It doesn’t take long before a casual user of cocaine becomes heavily dependent on the drug, but it is more than the rush of energy and pleasure that leads to addiction. Cocaine actually begins making changes in the structure of the brain within hours of taking it, making the first steps of addiction almost instantaneous. In animal studies, scientists observed the type of structural changes cocaine makes and determined that they were responsible for creating a preference for more cocaine. Just one use of the drug can start the process of rewiring in the brain that can make the user want more and also drastically affect decision making. The effects of the changes in learning and memory structures can quickly serve to create a serious addiction to cocaine.
Cocaine’s Ability to Rewire the Brain
After just one dose of cocaine, live mice used in a recent study showed significant changes. Researchers studied the frontal lobe of the mice which is an area that handles decision making and memory. The cocaine served as a catalyst for new growth of dendritic spines in this part of the brain. Dendritic spines are small structures which connect neurons and form the nodes of the brain’s circuit wiring. The new spines began to rewire each mouse’s brain to seek more cocaine and the structures were evident only two hours after the first use. The changes taking place in the frontal lobe suggest that new memories are formed around the use of cocaine and the mice learned about the drug.
Changes in Behavior Point to Addiction
The fact that cocaine use can affect decision-making is no surprise based on the behavior of humans who are addicted to the drug. Cocaine addicts are dominated by the need to seek more of the drug and the search for cocaine will usually override other priorities. What astonished the researchers was how quickly the changes in the brain actually occur after cocaine use. With only one dose, neurological changes were at work that would cause an addiction to develop. It was not only the images of the brain however that pointed to addiction. The mice in the study already began to exhibit behavior associated with cocaine addiction after their first dose. The mice were always returning to the same chamber in which they received their dose of the drug, even if it was not the one they initially preferred based on its design and smell. Cocaine dominates what users think about and the changes that took place in the brains of the mice caused them to override other preferences in order to seek the drug.
Addictive Cocaine Use and Recovery
The behavior and changes in the brain that the mice showed in this study can be easily compared to what often occurs in humans addicted to cocaine. With any type of drug addiction, people are consumed by the need to use and obtain more of the drug. Cocaine addicts are dominated by thoughts of using cocaine and it seems this problem is closely associated with actual neurological alterations that take place after just one dose. Exposure to the drug only fuels more drug use as more spines are created with each dose of cocaine. The good news is that the brain can eventually lose new spines that are created and it will rewire itself as it encounters new experiences. That means refraining from cocaine use for an extended period of time could allow an addict a chance for their brain to be rewired and they could experience recovery from addiction. In spite of all the structural changes to the frontal cortex caused by cocaine it is possible for the brain to return to normal at some point in the future after abstaining from drug use.
If you or someone you know is struggling with cocaine addiction, please contact us.
Cindy Nichols is the founder of 411 Intervention, a full-service intervention resource that helps individuals with addiction issues find treatment solutions. You can see an interview with Cindy here on Recovery Now TV.