What Causes Cocaine Addiction?
Cocaine is one of the most commonly used drugs around the world, and it is well known to have addictive properties. Get to know more about what cocaine is, how it can impact and change the brain and why it causes addiction for so many individuals.
What is Cocaine?
Cocaine is a stimulant drug that has a long history. Cocaine is derived from coca leaves, but today’s versions are heavily processed and far removed from this more natural substance. In South America, people have chewed coca leaves for centuries, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that coca leaves were purified to become the active ingredient that cocaine is today.
According to the American Drug Enforcement Agency, cocaine is a schedule II drug and a highly addictive narcotic. In very few cases, it has a legitimate medical function as an anesthetic, but the majority of use is unsupervised and recreational in nature. Cocaine goes by many names including coke, powder and blow.
Cocaine is most commonly used in its white powder form. Many individuals snort or sniff cocaine for a fast, powerful high. This powder is often diluted and cut with other substances. While some of these ingredients can be harmless and just included to increase profits to dealers, they can also be dangerous, harmful substances that increase the health risks to users.
Powdered cocaine may be the most common format, but it is not the only one. Cocaine can also be mixed with liquid and injected, which is sometimes done for an even more rapid and intense high. When the hydrochloride from cocaine is removed, it becomes what is known as crack or crack cocaine. This substance can then be smoked, and it delivers an intense and immediate high with an equally rapid withdrawal.
How Cocaine Causes Addiction
It is no secret that cocaine is an addictive substance. What makes it addictive is how it alters how the brain works as well as the brain itself. Cocaine can stimulate certain parts of the brain and over time the brain won’t be able to function without it.
In the seconds and minutes after cocaine is consumed, it begins to stimulate a part of the brain called the ventral tegmental area. This is the part of the brain that is always stimulated by positive feelings. The ventral tegmental area might be piqued by things like romantic attraction, exercise, social interaction and food. Cocaine, however, is a far more powerful stimulant than those other things.
After the ventral tegmental area has experienced the stimulation of cocaine, produced by an enormous release of dopamine, nothing else can come close to the same euphoric feeling. Meeting with friends, going for a run or indulging in great food won’t stimulate the brain or release any significant amount of dopamine. This essentially means that some cocaine users are no longer capable of experiencing pleasure outside of cocaine consumption.
Another serious concern is the how rapidly the brain adapts to these newer, larger amounts of dopamine. At first, any amount of cocaine will be overwhelming to the ventral tegmental area, creating a rush known as the high. Over time, however, that amount won’t be enough. As the brain adapts, tolerance increases, meaning that users have to consume ever growing amounts of cocaine to stimulate the ventral tegmental area in the same way.
It is also worth noting that in addition to the adaptations of the brain and dopamine receptors, the makeup and structure of the brain itself can change due to cocaine use. In many studies, chronic cocaine use is shown to significantly reduce gray matter in the brain. Loss of gray matter can cause problems with cognitive thinking, mental awareness and memory.
Why Some People Become Addicted to Cocaine and Others Don’t
Not all individuals who try cocaine, or even use it over an extended period, become addicted. On the other hand, some people try cocaine just one time and struggle with addiction for life. There are many factors that help explain why certain people become addicted to cocaine. These include genetic predisposition, mental health, age when first trying cocaine, cultural and societal factors and personality type.
Genetics can explain a lot about a person’s makeup, and it can also contribute to why some people struggle with addiction. The predisposition to addiction is hereditary, which helps explain why addiction can often run in families. Genetics can also impact the size of the basal ganglia, or the brain’s reward system. The larger the basal ganglia, the more likely a cocaine user is to become a cocaine addict.
Cocaine impacts the brain and that impact is more pronounced among young people. Trying cocaine in adolescence, when the brain is still developing, means a greater risk of addiction.
Societal and cultural factors may also play a role in an increased likelihood of becoming addicted to cocaine. If cocaine use is widespread, then individuals are more likely to become addicted.
Finally, it is critical not to overlook mental health and cocaine addiction. More than half of those individuals diagnosed with severe mental illness will go on to struggle with substance abuse. Cocaine use might be a way for those with mental health disorders to self-medicate.
Recovering From a Cocaine Addiction
There are three major steps that are necessary to overcome a cocaine addiction. First, patients need to cease consumption. Then, rehab and treatment will be necessary. Finally, ongoing care and support is critical.
The first stage of recovery is often called detox, and it is simply when patients stop consuming cocaine altogether. There may be withdrawal symptoms associated with this stage of recovery.
The second stage involves treatment and targeted therapy to help understand why cocaine addiction took hold. Individuals might struggle with trauma and mental health issues, or they might need therapy to change their behavior to include healthier habits.
The third stage is lifelong, and it focuses on continuing care. Group meetings, support groups or therapy might be a part of a comprehensive relapse prevention plan.
The causes of cocaine addiction are multifaceted. The effects of cocaine, too, are widespread and can impact users in a number of ways. Exploring why cocaine is addictive may help people get the necessary treatment for recovery from cocaine addiction.