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Your Brain on Drugs: Cocaine

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug. It increases alertness, causes feelings of euphoria, and enhances energy. Anxiety, paranoia, and restlessness are common, with tremors and convulsions occurring at higher doses. Three routes of administration are typically used for cocaine: snorting, smoking, and injecting. Cocaine has negative effects on almost every part of the body, but the biggest adverse effect may be on the brain.

Your Brain on Drugs: Cocaine and The High

Due to the surge of pleasurable chemicals in the brain during use and sharp decrease after the drug wears off, cocaine’s effects on the brain include depression and psychosis. Your brain experiences a rapid high, followed quickly by a “crash.” The high from cocaine use is very short when compared to other drugs. Depending on the route of ingestion, the high lasts between 5-30 minutes. This is why cocaine is often used in binges (repeated use at increasingly higher doses). Repeated binges can cause the user to have a complete break with reality- a condition known as “cocaine psychosis.” This can result in psychotic behavior such as hallucinations, delusions of persecution, mood disturbances, and repetitive behaviors.

Your Brain on Drugs: Cocaine and Brain Damage

Cocaine use can result in brain damage. Cocaine restricts blood flow to the brain, which can result in bizarre and violent behavior while high.  High doses of cocaine can restrict brain blood flow to the point that it causes seizures or strokes. This can happen even in young people without any other risk factors for stroke.

Your Brain on Drugs: Cocaine’s Addictive Potential

One of the effects of cocaine is an almost immediate urge for more. The addictive properties are related to the effects of cocaine on the body’s reward pathways. It is a strong central nervous system stimulant that increases levels of dopamine, a brain chemical associated with pleasure, in the brain’s reward circuits. This release of dopamine causes the euphoric “high” that users experience when cocaine is used. The “reward” effect causes powerful cravings of the drug. Studies in mice found that if you give mouse cocaine every time it hits a lever, it will continue hitting the lever until it has overdosed, not stopping to eat, drink, or sleep.

Repeated cocaine use can result in dependence, and when cocaine use is stopped or reduced significantly, a person will experience withdrawal. Symptoms of withdrawal from cocaine include paranoia, depression, exhaustion, anxiety, itching, mood swings, irritability, fatigue, and insomnia, and an intense craving for more cocaine.

Your Brain on Drugs: Cocaine Brain

Although cocaine can make users feel more alert and on top of things in the moment, in the long run it can make their brain much slower. New studies indicate that long term cocaine use ages important parts of the brain at an accelerated rate. Although everyone loses grey matter as they age, cocaine users lose grey matter at an accelerated rate, resulting in early cognitive decline and brain atrophy. Cocaine abusers in their 30s and 40s show brain changes more commonly seen in people over 60!

If you or someone you know needs treatment for Cocaine Addiction please call us at 800-951-6135 or visit us online at

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