The Reward System With a Cocaine Addiction

The Reward System With a Cocaine Addiction

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

Substance use disorder (SUD) is very complex. Not only do many underlying factors contribute to one’s addiction, but chemical alterations happen in the brain that lead people to continue their habits or routines. In other words, drug use leads to a reward system, where the user feels like there are positive effects that come from drug use. For clients coping with a cocaine addiction, this reward system is quite intense.

When trying to recover from cocaine addiction, this reward system can act as a barrier because the brain needs time to adjust to the new state of sobriety. At First Steps Recovery, there are ways to assist with this adjustment period during which clients are most at risk for relapse. Different types of therapies, guidance, and care can help clients in these early stages of recovery.

Cocaine Addiction

The drug cocaine is a stimulant, which means using cocaine typically produces euphoric effects. Short-term effects of using the substance include positive feelings, excessive energy, mental alertness, hypersensitivity to one’s surroundings, irritability, and paranoia. The paranoia symptom may include feeling an extreme or unreasonable amount of distrust towards others. Some people who use cocaine experience a boost in productivity when completing mental or physical tasks while others do not. People who use cocaine can also act in bizarre, unpredictable, and violent ways.

However, clients who are addicted to cocaine often use the drug repeatedly, since cocaine’s effects wear off between minutes to an hour after use. The long-term effects of cocaine use and addiction are:

  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Dilated pupils
  • Nausea
  • Elevated body temperature and blood pressure
  • Fast and irregular heartbeat
  • Tremors or muscle twitches
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Severe paranoia, such as auditory hallucinations
  • Malnourishment from decreased appetite
  • Movement disorders
  • Loss of nasal or swallowing problems if the drug is snorted
  • Cough, asthma, respiratory issues, or higher risks of infections like pneumonia when the drug is smoked
  • Severe bowel decay from reduced blood flow when the drug is consumed orally
  • HIV, hepatitis C, other blood-borne diseases, skin/soft tissue infections, or scarred or collapsed veins due to injecting the drug

Symptoms of Cocaine Withdrawal

Additionally, cocaine is notable for its withdrawal symptoms. Those who are addicted to cocaine experience withdrawal symptoms when they have not used the drug for a period of time. The time period involved depends on the severity of the addiction. 

This process typically begins with the client’s tolerance increasing, leading them to use the drug more frequently. When this occurs, the client becomes dependent on the drug’s effects, which can eventually lead to addiction. Depression, fatigue, increased appetite, unpleasant dreams, insomnia, and slowed thinking are all withdrawal symptoms for clients addicted to cocaine. 

How a Cocaine Addiction Affects the Brain

There are also a number of effects cocaine has on the brain. Cocaine increases levels of dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain that controls movement and reward. Dopamine is typically recycled; however, cocaine use halts this process and allows large amounts of dopamine to build between two nerve cells. This interferes with the communication between those cells and allows dopamine to flood into the brain’s reward circuit. Due to this effect, cocaine usage is strongly reinforced. 

When the drug use continues, the reward circuit must adapt as it becomes less sensitive to the drug. This leads clients to use more and more cocaine.

Recovery From Cocaine Addiction at First Steps Recovery

The first step of any drug or alcohol addiction recovery is detoxification. Detoxification at First Steps Recovery is done in a supervised setting, often medically supervised as well. Clients are kept in a safe environment where therapists, doctors, and other specialists care for everyone in the program, ensuring that they are comfortable when going through the detox. 

Withdrawal symptoms are common. For cocaine addiction, withdrawal symptoms include physical and psychological symptoms that cause clients to be at risk for relapse. It is important to partake in a detox program in a supervised setting in order to receive hands-on care during this highly vulnerable period.

It is also key to know the necessary treatments and therapies for cocaine addiction. Because cocaine has such a major effect on the brain’s dopamine release, behavioral therapies are most commonly recommended for clients with cocaine addiction. 

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common form of behavior therapy that First Steps Recovery offers. This therapy focuses on the client’s thinking, which is associated with their behavior. Unlocking these negative patterns of thought allows clients to actively restructure their thought processes. In doing so, they learn that this unhelpful thinking is associated with their destructive behaviors. 

By restructuring one’s thought process to create more productive thinking habits, clients can begin to make better choices and find alternative ways to address cravings. Clients with cocaine addiction learn how to navigate sobriety and give their brains that time to adjust and recalibrate. They also learn how to resist falling prey to the reward system involved with cocaine use.

Here at First Steps Recovery, we understand that there are many factors that are associated with cocaine addiction. Any substance use disorder (SUD) is complex to recover from. Specifically with cocaine, the brain needs time to adjust to sobriety and return to its normal levels of dopamine production. Cocaine leads to an excess of dopamine production, leading to a reward system in which clients who use cocaine feel rewarded because of the positive effects it has on them. Healing from cocaine addiction starts with detoxification and continues with behavioral therapies during which clients learn to resist this reward system. Here, we offer cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to assist clients with cocaine addiction. To learn more, please call us at (844) 489-0836.

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