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Cocaine’s Effects on the Brain

a man checks into cocaine addiction treatment due to the effects of cocaine on his brain

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant. Most of the cocaine supply in the United States is illegally distributed and used. Cocaine tends to come in a powder form. The “crack” variety of cocaine comes in small crystal form and is smoked instead of snorted. Both types of crack can cause numerous physical and mental ailments. Abusing cocaine changes brain chemistry in ways that make addiction more likely. Cocaine’s effects on the brain go beyond addiction as well. Long-term damage to a person’s health is not uncommon with cocaine use.

If you or a loved one needs cocaine addiction treatment in Massachusetts, reach out to Rockland Recovery at 855.732.4842.

How Cocaine and the Brain Interact

Cocaine produces a high when it is taken. This happens because it releases a large amount of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is an important brain chemical that governs positive emotion and pleasure. The problem is that cocaine blocks dopamine from being recycled. The brain eventually enters deficit mode and, over time, rewires itself to crave cocaine as its main supply of dopamine. In fact, cocaine withdrawal is often marked by severe mental health problems such as depression.

Cocaine’s effects on the brain may create lasting issues. Abusing cocaine could cause long-term mood changes or other serious problems like auditory hallucinations, psychosis, restlessness, and paranoia. Another way that cocaine and the brain interact is that cocaine causes the release of stress hormones like cortisol. As another natural brain chemical, cortisol plays an important role. But cocaine upends the proper balance of cortisol, which can lead to permanently high blood pressure.

The Role of the Cardiovascular System in Relation to the Brain and Cocaine

The long-term mental health issues caused by cocaine are one issue. Yet another compounding factor is that cocaine abuse puts the cardiovascular system at risk. This system is responsible for blood flow throughout the entire body. This naturally impacts the brain. The very structure of the brain is at risk through continued cocaine use. A few ways that cocaine’s structural impact on the brain manifest include:

  • Chronic headaches resulting from restricted or damaged veins
  • Blood clots
  • Increased risk of stroke or heart attack
  • Seizures

How the brain ages is yet another realm that cocaine touches. Over time, it is natural for the brain to age and lose gray matter. That’s yet another part of aging, just like wrinkles and decreased physical mobility. In a healthy brain, this is a prolonged process, and for many people, the loss of gray matter never becomes relevant because they never notice. For others, it can cause dementia, memory problems, and other cognitive challenges when the gray matter has decayed more quickly.

Regular cocaine use effectively doubles the rate at which gray matter decays. The brain ages much more quickly than is natural. This leaves people open to things like dementia and memory problems at a far younger age than otherwise would have occurred.

Take Cocaine’s Effects on the Brain Seriously

Cocaine use is laden with serious risks. The high it produces has a much darker side to it. The best way to take cocaine’s effects on the brain seriously is to stop using it, but for people who have acquired a dependence or an addiction to cocaine, saying that alone isn’t all that helpful. Those people need comprehensive help through an addiction treatment provider.

The good news is that cocaine addiction is treatable. Life beyond addiction is possible and attainable for anyone, regardless of background or circumstances. It all starts with getting help. Brain damage, mental health issues, and cardiovascular problems await people who use cocaine long-term. The alternative is compassionate, expert care through a provider like Rockland Recovery. Treatment can help your brain reorient itself to proper functioning without cocaine.

Break Cocaine Addiction at Rockland Recovery

A drug-free future is waiting for you. Let us help you make it a reality by reaching out to 855.732.4842. Our compassionate and professional staff will be with you every step of the way on your recovery journey.

Medical Reviewer Kate Perfetti, LADC II

Medically Reviewed by Kate Perfetti, LADC II

Kate is a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor who has worked in the field of substance abuse for the last nine years. At Rockland Recovery, Kate works to provide resources to the local community and engage and progress Rockland Recovery’s alumni program.


Take the First Step Toward Recovery.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, we encourage you to request a confidential call to explore treatment options, ask questions, and receive support from experienced professionals. We know taking this first step can be challenging, but it’s a courageous and important part of the recovery journey.

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