The damage that drug use can do to our lives and relationships is well known. Perhaps less understood are the changes that chronic drug abuse can have on our brain and our mental health. The use of the highly addictive drug cocaine is no exception.
Cocaine use causes mental health issues such as paranoia, depression, anxiety, aggression, and hallucinations in users, even if you only use the drug occasionally. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 28% of American adults 18 and up have used cocaine during their lifetime, putting them at risk for these complications. Read on to learn how cocaine can alter the physical structure of the brain and the impact that this can have on our mental health.
Short and Long-Term Physical Effects of Cocaine
Cocaine impacts the way the brain processes dopamine, a chemical linked to communication in the brain. Dopamine is involved in the neural processes that control movement, pleasure, and reward. Cocaine causes dopamine to build up between nerve cells and stops the cells’ normal communication. As a result, the brain’s reward circuits adapt to this excess level of dopamine and start to “need” more and more of the chemical in order to obtain the same high and to avoid withdrawal. This process is known as tolerance and is the first step towards addiction.
Cocaine causes a variety of physical effects on the body, even if you only use it from time to time. These changes can range from an increased heart rate to dilated pupils. Under the influence of the drug, users may also feel anxious, irritable, or paranoid. They may also experience movement-related challenges like muscle tremors or vertigo, a form of inner-ear imbalance.
Long-term use of cocaine can have even more significant physical effects, ranging from gastrointestinal to cardiovascular to neurological damage. Chronic cocaine use also increases the risk for stroke, brain bleeds, and even Parkinson’s disease.
Additionally, while everyone loses gray matter in the brain with age, cocaine appears to make this loss worse. Research conducted at the University of Cambridge found that the rate of loss was nearly double for chronic cocaine users.
Effects of Cocaine on Mental Health
The abuse of cocaine and the rise of mental health issues often happen together. Known as a dual diagnosis, this type of co-occurring disorder requires specially modified treatment. Because mental illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia are linked to dopamine imbalances, using cocaine can make these conditions worse. What’s more, cocaine addiction can lead to an increased risk of mental health issues such as anti-social personality disorder, impaired emotional/social processing, and blunted emotions.
Individuals coping with depression are at an even higher risk of severe cocaine addiction. This is because depressed individuals are more prone to stronger cravings and may experience worse withdrawal symptoms. Individuals struggling with depression may also experience additional symptoms, such as persistent negative thoughts, impaired thinking, feelings of hopelessness, difficulty sleeping, and more as a result of their depression that can make overcoming their cocaine addiction that much harder.
Long-term cocaine use has also been linked to temporary psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations and paranoia. Chronic use of the drug can also worsen a person’s bipolar disorder, resulting in increased hospitalizations, higher levels of aggression, and an inability to take recommended medications.
Fortunately, cocaine use does not have to take over your life. If you’re concerned that your drug use is negatively impacting your physical or mental health — or putting your loved ones at risk — seeking out a professional drug treatment program can help.
During treatment, reputable providers will address both the physical and mental consequences of addiction. For example, if you’re looking to stop using cocaine for the first time, most programs will guide you through a medically supervised detoxification process. This process, which is overseen by medical professionals, will ensure that you can remove the drug from your system without health complications.
From there, a treatment program like ours at Meta Addiction Treatment will incorporate clinical interventions like individual and group therapy alongside peer support and life skills training, among other modalities. This helps you address lingering mental health concerns that may be linked to your addiction while also learning new methods to cope without using drugs.
We know that you may feel trapped in a cycle of cocaine use and its mental and physical consequences. But there is another way forward. Talk to a treatment provider today about finding a path towards recovery. The team here at Meta is here to help 24 hours a day, 7 days per week, so contact us anytime for a free and confidential conversation.