Teen Cocaine Abuse May Have Lasting Effects On The Brain

In the drug-counseling field, there is often a question that arises: can there be full recovery from addiction, including the elimination of feeling attraction for the abused substance? Speaking about eating disorders, which frequently mirrors the many dysfunctional patterns of addiction, a New York Times reporter wrote about a woman who attempted to answer that question:


Does it mean ‘functional’? I’m a physician at a really high-powered institution, and I’ve published in well-respected journals – I’m functional. I don’t think functionality is necessarily a good measure.


Experts say that recovery is not only the absence of engaging in self-destructive behavior. It is also the participation in productive and life-affirming behaviors. It is also the ability to have healthy relationships, including with oneself. These are the most basic indications of recovery. Yet, despite being functional, despite no longer being destructive, what are the true indications of recovery so that relapse no longer happens? Furthermore, what happens when a drug leaves makes permanent change to the brain?


At least when it comes to cocaine, one study recently published in Biological Psychiatry, indicates that the answer is no – once a person develops an addiction they can never fully eliminate their attraction to the drug. It’s important to note that this study focused primarily on cocaine and that there are many factors that go into whether an adolescent can later fully recover. For instance, the strength of the addiction, length of time he or she was addicted to the drug, and the resiliency of the individual all play a role in recovery. Furthermore, new brain science suggests that through neuroplasticity teens and adults alike have the ability to make new connections in the brain that lead to different behavior and ultimately a change in life. Nonetheless, the study found that a prolonged abstinence from cocaine normalized only some of the abnormalities in the brain, while other parts of the brain were permanently damaged.

There’s no question that prolonged teen cocaine abuse is going to affect an adolescent’s brain. In fact, the significant changes that occur in the brain are likely responsible for the rapid path towards addiction. Plus, the teen brain is undergoing incredible growth. Neurons are wiring and new connections between the two hemispheres of the brain are forming.  Because of these changes, the rush of dopamine that cocaine releases is dangerous, leading to permanent alterations in the way the brain processes dopamine in the future.  According to research, this also means that because of these permanent changes in the way a teen responds to dopamine, he or she is more vulnerable to cocaine addiction later in the life as well as addiction to other drugs that stimulate the release of dopamine.



In addition to developing this vulnerability, extended use of cocaine can lead to thickening of tissues in the heart, heart attacks, and heart failure. If snorted over a length of time, cocaine can kill off tissues in the nose and an inability to use the sense of smell. It can also lead to sores in the lungs, throat, and mouth, among other significant physical impairments.


The danger of teen cocaine abuse is that it predisposes a teen to addictions later on, and perhaps this alone answers the question regarding full recovery with teen cocaine abuse is possible. For this reason, any indications of the use of this drug, even most minute, are worthy of exploration. The risks of continued use of cocaine are far too great.




Elsevier. (2013, September 23). Addiction: Can you ever really completely leave it behind?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130923092744.htm