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Why Is Cocaine Addictive After One Use?

Cocaine is a stimulant drug that is highly addictive. This is not a groundbreaking statement. In fact, research has existed for decades detailing just how addictive this substance is. Over 30 years ago, researchers discovered the brain mechanisms that produce the cocaine high. Ever since, addicts, families, medical experts, and researchers have sought to answer one question: why is cocaine so addictive?

Whether cocaine is smoked, snorted, or injected, cocaine increases the amounts of dopamine released in the brain. Known as the pleasure chemical, dopamine floods the limbic system in the brain, and the user feels unparalleled euphoria and alertness.

Cocaine’s effects on the brain not only releases dopamine, but it also prevents the brain from limiting the production of dopamine. Many other activities and feelings produce dopamine, such as love, intimacy, exercise, eating favorite foods, etc. Dopamine levels spike during these activities, too; however, dopamine production is cut off, and the levels return to normal fairly quickly.

When dopamine is produced by the introduction of cocaine to the brain, though, its artificial introduction to the brain causes a poorly regulated flooding of the pleasure chemical. As this cycle begins, the brain responds by stopping the natural production of dopamine and simultaneously limits the number of dopamine receptors. Thus, the only way for a cocaine user to return to normal levels of dopamine again, he or she has to use cocaine just to feel “normal” (i.e., feel like they did before using cocaine).

Coke: One Line, One Addiction

Crack. White girl. Powder. Nose candy. Whatever cocaine is called or how it is used, cocaine use is dangerous and even fatal. While cocaine is definitely addictive, not everyone agrees that coke is addictive after only one use.

A research study in 2017 attempted to find the reason why cocaine is more addictive for some people but not others. Using rats and mice, it found that individuals who are missing SERT (the protein that eliminates serotonin from synapses in the brain) are more sensitive to the effects of cocaine and consume more cocaine than individuals who have the SERT protein.

Not all addicts are the same, and cocaine’s effects on different people are across a spectrum. Some people develop an addiction to cocaine over a longer period than others. However, research like this confirms that cocaine can be addictive after just one use.

Myths of Cocaine Addiction

Crack cocaine is more addictive than regular cocaine. This is a false narrative. The only significant difference between crack cocaine and regular cocaine is that crack is easier to smoke because crack has had hydrochloride removed. However, hydrochloride has no psychoactive properties. Cocaine, whether it is crack or powder, is addictive to the same extent, with the same health complications.

Crack users are more violent than cocaine users. This myth began to justify the extremely harsh penalties attached to crack possession compared to cocaine possession. For decades, people who were arrested with crack possession faced stricter and longer prison sentences than regular cocaine offenders. There is no evidence that people who use crack are more violent than cocaine users.

Cocaine is not physically addictive. Actually, cocaine is physically addictive. It alters the biology and physiology of the user’s brain. It produces physical reactions. While the withdrawal symptoms do not viscerally manifest themselves like opioid or alcohol withdrawal, cocaine addiction combines physical dependence, increased drug tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms.

Coke addiction isn’t real. Cocaine addiction is more than a matter of willpower. Hundreds of studies confirm what people who have battled cocaine addiction already know: it is a relentless and progressive disease. Many addicts have strong willpower when it comes to almost everything else in life, but addiction is a disease that requires treatment, therapy, and a plan to achieve continuous recovery. Cocaine addiction affects everything in a person’s life such as self-esteem, relationships, anxiety, and decision-making skills. Recovery from coke is possible through education, treatment, therapy, and supportive community.

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