Even though cocaine heightens activity in the body, making you feel temporarily alert and energetic, this drug is highly addictive and incredibly harmful. After speeding up your central nervous system, cocaine can leave you feeling paranoid, irritable, depressed, lethargic, weak, foggy-brained, shaky, and exhausted. Essentially, the drug leaves you feeling dejected, hopeless, and pessimistic, which makes you want to take cocaine again. Taking the drug again repeats this cycle, which can eventually result in addiction. Long-term cocaine use can damage some of the body’s most vital organs, hurt your mental health, damage your brain, and lead to several chronic health problems. Here’s what you need to know about cocaine and the many ways the drug can harm your mind and body.
The Effects of Cocaine
Cocaine is a stimulant drug made from the coca plant. Also known as “blow,” “coke,” “crack,” “rock,” or “snow,” the fine white powder can be snorted up the nose, injected into the veins, or smoked. When you consume cocaine, the drug literally stimulates the body, sending a sudden rush of energy through your mind and body. The heart races. The senses become extremely alert. Excessive amounts of dopamine, the “feel-good chemical,” floods the brain, triggering feelings of intense pleasure that cause users to feel temporarily euphoric, confident, and excited. Unfortunately, cocaine also disrupts the brain’s chemical balance, which is one of the first ways the drug harms the body.
Why Is Cocaine So Harmful?
The harm caused by cocaine can range from mild nausea to more severe damage such as respiratory failure, heart attack, stroke, and death. Some of the drug’s most adverse effects include:
- Disrupting the Brain’s Chemical Balance. The high levels of dopamine triggered by cocaine build up in the brain and over-activate receiving cells. When this happens, the body doesn’t experience pleasure from normal levels of dopamine, making you more likely to seek out more intense forms of pleasure like more cocaine or other addictive substances. Excessive amounts of dopamine can also cause anxiety, insomnia, and mania. Cocaine also disrupts the brain’s balance by suppressing norepinephrine, which can lead to memory loss, and serotonin, which has been linked to obsessive compulsive disorder and impulsive behavior.
- Damaging the Structure & Function of the Brain. Using cocaine can hinder the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), the part of the brain that helps regulate your preferences. Cocaine restricts the OFC, making you less capable of making logical decisions. Cocaine also hijacks the hippocampus, the part of the brain which plays an important role in learning and memory. When this happens, the brain associates cocaine with a trusted source of pleasure, making you constantly crave the drug. With a diminished OFC and a hijacked hippocampus, cocaine users have little self-control over their substance use. They become even more compulsive, manic, and paranoid, making them more likely to develop mental health issues.
- Premature Aging. According to a study, cocaine users lose grey matter in their brain twice as fast as someone who has never used the drug. Losing grey matter at such a significant rate is typically linked to premature aging because grey matter helps regulate muscular and sensory activity, memory, coordination, and higher learning. The study also showed that some middle-aged cocaine users may have the cognitive functioning of older adults. Cocaine users who lose significant gray matter may have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, and bipolar disorder.
- Adverse Effects on Your Emotional Wellbeing. Constantly stimulating your central nervous system can overstimulate the parts of the brain that regulate your mental health such as the dorsal anterior cingulate and the amygdala. Additionally, heavy cocaine use can cause paranoia. Binging cocaine can actually lead to cocaine-induced psychosis which is linked to hallucinations, delusions, depression, suicidal thoughts, confusion, and violent or aggressive behavior.
- A Weakened Immune System. According to a groundbreaking study, cocaine hinders the interleukin-6 protein which helps the immune system fight off infections. In fact, cocaine impairs the body’s defense system for at least 4 hours, making cocaine users more likely to contract infections and viruses such as HIV. Chronic cocaine users with weakened immune systems can also contract HCV, a virus that affects the liver, causing chronic liver disease and cancer.
- Increased Risk of Heart & Cardiovascular Problems. Prolonged cocaine use negatively affects the cardiovascular system. Every time cocaine enters the body, the heart races, causing inflammation. Once swollen, the heart is no longer able to maintain proper blood flow. Decreased blood flow combined with an inflamed heart muscle increases the risk of heart attacks. The toxins in cocaine can also cause endocarditis, a fatal infection of the heart valve.
- Weakened Respiratory System. Snorting and smoking cocaine can weaken the respiratory system. In addition to coughing up blood, cocaine users typically develop respiratory infections. As the respiratory system constantly works to fight off infections, the lungs can become inflamed, eventually resulting in pneumothorax or a collapsed lung.
- Increased Risk of a Stroke. Using cocaine causes the blood vessels to constrict, increasing blood pressure. Constricted blood vessels can also reduce the amount of oxygen flowing to your brain. Stimulated by cocaine, the heart beats rapidly and uncontrollably, increasing the risk of blood clots. If blood clots form and not enough oxygen reaches the brain, the risk of a stroke dramatically increases. In fact, cocaine users are 7 times more likely to have a stroke during the 24 hours after using the drug as their blood vessels constrict, heart races, and blood pressure increases.
- Killing Brain Cells. According to a study conducted by John Hopkins University, high doses of cocaine distorts autophagy or the cell clean-up process. Instead of getting rid of things brain cells no longer need, cocaine hijacks the clean-up process, causing brain cells to get rid of the very energy sources they need to survive, such as mitochondria. Without enough energy to sustain themselves, cells in the brain die.
How We Treat Cocaine Addiction
Here at Genesis Recovery, we take a holistic approach to treating cocaine addiction. We use clinical, evidence-based techniques to rehabilitate the mind and incorporate the 12-step program to help establish lifestyle practices that support long-term recovery. In addition, we provide soul-reviving activities that will refresh your spirit, including a faith-based community that encourages you as you establish a new identity.
Overcoming addiction can be difficult, frustrating, and lonely, but our spiritual therapeutic approach to treatment can help empower and uplift you as you take strides toward long-term recovery. Contact us today at 619-797-7319 if you, a loved one, or a close friend are grappling with cocaine addiction.