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What are the Psychological Effects of Cocaine Use?

Cocaine is an addictive stimulant drug that is categorized as a Schedule II substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration. It can have many physical effects on an individual (some of which may be deadly if too much of the drug is consumed), but the psychological effects of cocaine abuse are troubling as well. Before you decide to abuse the drug, or even if you already have, consider the severe effect cocaine can have on your mind.

Stimulants and the Brain

According to the DEA, “Stimulants speed up the body’s systems.” There are other types of stimulants that may be prescribed for one reason or another (weight loss, treatment of ADHD, or treatment of narcolepsy), but cocaine is not used to treat any condition due to its severely addictive nature. However, every type of stimulant will cause intense psychological symptoms in the individual who uses it. Over time, cocaine will actually affect the way the brain works, which in some cases, may even be permanent.

Immediate Psychological Effects of Cocaine Use

The reason many individuals abuse cocaine initially is for its favorable psychological effects. For example, the drug causes the body and brain’s functions to speed up, making it easier for someone to increase their activity and get more done. However, this can backfire as abusing cocaine can also easily cause distraction in the user.

Other psychological effects of the drug include:

  • A feeling of euphoria
  • Increased wakefulness and alertness
  • Enhanced self-esteem
  • A feeling of exhilaration
  • A decrease in appetite

For many of these reasons, people abuse cocaine in order to control and diminish the need for certain behaviors (like sleeping and eating) or to feel happier and get high. However, the immediate effects of cocaine are not all beneficial. Along with those effects that cause people to abuse the drug in the first place, users will also experience:

  • Paranoia
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness

There is no way to know for sure how long the desired effects will last before a cocaine high turns and the individual begins experiencing the drug’s adverse effects. Many of the enjoyable aspects of cocaine will also become problematic, even during someone’s first use. For example, if a person takes the drug to stay awake, they might experience insomnia and be unable to sleep for much longer than they originally intended. Anxious feelings and paranoia can also sour the euphoria caused by the drug, and there is no way to be certain when this will occur.

In addition, a person will likely experience some type of withdrawal from the drug after using it, even the first time. According to the National Library of Medicine, “After the ‘high’ wears off, you can ‘crash’ and feel tired and sad for days.” This also occurs because many cocaine abusers take the drug in large amounts, binging on it until they have to stop. This makes the crash and withdrawal symptoms much more intense.

Even after one use, the psychological effects of cocaine can be intense. Unfortunately, many individuals want to feel the same initial rush the drug gave them, so they continue abusing it, which will only lead to more problems.

Long-term Psychological Effects of Cocaine Use

effect of cocaine

One longterm effect of cocaine use is irritability.

Over time, cocaine abuse causes more side effects on the brain and the way it works. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “With repeated exposure to cocaine, the brain starts to adapt, and the reward pathway becomes less sensitive to natural reinforcers and to the drug itself. Tolerance may develop––this means that higher doses and/or more frequent use of cocaine is needed to register the same level of pleasure experienced during initial use.”

Other long-term psychological effects of cocaine include:

  • Irritability: Irritability can become a lingering issue for those who use cocaine often. This occurs as the result of a cocaine high but also because the individual will not be able to feel pleasure to the same degree they once did, even when taking the drug.
  • Severe withdrawal symptoms: When a person experiences withdrawal whenever they are unable to take the drug, this is a sign of psychological dependence on cocaine. As stated by the Center for Substance Abuse Research, “Users may continue using cocaine simply to relieve these effects of withdrawal,” which can include depression, anxiety, fatigue, and a severe craving for the drug.
  • Mental disorders: A person can develop severe depression or anxiety issues as the result of long-term cocaine abuse. It can also intensify these disorders in someone who already has them.
  • Psychosis: In addition to mood disturbances, a person can experience psychosis after abusing this drug for a long time. Hallucinations may occur (specifically those of bugs burrowing under the skin), and the individual may become extremely hostile or violent toward others. Homicidal and suicidal tendencies can develop, and the user may require serious mental health treatment in a residential facility.

Of course, someone who is experiencing all these symptoms is likely already addicted to the drug as well. Addiction occurs when someone is unable to stop abusing a substance, even when they want to. It is a mental disorder and must be treated medically in a rehabilitation center. People who become addicted to cocaine experience a number of other issues including an increased risk of overdose, relationship problems, issues at work and school, financial problems, and trouble with the law.

In addition, the psychological issues associated with cocaine addiction can last beyond a person’s treatment and initial recovery, even causing someone to experience extreme cravings for the drug months or years after stopping their use of it. “Recent studies have shown that during periods of abstinence, the memory of the cocaine experience or exposure to cues associated with drug use can trigger tremendous craving and relapse to the drug” (NIDA).

The Mental Health Risk of Cocaine Abuse

Abusing cocaine can lead to many problems with mental health as well as changes to the brain that take a very long time to correct. The toll cocaine takes on the mind is great, and the psychological effects of abusing the drug, even early on, can be extremely severe.

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