Cocaine, derived from the South American coca plant, is a potent stimulant and one of the most popular party drugs in the world. Coca leaves have been chewed for thousands of years, mixed with an alkaline substance, which makes it accessible through the bloodstream. In the 19th century, chemists began working on making cocaine in labs, stronger than ever before. Cocaine was originally used medicinally as a local anesthetic, it can block nerves from sending pain signals to the brain, but early chemists noticed the powerful recreational effects. In the 1980s and 1990s, cocaine reached its peak of popularity. Cocaine remains a drug of choice for many, but the intense highs of cocaine come with rock-bottom lows, and use can quickly spiral into abuse and addiction.
Cocaine has powerful effects on the brain. When taken, the drug releases dopamine in the brain, creating a chemical euphoria that comes with increased energy and confidence. The euphoria and excitement from taking cocaine rapidly fades, and as the brain becomes depleted, they can not be regained. Cocaine users return to the drug, taking more and more, looking for the same high. Binging puts stress on the brain and the body, taxing the heart, liver and kidneys, among other vital organs.
Frequent abuse of cocaine, and the manipulation of dopamine in the brain, can result in disruption in what is called the reward pathway, the brain functions that control motivation, reward-seeking and the perception of pleasure. Repeated disruption of this pathway can cause the brain to rely on cocaine; when natural rewards no longer generate pleasure, depression and distress can set in, alongside cravings for the drug. This cycle, combined with withdrawal symptoms that can start as soon as 90 minutes after the last dose, results in users becoming addicted to cocaine in a short period of time. If you suspect that your loved one is being hurt by their addiction to cocaine, call and get connected to a treatment professional right away.