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Effects Of Cocaine On Memory

Debra Wallace, MA.Ed, LPCC-S, LICDC-CS

Medically reviewed by

Debra Wallace, MA.Ed, LPCC-S, LICDC-CS

February 11, 2019

Cocaine abuse can have a significant impact on the brain and memory. Seeking help for an addiction to cocaine can prevent brain and memory damage and help individuals get on the path to recovery.

Cocaine is an illegal drug that is known for its stimulant effects. This highly addictive substance can be smoked, snorted, or injected and comes in white powder form.

Because cocaine is illegal, it must be purchased on the streets. This can be dangerous, as some sellers of cocaine “cut” the drug with additives to make a higher profit. As a result, people using cocaine could potentially be putting dangerous substances into their body without even knowing it.

Cocaine is a central nervous stimulant that raises the body temperature and respiration rates as well as blood pressure and heart rate. Common effects of cocaine include feelings of euphoria and happiness, alertness, and focus.

The addictive nature of cocaine is in part due to its quickly felt “high.” After ingesting the drug, its effects can be felt within five to 30 minutes. However, the good feelings created by cocaine are short-lived, causing users to take the drug repeatedly, or binge.

How Does Cocaine Affect Memory?

Chronic cocaine use has been proven to cause damage to the brain in many ways. While taking cocaine once may not impair a person’s memory, chronic cocaine abuse can wreak havoc on someone’s memory functions.

Many of the brain’s functions, such as cognitive ability and memory, are directly correlated to something known as gray matter in the brain. The brain naturally loses gray matter as a person ages. However, cocaine abuse can speed up the loss of gray matter.

A recent study from the University of Cambridge found that individuals who use cocaine lost gray matter twice as fast as those who didn’t use the drug. Losing gray matter can speed up the aging of the brain. This loss of gray matter is directly linked to memory problems and other cognitive issues.

What’s more, chronic cocaine abuse can cause brain cells to die. In fact, a recent study found that cocaine abuse can actually cause the cells of the brain to participate in something known in “autophagy,” where the cells literally eat themselves.

Losing brain cells at a more rapid pace than what is natural can result in memory impairment as well as other problems with cognitive functioning.

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Other Effects Of Cocaine Abuse On The Brain

Problems with memory are just one of the many negative effects that long-term cocaine abuse can have on the brain. Cocaine can have a lasting impact on the brain even when used just a few times. Abusing cocaine can trigger addiction, making it more likely a person will continue to abuse the drug despite consequences.

Other effects that cocaine can have on the brain include:

Mental Health And Mood Disorders

Abusing cocaine can have serious effects on an individual’s mental health. Cocaine has a direct impact on dopamine, one of the “feel good” neurotransmitters in the brain. This chemical is responsible for the feelings of euphoria and happiness as well as the “high” that cocaine causes.

Abusing cocaine can cause the brain to stop making dopamine on its own. This, in turn, results in the brain relying on the drug to create dopamine. As a result, when a person is not using cocaine, he or she can often feel depressed, lethargic, and unmotivated.

Those who abuse cocaine on a regular basis can often experience serious depression when not taking the drug. Using cocaine for a long period of time can also throw off the equilibrium of the brain and result in long-term depression that requires treatment.

Other mental health and mood symptoms that can arise as a result of cocaine abuse include:

  • psychosis
  • restlessness and agitation
  • irritability
  • hallucinations
  • paranoia
  • schizophrenia
  • anxiety
  • panic disorders
  • violence and/or aggression

Physical Changes To The Brain

Cocaine directly impacts the cardiovascular system, and long-term abuse can cause long-term damage to this system. Cardiovascular damage can result in a number of issues with other systems in the body, specifically the brain.

A few of the ways that cardiovascular damage as a result of cocaine abuse can impact the brain include:

  • the development of seizures or seizure disorders
  • blood clots in the body, which can result in a stroke
  • restricted blood flow to the brain, which can lead to brain damage
  • chronic headaches
  • death of brain neurons

Getting Help For Cocaine Abuse And Addiction

If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to cocaine, getting help is the best possible thing you can do to prevent the damage that cocaine abuse can cause. The effects that cocaine has on memory is just one of many long-term health issues that can arise due to cocaine use.

Because cocaine is a highly addictive drug, many people will need to participate in a formal treatment program to overcome their addiction. Inpatient cocaine addiction programs are highly successful and provide structured and intensive treatment options.

To learn more about the effects of cocaine on memory and getting help for cocaine addiction, contact our treatment specialists today.

Live Science - Cocaine Eats Up Brain Twice as Fast as Normal Aging

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