Cocaine is a drug that can not only cause chemical changes in the brain but can also affect how the brain functions. It is a nervous system stimulant that increases levels of dopamine and causes excessive amounts of the chemical to build up in the synapse or junction between neurons.
The dopamine signal is amplified and eventually disrupts normal brain communication. Recent studies have found cocaine to have may negative effects on the brain which can actually jeopardize many important cognitive functions. Short term use of cocaine can make people feel more alert and energized but long term, chronic use of cocaine actually slows down the brain and leads to problems with learning, memory, planning and decision-making.
These kinds of cognitive deficits were proven to be an issue in animal test subjects exposed to cocaine, but the same study showed that they can be treated with abstinence and medication. That means that human who incur these types of cognitive problems can begin to see improvement over time with proper treatment.
Changes In Brain Functioning
According to recent studies, cocaine can inhibit cognitive flexibility which is important for learning and adapting. The study focused on adult male monkeys that had been exposed to cocaine use for 5 years and a control group that had no drugs in in their system.
The two groups were administered tests to determine their ability to adapt and figure out changing cues in complex games. The cocaine exposed monkeys were consistently slower and less accurate in following changing cues than the drug-free control group. They took twice as long to figure out the new cues and made twice as many errors as the others.
PET scans of their brains showed that the control monkeys had increased metabolic brain activities as they were being administered the test while the drug-exposed monkeys had none. Even when the test became complicated and reward cues were changed, the monkeys exposed to cocaine did not show any increase in brain activity. Researchers speculated that this group received information normally but had trouble processing the information to other parts of the brain.
Abstinence and Improvement
The study also showed that during periods of binge and recovery, a cycle that is common for many cocaine users, the monkeys began to perform better after a few weeks of abstinence. During the binge period of this test, the monkeys were given double the dose of the drug and their accuracy dropped by about 25 percent.
However, in their third week of abstinence their performance on the previous tests improved about 25 percent beyond what they were able to do the first time it was administered. This showed that while cocaine clearly has a significant effect on cognitive functions, it does not change cognitive ability permanently.
With enough time abstaining from cocaine use, it is possible for cognitive flexibility, learning and memory to return. These findings are encouraging for programs treating people with cocaine addictions.
Cocaine Responsible For Cognitive Deficits
Cocaine is responsible for cognitive deficits in both animals and humans that are exposed to the drug on a regular basis. The drug can slow down brain functioning and make it difficult for people to adapt, learn and remember the way they are able to when they are clean.
Fortunately, these recent studies prove that these effects can be reversed when a person is able to abstain from cocaine use and get treatment to help them recover. A cocaine addict can eventually return to a normal brain functioning and avoid any permanent damage to their cognitive abilities. Cocaine can have many negative effects on a person’s health but it is possible to recover through treatment and sobriety.