What Does Cocaine Do To Your Brain?

Published on

Cocaine affects multiple organ systems, but the drug’s most notable effects occur in the brain. The changes that produce the high associated with cocaine result in major hormonal shifts that can make you more vulnerable to mental health disorders.

Effects Of Cocaine On The Brain

Cocaine is an illegal drug that acts as a stimulant. It is typically sold as a white powder or as crack cocaine. The drug can be ingested, snorted, smoked, free-based, or injected.

The method of substance use will affect the speed of the initial onset as well as the length of the cocaine’s effects, but the changes to your brain chemistry are essentially the same.

When cocaine takes effect, it blocks the reuptake of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine, maintaining a higher concentration of those hormones and creating imbalance.

How Cocaine Affects The Brain

Cocaine affects the neurons of your brain by interacting with the two major neural pathways that govern stress hormones as well as common “feel good” hormones.

These pathways involve a number of vital neurotransmitters, but dopamine is often the most important to understanding the short- and long-term effects of cocaine on the brain.

Cocaine use blocks the natural recycling of dopamine through your brain’s reward center. The amount of dopamine in the brain increases, causing euphoria.

Other effects of artificially high levels of dopamine include increased energy, sociability, and mental alertness. With that said, these apparent benefits do come at a price.

Cocaine causes a number of negative psychological side effects. The most notable examples are the long-term shifts in your mental health and the risk of psychosis.

Cocaine Use Can Lead To Anxiety And Depression

Your brain is an incredible organ that has remarkable neuroplasticity. If you use cocaine regularly, your brain will adapt to the short-term effects of cocaine.

Your brain’s production of dopamine is a perfect example. In response to the buildup of dopamine, your brain will start to produce less dopamine in an effort to create balance.

As a result, when you aren’t actively using cocaine, your dopamine levels will be suppressed. This adjustment may cause you to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The onset of a co-occurring mental health disorder, such as depression, can further complicate addiction by encouraging continued drug use as a form of self-medication.

Onset Of Cocaine Headaches

Cocaine headaches is one of the effects of cocaine use that spans the space between physical and psychological symptoms.

While the sensation is clearly physical, the cause is anchored in the impairment of normal dopamine and serotonin production.

Cocaine headaches do sometimes occur immediately after administration due to changes in blood flow. However, they are more likely to occur one to two hours after cocaine use.

For many people who use cocaine, a cocaine headache can be the first sign of cocaine withdrawal and the beginning of detox.

Learn more about cocaine headaches.

Poor Decision-Making

Over time, cocaine use can negatively affect the function of your orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). This region of the brain is responsible for adaptive learning and decision-making.

As a result of the impairment to this part of the brain, people with a cocaine drug addiction may find it more difficult to make decisions and recognize the consequences of specific actions.

Scientists argue that the damage to this part of the brain could be one of the reasons why people who abuse cocaine don’t always recognize the reality of their addiction.

Cocaine-Induced Psychosis

In some cases, cocaine use can cause immediate, short-term brain changes. These effects can take the form of enhanced anxiety and paranoia that eventually cause a break from reality.

Cocaine-induced psychosis most frequently occurs as the result of ingesting or snorting large doses of cocaine or taking repetitive doses in a relatively short period of time.

From the outside, cocaine-induced psychosis can resemble schizophrenia. The affected person is unable to distinguish their hallucinations from reality and may inadvertently harm themselves.

This is a dangerous condition that can be associated with cocaine overdose. You should contact emergency healthcare services if someone in your vicinity begins to show signs of psychosis.

Read about cocaine-induced psychosis.

Can Cocaine Abuse Affect Brain Matter?

Cocaine use causes the gradual loss of gray matter. Research suggests that this loss is responsible for the negative changes in memory and cognition that often affect people who use cocaine.

In addition to the reduction in gray matter, cocaine abuse has also been tied to the death of additional brain cells, which may complicate other psychological and cognitive symptoms.

Is Damage To The Brain From Cocaine Use Reversible?

Cocaine has the ability to cause serious brain damage over time. Fortunately, most, if not all, of this damage is reversible if you quit using illicit drugs and alcohol.

Individual experiences will vary, but research suggests that five months is often enough to allow the brain to normalize the production of the affected neurotransmitters.

Some of the damage to your brain may remain if you habitually used cocaine for a long period of time, but even this can be managed with ongoing treatment.

Treatment Programs For Cocaine Addiction

Due to the complex nature of cocaine addiction, evidence-based treatment programs are designed to address the psychological fallout of cocaine use as well as the core addiction.

As a result, comprehensive cocaine addiction treatment often includes dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders.

Some of the most common treatments used to target cocaine addiction include:

  • medical detoxification
  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • motivational interviewing
  • inpatient rehab programs
  • outpatient rehab programs
  • group therapy

Effective addiction treatment is customized to fit your individual needs. As a result, your treatment plan may include a number of different therapies to provide comprehensive treatment.

Find A Substance Abuse Treatment Center

If you or a loved one need help finding a treatment provider to help you treat a cocaine addiction, give our helpline a call today.

For 24/7 Treatment Help Call:
(888) 859-4403

Detox Rehabs