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Addiction and Substance Abuse

Possible brain damage by the use of cocaine

11/03/2008

Question:

I would like to know if it is possible for cocaine to cause permanent brain damage after using the drug only once while intoxicated from the use of alcohol. I have suffered many short-term anxiety and cognitive problems. I am experiencing heavy depression issues still after 3 months of the incident of usage. Is this a direct problem of the cocaine & alcohol use? And is there any chance of having done permanent damage by just this single low-dose use?

Answer:

Thank you for your question. Cocaine can clearly cause neurologic damage (nerve damage), but generally does so after multiple doses and chronic long-term use.

There are relatively few ways that single use or short-term use of cocaine can cause brain damage. If the use causes a stroke, or a seizure, or a heart rhythm problem that decreases blood pressure rapidly, all these things can cause brain damage. If none of these things happened during the cocaine use, then there should not be permanent brain damage.

Continued difficult-to-manage depression is very important to get professional help for, but is not likely to be caused or related to the single use of cocaine. Persistent use of alcohol will also make managing depressive symptoms very difficult if not impossible to address. So getting some mental health assistance and being sober is the best approach to help you with what sounds like a very difficult and painful situation.

Please write back if you have further questions.

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Response by:

Ted   Parran, MD Ted Parran, MD
Associate Professor of General Medical Sciences
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University