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How Cocaine Abuse Can Affect Your Mental Health

By Stefanie Sandler Billette, MS, ACE-CHC
You may know that using cocaine can cause physical harm. But, did you know that continued use can also damage your mental health?

While many cocaine abuse symptoms are physical, several symptoms are psychological and may require the help of a mental health professional. According to American Addiction Centers, cocaine abuse symptoms include insomnia, overconfidence, mood swings, irritability, paranoia, and depression. 

Cocaine Abuse and Mental Health

Cocaine addiction can occur after just one use because of cocaine’s impact on the pleasure centers of the brain. According to American Addiction Centers, cocaine comes in many forms and all of them can cause long-term damage to mental health including mood or emotional disturbances. 

“Mental health challenges are very common in addictive disorders including patients with cocaine use disorder. Chronic use tends to increase specific symptoms such as hallucinations and other psychotic symptoms (especially auditory hallucinations), restlessness, agitation, anxiety, depression, and paranoia. It is not uncommon for the patient to have difficulty trusting others, including the therapist,” Lori Ryland, PhD, a licensed psychologist and addiction counselor with Pinnacle Treatment Centers, tells WebMD Connect to Care. 

A 2020 study published in Scientific Reports found that dysfunction of neural connections due to cocaine abuse could lead to psychiatric illnesses such as depression, anger, aggressiveness, and paranoia. Even if you do not develop psychosis or paranoia, you could develop anxiety, panic disorders, depression, or problems with aggression, according to American Addiction Centers.

"The use of cocaine (a stimulant) negatively impacts a person's mental health in the short term by inducing a subsequent emotional crash. These depressive episodes can vary in length and severity, even leading to suicidal thoughts and/or suicide,” Hilary Weinstein, LCSW, a Manhatten-based psychotherapist, tells WebMD Connect to Care. 

According to a 2020 study published inCNS Spectrums, cocaine use is common in university students and was associated with lower grade point averages, more use of other drugs, riskier sexual practices, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, treatment for psychological/emotional problems, and trait impulsivity (the need for instant gratification).

Breaking a cocaine addiction or dependency can be difficult. “Cocaine tends to make people feel more extroverted, confident, and social. After the cocaine use stops, clients have often shared their struggles about feeling isolated,” Meghan Marcum, PsyD, chief psychologist at A Better Life Recovery in San Juan Capistrano, California, tells WebMD Connect to Care. 

You can recover from cocaine addiction with the right counseling and treatment. "Eventually, the brain does generate new neurons (or brain cells) and with time the normal dopamine functions can return, allowing the person to experience pleasure,” Marcum says.

Don’t Wait. Get Help Now.

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Editor's Note: Many advocates have moved away from the term "abuse" in an effort to destigmatize addiction and conditions related to it. However, those experiencing addiction who are interested in locating treatment may encounter the term occasionally.