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Cocaine And Anxiety: Does Cocaine Trigger Anxiety?

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

April 2, 2019

Cocaine is a dangerous, illicit drug that can have major impacts on a person’s mental health. People who abuse cocaine may suffer anxiety, paranoia, and panic attacks.

Anxiety is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions. People who suffer from anxiety disorders experience frequent and uncontrollable feelings of fear, worry, or panic.

Everyone experiences anxiety and worry from time to time, but chronic anxiety is a serious condition. People that struggle with anxiety may use cocaine to mask uncomfortable feelings, especially social anxiety.

Cocaine provides a feeling of euphoria and confidence, but can also contribute to someone’s anxiety. Cocaine causes an intense high, followed by what’s called a “crash.”

Abusing cocaine can trigger racing thoughts, and cause a feeling of panic to linger after the drug has worn off. As the effects of cocaine begin to fade, a person may feel agitated, restless, and have increased anxiety.

How Does Cocaine Affect Anxiety?

Cocaine comes from the coca plant in South America. When coca leaves are purified, they result in an off-white powder known as cocaine hydrochloride.

Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant that raises a person’s blood pressure and heart rate. Using cocaine may cause feelings of well-being and a sense of achievement.

Cocaine may also cause a person to feel restless and irritable. They may feel like their thoughts are racing, and find it difficult to control their mind.

These symptoms can also occur in a person who suffers from anxiety. Cocaine and anxiety can have a similar effect on a person’s body. If a person already struggles with anxiety, abusing cocaine could amplify uncomfortable symptoms of this condition.

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Effects Of Cocaine And Anxiety On The Body

Cocaine has been used throughout medical history as an anesthetic numbing agent. When cocaine is used as an illegal street drug, it is usually snorted. Snorting cocaine leads to a stimulant high within three to five minutes.

Cocaine may cause temporary feelings of focus and pleasure, but the high is fleeting. People may crave another dose to avoid the comedown period, which is marked by anxious thoughts.

As cocaine’s effects begin to fade, a person may experience worsened anxiety symptoms. Because the comedown effects of cocaine and the symptoms of anxiety are so similar, symptoms could escalate to the point of panic.

Cocaine and anxiety can have similar effects on the body, including:

  • insomnia
  • muscle tension
  • restlessness
  • twitching
  • flushed skin
  • excessive sweating
  • trembling or shaking
  • feeling of being on edge
  • increased temperature
  • elevated heart rate
  • high blood pressure

Cocaine can also damage a person’s nasal passages. Snorting the drug can lead to respiratory difficulties, including infections, and sores in the nose. If a person already suffers from anxiety regarding their health, these consequences could add to their worry.

Effects Of Cocaine And Anxiety On The Brain

Anxiety can have a severe impact on the way a person’s brain responds to stress. When a person is exposed to frequent stress, it changes the way the brain reacts to both work, relationships, and daily life.

If a person feels anxious most days for at least 6 months, they be battling chronic stress or an anxiety disorder.

Some people may abuse cocaine to relieve their stress. Unfortunately, this plan can backfire and cause a person to experience an even higher level of anxiety than they had before.

Cocaine and anxiety can have similar effects on the brain, including:

  • irritability
  • fear
  • worry
  • paranoia
  • depression
  • memory loss
  • difficulty concentrating
  • feeling of impending doom

Cocaine Withdrawal And Anxiety

Cocaine is an addictive drug that can quickly result in addiction. If someone is self-medicating with cocaine, they run the risk of complicating their anxiety. They are also at risk for developing an addiction to cocaine.

A person using cocaine to medicate their anxiety may become dependent on cocaine. This means their body requires the substance in order to feel normal. When a person stops using cocaine suddenly, they may experience withdrawal symptoms.

Some of the main symptoms of cocaine withdrawal are negative and anxious thoughts. During a cocaine binge, a person may take another dose of cocaine in order to delay this comedown.

If a person runs out of the drug, or decides to stop using cocaine, uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms are likely. Medical detox programs can help a person struggling with cocaine and anxiety through the withdrawal stage.

Dual Diagnosis And Co-Occurring Disorders

More than 31 percent of American adults will have an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. Cocaine may seem like a quick fix for this discomfort, but using this drug can be hazardous to a person’s physical and mental well-being.

When a person has a substance use disorder and also has mental health struggles, it is called dual diagnosis, or a co-occurring disorder. Dual diagnosis addiction treatment programs exist to help those stuck in the cycle of substance abuse and untreated mental health conditions.

More than 7.9 million people in the U.S. battle co-occurring disorders, such as cocaine dependence and anxiety. Dual diagnosis treatment can be a life-saving tool for those suffering from co-occurring disorders.

Treatment For Cocaine Abuse And Anxiety

In the U.S., more than 1.5 million people are currently struggling with cocaine abuse. Some of these people may experience anxiety as a result of their drug use.

Having an anxiety disorder may cause a person to use drugs like cocaine. Anxiety is also one of the common side effects of using cocaine. Those suffering with cocaine abuse and anxiety can find lasting recovery at an addiction treatment center.

Inpatient rehab centers provide on-site dual diagnosis care, through medication-assisted treatment and individual and group counseling. Outpatient rehab programs offer 12-step support groups and recovery therapies in flexible daytime or evening sessions.

For more information on cocaine and anxiety, or to find a dual diagnosis rehab center near you, contact us today.

National Alliance on Mental Illness - Dual Diagnosis

National Institute of Mental Health - Any Anxiety Disorder

National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse - Cocaine

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - The Truth About Cocaine

U.S National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus - Dual Diagnosis

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