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What Does Cocaine Do to the Brain?

Cocaine is an extremely addictive central nervous system stimulant that induces an intense yet brief high. Associated with feelings of improved mental alertness, confidence, and euphoria, the intense, rapid onset of these emotions can increase the urge to use cocaine continuously. However, these cycles of cocaine use can lead to addiction.

Over time, using cocaine can severely affect the brain and body. Your tolerance will additionally increase significantly, which means you will require larger quantities of cocaine to feel the effects noted above. Sadly, cocaine addiction can have negative implications on your physical and mental health, as well as your relationships, work, and education.

Find out more about what cocaine does to the brain here, or contact us for immediate support and guidance.

What Is Cocaine?

Extracted from the leaves of the South American coca plant, cocaine use has fluctuated over the years. Until the mid-1900s, cocaine hydrochloride was regularly used in medical and recreational settings, initially gaining popularity for its fatigue-combatting properties.

Over time, medical professionals began to notice some negative consequences of using the drug, so restrictions were implemented. Since then, cocaine has been classified as a Schedule II drug, meaning it has a “high potential for abuse.”

Like many other drugs, cocaine appears in different ways. In its powder form – often referred to as coke – cocaine is a hydrochloride salt. Whereas crack cocaine – often referred to as crack – appears as a rock-like product when powder cocaine is mixed with water and another substance, such as baking soda. This mixture is then boiled to form a solid before being broken into small pieces.

Because of the high potency of crack cocaine, it is more addictive than cocaine’s powder form.

Methods of Use

Cocaine can be used in different ways, each with its own dangers. For example, cocaine is usually snorted through the nose in its powder form. The long-term impacts associated with this method of use include:

  • Nosebleeds
  • Continuous runny nose
  • Loss of sense of smell
  • Pain and difficulty swallowing

In contrast, crack cocaine is usually smoked. The long-term impacts associated with this method of use include:

  • Respiratory issues
  • Coughing
  • High risk of pneumonia

Cocaine is also sometimes administered intravenously. In this instance, the risk of contracting blood-borne diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis C, and skin or soft tissue infections increases drastically.

How Does Cocaine Affect the Brain?

A study by the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, Therapy, and Toxicology found that cocaine primarily affects the central nervous system.

When used, the drug creates a spike in neurotransmitters such as dopamine, a natural chemical related to the control of movement and reward. When the brain functions normally, dopamine is recycled back into the cell that releases it, stopping the signal between nerve cells.

However, the presence of cocaine obstructs dopamine from being recycled, thus resulting in large quantities of it collecting in the space between two nerve cells, inhibiting regular communication.

This irregularly high level of dopamine in the brain’s reward circuit encourages continuous use of cocaine. Regular cocaine abuse can also cause the brain to adapt over time. In turn, you may feel the need to take larger quantities more frequently to feel the same high you once did. You may also feel as though you need to use cocaine to prevent uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Premature Brain Aging

Your brain is made up of white and gray matter. Gray matter is fundamentally responsible for processing and interpreting information, the brain’s memory, and cognitive function. In contrast, white matter is responsible for transmitting data to other parts of the nervous system.

When you age, gray matter naturally decreases and fades away. This process can take decades in a healthy brain, and it doesn’t necessarily affect your memory.

However, chronic cocaine exposure is associated with premature degeneration of the brain’s gray matter. One study suggested that cocaine addiction could cause people to lose gray matter twice as fast as people who don’t abuse the drug, resulting in memory issues, including the onset of dementia.

Changes to the Brain’s Structure

In addition to inducing memory loss, cocaine can also cause physical damage to the brain. Cocaine abuse can damage the veins and arteries in your brain, leading to restricted blood flow. This can cause chronic headaches and migraines and, in some cases, a seizure disorder, which is a severe and dangerous health problem that can inhibit living everyday life.

Mental Health Deterioration

As mentioned above, cocaine impacts the regular functioning of dopamine. Dopamine is crucial for monitoring and regulating your mood. When cocaine swamps your brain with large quantities of dopamine, it becomes difficult for your brain to rebalance. As a result, you fluctuate between an extreme sense of euphoria to an extreme low after the high has finished, resulting in deep depression.

Cocaine can also increase stress hormones, putting you at a higher risk of developing anxiety disorders or psychosis.

Can Cocaine Kill Brain Cells?

As we know, cocaine increases the amount of dopamine in the brain. Naturally, small quantities of dopamine travel through your brain cells to signal pleasure or satisfaction.

Over a prolonged time, cocaine causes your brain to desensitize to dopamine, resulting in more significant quantities of the drug being needed to create the same dopamine high. The dopamine flood can cause damage to the brain structure and lead to neurological conditions, including a seizure disorder.

Cocaine can also slow glucose metabolism, which can cause neurons to work at a slower rate or die off altogether. Cocaine causes your blood vessels to narrow, which means that your heart has to work harder to transport blood to your brain. This puts your cardiovascular system under great strain and can cause your heart rate to become irregular or, in some cases, starve your brain of the blood it needs, in doing so, killing brain cells.

Can You Recover From the Damage?

Many people ask, “can you recover from the damage?” Studies have been conducted to show that it is possible to repair your brain health, depending on a number of factors, such as:

  • How long you have used cocaine for
  • The quantity you used
  • Your specific brain chemistry

One study conducted in 2014 found that if recovery of moderate cocaine use begins within one year, brain damage was at least partly recoverable.

In addition to this, a 2014 research paper claims that much of the long-term brain damage associated with cocaine use is connected to the withdrawal process. This suggests that five months of complete sobriety could recover much of what was lost in terms of brain function.

Individualized Cocaine Addiction Treatment

Cocaine withdrawal is an extremely challenging process, but it doesn’t usually bring danger to you if you choose a quality treatment program for your recovery. However, withdrawal symptoms can be distressing and uncomfortable. They also carry a high risk for relapse.

Typically the withdrawal process lasts between one to three weeks, with additional treatments lasting for longer.

Cocaine addiction is a highly complex disease. Staying sober is not an easy task, and it requires a strong sense of willpower and determination. Cravings can prevail long into sobriety, so it is essential to surround yourself with a supportive network to keep you on the right track.

At Empowered Recovery, we can guide you on your path to lifelong recovery. We treat addiction holistically, placing you at the center of everything we do. We don’t only aim to cure the symptoms of addiction; we look to the root causes and any underlying mental health conditions which could contribute to your substance abuse.

Help Is Available Today

Our mission is to support you in restoring your health. We know that addiction can put a severe strain on your physical and mental health, relationships, career, and education. You deserve better.

Cocaine addiction is treatable, and there are many treatment options available. If you, or someone you love, struggle with substance abuse, pick up the phone today and let us answer any questions you may have.

Addiction treatment at Empowered Recovery has been the door back to health for many clients; we are confident it can be the same for you.

It’s time to reclaim your life

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    Marietta, GA 30066

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