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Effects of Cocaine on the Nervous System

Commonly known as “coke,” “blow” and “snow,” cocaine is a drug made from the leaves of the coca plant. It can be used medically as a topical anesthetic, but it is most widely used recreationally as a stimulant. When used for recreational purposes, cocaine is typically sold in powdered form, which is snorted or burned and inhaled as smoke. Some individuals who use coke mix the powder into a solution and inject it into a vein. Drug dealers often mix the powdered version of coke with other white, powdery substances like flour, cornstarch or other drugs—substances that are unknown to the user and can cause unexpected effects.

Coke affects the nervous system by causing an increase in the levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and euphoria. It also causes a surge of adrenaline, resulting in increased heart rate and alertness. While effects on the body are usually short-lived—lasting from minutes to hours—the effects can be long lasting. Over time, the effects of cocaine on the nervous system can lead to physical and psychological dependence. If you or a loved one needs help to quit using cocaine, contact a medical or addiction treatment professional today. A cocaine detox center can provide the support and resources necessary to help you begin your journey of recovery.

The Brain’s Reward Circuit and Cocaine’s Effects on the Nervous System

Cocaine affects the central nervous system, which includes:

  • The brain
  • Spinal cord
  • Nerves in the body

When this powerful stimulant travels through the bloodstream and reaches the brain, it impacts the brain’s reward circuit. The coke catalyzes signals that are neurotransmitted along the brain’s reward circuit pathways where they are mediated and interpreted. When cocaine travels along these pathways, it triggers an excessive release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that regulates motivation, pleasure and reward. The cocaine-triggered dopamine is rapidly flushed into certain sections of the brain in a series of communications that transmit signals through the nervous system. This mechanism leads to an invigorating rush or high for most people who use cocaine, boosting their mood and making them feel euphoric, energetic and self-confident. The pleasurable effects of cocaine on the brain make the drug highly addictive.

Breaking Down Cocaine Addiction

The feeling of grandiosity and the boost of energy that many users experience with cocaine motivates them to want to use it again, thinking that continued use of the drug will help them stay alert to study or will improve their performance at work. Because coke also temporarily speeds up the body and suppresses the appetite, many people use it to lose weight.

Cocaine tends to be abused because it interferes with the brain’s normal communication process in a way that is habit-forming. Coke actually alters the brain by blocking the removal of dopamine by binding to the reward center’s dopamine transporters. With repeated use, this can result in a buildup of dopamine in the brain’s synapses. The dopamine buildup leads to overstimulation of receiving neurons in the brain’s reward circuitry, which makes individuals seek more cocaine in an attempt to maintain that level of stimulation.

Cocaine’s Other Effects

Cocaine has other effects that are less desirable or pleasurable and can lead to problems. Some of the unwanted or negative effects of cocaine include:

  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Dilated pupils
  • Runny nose
  • Tremors
  • Muscle twitches
  • Dizziness
  • Restlessness
  • Jumpiness
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Panic attacks

Higher doses can lead to erratic behavior that is combative or violent. Those who use cocaine also can experience an increased heart rate and heart palpitations, and run the risk of having a heart attack, respiratory arrest or stroke, even with just one use. These negative side effects can occur even if users are young and generally healthy. Cocaine’s effects on the brain also lead to impaired judgment and risky behavior, such as combining it with alcohol or other drugs, using shared needles, or having unsafe sex which, in turn, can result in hepatitis or sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS.

Breaking Free from Cocaine Addiction

Overcoming cocaine addiction is possible with proper substance abuse treatment. Treatment can help individuals learn how to recognize and avoid triggers that may lead to relapse, develop better coping mechanisms, and live a healthier lifestyle. Some of the treatment approaches that can be utilized during cocaine addiction recovery include:

  • Individual counseling – Talking one-on-one with a therapist can help people identify underlying issues that may have contributed to their cocaine abuse.
  • Group therapy – This approach provides an atmosphere of support, understanding, and encouragement among peers who are struggling with similar issues.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy – This type of talk therapy helps individuals modify attitudes, behaviors and thinking patterns associated with cocaine use.
  • Medications – Certain medications can help reduce effects of cravings, offer an alternative reward system to substitute for cocaine use and improve overall effects during treatment.
  • Alternative therapies – Methods like yoga, mindfulness, art and music therapy are often employed in addiction treatment to provide individuals with positive outlets for stress relief.

By seeking treatment and engaging in the recovery process, individuals can break away from the effects of cocaine on their nervous system and find a healthier way to live.

Contact Promises Behavioral Health for Cocaine Addiction Treatment

At Promises Behavioral Health, we understand the effects of cocaine on the nervous system and effects that come with addiction. We believe people can overcome their addiction by utilizing evidence-based treatments within a safe and supportive environment. Our treatment centers provide compassionate care designed to meet individual needs. Contact us today at 844.875.5609 to learn more about how we can help you or a loved one heal.