Cocaine is a common recreational drug that has a stimulant effect. It ordinarily comes in the form of a powder or a crystalline rock, and when ingested, it creates feelings of euphoria and increases energy levels. However, it can have some serious long term health effects and it is incredibly addictive. Regular use can quickly lead to a serious habit and those with a cocaine addiction are likely to experience severe health problems as a result.
In order to understand how cocaine addiction develops in the first place, it is important to understand what is going on inside the brain when you use the drug. Although they may be aware of the short term effects, many people are unaware of the long term impact on their brain. So, what happens to your brain when you take cocaine?
Neurons and Neurotransmitters
Our emotions and mood are governed by neurons and neurotransmitters in the brain. In simple terms, they are a messaging system that works by sending chemical messages (neurotransmitters) to receptors and this creates a physical and mental response. For example, when dopamine is released in the brain, this makes us feel happy and positive.
When you use cocaine, the messaging system in your brain is disrupted and changed, which is why you experience the short term effects.
How Cocaine Affects Dopamine Production
Dopamine is one of the main neurotransmitters responsible for managing your mood. When dopamine is released, you feel good. Normally, after this reaction takes place, the dopamine is recycled and your mood stays relatively stable. However, when you take cocaine, it forces a change in the way that your neurons process dopamine, encouraging the brain to stop recycling it. As a result, high levels of dopamine continue to build up in the brain.
This is why you experience heightened feelings of euphoria and happiness, and increased energy levels. In short, the ‘high’ feeling that people experience when they take cocaine is caused by a build-up of dopamine in the brain.
The effects of cocaine are very short-lived and many people feel an instant craving for more of the drug. This is because their brain associates survival activities like eating and drinking with a positive feeling. Dopamine is released when we do something good, which encourages us to continue repeating that activity over and over. Unfortunately, the brain does not recognize the fact that taking cocaine is not a positive activity, it just knows that a large amount of dopamine has been released and encourages us to continue doing that activity. So, people continue to take more cocaine, causing more and more dopamine to be released, and it soon becomes a cycle that is tough to break.
Cocaine still has an impact on the brain after a person has taken it. It is very common for people to feel low and fatigued for days afterward. They may also experience withdrawal symptoms, especially if they are a regular cocaine user.
How Cocaine Addiction Develops
The changes that cocaine makes to your brain can eventually lead to an addiction. Each time you take cocaine, you are essentially training your brain and altering the way that the dopamine systems work. In time, your brain will only be able to release dopamine when you take cocaine. People with addictions often find that they cannot enjoy things in their everyday lives and they only feel positive and happy when under the influence of cocaine.
Heavy cocaine use also causes people to develop a higher tolerance, meaning that they have to take more before they feel an effect. However, this also exacerbates the negative side effects that come after cocaine use. As a result, people are even more likely to continue taking more of the drug. This can soon develop into a serious addiction that is incredibly difficult to manage and causes a lot of potential health problems.
In order to deal with a cocaine addiction, it is important for patients to attend a professional rehabilitation program that will help them detox and then deal with the underlying causes of the addiction. In many cases, mental health support is tied in with rehab programs because it is a significant contributor to addiction.
Here at the Robert Alexander Center, we understand the complexity of cocaine addiction and our programs are designed to help patients tackle each aspect of it, so they are able to maintain their sobriety after leaving us. If you are concerned about a friend or family member, or even yourself, get in touch to learn more about our rehabilitation programs.