Crack Cocaine Abuse and Bipolar Disorder

People who have bipolar disorder can live healthy, happy and long lives. A number of potent medications can be used to keep symptoms in check, and therapy can help people to develop a clear understanding of the triggers that tend to spark the dysfunctional thoughts that come with the disorder.

However, some people who have bipolar disorder attempt to medicate their mental illness with drugs. If these people use crack cocaine, they could do yet more damage that could make their bipolar symptoms so much worse.

From Cocaine to Crack

leaves of coca plantCocaine is a drug that has been used for centuries. Hundreds of years ago, native people pulled the leaves off the coca plant, and they chewed those leaves for an enhanced sensation of energy and euphoria.

In time, people learned how to extract the potent drug from the leaves of this plant, and they processed that drug into a powdered format that could be inhaled through the nasal passages. Crack cocaine comes directly from this powder.

The manufacturers of crack combine the powder with inert substances like ammonia and baking soda to produce a glassy, clear substance that makes a cracking sound when it’s smoked. Producers like this version of cocaine because they can separate it into small parcels that can be sold, and users enjoy the drug because it’s often less expensive than powdered cocaine.

But according to the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland, crack cocaine is even more dangerous than powdered cocaine, as the manufacturing process makes this drug quite potent. In addition, smoking the drug allows all of the power of the substance to hit the brain at once, and that makes the drug more powerful.

Any form of cocaine is addictive, but crack’s strength makes it slightly more addictive than powdered formats. The brain is changed with each hit of drugs, and in time, the brain can’t function properly without drugs. People who attempt to get sober after using crack for long periods of time can develop a variety of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, including severe depression, mood swings and psychosis.

These are the same symptoms seen in someone who has bipolar disorder, and they are, in part, why blending crack and cocaine is so dangerous.


Bipolar Disorder Overview

Neon brainPeople who have bipolar disorder have a brain illness that causes mood shifts. It’s not clear what causes the disorder, but it is clear that people who struggle with bipolar find it hard to remain on a level emotional keel.

For some, this means shifting from mania to depression and back again. For others, this means moving from severe depression to moderate depression and back. Others endure cycles in which they feel depressed and euphoric at the same time.

These shifts in mood can come without warning, independent of the issues that are taking place in the person’s life at the time. It’s not uncommon for people with bipolar disorder to feel as though their life is simply out of their control, and that nothing they might say or do could make the problem better. They’re riding a wave of emotion that they can’t change in any way. On the surface, using crack might seem like an excellent idea. One hit of drugs can jolt the brain in a different direction, and that might provide the person with the power that’s always been elusive in the past.

Not surprisingly, rates of addiction are quite high in people who have bipolar disorder.

In one study of the issue, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, researchers examined people who had bipolar disorder, and they found that these people preferred to use:

  • Alcohol: 82 percent
  • Cocaine: 30 percent
  • Marijuana: 29 percent
  • Amphetamine: 21 percent
  • Opiate: 13 percent

Adding any of these substances to an underlying bipolar issue could be damaging, but it’s quite possible that crack cocaine is one of the worst addictions available.

Dangers of Crack and Bipolar

A study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry suggests that 64 to 84 percent of users of cocaine experience some form of paranoia, and 18 to 22 percent of people who commit suicide have some form of cocaine in their bodies. The drug causes big boosts in mood, which are often accompanied by hallucinations and fears, and the crash is accompanied by depression and a sense of loss. In a way, cocaine users experience similar shifts in mood that people with bipolar disorder experience on a regular basis. It’s an exaggerated emotional shift that’s impossible to control.

Adding a shift like this to the instability a person with bipolar disorder is already facing could make the misery all the more intense. And in some cases, a cocaine shift could lead to a bipolar shift.

It’s not uncommon, too, for people to experience mixed episodes of mania and depression at once when crack and bipolar combine.

Experts writing in the journal Bipolar Disorders suggest that people who abuse drugs of any sort have a longer path to bipolar recovery, when compared to people who don’t abuse drugs. But it’s clear that cocaine can really put a damper on the healing process someone with bipolar disorder can experience, and as a result, sobriety should be considered an absolute necessity for anyone who hopes to control bipolar disorder.

Signs of Abuse

Since symptoms relating to bipolar disorder are so similar to those seen in people who have crack cocaine addictions, it can be difficult for families to determine whether or not an addiction is in play. Someone who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the past might already be associated with mania, depression and mood shifts, so a new cocaine habit might be hard to spot.

However, crack tends to exaggerate symptoms that were already present. Someone who had mania in the past might be even more amped up and even more aggressive when cocaine is in the mix, for example, while the depression that comes with a cocaine crash might be much bigger than the usual depression associated with bipolar disorder.

These changes in severity in someone who has already been diagnosed with bipolar disorder should be enough to prompt any family to ask for help. Someone who doesn’t already have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder may not be associated with mood swings, mania or depression. A new cocaine habit could bring those symptoms to life, making the mental illness a little easier to diagnose.

The Right Help at the Right Time

A crack cocaine habit can sometimes come to light when the addicted person admits to the drug use behavior. But someone who simply won’t admit that drug use is occurring might benefit from a visit to the doctor. Crack shows up easily in urine screens for drugs, and when it does, the conversation about addiction can move forward, whether or not the person with the addiction chooses to admit to the problem right away.

bipolar treatmentThe first step in healing involves detoxification, so the person’s body can become accustomed to life without cocaine. Since withdrawal symptoms can mimic those seen in bipolar disorder, and they can make people feel much worse, it’s best for people with bipolar disorder to have supervision around the clock during detox.

This way, they’ll have the support they need in order to deal with the physical changes without feeling so sad and overwhelmed that they’re likely to return to drugs or end their lives.

A study in the journal Advances in Alcohol and Substance Abuse suggests that detox should be paired with periodic psychiatric evaluations. An expert can help to tease out the source of any psychiatric symptoms the person might exhibit during detox, ensuring that a bipolar problem isn’t missed along the way, and this person can also prescribe mood-altering drugs that can help to correct the chemical imbalances that cause bipolar disorder.

These drugs shouldn’t be introduced when someone is intoxicated, so timing is important, but evaluations during detox can make those treatment decisions a little easier.

Once detox is complete, people can benefit from treatment programs that include:

  • Artistic expression
  • Family reconciliation

This comprehensive care allows people to really understand why they leaned on drugs and not therapy for bipolar disorder, and they will develop the skills they’ll need in order to manage their chronic conditions for life, so they won’t be tempted to fall back into drug use in the future.

Programs like this can take months to complete, and often, people with bipolar disorder always need to work with a counselor in order to keep their condition in check. This work can allow people to leave cocaine behind, and that might allow them to find long-term healing.

La Paloma inpatient buildingIf you are ready to attack your cocaine problem on many fronts, we’d like to invite you to The Oaks at La Paloma. We provide a Dual Diagnosis addiction focus, which means we look into all of the root causes of addiction, including bipolar disorder.

In each therapeutic intervention we offer, we address both addiction and mental illness, and we’re dedicated to the idea of helping people gain control of life and reconnect with their health and happiness. If you’d like to learn more about the myriad of interventions available at our Memphis location, please call 901-350-4575 now. Our admissions coordinators are standing by, and we can even start the enrollment process right over the phone.