Cocaine: Why Is It so Addictive?

April 19, 2021

Cocaine is one of the most addictive of any drug, and unfortunately, it only takes a few uses to become dependent on it.

Those who use cocaine develop tolerance quickly, which means that more of the drug is needed to achieve the same level of euphoria that resulted from smaller doses early on. But what is it about cocaine that makes it so addictive? Let’s take a closer look at the drug to find out.

The Basics

Many areas in South America grow a plant called coca. This plant’s leaves are used to make cocaine. The use of this drug is costly, both financially and in terms of the user’s health. The drug is most often snorted through the nose, but it can also be rubbed into the gums or injected into the bloodstream. It’s typically found in white powder form, but it can also be processed into rock crystals known as “crack cocaine” and then smoked.

Physiological Changes

The repeated use of cocaine causes changes in the brain. The drug is a stimulant, which means that as it’s used the amount of dopamine in the brain increases. Dopamine is a chemical associated with pleasure and movement. When the body experiences pleasure, dopamine is released into the brain and then eventually the chemical is recycled back into the cell it was released from. The recycling process shuts off the signal between the nerve cells.

This is what cocaine does to the body, except that it releases an excess of euphoria-causing dopamine. It also prevents the dopamine from being recycled, causing a chemical builds up in the brain. The body then forms a tolerance to it. More and more cocaine is needed to reach the same levels of euphoria as before, and thus an addiction is formed. In addition to dopamine, cocaine use also increases levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain, all of which form blockages when they are unable to be reabsorbed.

Euphoria, or extreme happiness, is certainly the most appealing side effect of cocaine use. Other positive effects include increased energy, mental alertness, and hypersensitivity to touch, sight, and sound. There are also negative short-term effects, like paranoia and irritability. These side effects come on instantly and the duration is largely dependent on the method of use, ranging from a few minutes to an hour or more.

Risks of Use

The highly addictive nature of cocaine makes it exceptionally harmful, dangerous, and even deadly. No amount of cocaine is safe. The initial feelings of pleasure and euphoria that accompany the use of the drug can easily segue into serious health conditions, such as:

  • Heart failure
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Respiratory failure
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Tremors
  • Stroke
  • Brain hemorrhage
  • Restlessness

Many years of use can also lead to Parkinson’s disease. Other long-term health effects are dependent on the method of use. Frequent snorting can lead to the loss of smell, difficulty swallowing, and nosebleeds. Smoking cocaine puts more stress on the respiratory systems and can lead to excessive coughing and asthma, and even pneumonia. Injecting the drug increases risk of HIV, hepatitis C, and other infections and diseases.

An overdose of cocaine can happen at any time, and the result can be deadly. Death can occur at the first use of cocaine or at any other use, especially when the drug is used at the same time as alcohol or other drugs like heroin.

Steps Recovery Centers Can HelpCocaine addiction is a serious condition, and the road to recovery is often long and arduous. Inpatient treatment with medical monitoring and behavioral therapy are proven to be the most effective methods for treating addiction to this harmful drug. Steps Recovery Centers provide a safe and effective environment to help your loved one along the road to recovery. We have centers all across Utah, from Salt Lake City to St. George. Contact us today to get started on the path to a drug-free future.

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