How to cope with a drug comedown
A drug comedown is a term that describes that feelings of anxiety, depression and dread that users can feel after taking drugs.
Written by spunout
Fact checked by experts and reviewed by young people.
Some people take drugs recreationally to enjoy the feelings of happiness, relaxation or excitement they can cause. They may also use drugs to experiment or to make it easier to feel more relaxed and connected to others (lowered inhibitions). However, some users can report feeling depressed, anxious, or irritable in the aftermath, similar to hangover-related anxiety after drinking.
After a night of taking drugs, you may find that you are worried about your behaviour the night before. You may be worried that your friends don’t like you, or just generally anxious about your life. You may also experience feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
What is a drug comedown?
A drug comedown is the lingering after effect of taking drugs on your body and mind in the hours or days after the effects of the drug wear off. Many drugs can cause a comedown, but comedowns are most often associated with stimulant drugs such as cocaine, MDMA/ecstasy and sometimes ketamine.
The feeling of a comedown can be caused by both the after-effects of the drugs on your brain and the impact of the sleep deprivation you might experience if you stayed up late taking drugs or did not sleep at all.
A drug comedown can make you feel depressed, anxious and even paranoid. You may also feel physical symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, excessive sweating and tiredness.
Why does a drug comedown happen?
Drugs affect your brain chemistry, which is how they produce the physical and psychological effects while under the influence of the drugs. Ecstasy and MDMA, for example, increase the activity of three neurotransmitters in your brain: serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine.
This is why people can feel happy and loving while under the influence of these drugs. Doing this, however, depletes these neurotransmitters in the brain, leading to depressed and anxious feelings afterwards.
How to cope with a drug comedown
Drug comedowns can cloud your perception and make you feel like your life is a lot worse than it actually is, or like a particular situation or event is a big deal that warrants your worry. It is important to remind yourself that because drugs affect your brain chemistry, the way you are feeling right now, or the way you see things in this moment, may not reflect reality.
Separate yourself from your feelings
Try to separate yourself from your emotions during your comedown and remind yourself that you will feel better with time. Reach out to friends and tell them how you are feeling; you may find, if you took substances with your friends, that they are also feeling these emotional effects too. Sharing your feelings can help you to feel less alone with them and help you to separate yourself from them and to understand that they will pass.
Be compassionate towards yourself
During a drug comedown, you may also find yourself prone to extreme self-criticism, or that your ‘inner critic’ voice is a lot louder. You may be criticising yourself for how you behaved while on drugs or for taking them all together.
Try to gently counter that voice with self-compassion; you are probably being very hard on yourself. The emotional after-effects of the drugs are likely making you speak to yourself more harshly than you would otherwise.
It is likely that you would never dream of speaking to a friend or loved one the way you are speaking to yourself, so if possible, try to think of how you would feel if you were addressing someone other than you.
Get some sleep
If possible, avoid sleeping a lot during daylight hours and aim to go to bed at a suitable time in the evening so that you can get your sleep pattern back to normal as soon as possible.
You can take a nap during the day if you find it too difficult to stay awake, but ideally, you should limit this to 20 minutes at the most so that you do not wake up groggy or further disrupt your sleep pattern.
Self-care means different things to different people, and everyone has their own ways of enjoying themselves or making themselves feel calm and centred. It can be anything from having a cup of tea with biscuits, going for a walk in the park with a friend, taking a bath, having a nice meal, playing video games, or getting in some exercise or gentle movement.
Take some time during the day to do something for yourself. If you are feeling especially anxious, you can try taking a moment to meditate or do breathing exercises to help ground yourself.
Need more information?
If you would like to get some advice on drugs or drug use, you can contact Youth Information Chat, an online service that can put you in touch with Youth Information Officers based all around the country. The chat service is available between 4pm and 8pm, Monday to Friday (excluding bank holidays). If you want to chat to a Youth Information Officer during that time, start a conversation now.
- Drugs.ie: Online information and support for drug and alcohol use. Includes a national directory of drug and alcohol services
- HSE Drugs, Alcohol, HIV and Sexual Health Helpline: Freephone 1800 459 459
- You can contact Youth Information Chat, an online service that can put you in touch with Youth Information Officers based all around the country, for more general information
- You can also contact the HSE’s Drug and Alcohol Helpline on freephone at 1800 459 459 if you want to discuss your cocaine use
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