What Does Cocaine do to your Brain

All addictive drugs influence the brain, short term and long term. Obviously different drugs have different effects on the brain. But what all addictive drugs have in common is that they in some way affect the “reward centers” in the brain by changing the function of dopamine.

  1. The reward system
  2. The motivation system
  3. The three roles of dopamine
  4. The short time “phasic” effect of dopamine
  5. The effect on cell body and dopamine release
  6. The effect on target and signal duration
  7. The way that cocaine affects motivation
  8. The way that cocaine affects learning
  9. The way that cocaine affects muscles and the movement system

 

Euphoric drugs seen as performance enhancing drugs.

  1. What does Cocaine do to your Brain
  2. Cheating and taking cocaine
  3. Why would you ever consider addictive drugs “performance enhancing drugs”
  4. What happens in your brain when you take cocaine?
  5. Transactional sex and the use of cocaine

Athletes face the choice of using performance enhancing drugs or not. There are now such a widespread use of “doping” in this sense that it is not lack of availability that will keep your from using if you are a professional athlete or indeed a serious amateur. Apart from the obvious effect on the value of sports as entertainment and inspiration, the bad health effects there is also the element of making your entire effort a fraud. As Lance Armstrong famously got stripped of all medals, all sponsorships, all social position, all honor and all credibility, he still had to face bad the health effect of taking a lot of drugs over a long period. But the total annihilation of his social position has got to count as the most damaging effect of being exposed. Being forever a “persona non grata” and shunned in the world of cycling. the world that he invested all of his adult life to get to the top of, must be a personal disaster that is hard to comprehend for anybody.

But there is a curious fact about all this that might get overlooked in a normal understanding of sports, doping and drugs: He knew all along! He knew that his position, his wins, the adoration and admiration that he was at the receiving end of was based on lies. He knew that he would not do as well if he didn’t inject himself with EPO and other drugs. You don’t inject yourself with a substance because you fail to notice that it is wrong. He must have had hesitation at some point and overridden those at some point. He took steps to hide it, lie about it and even to attack people who doubted his fraud and did so over a number of years. While knowing very well that he was a fraud and a lier. And knowing very well that without the use of drugs he would not be the admired center of attention in the cycle world for a number of years.

So while the cheating is going on, he must have kept some kind of double accounting: One set of “books” that made him a world star based on his gritty work and self discipline. And one set of books that somehow squared his position with the fact that it was based on lying, cheating and injecting drugs into his body and doing so in such a skillful way to make it possible to get away with it for years.

To the public he would have had to not only fake a reliance on training, genetics and hard work, but also fake a real pride in honest accomplishments. And fake shock and horror towards competitors getting caught cheating with doping.

So two books, one for external use, presenting a hard working honest athlete and one for internal use, presenting a skilled cheat, clever at getting away with murder in the realm of global sports fame. Now which one of the two sets of evaluations would he ultimately have faith in: the hard working honest athlete or the clever cheat? You cant know in the same way that you can know what you yourself think. But in order to really believe that you are hardworking and honest you need to erase knowledge of a lot of effort, activity and experience.

United States Anti-Doping Agency investigation named him as the ringleader of “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” If you do a serious program of sophisticated blood doping, you need to erase your knowledge of a multilayer detailed expertise and a enhanced skill set. It is not like being willfully blind to the fact that you turned of your clock alarm in order to get an extra 30 minutes of sleep. It is not something the will just fade if you look the other way.

So why is all this relevant for taking “recreational drugs”? Why would cheating with performance enhancing drugs be anything like taking drugs to compensate for a somewhat deprived personal situation? The obvious parallel is that recreational drugs will you give you compensation for lack of performance. Not in the sense that they will give you any extra performance that is not natural or durable. But in the sense that you get an artificial experience of success and euphoria.

If you activate the relevant centers in the brain, a little bit of “suspension of disbelief” will go a long way towards making your a hero, a genius, a rock star, an artist or other kind of success as a person. Or it will make you feel like that is your reality for a bit. You know that you are going to lose much of that experience as the drug effects wear off. But a bit of it will remain. It no longer feels totally alien when you try to picture yourself as a creative genius of some sort.

Personal success is normally followed by a sense of accomplishment and triggers a kind of euphoria that is linked to the achievement of
of deeply held long term goal: When something meaningful and difficult is realized you can get a sense of success that is caused by a lot of dopamine released in a wide ranging network of neurons. If and when you use drugs to have the same amount of dopamine flooding your brain you might have a sense of “pseudo success”, as in: “it feels like success, but I know that I am just in a psychology lab on a rainy Tuesday morning, so it is not really a personal success”. But it is easy to do a bit of suspension of disbelief and claim victory and celebrate what a magnificent person you really are.

This works because the normal criteria for when a bit of self celebration is fake, is to take measure of actual sense of dopamine release and the non-imaginative or non-fictional qualities there is to the sense of euphoria that dopamine release gives. It is the “independent of thought” euphoria which is hard or impossible to fake. But when you have the actual dopamine – due to taking a drug – the rest is real easy to fake in a convincing way and wont be doubted.

So what you end up with after taking a drug, is that all the things that you wish were true about you, are still not true, but oh so easy to pretend as being true. And oh so easy to celebrate, and imagine and seek comfort in: “In reality I am not just an average student, but a really really talented but somewhat undervalued and misunderstood creative genius.” It works. It works remarkably well in the short run. The kind of self delusions that we all entertain to some degree become so much easier to do and so much more like what we want them to be when we are under the influence. With the clever use of drugs you get to have experiences of personal success but without having to go through the tedious part of preparation that involves work or other kind of non-appealing effort.

The only trouble is that this kind of success is not real. If you start to lift your finger from the “suspension of disbelief” button, you are catapulted back into ugly realities about how nobody believes in you, how you have not proved to be more than just above average and how all the bad around you is going to strangle your talent, rob you of success and condemn you to a life of dull pain and hopelessness.

Most people stick with the real but dull alternative in the sense that they don’t give up on trying to make the most of it. Which often means being sober each weekday morning. But quite a lot within this group will use “recreational drugs” on the weekends – either alcohol or something more potent – and enjoy a bit of dark euphoria as a part of how they cope with life.

So if we are looking for things that causes people to get on a one way trajectory towards all consuming dependence and drug addiction proper, then how would this perspective on drug taking help us? How does the performance enhancing view of drugs help us to understand the way that people gets locked in to a life of addiction?

In a more physiological view of addiction there is the notion that drug seeking behaviors crowd out other non-drug related behaviors. In the pato-physiological view of addiction, this is caused by the drugs as they move the center of gravity between drug caused euphoria and non-drug caused euphoria by changing the specific sensitivity of the neurons and neural networks that underlie the reaction to dopamine.

This explanation presupposes that the use of drugs will actually damage or at least change the neural networks in a way that in itself will move most of your allocation of resources from non-drug efforts to drug related efforts.

Which if you think about it is a curious claim to make. The claim is not that drug experiences will make you seek more drug experiences, which would be explained by a normal learning paradigm. The claim is that instead of this learning reaction, the drugs will have a physiological effect that makes you more motivated for drug seeking. This in spite that we are pretty sure that there is no natural center for drug seeking behavior in the brain. Why would there ever be such a thing?

It is true that experiments with lab rats have shown that you can make a rat addicted to cocaine to a degree that it will no longer feed itself adequately. But a) that does not prove the very specific claim about drugs effecting drug seeking by physiological effect. And b) it has since been shown that this does not work nearly as well when you have a lab rat in a richer and more satisfying environment.

So these results means that wee need to examine the claim of drugs addiction caused by addictive drugs on a more granular level. What specifically is supposed to be the addictive effect of drug taking? That is what neurochemical effects are supposed to enhance behaviors that signify addiction?

In the meantime it is important to show that addiction can be a consequence of drug taking and other factors without relying on esoteric assumptions that are hard to understand and near impossible to prove. That is, that a theory of addiction does not have to rely on addiction being cause by drug chemistry and that there are plenty of dynamics that illustrate how a person becomes addicted, even if the use of drugs does not change the brain directly in ways that makes it more addiction prone. That is: There are viable alternative to the narrow and esoteric view of addiction as “brain damage caused by addictive drugs”.

So let us talk about performance in the real world, that is performance in terms of making healthy and prosperous offspring. For humans the road to this central goal is long and winding. As a male you need not only to actually survive to a sexually mature age, but you also need to be selected by the female partner that has a somewhat larger minimum investment in sex and procreation than males do. While it makes sense for a male to spread his genes as far and wide as possible, the female human needs to invest a much more significant part of her life in giving birth and the following upbringing of the kids. So for a male to be accepted, he needs to be considered worthy of the efforts and a good fit. Which makes the courtship proceeding a tricky part of life if you are not healthy, wealthy and good looking. But trough a process of trial and error most people find some kind of suitable partner and get on with it.

So courtship leads to relationship which leads to intimacy and sex. This is the biological goal of all existence as survival and procreation are the drivers of evolution and what shapes your genes, your brain and your instinctive behaviors.

But what if you just don’t care enough as the process is disappointing, abrasive and hard on your ego? What if you instead just want the “end result” and don’t care for courtship, intimacy or cohabitation? What if you just want to celebrate being a successful human by having sex and orgasm – without the boring bits? This option is open if you can accept a) a purely transactional setup where only your ability and willingness to part with cash is evaluated and b) that your parter is not really a partner but rather a vendor of illusion.
Parallels between transactional sex and drug driven euphoria
Transactional sex as metaphor for artificial euphoria
Sex:
You get no confirmation of inherent personal qualities effectively leading to sex
You starve your confidence for data points
You also introduce false “data point”, experiences that has no chance of being repeated without you making sure that it is repeated
You no longer have an ongoing process that informs improvements in your social performance
Over time you lack behind people who do
Over time you get less confident and have more fear of rejection
This will make you less able to overcome friction from rejection
This will make it more likely that you seek out more transactional relationships
And so you slowly move towards a state where you no longer have a real choice

Relationship 2

A relationship based on personal qualities will over time develop “trust, like and familiarity”.
This will protect the relationship against friction or threats.

In a long running transactional relationship you will constantly have to overcome the “cons” by paying, which means that they tend to get a more prominent position in the attention of you and your counterpart.

For that reason, your transactions do not become more secure over time, but often less so. And by the same token you become less attractive because you are less confident and because you have acted in a way that reflects that you are less than “marriage material”.

Drugs:
You get no confirmation of inherent personal qualities effectively leading to euphoria
You starve your confidence for data points
You also introduce false “data point”, experiences that has no chance of being repeated without you making sure that it is repeated
You no longer have an ongoing process that informs improvements in your skillful performance
Over time you lack behind people who do
Over time you get less confident and have more fear of failure
This will make you less able to overcome friction of setbacks
This will make it more likely that you seek out more artificial euphoric experiences
and so you slowly move towards a state where you no longer have a real choice

Now this is all based on short term effects, that could be in effect after just a few weeks of using prostitutes or other transactional sexual relationship. And for drugs the time frame can be equally short: You very quickly get a stark sense of the lack of “satisfaction” in your non-drugged life and the big contrast to your quite bland and unexciting drug free life. This difference can be seen as a consequence of the harsh social realities if you are not a privileged person in some way: It would not be like that if the world was more fair and easier to navigate. But it can also be seen as a consequence of personal shortcoming: If only I performed better, this would be different.

You can skew the interpretation towards the external world, but that takes self control and regulatory resources. Or you can retreat to an interpretation where the lack of success and euphoria
The third way out is off cause to blame it on lack of drugs, or indeed to just to use more drugs.
So in effect the use of artificial euphoria will tend make you believe less in a drug free performance and less in drug free positive results.

So drugs give you an artificial sense or euphoria, that pollutes your internal development of skills and motivations, even in a rather short period of use. You know that you have an artificially inflated sense of ability. You don’t know exactly how inflated, so depending on your current state of mind, it can be thought to explain anywhere between 10 % and 95 % of your ability estimates. So you don’t really know what to aim for when trying to gain real success: what level of challenge, what level of training or what level of achievement to celebrate if and when you have success. And even if you get that far, chances are the the real thing is a bit bland compared to a drug fueled delusion of success.

Now you could argue that all this is a perfectly good reason to get out of a drug habit. But reasons of this sort is not what drives the process of changing your habits. While it is possible to see a strong connection between your behavior and the state that you will be in three years later, this arch of causality is far too long to drive behavior or behavior changes.
Relationship over time

A relationship based on personal qualities will over time develop “trust, like and familiarity”.
This will protect the relationship against friction or threats.

In a long running transactional relationship you will constantly have to overcome the “cons” by paying, which means that they tend to get a more prominent position in the attention of you and your counterpart.

For that reason, your transactions do not become more secure over time, but often less so.

Drugs over time

An euphoria based on personal skills and invested work will lead to experience and expertice.
This will protect the source of euphoria against friction or threats.

In a long running use of artificial highs you repeatedly overcome your personal failures by compensating with drugs. This will tend to make these failures more prominent in the attention of yourself and others.

For that reason, your use of drugs does not contribute positively to your sense of personal core (skill and worth).
If we think that addiction is maintained by multiple causes, then how big a part will such dynamics play?

If you combine this with causes that stems from living in a progressivly more stressful environment.

 

 

The way that cocaine affects muscles and the movement system

Other side effects of cocaine use include:

Tremors. Muscle twitches or tics.
Constricted blood vessels.

Increased heart rate. Increased blood pressure.

 

 

 

 

 

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