Cocaine, a powerful and highly addictive drug, is identified as a high dependency risk stimulant. Known for its positive effects on mood and energy, cocaine is one of the most attractive recreational drugs that people indulge in. According to the United Nations (UN), an estimated 17 million people across the world used cocaine in 2012. Cocaine is one of the most popular illegal substances of abuse in the United States.
Cocaine creates high psychological dependency of it. As a stimulant drug, it increases the levels of the brain chemicals, especially dopamine. Dopamine is the natural chemical messenger in the brain circuit that carries signals from neuron to neuron. Dopamine is associated with regulation of pleasure and movement. Under normal circumstances, the brain releases dopamine in response to the pleasurable activities or stimuli, such as smell of good food.
Cocaine causes extreme euphoria
Cocaine stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain causing extreme euphoria. Because of its highly addictive properties, cocaine does not take much time to cause a tolerance to it in the users. Addiction to cocaine can cause alteration to the way the brain functions. It induces long-term changes in the brain causing neuroadaptations in the neurons which are responsible for releasing neurotransmitter glutamate. It also slows down the functioning of the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), which regulates cognitive processing of decision making in humans. Addiction to the drug affects an individual’s ability to take decision.
A study published in the journal Addiction Biology in January 2016 shows how long-term cocaine use may alter one’s decision making. As part of the study, the researchers targeted 30 cocaine abusers who did not use the drug during the research. They were made to participate in a gambling exercise where they had to guess the number which would appear on a screen, depending on which they won to lost money. The researchers then measured activity that went alongside microstructure and around tissue volume in the participants’ brains with the help of imaging techniques.
They observed increased activity in the ventral striatum, a part of the brain’s reward system, of the cocaine users when compared to non-cocaine users. Negative outcomes of the game didn’t hurt the cocaine users’ desire to play and seek out rewards associated with gambling, whereas the non-users underwent a robust change in various regions of the brain which pushed them to analyze the situation and act in a way that could help them win.
While researchers were not ascertain of how much cocaine consumption causes this lasting mutation in the brain’s functioning, the study gave an insight into two types of changes that happen in an individual’s brain – structural and functional changes. These changes happen with repeated use of drugs which cause low self-control and giving in to the temptation easily.
Some other effects of cocaine use include:
- Brings the stimulus down: Snorting cocaine causes a dramatic stimulus change in the brain. To bring the stimulus down, the brain tries to adapt making itself less responsive to the effects of cocaine by reducing the dopamine receptors in the synapse. So the next time the addict needs this intoxication, he/she will need more amount of cocaine to feel high again.
- Creates new brain connections: When the brain adapts itself to the impact of cocaine consumption, some regions of it find the neurons pruning back or forming more connections. These changes disrupt certain brain functions, such as the acts of learning, decision making and memorizing.
- Long-lasting impact on brain: Cocaine use can kill neurons and some of the cells may not be replaced by new ones. Thus, even if one stops taking cocaine, this immediately does not make the brain function normally. If not permanent, the changes may last for months and even for years, making the addict crave for drugs and relapse.
The tumultuous and long-lasting effects of cocaine on the brain are dangerous. While addiction treatment becomes difficult, it also makes it tedious to bring the normal functioning of the brain back. If you or your loved one is struggling to overcome the addiction to cocaine or any other substance and you are looking for drug detox centers, you may contact the Rapid Detox Helpline to know about various detox rehab centers in the U.S. You may call at our 24/7 helpline number (866) 403-5591 or chat online to speak with our representative.