Scientists Discover What Makes Cocaine So Addictive

Illegal drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine, and ecstasy are all dangerous when abused because they are damaging to health and are very addictive. However, one of the most addictive drugs available on the market today is cocaine – in particular, crack cocaine.

The effects of this drug are intense, but because they are short-lived, the user is often tempted to continue taking more of the drug to prolong the ‘high’. The more cocaine the person takes, the more tolerant he or she will become to the effects of the drug. The individual will also have a high risk of developing physical dependency.

So Why is Cocaine So Addictive?

Scientists have been conducting research into cocaine and what makes it so addictive. They used lab rats to replicate the way that cocaine addiction occurs in humans, allowing the animals to self-administer cocaine over five days. The rats had access to the cocaine for up to six hours on each of the five days, and after the five-day period, their access was cut for between fourteen and sixty days.

The rat’s brains, and in particular their dopamine transporters, were analysed during the cocaine detox. Dopamine transporters were found to have returned to normal during the detox, but as soon as they were given access to the drug again, their tolerance to the drug returned. Tolerance levels instantly returned to what they were during the rat’s highest cocaine usage, even if they had been deprived of the drug for up to sixty days.

Results of the study have found that this ‘primer effect’ could be that which causes cocaine users to binge on the drug, and it could explain why the relapse rate among recovering cocaine addicts is so high.


The study was carried out by a team of researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre who wanted to analyse how dopamine transporters affect tolerance. Lead researcher Dr Sara R Jones said, “Scientists have known for years that cocaine affects the dopamine system and dopamine transporters, so we designed our study to gain a better understanding of how tolerance to cocaine develops via the dopamine transporters.”

She said that the sixty days’ abstinence in the rats was equivalent to four years for a human. However, even after this period, one dose of cocaine was enough to revert the rats’ dopamine systems and tolerance levels back to pre-abstinence levels. She said it showed that they were more likely to binge once more, and added, “It’s that terrible cycle of addiction.”

The Effects of Cocaine

Cocaine is a popular recreational drug that causes users to feel confident and euphoric. It has the effect of making people feel full of energy and happy, but it can also cause users to become overconfident and reckless. Some cocaine addicts may become aggressive and paranoid and will take unnecessary risks.

The short-lived highs are euphoric, but these are followed by crashing come-downs that can leave the user feeling depressed and miserable. It is not surprising that so many people take more of the drug as soon as they start to experience the come-down. This up and down has a profound effect on the body, especially as cocaine can increase the heart rate and cause rapid breathing.

The risk of overdose is high due to the fact that users feel the need to take more and more of the drug in order to escape the devastating effects when the drug starts to wear off.

The long-term effects of cocaine can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, liver disease, kidney disease and lung damage. Cocaine also suppresses the appetite, so cocaine addicts are often underweight and gaunt due to malnutrition.


  1. Here’s why cocaine is so addictive according to science (