What Cocaine Use Does to the Central Nervous System

The human central nervous system is a complex collaboration of working parts. Made up of the brain and the spinal cord, the central nervous system controls the rest of the nervous system and provides information for everything from the beating of our hearts to the sting we feel when we get a splinter or stub our big toe on a piece of furniture. Without the central nervous system, our blood wouldn’t pump, our lungs wouldn’t breath and our hearts would simply stop beating. And it all starts in the brain.

How the CNS Works

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According to the National Institutes of Health, the brain is made up of tiny cells called neurons. When these neurons communicate with each other correctly, we know how to feel, how to behave and how to make sense out of the crazy world around us. Under normal circumstances, one neuron “talks” to another neuron through the release and capture of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that occur naturally in the brain in response to certain stimuli. For instance, when we exercise, the body is placed under a certain amount of stress. To counteract this stress, the body creates and releases endorphins. Endorphins are one of those neurotransmitters that help the brain and the central nervous system to communicate with the other parts of the body, such as the muscles of the legs. Endorphins, according to the New York Times, are not only responsible for the reduction in stress one feels when engaging in heavy exercise, but they could also be responsible for the “high” that some athletes report experiencing when they work out.

As one neuron communicates, the body creates balance through a built-in control mechanism in the central nervous system. For instance, dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for things like pleasure and reward. It can also control our emotions and body movements. It is released when we experience something pleasant, like a favorite meal. Recent studies in England have also found that it is released when we stop experiencing something unpleasant, like pain, according to Psychology Today. If the brain has too much dopamine, we will feel euphoric and exceedingly happy – perhaps to the point of inappropriate behaviors and an inability to make sound, safe decisions. To prevent this from happening, excess dopamine is controlled through the release of GABA, a neurotransmitter that inhibits dopamine.

Like a well-oiled machine, the brain creates feelings and reactions in healthy, productive ways. That is, until foreign substances, such as cocaine, enter the picture.

Cocaine Alters the Way the Brain Communicates


Cocaine affects the communication of the human brain in two ways, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. First, it raises the levels of dopamine that are released into the synapse, or the empty space between to neurons. The dopamine that is released into the synapse finds a nearby dopamine receptor and immediately gets to work making the user feel good, as though they have just experienced something that should bring pleasure, such as sex or food. As this flood of dopamine enters the brain and the effects run through the spinal column to every part of the body, the brain tries to counteract the overflow of emotion and pleasure with the release of GABA. GABA, however, is no match for cocaine. The cocaine blocks the release of the enzyme needed to pull back the dopamine. The brain no longer has the ability to stem the tide of dopamine that is being released. This is why people who use cocaine experience such a rush of euphoria.

The problem with long-term cocaine abuse and addiction is the lasting effects of this kind of brain activity. There is a downside. If the dopamine receptors in the brain are damaged to the point that they no longer function properly, even the use of cocaine to induce a flood of dopamine won’t matter. The dopamine may be present, but the brain can’t read the message it is trying to send. According to research at the NIDA, this is precisely what can happen to the brain of an addicted cocaine user.

Help Is Available for Cocaine Addiction

Take a moment to think of the damage that cocaine or other drugs have done to your life – to your future. If you’re suffering from addiction, you may find that you have changed in ways you wish you hadn’t. For instance, according to the diagnostic guidelines for addiction and dependence, you may find that you:

  • Spend too much time seeking out cocaine and using it rather than spending time with family and friends in a healthy, safe environment
  • Put yourself at risk for physical abuse and injury through the places you go for cocaine, or the individuals you spend time with
  • Have no control over how much cocaine you use, even if you’ve set your mind to cutting back
  • Are unable to hold a job or perform well in school
  • Are having trouble supporting your family or making ends meet from one paycheck to the next – all because you have developed an addiction to cocaine

You can get help. With the right support and the right treatment plan, we here at Axis can help you get through your problems with cocaine or other drugs so you can live your life with promise and success.