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Does Cocaine Cause Anxiety

“If it’s out of your hands, it deserves freedom from your mind too.” – Ivan Nuru

It becomes easy to get caught in the cycle – anxiety plaguing your mind and trying everything to silence the never-ending fear and worry. Self-medicating with substances is nothing new, and we have seen many find healing from this burden.

In Hillsborough County, over 600 per 100,000 residents were hospitalized from mental health disorders in 2022. This includes substance use disorders, as well. Clean Recovery Centers specializes in treating both substance use and mental health disorders at the same time. Our unique, three-phase approach addresses all aspects of addiction: spiritual, mental, physical, and social. With locations throughout the Gulf Coast, we provide ease of access to care for all who are looking for help.

What is the relationship between cocaine and anxiety? Let’s take a look further.

does cocaine cause anxiety clean recovery centers

What Cocaine Does to the Brain

Cocaine is an illicit substance that has been around for centuries. At first, its development was for medicinal purposes, such as surgical anesthesia. However, as the properties of cocaine and its effects on the brain were revealed, it was quickly turned into an illegal substance. This is because cocaine affects the limbic system, which is responsible for feeling pleasure and motivation. The primary chemical behind these effects is dopamine, and cocaine causes a build-up of dopamine within the brain after each use.

reasons why cocaine causes anxietyThe Connection Between Cocaine and Anxiety

The connection between cocaine and anxiety can go both ways, meaning one can stem from the other and vice versa. For some, cocaine use can lead to developing anxiety, to the point that it becomes a disorder. When an anxiety disorder begins – even if it is caused by cocaine – it can continue to cause symptoms even after cocaine use has stopped.

Others may already have anxiety, leading to poor stress management and coping skills. They turn to cocaine as a way to try to manage their anxiety symptoms. In turn, though, this makes their anxiety symptoms worse. Cocaine is a stimulant that speeds up the functions of the brain and central nervous system. Typically this leads to an increase in focus and productivity, but in those with anxiety, it can cause racing thoughts and increased stress. Anxiety symptoms become further exacerbated by cocaine rather than relieved.

Reasons Why Cocaine Causes Anxiety

Cocaine can cause anxiety for a few different reasons, but all in all, it comes from how cocaine interacts with the brain. While the initial effects of cocaine are described as euphoric and pleasant, over time anxiety symptoms can arise or become worse.

The Brain’s Reward System

The mesolimbic system is the brain’s reward system and is responsible for the processing of reward through physiological and cognitive processing. The process is a natural response that can come from a situation, activity, or substance use. Dopamine is the main chemical associated with this process, and reacts to stimuli including eating a good meal, responding to social interactions including sex, and taking substances.

Cocaine works by releasing dopamine and then blocking the reuptake process. This means the brain becomes flooded with the reward chemical and then it has nowhere to go, staying in the brain causing intense pleasure. The problem with this is that cocaine causes a dopamine rush without a purpose, meaning there are no stimuli triggering the need for the response. Essentially, the brain no longer knows what it should release dopamine for, and those activities of a good meal and others do not create a dopamine response. The change to the brain’s reward system is drastic, and soon, cocaine becomes the only thing that allows the person to feel pleasure. Between cocaine uses, the person will feel anxiety as they can no longer feel joy properly, and it can become frustrating. This further increases anxiety and fuels the need to continue taking cocaine.

Interrupted Stress Response

Another part of the limbic system is the mesocorticolimbic, the system of the brain that controls stress response. Cocaine interferes with how this system responds, impairing the hypothalamus region. This is the area that triggers the reaction to stress, which then causes a fight or flight response. Fight or flight comes from the release of the hormone cortisol.

In normal scenarios, cortisol works with the brain and allows us to choose the level of stress response and how we react. When cocaine is taken, cortisol levels are already elevated, and the hypothalamus cannot produce a proper response. The person may still feel the stressful situation, but the reaction can be interrupted or not addressed at all.

Once cortisol levels return to normal, the person may feel a rush of anxiety as the brain tries to process what just happened. These feelings will continue as the brain tries to regulate. Taking cocaine again may help them subside, but the same will happen as the effects wear off.

The Withdrawal Process and Behavioral Changes

One of the biggest causes of anxiety associated with cocaine use is experiencing withdrawal. As we mentioned above, cocaine can cause changes in the brain, especially in the reward system. When we no longer feel joy or pleasure, our mood can change drastically. Irritability and feeling on edge will be constant when cocaine is not present in the system. This is where withdrawal begins, and it can be unpleasant or even painful.

As the person continues to experience withdrawal from cocaine, the brain will send signals that it needs the substance. Physical symptoms are usually mild and include fatigue, insomnia, and decreased activity. The psychological symptoms are the most worrisome as anxiety symptoms will be at a high. Paranoia, depression, cravings, and even hostility are common during withdrawal. Cravings are what lead to anxiety, as the person wrestles with wanting to stop using but wanting withdrawal to end. This is why it is recommended to seek treatment for cocaine use disorder so the person’s physical and mental health can be monitored in a safe and comforting environment.

The Effects of Cocaine on Anxiety Disorders

Those who already have an anxiety disorder will experience cocaine differently than others. While the initial effect of cocaine causes pleasure, anxiety will quickly resurface. Besides general anxiety, cocaine is known to induce panic attacks. Panic disorder is described as sudden, intense fear that occurs in repeated episodes. While not everyone who experiences a panic attack has panic disorder, those with the disorder may find their episodes increasing while taking cocaine. Panic attack symptoms include:

  • Sweating
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Fear of death or impending doom

Panic attacks typically last around 10 minutes. If you are experiencing panic attacks even when not taking cocaine, you may have developed a panic or anxiety disorder. The best way to treat panic attacks is to consult with a doctor. As we mentioned above, cocaine changes the way the brain functions. Symptoms of anxiety can last for months or years after cocaine use has stopped, which is why it is best to have a care team on your side. They can help you navigate long-term management options to keep your anxiety in check.

Treating Anxiety and Cocaine Addiction in Tampa, FL

Whether you are trying to manage your anxiety with cocaine or cocaine set off an anxiety disorder, there is help available for both. Addiction and mental health often go hand-in-hand, and finding a cocaine addiction treatment will help you find a solution to both at the same time. During treatment, therapy, coping skill development, and overall wellness will be crucial components to begin your recovery. Professionals will help you come up with a plan to manage your anxiety and prevent a return to use. By being surrounded by support, you will be free to rediscover your passion for life and leave cocaine behind once and for all.

If you or someone you love is managing anxiety and a cocaine use disorder, we are here to help. Clean Recovery Centers offers a full continuum of care with a specific path for mental health. Our compassionate team can diagnose and treat mental health conditions no matter the stage of care you are in. Call us today at (888) 330-2532 to learn more about our program offerings.

Get clean. Live clean. Stay clean.

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