Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder in which people get very sleepy during the day. People who suffer from narcolepsy may take stimulants, including drugs like cocaine, to stay awake. One drug, Provigil, is sometimes used to treat cocaine use along with narcolepsy. Therefore, some people may wonder if there is a link between cocaine and narcolepsy. While the same drug can be used to treat cocaine use as well as narcolepsy, there is otherwise no clear link between cocaine and narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy and Cocaine

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that impacts about one of every 2000 people. People with narcolepsy do not have normal sleep-wake cycles. With narcolepsy, the brain cannot control the sleep-wake cycles the way it is supposed to. Therefore, sleep is abnormal and people with narcolepsy are often very tired throughout the day. In most people, sleeping and being awake are distinguished. However, with narcolepsy, this distinction is blurred. Because the brain cannot make someone with narcolepsy stay awake, they often fall asleep during normal activities like talking, eating and driving. Many symptoms of narcolepsy exist, but someone with the disorder will not necessarily have all of them. Symptoms of narcolepsy include:

  • Being overly tired throughout the day
  • Sudden loss of muscle control
  • Inability to move while falling asleep or while first waking up
  • Hallucinations

Sometimes people with narcolepsy will try to self-treat their symptoms. For example, someone may take stimulants to stay awake. One such stimulant is cocaine. One study found that a history of cocaine use was more common in people with narcolepsy than those without the sleep disorder. Overall, however, there was no difference between substance abuse in people with and without narcolepsy. Another study found no difference in cocaine use between people with narcolepsy and without.

Provigil as a Treatment for Narcolepsy

No cure currently exists for narcolepsy, although it can be treated. One of the treatments available is a drug called Provigil, or modafinil. Provigil is FDA-approved for use for narcolepsy. The drug is a stimulant that works on the central nervous system. Although doctors are not sure exactly how Provigil works on people with narcolepsy, they know that as a stimulant, it increases alertness. Doctors also know that Provigil can increase the amount of dopamine, the same brain chemical that is increased when someone uses an addictive substance like cocaine. However, Provigil does not increase dopamine as much as other stimulants do.

Provigil as a Treatment for Cocaine Use

Although Provigil is not FDA-approved for use for cocaine users, doctors found that Provigil can also help some people who struggle with cocaine use. Doctors think this is because Provigil can affect levels of the brain chemicals dopamine and glutamate, which, with cocaine, can cause problems. Although not all studies found that Provigil helps people who use cocaine, other studies found that Provigil has effects like:

  • Lessening cocaine withdrawal symptoms
  • Reducing cravings for cocaine
  • Lessening the high from cocaine

Key Points

Important points to remember about cocaine and narcolepsy include:

  • Narcolepsy is a lifelong, incurable sleep disorder
  • Cocaine use does not cause narcolepsy
  • Some people with narcolepsy may use stimulants like cocaine to stay awake
  • Provigil is a stimulant that is approved to treat narcolepsy
  • Some studies have found that Provigil helps cocaine users with cocaine withdrawal symptoms and cravings, and also reduces the high from cocaine

If you or someone you love struggles with cocaine use, with or without sleep problems, help is available. The Recovery Village is ready to help you or your loved one lead a life free of addiction. Contact The Recovery Village today to learn more about how we can help.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.