woman snorting cocaine on table

How Does Cocaine Affect The Nervous System?

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant that significantly affects the nervous system, leading to immediate and lasting consequences. Many users of cocaine may have wondered, “How does cocaine affect the nervous system?” By understanding how cocaine may impact this bodily system, individuals can see the immediate and long-term effects of cocaine abuse.

In this article, we will answer the question, “How does cocaine affect the nervous system?” We will explore what cocaine and its effects are, how cocaine impacts the nervous system, and how cocaine produces these effects.

rolled up dollar bill being used to snort cocaine

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a potent and highly addictive central nervous system stimulant drug that can cause severe damage to various physical and mental health aspects. Cocaine comes in many forms, including cocaine hydrochloride, commonly known as coke or snow, which is typically snorted or injected. Crack cocaine is a smoked freebase form named after the sound it makes when heated. Historically, cocaine served medicinal purposes as a local anesthetic, but its medical use has primarily ceased due to its addictive nature and health risks. It is frequently used recreationally for its stimulant effects, such as heightened energy, alertness, and euphoria.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 4.8 million individuals reported cocaine use in 2021. Of those individuals, 1.2 million were young adults aged 18 to 25. As cocaine causes stimulating effects, it has become popular for college students and young adults to use it while partying or needing to stay up all night. However, using cocaine can cause various side effects on the body.

Read More: The Best Rehab for Cocaine Addiction in Louisville, KY

Cocaine Effects on the Body

The side effects of cocaine on the body can appear almost immediately after ingesting the drug. While most individuals use cocaine to experience the euphoric effects it produces, it can also cause other dangerous side effects. These side effects may include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Anxiety
  • Decreased appetite resulting in weight loss
  • Paranoia
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Loss of smell
  • Seizures

How Does Cocaine Affect the Nervous System?

Cocaine creates a powerful and complex impact on the central nervous system, primarily by interfering with the normal functioning of neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that transmit signals between nerve cells. These neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, are a part of the brain’s reward system. As cocaine floods the body with dopamine to produce euphoric effects, it disrupts the reward system.

This disruption leads to many immediate and long-term effects on the nervous system. Some of the most common short-term side effects include:

  • Heightened alertness
  • Dilated pupils
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased risk of heart attacks 

Some of the most common long-term side effects include:

  • Developed tolerance
  • Impaired cognitive function
  • Increased suicidal thoughts
  • Sudden death
man about to use cocaine, experiencing how does cocaine affect the nervous system and other symptoms

How Does Cocaine Produce These Effects?

To properly understand how cocaine can impact the central nervous system, it’s essential to know how the brain typically communicates with this system and how cocaine may change this communication.

The brain’s reward system, controlled by dopamine, gets activated by various enjoyable things like food, sex, and certain drugs, including cocaine. This system starts in a part of the midbrain known as the ventral tegmental area and goes to the nucleus accumbens, a significant pleasure center in the brain.

In regular communication within the brain, dopamine is released from one neuron into the small gap between it and another neuron called the synapse. There, it links up with special proteins called dopamine receptors on the neighboring neuron. Think of dopamine as a messenger, carrying signals from one neuron to another. Later, another protein called a transporter removes extra dopamine from the synapse, recycling it for future use.

However, drugs like cocaine can mess up this normal communication process. For instance, cocaine sticks to the dopamine transporter, blocking it from clearing away dopamine from the synapse. As a result, dopamine then builds up in the synapse, sending an extra-strong signal to the receiving neurons. This causes intense euphoria right after taking the drug, resulting in addiction and dependency on cocaine.

Learn More: Understanding the Addiction Cycle: An Informative Guide

Finding Treatment for Cocaine Addiction

As individuals continuously use cocaine, they begin to develop an addiction and tolerance. This tolerance requires the individual to use higher doses of cocaine to achieve the same effects, causing the addiction to grow and lead to the addiction cycle. Once an individual recognizes they have developed a cocaine addiction, it’s vital to receive addiction treatment as quickly as possible.

Many resources and treatment options are available for substance abuse, and finding the treatment that works for you is crucial. Seeking professional help from an addiction specialist can help identify the underlying causes of addiction and develop coping strategies to prevent relapse. These specialists will also work with individuals to create individualized treatment plans to address every need of the individual. These treatment plans may include:

  • Medical Detox: The first step in most treatment plans is to undergo medical detoxification to remove any toxins from the drug out of the system. During this detox process, individuals will experience cocaine withdrawal symptoms and will need to be medically supervised in an inpatient or outpatient setting.
  • Behavioral Therapy: After medical detox, many individuals will undergo various behavioral therapies to assist in changing their cocaine-induced negative thought patterns and behaviors. These therapies may include cognitive-behavioral, adventure, equine, or other experiential therapies.
  • Aftercare Support: Once an individual has successfully completed their treatment program, they may continue receiving aftercare support through support groups. These support groups include Cocaine Anonymous (CA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), which provide peer support and encouragement during recovery.
cocaine in lines on table with man sitting on couch with his head in his hands

Cocaine Addiction Recovery is Possible at Louisville Recovery Center

After understanding how cocaine affects the nervous system, individuals may want to try and stop their cocaine use before any long-term effects begin. As they recognize the substance abuse taking place, it is imperative to receive any addiction treatment to ensure that the nervous system can properly heal from any damage.

At Louisville Recovery Center, we provide experiential, holistic, and individualized addiction treatment programs to ensure the entire mind, body, and spirit are being treated. We offer many different behavioral and experiential therapies, medication-assisted treatment, and nutritional assistance to address any need of our clients. Sobriety can be difficult to achieve on your own, let Louisville Recovery help you in your journey.

If you or a loved one are suffering from substance abuse, specifically cocaine abuse, contact us today to learn more about our treatment programs.

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