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Connection Between Cocaine and Depression

connection between cocaine and depression

Does cocaine cause depression? Research says “yes.”

The connection between cocaine and depression is one that’s been studied for years. Despite the many cocaine jokes about it producing feelings of invincibility, feeling depressed after cocaine use is just as common. Additionally, cocaine and depression are further linked because the former is often used to treat the latter. Our drug addiction treatment center looks into how cocaine and depression are connected and whether coke can cause depression.


What Is Cocaine and What Does It Do?

Cocaine is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant drug that’s illegally used for recreational purposes. This powerfully addictive stimulant has been abused since people in South America began chewing and ingesting coca leaves (Erythroxylon coca) for their stimulant effects. Also known as coke or crack, the purified chemical cocaine hydrochloride was isolated from coca leaves over a century ago, thus introducing the stimulant that so many people know today.

Before discovering the negative side effects of cocaine, it was a common ingredient in many tonics and elixirs and was even an ingredient in the early formulas of the well-loved drink Coca-Cola. Coke was also once used in the medical field as a local anesthetic to block pain. Fortunately, research eventually exposed the dangers of cocaine use. Although it’s a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act, it’s rarely used in the medical field, and its recreational use is illegal in the United States.

As a stimulant, cocaine works by activating the brain’s mesolimbic dopamine system, otherwise known as its reward pathway. This is where dopamine is transported to other areas of the brain like the nucleus accumbens and amygdala, both of which play a role in reward, desire, and pleasure. The brain's reward pathway is normally activated when people eat or have sex, but drugs like cocaine can also stimulate it.

As with many other drugs, cocaine and dopamine are connected. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that takes part in functions like pleasure and mood, is normally released by a neuron into the synapse (the space between two neurons). It binds to dopamine receptors on the other neuron to communicate. A transporter protein then comes in and reuptakes or recycles the excess dopamine. Cocaine blocks this process, causing dopamine to flood the brain, which produces a high. This high motivates people to keep using cocaine or go on a cocaine binge to the point where they’re addicted and need cocaine detox or treatment to recover.


Understanding Depression

To understand the connection between cocaine and depression, you also have to know what depression is. Depression is the informal name for major depressive disorder, a mental illness that negatively impacts a person’s mood, the way they think, and their behavior.

Common symptoms of depression include:

  • Feeling sad
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in things you once enjoyed doing
  • Extreme weight loss or weight gain unrelated to dieting
  • Difficulties sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy
  • Increased fatigue
  • Feelings of emptiness or hopelessness
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Frequent purposeless physical activity or fidgeting (inability to sit still or repeated pacing)
  • Slowed movements or speech
  • Trouble concentrating or decision-making
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Self-harm

For someone to be diagnosed with depression, any of these symptoms must be present for at least two weeks and illustrate previous behavior changes. Much of depression is related to a chemical imbalance involving neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. An imbalance can affect a person’s mood and contribute to mental illness, which explains why people with depression often abuse drugs like cocaine, stimulating an increase in dopamine levels and temporarily making them feel better.

A person with depression will have the best chance at recovery if they receive mental health treatment. Banyan Treatment Centers has various facilities around the country, including a mental health program in Florida that can help you or a loved one safely recover from depression


Why Does Cocaine Make You Depressed?

Depression is a common symptom of coming down off coke which occurs due to the drug’s effect on chemicals like norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine. Despite the mood and confidence-boosting side effects of cocaine, post coke depression can occur in both casual and chronic users. The reason cocaine makes you depressed is that the increase of dopamine and mood it produces doesn’t last. As a stimulant, cocaine activates the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the body’s reaction to stress or threat, otherwise known as the fight-flight response. The release of norepinephrine triggers this state of increased energy and alertness, a stress hormone released when a person feels threatened. However, a cocaine high only lasts from 10 seconds to 3 minutes and is usually followed by a crash.

Additionally, cocaine causes depression by increasing serotonin and dopamine levels. Coming down off cocaine is cocaine depression which can occur in users whether they use coke only once or every day. Normally, this shift in mood isn’t a problem. People want to feel relieved when the threat is gone. However, when substances like cocaine trigger these changes, the symptoms aren’t relieving. This disappointment and sadness is the main reason why users ingest several doses of cocaine in one sitting or day.

Although most people are familiar with the short-term effects of cocaine, many don’t realize the long-term repercussions of cocaine addiction. Without cocaine addiction treatment, long-term cocaine abuse can lead to depression and other health problems.


Cocaine Withdrawal and Depression

For most users, experiencing depression the day after cocaine use can become part of a familiar and dangerous pattern. Post-cocaine depression is usually more pronounced for those dependent on it, meaning they have to take it to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Though the most severe withdrawal symptom is depression, cocaine withdrawal symptoms can also include fatigue, irritability, paranoia, difficulties concentrating, intense drug cravings, and increased appetite.

Drug-induced depression is a mental illness that can occur from long-term cocaine use. Levels of neurotransmitters in the CNS are dwindled by coke, damaging the brain’s pleasure center. The effects of cocaine on the brain include damaged brain cells, changes in brain cell shape, and cannibalization among brain cells. These changes to the brain’s chemical structure can result in mental illness as well as a variety of other cognitive and physical impairments.


Depression is one of the many mental effects of cocaine. Drug use is a temporary fix that offers an empty promise of relief. Often those who use alcohol or drugs to cope with depression or other ailments end up with addictions. If you or someone you know has a drug or alcohol problem, call Banyan Treatment Centers now at 888-280-4763 to learn more about our drug treatment programs.


Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.
Connection Between Cocaine and Depression
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