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Cocaine is one of the most addictive drugs out there. It therefore has correspondingly intense effects on the body - and on the mind. One of reasons that cocaine is so dangerous and addictive is because it actually changes the way the brain functions.
How cocaine affects the brain
Cocaine causes interesting effects in the brain. Scientists have long studied the effects of cocaine use on the brain, mainly to discover the secret of why it is so addictive, as well as why it is so hard to stop abusing cocaine once started.
Deep in the brain, there are centers that provide feelings of euphoria and pleasure. These are known as reward centers. An event that is "rewarding" is accompanied by the release of a chemical known as dopamine. Dopamine allows feelings of pleasure and euphoria. Normally, the dopamine is released into small gaps between neurons in the brain. It binds with proteins in the gaps and sends the appropriate signals to the brain. The dopamine eventually leaves the gap.
With cocaine substance abuse, this process is disrupted. Cocaine actually blocks the dopamine from leaving the gaps between the brain's neurons, and this leads to a buildup of dopamine; the brain then remains stimulated.
However, this alteration of how the brain works comes with a price. The body develops a tolerance - becoming used to - the level of pleasure felt with the initial use of cocaine. More and more cocaine is required to get the same effect. Additionally, the brain retains a memory of the euphoria, and can trigger intense cravings that can lead to relapse.
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Short term effects of cocaine use
Cocaine substance abuse produces some short term effects. These short term effects usually occur immediately after first partaking of the drug. Its immediate effects are among the reasons that cocaine is so addictive. Here are some of the short term effects of cocaine use:
- Increase in energy. Cocaine use may prompt quick, manic action. The user feels energetic and "alive." Mental alertness also accompanies this increase in energy.
- Decrease in appetite. As a stimulant, cocaine also acts an appetite suppressant. A cocaine addict may not feel like eating rather regularly. This is why dramatic weight loss is one of the signs of cocaine substance abuse.
- Heart rate and blood pressure go up. Cocaine stimulates the entire body. Elevated heart rate and increased blood pressure may take effect almost immediately and last through the entire "high."
- Blood vessels constrict. Your blood vessels actually get smaller when you use cocaine. This is one of the reasons that heart rate and blood pressure go up.
- Higher temperature. Cocaine use may result in a fever as your temperature rises.
- Dilated pupils. Cocaine use dilates the pupils, making the user more sensitive to light.
Long term effects of cocaine use
In addition to having immediate and noticeable effects, there are also long term effects associated with cocaine substance abuse. These effects can be long lasting, and may even last for life - even if one stops using cocaine. It is important to realize the far reaching effects cocaine substance abuse can have. Here are some of the long term effects of cocaine use:
- Addiction. This is serious, since it means that your body requires an ever increasing amount of cocaine to get the same effects. And addiction comes with its own medical and psychological problems.
- Disturbed moods and irritability. Cocaine use can have long term effects on your mood. It can lead to depression, as well as increased irritability. Cocaine substance abuse can also result in violent mood swings.
- Paranoia. After prolonged use of cocaine, one can develop paranoia, damaging relationships with other people, and making it hard to function in society.
- Restlessness. Cocaine addicts can display restlessness and anxiousness. This, too, can affect other areas of life, such as work and relationships with friends and family.
- Auditory hallucinations. Cocaine use can lead to auditory hallucinations, or "hearing things."
- Health problems. Health problems with the heart and respiratory system can result from cocaine substance abuse. This can in turn lead to serious health episodes, such as heart attack, lung failure or stroke. Cocaine use can even result in death.
Effects of a cocaine overdose
There are some certain effects that come with cocaine overdose. It is important to be on the lookout for these signs, as they are indications that the cocaine user may need immediate medical attention:
- Intense chest pain.
- A great deal of sweating.
- Rapid breathing, or difficulty breathing.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Extremely rapid pulse.
- Signs of hallucination.
While the initial feelings of pleasure and euphoria can make cocaine "fun," it is important to remember that the drug has very real effects on the body. And, even after all of the short term effect fade away, there are still long term effects to confront.