Cocaine is a stimulant drug that increases dopamine production in the brain for short periods of time, creating a sense of euphoria and a burst in energy. This can be an extreme high, but the side effects can be exponentially worse, and permanently detrimental to your happiness.

Depression is a mental illness frequently co-occurring with substance use. The relationship between the two disorders is bi-directional, meaning that people who abuse substances are more likely to suffer from depression, and vice versa. People will use substances, like cocaine, to temporarily distract them from a mental illness, when in the long run, these things will make their illnesses worse. Chronic cocaine use can create a dependence on higher dopamine levels in your brain, therefore making you feel exponentially more depressed or anxious when you aren’t high. This codependency fuels a vicious cycle contributing to most addictions.

Depression is associated with lower levels of dopamine, and cocaine causes an influx of it. We are still uncertain whether dopamine cells are destroyed or just dysregulated by cocaine use, and if such changes could be reversed. Either way, cocaine has a scientifically-proven negative effect on the neurons that produce dopamine. It is presumed that these neurons can repair themselves, but it takes time and dedication. Users often struggle with depression during recovery after chronic cocaine use, and it takes time to become accustomed to life without these added substances affecting brain chemistry.

One of the ironies of addiction is that the rebound effect causes the user to experience very similar effects that they were hoping to escape through drug use. Anyone familiar with “uppers” like cocaine is familiar with “comedowns” or “crashes”. A comedown is the phase of a drug gradually wearing off, which can be disappointing to drug-users, or a relief to those who might have been uncomfortable during their high. A crash, however, is a phenomenon of extreme sadness and often sickness associated with your body’s recovery from the toxicity and lack of sleep or nutrition experienced during a high. These comedowns and crashes can leave users hopeless, depressed, aggressive, physically ill, exhausted, and irritable. Experiencing these lows can make the drug even more appealing, as it is difficult to see a life outside of this process when it is consuming your lifestyle.

Exhaustion alone is often associated with depression. A person with abnormally low energy is more likely to suffer from depression, without the ability to see the lights in life. When an addict experiences one of these lows, it can result in a desperate attempt to figure out the most effective way to get back to that state of euphoria. The problem with cocaine is, that the drug itself can lift users out of this low state, and oftentimes, the quickest solution is to relapse. This is part of what makes cocaine so addictive. It leaves you in a state of absolute despair after it wears off, and according to recent studies, can have permanent effects on the brain, which is frightening in terms of dependence and its lasting effects on users.

On a brighter side, once an addict has gone through recovery, reverting to their previous state of natural happiness is possible. Individuals with substance use disorder can regain neurobehavioral functions that have been compromised after heavy and chronic drug use. This is extremely enlightening, as it was previously assumed that these neurons were not able to repair themselves completely. The Recovery Research Institute conducted a study on cocaine-users which suggests that after six months of a dramatic decrease in use, or complete abstinence, will on average give the brain enough time to rebuild and fight the depressive and detrimental symptoms of the drug. With time and dedication to recovery, users can wean off of their habits and begin finding highs elsewhere in their lives. Until users are completely removed from their dependence, it can be difficult to revert to their previous natural happiness. Recovery is probably the most fulfilling and happiest point in an addict’s life. Once a person no longer is dependent on a drug to be happy, it becomes obvious how many other things life has to offer to provide these highs. It becomes euphoric to see people you care about, visit a place you love, or to see a newborn baby. Life is so beautiful, and it’s so exciting to learn that.

Yes, cocaine is linked to depression. Yes, addiction shades the brightest things in life. And yes, there is hope beyond the struggles we toil through.