Can Cocaine Cause Bipolar Disorder?
Cocaine use and bipolar disorder can occur together, and people often wonder if cocaine can cause bipolar disorder. It’s a complex question, and the relationship between cocaine and bipolar can be similarly complex. Below are some things to know about cocaine and bipolar disorder as well as information that will answer the question, “Can cocaine cause bipolar disorder?”
Before exploring the relationship of cocaine and bipolar and answering the “Can cocaine cause bipolar?” question, it can be helpful to have a clear understanding of what bipolar disorder is. Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that can be managed and treated with medication, and symptoms are related to extreme mood changes and changes in behavior and energy levels. It’s also often called manic depression, because of the alternation between highs and lows. These changes can last anywhere from hours to months.
Cocaine is an addictive stimulant drug that can result in a euphoric high, a rush of energy and feelings of confidence. It can also result in symptoms of anxiety, mania or even psychosis. One of the many reasons drugs like cocaine are dangerous is that their full effects on the brain and body can’t be predicted with 100% accuracy.
Many people who seek treatment for substance abuse receive a dual diagnosis. This means they suffer from both a substance use disorder, like cocaine addiction, and a mental health condition. This may be because they had the mental health condition first and used cocaine as a way to self-medicate, or the drug itself led to the development of the mental health condition. When someone has a dual diagnosis, they are likely to experience more severe symptoms of both disorders, and they will require a different treatment approach.
Cocaine is just one of many drugs that can affect a person’s mental health. Combining cocaine with a bipolar disorder may amplify the symptoms of the mental disorder, make judgment and decision-making difficult, and result in more reckless behavior than what would occur with just one substance.
So why do cocaine and bipolar disorder co-occur, and how does cocaine affect mental health?
- Cocaine has an effect on the brain, and it alters dopamine, which is an important chemical in communication between the brain and the rest of the body. Dopamine is an essential part of the functionality of the brain, including the processes controlling pleasure and reward, as well as movement.
- In many instances, cocaine can also affect the parts of the brain that control memory, new information and emotions.
- Most mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder, involve imbalances in the dopamine system of the brain, so with the use of cocaine, particularly over the long-term, symptoms of mental illnesses can either start to occur or become worse.
There can be extremely adverse effects when someone uses cocaine, and bipolar disorder is one of them. These effects can lead to aggression, hospitalization and a reduced tendency to take medicine as required.
There is also research showing that with cocaine and bipolar disorder, there are many functions of the brain that may be compromised. Some of the most commonly seen side effects of cocaine use combined with and bipolar disorder include:
- Difficulty with decision-making
- Impulsive behavior
- Attention problems
- Problems with planning for the future
- Cognition issues
Having bipolar disorder and a substance use disorder involving cocaine can worsen the symptoms of both disorders, but can cocaine cause bipolar disorder? Cocaine can’t necessarily cause bipolar disorder, but it CAN lead to something called stimulant-induced psychosis. Drugs like cocaine as well as hallucinogens can lead to psychotic symptoms that are similar to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. This is particularly true when someone takes drugs for a long period of time.
Symptoms of drug-induced psychosis can include visual hallucinations and delusions that make a person see reality differently than what it really is. Some of the symptoms of drug-induced psychosis, which are similar to bipolar disorder include changes in emotion, lethargy, lack of motivation and withdrawing from social interactions. People may also experience erratic behavior or disorganized thoughts and speech.
With cocaine and bipolar disorder, another concern to be mindful of is when someone “comes down” from the drug. The symptoms of being high and then coming down can seem similar to those associated with bipolar disorder. For example, when someone takes cocaine, they often experience a euphoric high that leads to a rush of energy and feelings of self-confidence. As you come down from a cocaine high, you’re likely to feel withdrawn, anxious and depressed, and these phases can look a lot like the symptoms of bipolar disorder, which is why cocaine and bipolar disorder are often so closely related.
There are different forms of cocaine. The one most people immediately think of is a powder version that is usually snorted. There is also crack cocaine, however. It’s believed that crack cocaine and bipolar disorder can be a particularly dangerous combination, and it can often lead to severe emotional changes that can contribute to suicide or self-harm. When someone has bipolar disorder, and they introduce something like crack cocaine, it can become an extremely intense and severe situation. With crack cocaine and bipolar disorder, a person may start to have varying episodes of mania and depression that are incredibly frightening.
The symptoms of a mania period of bipolar include:
- Increased energy and mental alertness
- An extremely happy mood, optimism and self-confidence
- In some cases, people may be irritable or aggressive during this time
- A person can go for days without sleep
- Racing thoughts
- Increased sex drive and recklessness
During a period of depression with bipolar, symptoms can include:
- Sadness, depression or crying
- Changes in mood
- Anger, anxiety, worry
- Low energy
- Feelings of guilt
- Concentration problems
- Thoughts of suicide
As you can see, the symptoms of cocaine and bipolar disorder look very similar to one another, so people may wrongly believe they have developed bipolar disorder from using cocaine, when in reality, they are just experiencing the typical symptoms of cocaine use. At the same time, the person may indeed have bipolar disorder, and treatment is necessary for both the cocaine and bipolar disorder at the same time. It’s important to speak with a professional to determine if you have a substance use disorder involving cocaine, bipolar disorder or both. If you do have both, they can be treated following a dual diagnosis in a professional facility that understands how to treat both substance abuse and addiction as well as an underlying mental health condition.
Have more questions about Cocaine abuse?Read the most frequently asked questions
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