Depressive Effects of Cocaine
Although cocaine is a stimulant that can cause euphoria, the drug is also linked to depressive symptoms. One study showed that people who struggled with cocaine use were more likely to be depressed after using it, as opposed to being depressed before use.
Doctors are not completely sure why this happens. One explanation may be that cocaine overstimulates the brain’s pleasure center, leading to eventual depression. Doctors have also noticed that certain areas in the brain are involved in both cocaine addiction and depression. These include the limbic system and the nucleus accumbens.
Effect on Neurotransmitters
Cocaine causes euphoria by creating an excess of dopamine, the brain’s “feel-good” chemical. Cocaine also increases levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which is involved in depression. Doctors have found that chronic cocaine use may prevent cells in the brain from using dopamine as well as they should. Doctors think this may cause some symptoms of depression, such as the loss of pleasure.
These changes to how the brain uses dopamine may be permanent. However, researchers are studying chemicals in the brain to find new therapies that treat both cocaine addiction and depression.
Cocaine causes a rush of feel-good brain chemicals, including:
- Norepinephrine: causes energy
- Dopamine: causes euphoria
- Serotonin: causes confidence
During chronic cocaine use, the brain adapts to having extra amounts of these chemicals. If cocaine use suddenly stops and the increased chemical levels are no longer available, withdrawal symptoms begin. These symptoms often include depression.
Depression During Cocaine Withdrawal
Depression is a common side effect of cocaine withdrawal and often lasts for several days. In severe cases, however, it can last for months. It is especially common in people who have more extreme highs on cocaine, and it may also be more common in women than men. In addition to depression, other symptoms like exhaustion and sleep often occur.
Some people with depression may begin to take cocaine to self-treat their symptoms. If they stop taking cocaine, the symptoms may recur. Because of changes to brain chemistry from cocaine, the recurring depression symptoms may also be worse than before.