As one of the world’s most addictive drugs, cocaine can harm your body after even a single use. At first, the drug stimulates your central nervous system, making you alert, incredibly focused, and seemingly full of energy. But once the substance wears off, you might feel lethargic, depressed, irritable, weak, and have trouble concentrating, which may make you want to use cocaine again. Repeated exposure to cocaine can trick your brain into thinking you need the substance to feel happy and for your body to function well. Cocaine’s addictive nature, as well as the way the substance affects your physical, mental, and emotional health, makes the drug extremely harmful.
Cocaine is Highly Addictive
When you snort, smoke, or inject cocaine, the drug stimulates an excessive amount of dopamine that builds up in your brain. Known as the “feel-good chemical,” dopamine, one of the brain’s chemical messengers, triggers a sense of pleasure, making you feel euphoric, excited, and elated. Cocaine also stimulates the limbic system, which helps regulate emotions and memories.
Cocaine’s interference with the limbic system makes the drug highly addictive. The flood of dopamine that’s released when you use cocaine creates an association of the drug with pleasure. Your brain believes that association is true. The limbic system memorizes this trigger and notes that this process makes you seem “happy.” When you’re depressed, sad, discouraged, tired, angry, frustrated, or lonely, the limbic system reminds your brain of the cocaine-pleasure connection. Your brain, in turn, signals the need for more cocaine, making you crave the drug. The more you satisfy the craving, the greater your tolerance for cocaine becomes, which means you’ll need more of the substance to feel that initial level of pleasure.
If left untreated, tolerance can make you dependent on cocaine, cause you to binge the drug, raise your risk of addiction, and affect your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.
Chronic Cocaine Use Negatively Affects Your Brain
Long-term cocaine use can impair your cognitive abilities. Frequently using cocaine for an extended period of time can lead to memory loss, poor judgment, an inability to focus, and aneurysms. In fact, chronic cocaine use deteriorates the brain’s structure which, in turn, affects the way your mind functions.
Cocaine Ages The Brain Prematurely
According to a University of Cambridge study, misusing cocaine can cause you to lose grey matter in the brain almost twice as fast as someone who doesn’t use the drug. “As we age, we all lose grey matter,” Dr. Karen Ersche, of the Behavioral and Clinical Neuroscience Institute at the university, explained. “However, what we have seen is that chronic cocaine users lose grey matter at a significantly faster rate, which could be a sign of premature aging.” In fact, their data reveals that some middle-age cocaine users have cognitive deficits typically associated with old age. That may happen because the parts of your brain containing the most grey matter help control muscular and sensory activity, higher learning, attention, memory, thought, motor control, and coordination. The loss of grey matter has also been associated with the following conditions:
- Bipolar disorder
- Multiple sclerosis
- Alzheimer’s disease
Cocaine Kills Brain Cells
Research also shows that cocaine can cause brain cells to kill themselves. According to a study conducted by John Hopkins University, high doses of cocaine distorts autophagy or the cell clean-up process. “A cell is like a household that is constantly generating trash,” Prasun Guha, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at John Hopkins University, explained. “Autophagy is the housekeeper that takes out the trash – it’s usually a good thing. But cocaine makes the housekeeper throw away really important things, like mitochondria, which produces energy for the cells. Without the energy they need to function, cells in your brain die.”
Cocaine Increases Your Risk of A Stroke
When you use cocaine, your blood vessels constrict, increasing your blood pressure and reducing the amount of oxygen in your brain. Cocaine can also cause your heart to beat rapidly and uncontrollably, which can increase your risk of blood clots. The lack of oxygen in your brain and the development of blood clots can dramatically increase your risk of a stroke. In fact, during the 24 hours after using cocaine, you’re 7 times more likely to have a stroke.
Cocaine Use Weakens The Physical Body
The brain isn’t the only organ affected by cocaine use. Cocaine damages many other organs, too, weakening the physical body. In addition to diminishing your immune system, cocaine negatively affects your cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, hepatic, and renal systems.
Cocaine Damages the Immune System
Cocaine weakens your body’s immune system. In fact, according to a groundbreaking study, cocaine compromises a protein called interleukin-6 (IL-6), which helps your immune system fight off infections. “We found that cocaine impairs the body’s defense system for at least 4 hours,” Dr. John Halpern said. “We can’t rule out the possibility that IL-6 response returns to normal shortly after that time. But even if the blunted immune response lasts only a few hours, it makes it more likely than in infection like HIV or just a common cold can take hold.” HIV infection, which is commonly associated with chronic cocaine users, increases the risk for co-infection with HCV, a virus that affects the liver, chronic liver disease, and cancer.
Cocaine Increases the Risk of Severe Heart Issues
Long-term cocaine use can cause severe cardiac trouble including:
- Decreased blood flow to the heart
- Heart attacks
- Inflammation of the heart muscle
- Endocarditis, an infection of the heart valve, which is often fatal
- Aortic dissection, or bleeding in the wall of the body’s main artery, the aorta
Cocaine Weakens Your Respiratory System
In addition to cardiovascular trouble, chronic cocaine users can experience the following respiratory problems:
- Respiratory infection
- Coughing up blood
- Pneumothorax, or a collapsed lung
- Trouble breathing, wheezing, and chronic coughing
Cocaine Causes Gastrointestinal Harm
Using cocaine can lead to a wide variety of gastrointestinal issues, including:
- Stomach ulcers
- Perforation of intestines or stomach
- Abdominal bleeding
Cocaine Can Disrupt Your Hepatic & Renal Systems
Like other organs in your body, cocaine can also damage your liver and kidneys, also known as your hepatic renal system. These organs help filter out toxins in your body. When cocaine disrupts your liver and kidneys, you may experience physical problems, including:
- Liver infections such as viral hepatitis
- Kidney disease
- Chronic kidney failure
Cocaine May Negatively Affect Your Emotional Wellbeing
Even though cocaine temporarily stimulates your central nervous system, abusing the drug can disturb your mental health and undermine your emotional wellbeing. Heavy cocaine use can cause paranoia while binging the substance can lead to cocaine-induced psychosis and the following symptoms:
- Violent, aggressive behavior
- Hallucinations and delirium
- Suicidal thoughts
The longer you use cocaine, the longer the psychological effects will linger. Heavy cocaine users might even experience this type of emotional unrest after they quit cocaine. You might have severe depression or an inability to feel pleasure, a condition behavioral health experts call prolonged anhedonia.
Treatment to Overcome Cocaine Addiction
At BlueCrest Recovery, we know the devastating and harmful effects cocaine can have on your mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. But we can help. Our treatment programs for cocaine addiction combine evidence-based clinical science with holistic practices and the 12-step program to help restore your life and revive your spirit.
We believe that recovering from drug addiction challenges requires more than detox and outside support. True rehabilitation requires a renewing of your mind, choices, habits, behavior patterns, and lifestyle practices. That’s why we incorporate mind-healing activities like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness into our curriculum. Contact us today at 973-298-5776 if you’re looking for a top-notch drug rehab program you can trust.