Cocaine can cause a person to become jittery, nervous, and paranoid. Based on outward appearances alone, it seems like there is a connection between cocaine and anxiety. But does this relationship actually exist? And, if so, how do cocaine abuse and anxiety disorders affect each other? For example, does cocaine cause anxiety, or does anxiety lead a person into cocaine abuse?
How Does Cocaine Affect the Brain?
Cocaine is a stimulant. This means that it accelerates the ability of the central nervous system to process messages from the brain to various parts of the body.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), cocaine achieves its effects by binding to dopamine transporters throughout the central nervous system. Here’s why this is significant:
- Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger. It bridges the gaps (synapses) between neurons, which allows messages to be transmitted from one neuron to the next.
- After the dopamine has completed its role in this process, a protein that is referred to as a transporter removes the dopamine from the synapse. The body then reabsorbs the dopamine so that it can be used again when needed.
- When a person ingests cocaine, the drug binds to the transporters, which prevents them from removing dopamine from nerve synapses.
- The next time a message passes between neurons, the body releases additional dopamine. But since the “original” dopamine is still present, this has the effect of increasing the intensity of the signal that is being sent.
In addition to facilitating the efficient transmission of signals through the central nervous system, dopamine is associated with feelings and functions such as pleasure, motivation, focus, mood, and movement. The excess dopamine that results from cocaine use can amplify these feelings and functions. This can lead to the talkativeness, restlessness, elevated heart rate, and other symptoms that are characteristic of cocaine abuse.
What is the Relationship Between Cocaine and Anxiety?
When mental health professionals talk about why people develop certain disorders, they usually focus on risk factors, not direct cause/effect relationships. For example, in the case of generalized anxiety disorder, which is one of the most common forms of anxiety, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists the following risk factors:
- Behavioral inhibition
- Neuroticism (which is also referred to as negative affectivity)
- Adverse childhood experiences (ACES)
- Genetic variations
Substance abuse is also commonly identified as a risk factor for anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses. However, this doesn’t mean that abusing alcohol or another drug definitively causes these disorders. It simply acknowledges that people who abuse certain substances have an increased likelihood of developing certain mental health conditions.
Which leaves us with a potential conundrum: There appears to be a connection between cocaine and anxiety. But is this because cocaine can cause a person to develop an anxiety disorder, or is it due to the fact that people who have anxiety disorders are likely to abuse cocaine?
Cocaine Withdrawal and Anxiety
One fact about cocaine and anxiety that most clinicians can agree on is that anxiety can be a symptom of cocaine withdrawal.
Withdrawal symptoms occur when a person who has become addicted to a drug abruptly ceases their use of the substance, or is prevented form using it. In the case of cocaine addiction, withdrawal symptoms can begin to set in within a few hours of a person’s last dose.
The initial stage of cocaine withdrawal is often referred to as a “crash.” As the stimulating effects of cocaine begin to wear off, the person may experience a decreased energy and diminished mood. Other common effects of a cocaine crash include powerful drug cravings, anxiety, irritability, and depression.
If a person is trying to withdraw from cocaine on their own, these symptoms can quickly become overwhelming. The intense desire to experience the pleasurable effects of the drug – and to avoid the distress of withdrawal – can cause the person to once again abuse cocaine.
In other words, the relationship between cocaine and anxiety may be summed up like this: Cocaine abuse can exacerbate anxiety symptoms, and anxiety symptoms can push a person deeper into the downward spiral of cocaine abuse.
Treatment for Cocaine Addiction and Anxiety
The co-occurrence of a substance use disorder such as cocaine addiction and a mental health concern such as anxiety is known as dual diagnosis. Effective care for dual diagnosis must incorporate services to help the person manage the symptoms of their mental health disorder as well as treatment to help them end their substance abuse.
For people who have dual diagnosis involving cocaine and anxiety, treatment may involve various forms of therapy as well as certain prescription medications.
If a person receives prescription medication as part of their anxiety treatment, they will most likely take a benzodiazepine, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI).
The therapeutic component of treatment for addiction to cocaine and anxiety disorders may include elements such as group therapy, family therapy, trauma therapy, holistic therapy, red light therapy, and an array of additional services as needed.
Find an Anxiety Treatment Center in Atlanta
Peachtree Recovery Solutions offers customized dual diagnosis treatment services for adults who have been struggling with cocaine addiction and anxiety. Our treatment center in Atlanta, Georgia, features multiple levels of outpatient care, personalized treatment, and detailed discharge planning. With our help, you can live a much healthier and happier life. Give us a call or visit our admissions page today to learn more.