Did you know that when you eat something you enjoy, such as chocolate that it increases your brains dopamine levels by as much as fifty percent? The dopamine levels even increase by the mere sight of a favorite food. Physical contact or petting a dog can drive those same levels up somewhere between 60-75 percent. When having sex, dopamine levels shoot up and increase by one hundred percent. Seems like a big increase, right? These numbers pale in comparison to when a person uses cocaine or methamphetamines. Cocaine use will triple dopamine production in the brain. Providing a rush with a rapid onset. Methamphetamine use crushes those numbers by jacking up dopamine levels somewhere in the ballpark of a 1,200 percent increase. Over time, cocaine and meth use will alter brain chemistry. The receptors they hit in the brain will flourish while all other receptors will shut down since the brain prioritizes what brings it the most pleasure. That means your favorite activities that you once enjoyed will not longer fill you with the same feelings. People who you once found yourself looking forward to seeing will be secondary at best to the urge to obtain that intense rush again. Using these drugs brings on an incredible high. But as the age-old adage says, “what comes up, must come down”.
Prolonged use of cocaine and methamphetamine will inevitably reduce the number of receptors in the brain. The high that a gram once bought will be harder to obtain. A tolerance builds. But the addict will chase that high because the brain recalls the feeling it once gave. Just like the intense high like no other that the drugs once brought on, it brings on an intense mental craving like no other. And just like any addiction, the repeated use has a strong effect on the brain that undermines your ability of voluntary control. In other words, addiction affects the ability of choice. You must pick-up and use. Also, it turns off self-regulation and survival instincts. The drug is all that matters at that point. This is just for starters what prolonged meth and cocaine use cause in the brain. But what else happens to your brain and body? What happens when you stop using? And how does one obtain recovery from these drugs?
Cocaine and Meth use will open an addict up to the possibility of substance-induced psychosis. Cocaine and Methamphetamines are stimulants. These drugs can keep an addict up for days, depriving the brain of much needed REM sleep. Sleep is what the brain needs for rest and a lack of sleep can cause psychosis. Paranoid thoughts, anxiety, and hallucinations are some of the ways psychosis presents. Illicit substances that cause this form of psychosis can have lasting side-effects that stay long after the use of the drug has been terminated. A persistent twitch or hand tremor can be seen in meth users. Involuntary blinking and rapid speech are not uncommon either. Both cocaine and meth use results in elevated blood pressure and can be lasting. Intravenous use of the drugs can put them at risk of various infections such as Hepatitis C and HIV as well. Due to poor oral hygiene and infections due to burns from pipes also can lead to what is known as “meth mouth”. Now this is just to name a few of the side effects of these two drugs but there are many more (not to mention the behavioral issues that come with any addiction).
As stated previously, “what comes up, must come down” and this is the case for the withdrawals. While cocaine and methamphetamines are stimulants, the withdrawal symptoms of these drugs are quite the opposite of stimulation. The alertness and hyperactivity that cocaine and meth brought to an addict will be replaced with lethargy and difficulty concentrating. The feeling of constantly being tired will be exasperated with restless sleep. Depression is common in those who are coming off a run from cocaine or meth. The dopamine receptors in their brain have been re-wired to work for those drugs due to long term usage. Which means low levels of dopamine in the brain which results in feeling down and substance-induced depression and anhedonia (loss of pleasure feelings). The brain will heal itself from the chemical changes from the drugs in time, but an addict will need to remain abstinent and refrain from use of the drug for the brain to be able to repair itself.
When an addict decides to seek help from methamphetamine or cocaine abuse and enters a medical detox facility, the clinical staff will determine their needs based on a medical assessment and the presentation of the addicted persons withdrawal symptoms. The usual protocol for the stimulant detoxification process is supplying “comfort meds”, which help the patient get through the immediate withdrawal symptoms. Traditionally, a detox will commonly prescribe either clonidine or propranolol to treat for hypertension (high blood pressure), hydroxyzine (Vistaril) for anxiety, trazadone as a sleep-aid, as well as antidepressants (on a case-by-case basis). Occasionally, a detox facility will prescribe a benzodiazepine as a taper to assist with the withdrawals. The typical stay in a detox facility for meth and cocaine abuse ranges from 3-5 days or 5-7 days, dependent upon the severity of the symptoms and the medication used in the treatment protocols.
It is important to note that while the withdrawals from methamphetamines and cocaine are not necessarily life threatening, they can be long lasting. The psychological cravings can persist for several weeks. The first week is full of the majority of the physical withdrawal symptoms. For the next several weeks after a detox stay, the feelings of lethargy will slowly dissipate as the body begins to stabilize. However, the cravings can remain strong during this period and the addict is highly vulnerable to relapse. It is for this reason that further treatment is recommended until the cravings lessen and the addict is in a better place mentally. If the substance user has had many years of drug abuse the cravings can be present as many as six months after the cessation of use of meth or cocaine. The longer you have used the drug, the longer the cravings and physical symptoms will last. While recovering from substance abuse of such a highly addictive substance, counseling is recommended to help provide coping strategies and identify triggers that could result in a possible relapse.
Cocaine and Meth are two of the most psychologically addictive drugs that are abused. They provide strong chemical hooks that result in overwhelming cravings in the drug user. The addiction can be arrested with work.