Cocaine and Depression

Depression and cocaine abuse often accompany one another. For some cocaine use may lead to depression, while for others suffering from depression cocaine use becomes an escape. This article offers information on the correlations between cocaine and depression.


There are two important relationships that have been uncovered between cocaine and depression.

Cocaine Use as a Result of Depression

Some people begin to abuse substances because they are curious or interested in the experience they will have. If they continue use, it will be because the experience meets or exceeds their expectations.

Other people are led to try drugs or alcohol by peer pressure or peer example. They have a desire to do what everyone else in their circle is doing.

But there is a third reason why people my turn to an illegal substance or use a legal substance in an abusive way. People, particularly teens, who are depressed, may use alcohol or drugs, including cocaine, as a coping mechanism. If one is high or has altered consciousness, the pain of one's life and the pain of depression may be lifted or obliterated for a time, providing some relief. Because cocaine is a stimulant, its effects could reverse some of the symptoms customarily associated with depression.

When a depressed person turns to substance abuse for relief, it is essential that the two issues be treated as co-occurring disorders and that treatment target both the depression and the cocaine use, because treating just one will not get to the root of the problem. If the patient is a teen, he or she may not be aware of being depressed, so using self-reporting with that age group is not reliable.

Depression as a Result of Cocaine Use

Since cocaine is a stimulant, it might seem extremely unlikely that using it could cause depression. But research has found this to be the case in two ways (it is not yet clear what their relationship is):

First, when the high of cocaine use is over, even a user without underlying depression may experience a feeling of depression in contrast to the high. This can lead to seeking more cocaine to alleviate this feeling, leading eventually to addiction.

Second, cocaine affects brain cells that are instrumental in creating a sense of pleasure when one is not "under the influence," either impairing or killing them by either creating a toxic environment or altering the way that the brain's pleasure circuitry is regulated. It has been determined that among the affected elements are VMAT2 (Striatal Vascular Monoamine Transporter Protein), a protein that exists in brain cells and is integral to the dopamine circuitry that forms the pleasure-feeling activity of the brain. These changes (or brain damage) could be responsible for depression that develops in connection to cocaine use, referred to as a "cocaine-induced mood disorder."

Studies have shown that cocaine users in whom this depressive effect has been triggered have a poorer prognosis for recovery.


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