Is Cocaine Physically Addictive?

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It’s no secret that cocaine is a powerful and dangerous drug. But many people have questions about how cocaine impacts the body and mind. For example: Is cocaine physically addictive, psychologically addictive, or both? What is cocaine withdrawal like? And what happens if someone can’t get through withdrawal on their own? 

How Does Cocaine Affect the Body?

Cocaine is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant that interferes with how neurons (nerve cells) interact with a chemical called dopamine.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that has both excitatory and inhibitory properties. This means that it can both speed up and slow down the delivery of messages throughout the CNS. 

Dopamine’s functions are integral to a person’s capacity for learning and motivation. When someone engages in an activity that they enjoy, the CNS produces dopamine, which reinforces the sense of pleasure or reward that the person receives from that activity.

Here’s a quick overview of how dopamine is processed in a fully functional CNS that hasn’t been impacted by cocaine or other substances:

  • Neurons release dopamine into synapses, which are the extremely small gaps that separate one neuron from the next.
  • The dopamine crosses the synapse and attaches to specialized receptors on the receiving neuron.
  • Once the receiving neuron gets the message that was delivered by the dopamine, a transporter protein absorbs the chemical so that it can be stored for future reuse.

Here’s what happen when someone uses cocaine:

  • When cocaine enters a person’s system, it binds to the transporter proteins that are responsible for absorbing and recycling dopamine.
  • Since the neurons can no longer absorb dopamine, this leads to a buildup of the chemical within synapses throughout the CNS.
  • As a result of this buildup, the receiving neuron gets what the National Institute on Drug Abuse describes as “an amplified signal.”  
  • The physical and psychological effects of this amplified signal can include a euphoric rush of increased energy, greater motivation, and elevated self-confidence. 

When a person’s body begins to process and eliminate the cocaine – and the excess dopamine is finally absorbed and stored – the individual can experience a physical and psychological crash. The desire to prolong the euphoric rush and prevent the crash can cause a person to use cocaine again and again (which is often referred to as going on a cocaine binge).

Is Cocaine Physically Addictive?

Two of the questions that we posed in the introduction to this post were, is cocaine physically addictive, and is cocaine psychologically addictive?

The answers to both of these questions are yes – though the terms “physical addiction” and “psychological addiction” aren’t used as much today as they once were.

As established in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), addiction can involve physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms. 

Some drugs seem to exert a more powerful effect on the body, while others seem to primarily impact the mind. In general, though, substance use disorders (addictions) are typically viewed as holistic concerns that affect how a person thinks, feels, and acts.

As we will discuss in greater detail in the next section, the types of symptoms that a person experiences when they try to end their cocaine use reinforce the fact that cocaine addiction has both physical and psychological aspects.

What Happens During Cocaine Withdrawal?

When someone who has become addicted to cocaine tries to abruptly end their use of this drug, their body may react with a variety of physical and psychological symptoms. This experience is known as withdrawal. 

Cocaine withdrawal isn’t usually dangerous, but it can be extremely uncomfortable. When someone tries to get through withdrawal on their own, the intensity of their symptoms can threaten to push them back into active cocaine abuse.

Common cocaine withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Intense cravings for the drug
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Impaired coordination
  • Pervasive fatigue
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Abnormal sleep patterns, including both insomnia and hypersomnia
  • Intense nightmares
  • Difficulty focusing and concentrating
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation

The onset of cocaine withdrawal symptoms typically occurs within the first 24 hours after a person stops using the drug. The first three to seven days are usually the most difficult, after which many of the more severe symptoms will begin to subside. However, some symptoms – such as cravings, anxiety, depression, and sleep problems – can persist for weeks or even months.

If someone has a history of failed attempts to get through withdrawal on their own, a detoxification program may be the ideal option. While they’re in cocaine detox, patients are under the care of professionals who can provide both medical and therapeutic support to minimize their distress and help them manage their symptoms.

After a person has completed detox, then can transition into residential or outpatient care, where they can begin to develop the skills that will enable them to achieve long-term recovery from cocaine addiction.

Learn More About Cocaine Addiction Treatment in Nashville

Nashville Treatment Solutions offers personalized outpatient care for adults who have become addicted to cocaine and other drugs. We also serve individuals whose struggles with cocaine abuse and addiction are accompanied by anxiety, depression, and other co-occurring mental health concerns.

At our cocaine addiction treatment center in Nashville, Tennessee, you can receive life-affirming services at the partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and outpatient levels. We also offer sober living residences for those who need supportive housing while they are taking part in treatment.

To learn more about our programs and services, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call us today.