Person wearing hoodie, holding a bag of cocaine, and covering face with hand, wondering, "Why do some people get addicted to cocaine, while others don't?"

Why Some Cocaine Users Get Addicted While Others Don’t

Why do some people get addicted to cocaine? It is a highly stimulating drug that achieves its effects by altering the normal brain levels of an important chemical called dopamine. Because of how it works on the brain and the rest of the central nervous system (CNS), the drug presents a severe risk for the onset of physical dependence and addiction. However, not all people who use cocaine will develop these problems.

Research shows that pre-existing abnormalities in a part of the brain called the basal ganglia are why some users become addicted to cocaine, and others don’t. However, no one can predict which users will or will not develop a cocaine addiction. To learn more about cocaine and inquire about our cocaine addiction treatment programs across the United States, call 844.875.5609 to speak with someone from Promises Behavioral Health’s caring and compassionate team of professionals.

About Cocaine

All cocaine comes from the coca plant’s leaves, which grow naturally and under human cultivation in various highland areas of South America. In its powdered, dissolvable form, the drug is known as cocaine hydrochloride. Makers of cheaper crack cocaine “rocks” strip away the hydrochloride portion of the drug through a chemical process involving ordinary baking soda.

The drug rapidly increases the brain’s dopamine supply, whatever its form or delivery method—injection, smoking, or nasal inhalation. Dopamine plays a critical role in a portion of the brain called the limbic system, which triggers pleasurable sensations in response to specific actions and behaviors. When levels of this chemical rise, feelings of pleasure generated in the limbic system increase. This increase creates a rewarding feedback loop that reinforces the likelihood of future participation in the action or behavior.

Physical dependence on cocaine occurs when the brain treats its altered dopamine levels as the standard or default situation. When dopamine levels fall below this new standard, withdrawal symptoms kick in, such as:

  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Aches, pains, and tremors
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Psychosis

The severity of these symptoms typically gives the user a strong incentive for continued drug intake. Addiction occurs when this incentive becomes compulsive, and the user makes obtaining and consuming cocaine the focal point of their daily existence.

Why Some Users Become Addicted to Cocaine, and Some Don’t

The reason some users become addicted to cocaine while others don’t may have something to do with the brain’s pleasure pathways. Research suggests that individuals who develop a cocaine addiction have pre-existing abnormalities in their basal ganglia.

About the Basal Ganglia

Basal ganglia is the collective term for a group of brain structures that sit above and around the limbic system. Initially, scientists believed that these structures’ singular purpose was to control various types of body movement. In addition to their role in movement control, they link closely with an advanced part of the brain called the neocortex and help us perform higher mental functions such as learning and memory formation. Crucially, the basal ganglia also play a significant role in creating the pleasurable, dopamine-related rewards that were previously only associated with the main structures of the limbic system.

Pre-Existing Basal Ganglia Differences

When compared to people who didn’t use cocaine, people using cocaine had abnormally enlarged basal ganglia. However, the same enlargement appeared in new cocaine users and long-term, chronic users. This uniform degree of change may indicate that basal ganglia enlargement existed before any cocaine use occurred—in other words, cocaine users may have pre-existing abnormalities in their basal ganglia. These abnormalities may indicate a built-in sensitivity to cocaine’s effects and help explain why some cocaine users become addicted, and others don’t.

Find Cocaine Addiction Treatment with Promises Behavioral Health

Now that you know why some people get addicted to cocaine and some don’t, you may better understand cocaine addiction. But while basal ganglia enlargement may help lay the foundation for addiction to cocaine, the overall picture for addiction is much more complex. Other factors that can lead to addiction include family environment, social environment, personality traits, exposure to peer pressure, exposure to trauma, exposure to stress, and susceptibility to impulsive behavior. To learn more about cocaine and addiction treatment programs that may help you or a loved one, Contact Promises today at 844.875.5609.

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