In today’s society, the challenges posed by substance abuse are vast and far-reaching. As cocaine consumption rises in the UK, its ripple effects are felt not only in health but in the mental well-being of its users.
This article explores the link between cocaine and depression, shedding light on the impact and importance of holistic treatment approaches.
The Rise of Cocaine Use in the UK
Cocaine use in the UK is a major problem. The latest Government figures suggest that 2% of adults overall and 4% of young people aged 16-24 had used powdered cocaine over the previous 12 months. This is higher than the estimated usage in almost every country in the EU.
Cocaine is generally seen as a ‘party drug’. It can certainly produce feelings of euphoria and make the user feel more confident and social. These effects are short-lived, however, and cocaine also has a much darker side. Usage can be accompanied by unpleasant physiological effects such as increased body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure. Some users might experience tremors, vertigo, muscle twitches, and cardiovascular effects, including disturbances in heart rhythm and heart attacks.
It can also have a severe impact on mental health. Users may experience paranoia or anxiety, and the comedown that follows the high can be very unpleasant. Regular cocaine use has also been linked to a number of long-term mental health issues, including depression.
Cocaine: A Brief Overview of its Effects on the Brain
Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant that works primarily by interacting with the mesolimbic dopamine system. This is commonly known as the ‘reward’ centre of the brain, and dopamine is associated with feelings of pleasure and excitement. The stimulant effects of cocaine can result in the euphoria and sense of energy that users typically seek out, as well as some of the less pleasant effects, such as anxiety and increased or irregular heart rate.
While most studies involving the effects of cocaine on the brain have focused on the reward system, the drug can also affect pathways that respond to stress. Some research suggests that this could lead to seeking out cocaine in response to stressful situations. Chronic or long-term cocaine use could also impact other areas of the brain. Other research has indicated that it may interact with the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). This, in turn, could affect decision-making, the ability to adapt to negative consequences of drug use and a lack of self-insight – all of which may be linked to the risk of developing an addiction.
The Cycle of Euphoria and Despair
While cocaine is generally regarded to have a very intense high, it is also much shorter in duration than other stimulants and drugs of other kinds – typically lasting for 15 to 30 minutes. This can lead to more frequent or heavier drug-taking as the user looks to recreate the euphoria. At the same time, regular use can lead to an increasing tolerance to the drug, meaning you need to use more and more for the same effect.
While cocaine use is linked to a euphoric high, it is also frequently followed by a cocaine comedown or crash. This can last for a lot longer than the high, often lasting for hours and sometimes lingering for days.
Physical symptoms of a cocaine comedown can include:
- Sore and runny nose – especially if the drug was snorted
- Sore jaw and teeth from clenching
- Sore joints and muscles
- Sweating and/or chills
- Accelerated or irregular heartbeat
Psychological symptoms of a cocaine comedown could include:
- Anxiety and paranoia
- Mood swings and irritability
- Intense cravings for more cocaine
- Impaired concentration
- Insomnia and restlessness
- Delusions and hallucinations
- Depression, which could include suicidal thoughts
The Link Between Cocaine and Depression
As well as the short-term psychological effects, chronic cocaine use can have a number of longer-term impacts. There are documented links between cocaine and depression, although the relationship between drug use and mental health can be complex.
One potential link has to do with the way cocaine reacts with the dopamine system and other neurotransmitters. With repeated use, the brain can start adapting to the floods of dopamine, producing less of the chemical naturally and reducing the number of dopamine receptors available. This can lead to increased tolerance to the drug (and the vicious cycle of using more and more to chase the same effect) and could potentially also trigger or affect existing depressive symptoms.
Cocaine use is also frequently linked with a condition known as anhedonia. This inability to feel pleasure is sometimes referred to as ‘emotional flatlining’. It is a common symptom of depression and some other mental health disorders.
Cocaine, Depression, and Dual Diagnosis
There is often a complex relationship at play between cocaine use, cocaine addiction and mental health. In some cases, drug use can trigger a mental health condition or worsen an existing condition. In other cases, people may turn to drugs in an attempt to ‘self-medicate’ for existing mental health issues. Often, it is a combination of factors, and the threads can be difficult to unpick.
It is common for substance misuse and mental illness to be present simultaneously – a combination is generally known as dual diagnosis. More than a third (37%) of people being treated in mental health settings in the UK present signs of dual diagnosis. People with a cocaine dependency are also more likely to have other substance disorders, personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depressive disorders.
Where dual diagnosis exists, it’s important to treat both elements – substance misuse/addiction and mental health issues – at the same time. Leaving one part untreated can seriously reduce the effectiveness of treatment overall and increase the chances of relapse further down the line.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment and Recovery at Cassiobury Court
At Cassiobury Court, we have a wealth of experience in treating a wide range of mental health conditions along with drug addictions. We employ a holistic approach to treat every element of addiction, the underlying root causes of substance misuse and co-occurring mental health conditions.
If you are struggling with cocaine addiction, mental health or both together, get in touch today to find out how we can help.