinence from cocaine abuse.
When depression persists after a person stops using cocaine, there are several different interventions that can help. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to treat a wide variety of mental health disorders and is especially effective for depression. It can be modified to help people address triggers to use substances while learning how to challenge and counteract the distorted thinking that maintains depression.
For those who need to treat addiction simultaneously with a depressive disorder, many rehab centers offer evidence-based, integrated treatment programs that address mental health conditions while helping people manage cravings and avoid triggers. This treatment can allow people to experience immediate relief from painful psychological symptoms while facilitating long-term recovery and restoration of neurotransmitter levels.
Getting Help for Cocaine Addiction
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery offer customized, intensive programs in both residential and partial hospitalization formats. Our therapeutic services and activities are clinically proven to be beneficial for the recovery process and include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Behavioral therapy
- Peer group support
- Individual/family counseling
- Relapse prevention
- Health and wellness education
- Art and music therapy
- Mindfulness therapy
- Aftercare planning
- Alumni activities