Behavior and Addiction: The Relationship Between Cocaine Abuse and Impulsivity

Cocaine Abuse

Behavior and Addiction: The Relationship Between Cocaine Abuse and Impulsivity

One of the most commonly-abused illicit stimulant drugs, cocaine is highly addictive and abusing it in any form can have devastating effects on the body and brain, possibly causing long-term physical complications and unexpected behavioral changes. Cocaine abuse is a serious issue that at the very least can lead to serious health problems, and at the worst can lead to addiction, overdose or death.

If you recognize the signs of cocaine abuse in a loved one, such as irritability, fatigue, dilated pupils or unusual impulsive behavior, contact the substance abuse recovery counselors at Behavioral Rehabilitation Services today by calling our toll-free number. With the experts at BRS Rehab on your side, you can help your loved one achieve lasting recovery from cocaine abuse or addiction.

Cocaine Abuse

Cocaine is a powerful illicit drug derived from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, cocaine is a highly addictive drug that disrupts normal brain communication and causes a euphoric high that keeps users coming back for more. There are a variety of ways people can use cocaine, the most common being snorting cocaine powder through the nose or rubbing it into their gums, dissolving the powder in water and injecting it into the bloodstream, and smoking cocaine that has been processed to make a rock crystal. Regardless of the route of administration though, cocaine rapidly increases the supply of a neurotransmitter called dopamine in the brain, and people who use the drug often take it repeatedly within a short time period, at increasingly higher doses, to maintain their high. The result is a host of behavioral effects, including:

  • Extreme happiness
  • Increased energy
  • Mental alertness
  • Hypersensitivity to sight, touch, and sound
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia
  • Reduced inhibitions
  • Panic attacks
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness and increased movement

What to Know About Cocaine

The reason cocaine is so addictive is because the drug acts on the pleasure center of the brain, and with repeated use, cocaine can actually cause lasting changes to the brain’s normal functioning. Cocaine acts as a central nervous system stimulant, and the way the drug alters the brain’s functioning is by increasing levels of a natural chemical messenger called dopamine. Dopamine plays a key role in a portion of the brain called the limbic system, which produces pleasurable sensations in response to certain behaviors and actions, such as sex and food consumption.

While these types of activities produce relatively modest boosts in dopamine levels, cocaine abuse triggers extreme pleasure boosts by preventing dopamine from being recycled back into the cell that released it, which causes excessive amounts of the chemical to build up between nerve cells. When dopamine levels are significantly increased in this way, the associated feelings of pleasure and euphoria also increase dramatically, and this rewarding feedback loop only reinforces the likelihood of future cocaine use.

Cocaine Dependence and Withdrawal

Over time, the brain’s reward system becomes accustomed to the surplus dopamine triggered by cocaine use and no longer produces the same amount of pleasure as it did when the drug use first began. In turn, users may begin taking more and more cocaine over time to achieve the same pleasurable effects as before, which only further affects the brain’s production of dopamine. When dopamine levels fall below this “new normal,” i.e. when the individual stops using cocaine or uses it less frequently or at lower doses, withdrawal symptoms kick in. Some common withdrawal symptoms associated with cocaine abuse include:

  • Depression
  • Slowed thinking
  • Fatigue
  • Increased appetite
  • Unpleasant dreams and insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Restlessness
  • A general feeling of discomfort

Unfortunately, the severity of cocaine withdrawal symptoms only gives the user a stronger incentive for continued use, and it’s when this incentive becomes compulsive, meaning cocaine use becomes the focal point of the individual’s daily existence, that the risk of cocaine dependence and addiction is highest. Cocaine-dependent users face a higher risk for other substance use disorders, as well as personality disorders, depressive disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder, which gives you an idea of the scope of the adverse effect cocaine abuse has on the brain and body.

The Role of Impulsivity in Cocaine Abuse

The very nature of drug addiction is the inability or diminished ability to control impulses to use, and cocaine addiction is often characterized by risk-taking or sensation-seeking behavior, as well as poor decision-making. Among the adverse effects associated with cocaine abuse is an unusually high level of the trait known as impulsivity, or a tendency to act quickly and without adequate thought or planning in response to internal or external stimuli. High levels of impulsivity result in addicts preferring smaller, short-term benefits over larger, delayed gratification.

According to one 2012 study published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, cocaine use can increase an individual’s tendency towards impulsivity by altering the brain’s normal functioning, thereby decreasing their ability to delay reward. There is also research suggesting that people who already have unusually strong tendencies towards impulsivity may be predisposed to cocaine use and addiction.

Cocaine Abuse Facts

In 2014, an estimated 1.5 million Americans aged 12 and older were reported to be current (past-month) cocaine users, and that same year, more than 5,400 people died from a cocaine overdose. Sadly, because cocaine triggers feelings of euphoria and pleasure during use, many people continue taking the drug despite serious negative consequences, such as financial problems, difficulties with personal relationships, adverse physical side effects, or trouble at work. Cocaine is so powerfully addictive and has such as a strong effect on the body and brain, that even former users can suffer the effects of cocaine abuse. For instance, research shows that during periods of abstinence, when cocaine is not being used, the memory of using cocaine or exposure to certain cues associated with past drug use can trigger strong cravings, which increases the risk of a cocaine relapse.

Cocaine’s powerful and short-lived stimulant effects are the main reasons the drug has such a high potential for abuse. The effects of cocaine typically appear almost immediately and dissipate within a few minutes to an hour. However, taking large amounts of cocaine at once or using the drug over a long period of time can intensify its effects, possibly resulting in bizarre, unpredictable and even violent behavior, coupled with an increased risk of adverse psychological or physiological effects. Some possible long-term effects of cocaine abuse include:

  • Heart failure
  • Respiratory failure
  • Stroke
  • Irregular heart rhythm
  • Seizures
  • Cerebral hemorrhage
  • Auditory and tactile hallucinations
  • Delirium or psychosis
  • Organ damage
  • Significant weight loss
  • Movement disorders
  • Impaired cognitive function
  • Brain damage
  • Severe depression

Due to the stimulant effects of cocaine, use of the drug triggers a number of sensations and physiologic changes in the body, which can spiral out of control when a person uses too much of the drug, possibly leading to an overdose. A cocaine overdose can be intentional or unintentional and occurs when an individual’s drug use causes a toxic reaction that can lead to serious adverse effects or death, even for first-time users.

Contact Behavioral Rehabilitation Services Today

Cocaine is such a powerful drug that tolerance and addiction can occur after just one use, and the changes in the brain brought on by cocaine abuse can be long-lasting. Fortunately, there are treatment options for cocaine addiction that can help addicts understand and change their compulsive drug-seeking behaviors and achieve long-term recovery. At Behavioral Rehabilitation Services, cocaine addiction treatment centers around the recovery needs of the client, with personalized programs designed to treat not just the addiction itself, but the underlying causes of the addiction as well. If you or a loved one is struggling with the effects of cocaine drug abuse, get professional help at Behavioral Rehabilitation Services by calling today.

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