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Developing a Tolerance to Cocaine

Cocaine tolerance happens when a cocaine user needs ever larger amounts of cocaine to experience the same level of euphoria that he achieved the first time he used cocaine. By some reports, tolerance begins to develop immediately with a person’s first use of cocaine. Some cocaine users report that they never feel the same euphoric rush that they experienced the first time, which drives them to chase an ever-elusive target that cannot be replicated.

Cocaine euphoria is connected with a person’s dopamine reward system. When a person ingests cocaine, the drug causes a flood of the dopamine neurotransmitter into that person’s brain and nervous system. The dopamine reward system is an evolutionary vestige that developed to allow early man to distinguish between things that were good or bad without relying on logic or reason. For example, when early man consumed food that was good for him or engaged in sexual activities, his brain released dopamines to signal to him that he should continue to pursue those activities. Logic and reason supplanted this instinctive mechanism, but the mechanism remained and became a significant element of substance addiction.

A cocaine user essentially rewires his brain’s dopamine reward system to tolerate the flood of dopamine that results from cocaine use. His brain releases lower amounts of dopamine with each subsequent exposure to cocaine. To facilitate a greater dopamine release, he uses larger amounts of cocaine. This cycle repeats itself over an extended period of regular cocaine use.

No two people will develop a cocaine tolerance at the same rate or in response to the same amounts of cocaine. Some cocaine users develop a tolerance to the drug very rapidly, while others do not develop any tolerance, or possibly a less aggressive tolerance, over a longer period of time. The end point for all cocaine users who develop a tolerance to the drug is the same: they all expose themselves to significant risks of sudden cardiac arrest, cocaine overdoses, and respiratory failure as they ingest more and more cocaine in their attempt to achieve the elusive cocaine high.

A cold turkey approach, in which the user stops all use of cocaine, may be dangerous to the extent that the allure of the drug can become very strong during the first few weeks after a sudden cessation of cocaine use. A heavy cocaine user who stops using cocaine for a short time, but then relapses to cocaine use, may be exposing himself to a higher risk of a cocaine overdose. Symptoms of a cocaine overdose include abdominal pain, agitation, chills, convulsions, hallucinations, gastric distress, and irregular respiration and heartbeat. At the extreme, a cocaine overdose can cause convulsions and death.

Regular cocaine use creates a psychological dependency that is difficult to break without counseling and therapy. Tolerance to the drug increases that difficulty and exposes the cocaine user to extreme health risks. A cocaine user who is committed to overcoming his dependency will be best served by consulting with addiction recovery specialists who can assess his use and potential tolerance to cocaine, and who will then recommend a medically-supervised detox and recovery program that minimizes any relapse risks. As with all substance addictions, breaking a cocaine habit requires a cocaine user to adopt a new lifestyle that has no room for substances like cocaine.  


If you or a loved one are struggling with a cocaine addiction, help is available. Harmony Place is an accredited treatment facility providing luxury residential care from detox to transitional living. For a private consultation and more information on our programs for cocaine addiction, call us today: 1-888-789-4330