How Cocaine Affects the Nervous System

cocaine and the nervous system

To successfully address and resolve a drug addiction problem, it is very helpful to educate yourself and understand the drug addiction. This is especially true in the case of cocaine, which has natural origins (the coca plant) and was largely promoted for medical use before becoming widely known as a highly potent and addictive stimulant drug. In addition to understanding the basic facts of cocaine’s history and the highly addictive properties of cocaine, it is important to understand exactly how it affects the nervous system.

Cocaine and the Central Nervous System

The central nervous system is a very complex machine that is made up of many interdependent parts and includes the brain and spinal cord. This vital system controls the entire rest of the nervous system, providing critical information that is used in every other aspect of our bodies—from our beating hearts to the discomfort we feel when we bang our knees. In fact, without the central nervous system operating at full capacity, we would be incapable of living, as we wouldn’t have blood pumping through our body or oxygen circulating through our lungs.

The brain is the primary control point for the central nervous system, and it is made up of neurons. These neurons communicate with one another in order to tell us how to feel, behave and so forth using naturally-occurring chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are released as a response to certain stimuli and then captured or re-absorbed as needed. As an example, endorphins are neurotransmitters that are released in response to the stress the body feels during exercise. Endorphins can result in a reduction of stress, and they can also cause the individual to feel a sort of “high” that is a kind of reward for working out.

An important function of the central nervous system is its ability to re-absorb neurotransmitters so that the body can remain in balance even while it communicates. An example that illustrates the importance of this function has to do with the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is released as part of the pleasure and reward processes in the body. Something as simple as a good meal can result in the release of dopamine, which causes the individual to feel happy and relaxed. However, too much dopamine in the brain can cause the individual to feel exceedingly euphoric and happy, which can potentially lead to inappropriate behavior and the inability to make wise decisions. The central nervous system prevents this from occurring by releasing the neurotransmitter GABA, which inhibits dopamine and allows the body to remain balanced. That is unless a drug substance like cocaine is introduced to the mix.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has indicated that cocaine affects the central nervous system (through the brain) in two main ways. First of all, cocaine stimulates the release of dopamine into the empty spaces between neurons, essentially flooding the brain with this neurotransmitter. This makes the user feel really good—but it exceeds the levels that are normal and healthy and can lead to euphoria and impaired decision-making. The brain will struggle to regain balance by releasing GABA to inhibit the dopamine, but unfortunately, this won’t work when cocaine is in the area. This leads us to the second way that cocaine affects the central nervous system—it actually blocks the release of GABA, which prevents the re-absorption of dopamine. This is why cocaine users feel such a euphoric high after taking the drug—their central nervous system is flooded with dopamine with no way to counter it.

Obviously, cocaine’s immediate effects on the central nervous system are potentially devastating to the body, but unfortunately, they don’t stop there. Long-term cocaine abuse and addiction can actually damage the dopamine receptors in the brain so that they will no longer function properly. This means that the individual can continue to take cocaine and the brain can be flooded with dopamine, but it will fail to successfully read the message that is being sent. In other words, the individual will no longer be able to experience the normal feelings of pleasure and reward—from anything in life.

The Solution

Fortunately, cocaine addiction can be fully and successfully resolved so that the individual’s central nervous system is restored to a healthier state. The road to full recovery may be long and hard, but with the right address of the physical, mental, and emotional causes and effects of cocaine use as well as the right life skills that prevent one from turning to cocaine or other drugs in the future, the individual can break their relationship with cocaine and restore a healthy balance to their body.

If you or someone you know is struggling with cocaine addiction, contact Narconon Arrowhead at 1-800-468-6933 for help today.