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The word most often used to describe cocaine’s initial “rush,” which courses through the body and brain of the user is euphoria. Cocaine is an addictive substance, primarily based on the intense pleasure that floods the brain and senses of the user, from the very first hit.
This rush of pleasure may last a few minutes or up to an hour, depending on the method it is used. Following the intense pleasure sensations are a “coming down” that takes the user to a depressed state of body and mind. The depletion of the pleasure is why most users return for more and eventually become addicted to coke. Initial stages of cocaine use “hook” the user because of their desire to relive the high, over and over.
Most users experience a sense of well-being, comfort, intense energy and superhuman levels of confidence and invincibility. When feeling like this, it is easy to see why a user returns again and again to the substance that gives them this benefit. Unfortunately, it isn’t real, it is induced by cocaine.
Effects on the body with use of cocaine are an increased heart rate, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, increased energy, and heightened sexual cravings. Dry mouth, higher body temperature and blood pressure are more other effects a user might experience.
The brain is flooded with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that produces signals in the neurons of the brain. The flooding occurs and creates a “dumping” of dopamine into the pleasure center of the brain. When the user stops, the brain fights to regain homeostasis, which is the normal balance of neurotransmitter activity in the prefrontal cortex and midbrain. This is when the depressed state occurs, or the “comedown” from cocaine.
Long-Term Effects of Cocaine
When users continue use of cocaine, it becomes necessary to increase doses to achieve the same effect. This is known as “tolerance.” Heavy use of cocaine begins to show in the behavior of the user, in increased agitation, irritation, hyper-manic symptoms such as rapid speech patterns, jittery body movement, weight loss due to lack of appetite, insomnia which can lead to audio and visual hallucinations, and argumentative or aggressive behavior.
Some users begin to have delusions or hallucinations and may become psychotic, violent and paranoid. These symptoms frequently cease when the drug is no longer being used. However, some forms of psychosis may remain. Whether it is caused by the drug, or is present in the user and exacerbated by cocaine use is difficult to determine. Some users may mask symptoms of mental illness by use of drugs; some may experience permanent psychological damage by drug use or combinations of drugs that produce long-term, even permanent symptoms.
Permanent Effects of Cocaine
Physical effects on the brain are numerous. Permanent damage to the brain may include imbalance in neurotransmitter function in the prefrontal cortex and the midbrain. These parts of the brain are responsible for pleasurable experiences. Pleasure sensations may become difficult for the long-term or chronic user to experience, appearing as depression. They may not experience pleasure in things they once enjoyed. Episodes of hyper-manic sexual behaviors and other manic pursuits of pleasurable activity may ensue, such as overeating or addictive types of pleasure seeking.
Behavioral Effects of Cocaine
Other dangers attributed to cocaine use include increased risk of heart damage, high blood pressure and cardiac infarction. Permanent damage may be seen in users with long-term history of cocaine abuse. Users who smoke crack cocaine may suffer permanent lung damage or cancers of the throat, lungs, and respiratory system. Those who “snort” cocaine by inhaling it through the nose repeatedly, may damage the lining of their nose, throat or larynx, to the point of destruction of all tissues lining those organs. Permanent damage may be caused, requiring surgical repair for appropriate functioning of nose and/or throat. Chronic sore throats, pneumonia, bleeding nasal passages, scarring of the throat and lungs, chronic bronchial problems and respiratory cancers can ensue from long-term, heavy use of cocaine. Bronchitis, asthma and breathing difficulties ensue from long-term use of cocaine, either crack or inhaled forms.
Stroke is an increased risk of cocaine abuse, due to the combined effects on the brain and blood pressure of the user. Their ability to maintain focus and concentration is heavily impacted and damage may be permanent.
Dental hygiene becomes impacted by the tendency of users to grind their teeth when under the influence of cocaine. Users may grind their teeth or clench their jaws when under duress, which is more often, due to the cognitive damage done to the brain of the user. They may wear down or break teeth and many have serious dental problems subsequent to long-term use of cocaine.
Users may develop “picking” behaviors with their skin. Sensations of crawling skin are frequently reported. The user will begin to tear at their skin to stop the sensation of crawling, creating scar tissue and lesions on their faces, arms, and other body parts. Some of this tissue becomes permanently scarred. Users may continue this behavior long after ending cocaine use.
When agitated or under stress, cocaine users may exhibit some of these behavioral traits. When the brain becomes stimulated in similar ways to cocaine use, behaviors may be present for many chronic, long-term cocaine addicts. Behavior modification therapies may assist them in stopping some of the behavior patterns.
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