The Term Comedown in Drug Addiction

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When people have an addiction—whether to drugs, gambling, sex, shopping, or something else—there is a feeling of pleasure and euphoria that comes with that addiction. It makes them feel elated, confident, incredibly happy, or invincible.

This is often described as a "high," and it can be a heady experience that causes people to want to continuously pursue this sensation. But this feeling is usually fleeting, leaving quickly. This leads to a comedown and a desire to try and reach that high again. 

What Is a Comedown?

"Comedown" is a term used to describe what happens when the initial euphoric effects of a drug or other addictive behavior wears off. This experience can be found across all forms of addictions, including those that are substance or behavior-based.

It's similar to how, after achieving a goal or winning an award, you feel incredible, like you can take on the world. Yet, within a short period of time, life returns to normal and that feeling leaves. You start to come down, leaving you longing to feel that good again.

Comedowns vary from one addiction to another and across individuals. One person's comedown may be a gradual lessening of the pleasurable effects, while, for another, it is an intense crash that is accompanied by anxiety, irritability, and the onset of ​withdrawal

The feeling and severity of the comedown experience is dependent on many factors. Among them are the person's level of dependence, their past history, any mental health issues, and the setting in which the addiction takes place.

How Comedowns Complicate Addiction

People who experience unpleasant comedowns after drug use may feel tempted to curb these effects by taking more of the drug. This can lead to a stronger addiction or cause them to engage in extreme behaviors to feel the high again. In some cases, it can lead to overdose.

A comedown is part of the brain's response to addiction. It involves a relief craving, sometimes referred to as the "dark side of addiction," where the motivation to drink alcohol or take a substance comes from a desire to avoid a crash or comedown instead of from a desire to get high.

Others may decide to take a different drug in an effort to relieve the discomfort and emotions accompanying the comedown. This creates a more complicated situation involving two or more substances, potentially making recovery extra challenging.

Comedowns can cause issues with non-drug addictions, too. When the thrill of a new purchase wears off and feelings of dissatisfaction set in, a person with a shopping addiction may feel the urge to make another purchase.

In the same way, a gambler may want to relive the excitement felt just before a win or loss by betting again. The intensity of the comedown is part of why people with shopping and gambling addictions often wind up with money problems.

Comedowns also complicate recovery for therapists by making it harder to diagnose an addiction, as the effects of a comedown can be confused with symptoms of withdrawal.

Know the Warning Signs

If you find yourself participating in addictive behaviors or abusing drugs and alcohol, it's important to be aware of the effects. Addiction can have a significant impact on every facet of your life, including your relationships, finances, and overall well-being.

The warning signs of addiction can vary depending on the nature of the addiction. However, they often include:

  • Being secretive or lying about your behavior or substance use
  • Going through withdrawal if you can't engage in the behavior or use the substance
  • Changes in the way you interact with family, friends, and co-workers
  • Trouble concentrating or focusing on a task at hand
  • Extreme changes in your mood, eating habits, or sleep patterns

When to Get Help

If you are experiencing unpleasant comedowns, there is a chance that you may have an addiction. Even if it's not yet an addiction, if you're using drugs or risky behaviors to help ease unresolved emotional issues, seeking treatment can provide better long-term results.

That high, that feeling of euphoria, doesn't last forever. Eventually, you will come back down and find yourself facing the same issues that led you to the substance or behavior in the first place.

And if you feel like you are continuously using a substance or engaging in a behavior in order to avoid the feeling of a comedown, you may want to pursue therapy or a recovery program.

Through treatment, you can face your addiction and discover the root causes of it, helping you establish a path forward and overcome your addiction. This can be an incredibly freeing experience, allowing you to live your life without these behaviors. 

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD
Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada.