A powerful stimulant that is abused by thousands of American’s every year, consuming cocaine is far from an innocent act. The Drug Enforcement Agency categorizes cocaine as a schedule II controlled substance. Schedule II drugs are defined as “drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.” With that, whether cocaine is an addictive substance or not is an easy question to answer. Yes, cocaine is addictive even after one use.
Cocaine as a Party Drug
To understand why cocaine is addictive after just the first use, you must think about the circumstances around which cocaine is most commonly used.
Picture this: You’re at a lively bar on a Friday evening that despite the pandemic is rather packed with people. It has been a long week and you feel like you deserve a little fun. You notice yourself yawning after a few drinks, but it’s still early. A friend signals that you follow them to the bathroom where they proceed to offer you a bump of the white powdery substance they refer to as “snow”. Without a single thought of how addictive cocaine is, you accept because you want to keep the night going. Immediately, you feel a rush of energy and confidence and you are ready to return to the party for a night of fun.
Cocaine & The Brain
By snorting, injecting, or smoking cocaine, the substance is able to quickly cross the blood-brain barrier. Within seconds, it begins to take effect by triggering the release of dopamine. The area of the brain affected by cocaine is the area that controls feelings of pleasure. By increasing the feeling of pleasure, the drug creates a reward system that promotes its use and contributes to why it is that cocaine is so addictive – even after the first use.
Additionally, dopamine is a substance that is produced in the brain naturally, but things happen a little differently when a stimulant such as cocaine triggers the release of neurotransmitters. When the human body is functioning unincumbered the nerve signals are switched off because naturally occurring dopamine is recycled back into the cell that releases it. Switching off the signal is a biological function that regulates the amount of dopamine released at once. However, cocaine blocks communication between nerve cells that results in a flood of dopamine in the brain (i.e.: the “rush” associated with cocaine use).
Long term use of cocaine causes the body to try and adapt to the increase in dopamine. The adaptation creates a tolerance to cocaine, which often leads to taking greater doses to achieve the same effects. The increased tolerance users experience further supports the statement that cocaine is addictive.
The Risks of Cocaine Addiction
In order to understand the true risks of cocaine addiction, let’s return to the party/bar story from earlier and think about how it could end…
Lively conversations are happening and eventually it is time to go home. The night ends normally. Or, the night takes another turn that is not all that uncommon.
Cocaine is a substance with a short half-life, meaning it wears off rather fast. Additionally, alcohol can make the user feel somewhat tired. So maybe 20-30 minutes after the first bump, you start to feel tired again. You and your friend take another trip to the bathroom for another bump. You do this several more times throughout the night in between drinks.
Having 4 or 5 drinks isn’t unusual for you during the weekend, so you don’t think anything of it. Unfortunately, mixing alcohol and cocaine amplifies the effects of both substances. Your heart begins to feel strained and your chest begins to tighten. Next thing you know, you are experiencing a cardiac episode. With luck, paramedics arrive quickly and are able to stabilize you to avoid permanent damage. However, this kind of luck cannot be guaranteed. Possible outcomes from a cocaine overdose include:
- Heart attack
- Permanent brain damage
Overcoming Cocaine Addiction
Due to how addictive cocaine is, cocaine use can become a regular thing. Repeated use can increase the potential for developing physical dependence and future health risks, such as an overdose. If you find yourself or a loved one using cocaine as a party drug, or for any other reasons, get help now. Our professional addiction treatment program can provide support, interventions, therapies, and education to overcome a cocaine use disorder.