How Cocaine Affects Your Brain, Body, and Emotions
Last Updated on
Any cocaine user can tell you that the high they experience is powerful, yet short-lived. The intense euphoria that keeps drawing them back to the drug only lasts between 5 and 30 minutes before wearing off. However, the effects on one’s brain, body, and emotions can last a lifetime.
Read on to learn more about how cocaine affects your system and what you can do to break free of a dangerous cocaine addiction.
How Cocaine Affects Your Brain
Anytime you take pleasure in something, whether it’s a smile from a loved one, a raise at work, or a high from an addictive substance, the feelings you experience can be explained by what’s going on in your brain. Specifically, your brain cells are releasing hormones like dopamine and serotonin, then receiving those hormones back on special receptors.
When you smoke, ingest, or inject cocaine, however, you interrupt that natural cycle. Cocaine binds to those hormone receptors, blocking them from receiving the dopamine and serotonin as they should. As a result, those hormones build up with nowhere to go, and you feel an overwhelming rush of pleasure—that addictive high.
How you immediately respond to these effects on your brain can vary from one person to the next. In general, most cocaine users experience higher levels of energy. However, some will become more talkative, alert, and happy while others can experience anxiety, irritability, hallucinations, and paranoia. You may also have a sudden hypersensitivity to touch, sight, or sound.
Over time, cocaine can wreak serious havoc on your brain health.
Risks include bleeding in the brain and movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. You may also suffer from impaired cognitive functions, including difficulty paying attention, resisting impulses, performing motor tasks, making good decisions, and more.
How Cocaine Affects Your Body
While cocaine’s impact on the brain is largely responsible for the euphoric high users experience, it also affects nearly every other area of the body.
For example, cocaine users often experience nausea, muscle tremors and twitches, and increased blood pressure.
Cocaine also stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for your “fight or flight” response. As a result, you may exhibit dilated pupils, increased heart rate, and restricted blood vessels while using this drug. This can lead to an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse points out a great deal of long-term side effects as well. For example, many cocaine addicts experience loss of appetite which leads to weight loss and malnourishment.
Further side effects can depend upon the user’s preferred method of use. Snorting the drug can result to holes in the nose’s septum due to decreased blood flow. Loss of one’s sense of smell, runny noses, nosebleeds, and problems swallowing are all potential effects of damage to the nose as well.
If you consume cocaine orally, reduced blood flow to your bowels could cause bowel decay. By injecting cocaine, you put yourself at risk of HIV, Hepatitis C, and other bloodborne diseases.
Smoking this drug can cause serious danger to your lungs, including injured airways, asthma, pneumonia, emphysema, tumors, and more. While the exact side effects can vary based on your method of use, no method is safe or free of the risks of long-term damage.
How Cocaine Affects Your Emotions
Because cocaine interferes with normal brain functioning, it can also affect your emotions. We’ve already talked about how cocaine interferes with pleasure receptors. As it does this, it also tampers with the part of your brain that is responsible for forming pleasurable memories.
As a result, your brain can be rewired to associate certain people and places with a high, making it much harder to resist the urge to use cocaine again the next time those triggers appear in your life.
Cocaine also affects your ability to experience pleasure or a sense of reward naturally. The things that once caused a release of those hormones—things like your favorite food or connecting with a close friend—may not induce happiness like they once did.
Instead, you may feel as if cocaine is your only escape from heavy feelings of displeasure or sadness.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse also warns that repeated cocaine use can lead to either tolerance or sensitivity. Tolerance means you’ll have to use more and more cocaine to experience the same effects.
Sensitivity, on the other hands, means you can experience toxic effects, anxiety, and convulsions at lower levels than you’ve been exposed to in the past. While these sound like opposite problems, either one of them can result in your likelihood of a potentially fatal overdose.
Treating Cocaine Addiction
If you or someone you know is addicted to cocaine, it’s important to break free of that addiction as soon as possible to reduce or eliminate the risk of these harmful effects on the brain, body, and emotions.
There aren’t yet any pharmacological treatments for cocaine addiction available, but behavioral treatments have proven highly effective.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), for example, helps cocaine addicts recognize and replace unhealthy thought patterns to prepare them for lifelong abstinence from the drug. Many cocaine users also benefit from undergoing therapy in a group setting, such as a 12-step program, to learn from and draw on others’ experiences.