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cocaine and depression

Cocaine is an amphetamine and a Schedule II drug in the U.S. Drugs in this class are described as the following:

  • Have currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, or currently accepted medical use with strong restrictions
  • Have a high potential for abuse
  • Abuse of the drug may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence

Cocaine can be snorted (insufflated), injected and in certain preparations, known as “crack,” can be smoked. In all cases cocaine is a strong central nervous system stimulant which affects how the brain processes the feel-good chemical dopamine.

Someone who uses cocaine over a long period of time can be extremely agitated and has violent mood swings. Cocaine and depression go hand-in-hand. There are physical health effects, too, especially with long-term use. Although, overdose can occur the first time it is used. If the user prefers snorting cocaine, this can cause permanent damage to the mucous membrane of the nose – creating holes in the barrier that separates the nostrils. In more extreme cases, the cocaine abuser’s nose “collapses” and leaves them with a distinct physical appearance.

Cocaine and Depression: Dual Diagnosis and Self-Medication

Cocaine and depression are co-occurring even in short-term use. Sometimes, the person using cocaine already suffers from depression and uses coke to self-medicate. Cocaine gives the user a short-lived euphoric “burst” that occurs when the drug is introduced into the user’s system. It stimulates the “feel-good” chemicals in the brain. But, just as quickly, the user will experience paranoia and feelings of depression as they “come down” from the “high.”

Cocaine and Depression: Short-Term Effects of Cocaine

Whether the person has a mood disorder, like depression, for which they turn to drugs like cocaine, or they have not experienced depression before, the user turns to cocaine and depression worsens.

The short-lived, intense high experienced by the user is immediately followed by the opposite: cocaine and depression, irritability and cravings for more cocaine. Because of its stimulant effects, coke interrupts normal sleeping and eating patterns, also affecting the person’s mood. In this way, too, cocaine and depression are closely linked.

Even when they aren’t high, cocaine can make people paranoid, angry, and anxious.

Cocaine and Depression: Long-Term Effects of Cocaine

Cocaine use increases levels of the brain chemical dopamine, which results in the “high” described by users. On the other hand, though, chronic and prolonged use of cocaine may reduce the overall levels of dopamine, therefore making it harder for cocaine abusers to experience feeling good or generally positive.

Research: Cocaine and Depression

Researchers from the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor Veterans Affairs Medical Center conducted a study that suggests that long-term cocaine use may cause damage to brain cells that help produce feelings of pleasure. This probably contributes, in part, to the high rates of depression reported among people who abuse cocaine.

In another study, funded in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, that was published in the January 2003 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, Dr. Karley Little and her colleagues studied samples of brain tissue gathered from the autopsies of 35 long-term cocaine users and 35 non-users. What she found was actual, physical evidence of fundamental changes in the brain between the two groups.

Her findings suggest that long-term cocaine use may cause actual changes to the brain that might make it harder for a person to experience pleasure.

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction as well as with a mood disorder, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.


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