Cocaine vs. Meth: Effects of Abuse and Addiction – Cocaine and methamphetamine (meth) are both stimulants and impact the body by increasing alertness and talkativeness, as well as inducing intense feelings of happiness and euphoria.
The myriad of harmful side effects that accompany the use of either drug is also comparable, and extended use can quickly and adversely impact the user’s body and mind. However, when compared to cocaine, the effects of meth are believed to be more neurologically destructive and permanent.
Understanding how meth and cocaine work, as well as the hazards and long-term effects of each, can help prevent overdose deaths, and possibly stop addiction before it starts.
Fundamental Differences and Similarities
Both meth and cocaine and meth do have some limited medical purpose. Cocaine is the only known drug that has the properties of both a stimulant and anesthetic and is used as local anesthesia in some surgical procedures. Medical use of meth for the treatment of ADHD, narcolepsy, and obesity is tightly controlled to prevent drug diversion on the black market.
The primary difference between cocaine and meth is that cocaine is plant-based, derived from the coca plant native to South America. Meth, on the other hand, is an entirely human-made synthetic drug, and illicit production often occurs in small, clandestine labs as well as in larger scale cartel operations.
Meth can contain many different toxic ingredients, including the following:
- Battery acid
- Drain cleaner
- Hydrochloric acid
- Red phosphorus
- Sulfuric acid
Cocaine often has the association of wealth attached to it, and indeed, cocaine is rather expensive and short-acting, meaning that those who abuse it tend to do so in a binge-like pattern. Meth, conversely, has been oft referred to as “the poor man’s cocaine,” and is frequently portrayed as a drug of choice for economically depressed rural areas.
Of note, crack cocaine is a bit different. Less refined than powdered cocaine, crack is much cheaper and also associated with people of a lower economic status. To manufacture crack, cocaine is combined with other ingredients that may include rat poison and baking soda, making it an even more dangerous form of cocaine to use.
Cocaine vs. Meth: How They Work
Because they are both stimulants, meth and cocaine induce similar effects by increasing the user’s levels of dopamine, a chemical neurotransmitter that regulates the brain’s pleasure centers, albeit they achieve this in slightly different ways. Cocaine lengthens dopamine actions, which means that it prevents the brain from reabsorbing dopamine, allowing it to accumulate in the synapse to induce an elevated mood and an increased sense of energy.
Methamphetamine use blocks the reuptake of dopamine, but it also increases the release of the neurotransmitter, essentially producing a surge to the synapse. To comprehend just how much dopamine meth releases and what makes it so rapidly and dangerously addictive, consider how other substances, including cocaine, compare:
- Both nicotine and alcohol cause dopamine levels to spike from around 100 to 200 units.
- Cocaine causes a comparably higher release of dopamine, increasing levels from 100 to about 350 units.
- Meth use boosts dopamine a baseline of 100 units to roughly 1,250 units, over 12 times that of alcohol or nicotine.
The high from meth also lasts substantially longer than cocaine. While it takes around an hour for 50% of cocaine to be eliminated from the system, it takes 12 hours for 50% of meth to leave the body. In other words, like the dopamine boost, the half-life of meth is about 12 times greater than that of cocaine.
Cocaine vs. Meth Effects
Some of the side effects that can occur while using cocaine or meth overlap and include the following:
- Irritability and agitation
- Accelerated heart rate
- Loss of appetite
Withdrawal symptoms are also comparable and typically manifest as the following:
- Aches and pains
- Impaired concentration
These withdrawal symptoms are a large part of what makes detox from cocaine a profoundly uncomfortable and painful process – this is especially true for meth. Still, the harmful and potentially irreversible effects of extended use of either substance far exceed the discomfort of undergoing detox.
Long-term cocaine use can lead to lengthy episodes of confusion and paranoia, along with seizures and suicidal thoughts. Long-term use can also wreak havoc on the respiratory, cardiovascular, and central nervous systems, which can result in chest pains and heart palpitations. Chronic cocaine use has also been associated with the development of Parkinson’s disease.
Other associated health risks of cocaine use can be magnified depending on how it typically enters the body. A persistent inflamed and runny nose is among the mildest effects of snorting cocaine regularly.
If snorted intranasally for a prolonged period, it can lead to hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, nosebleeds, loss of sense of smell, and may even carve out a hole in the septum that will cause the nasal cavities to collapse. Likewise, injecting cocaine causes puncture marks or “track marks” and increases the risk of abscesses, infection, and contracting HIV or Hepatitis C.
The long-term effects of meth abuse are even more disturbing. Chronic use induces prolonged feelings of anxiety, insomnia, paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, aggression, and violent behavior. Also, there are physical effects which include skin sores, weight loss, and serious dental problems, otherwise known as “meth mouth.” Several factors related to meth use contribute to meth mouth, such as poor nutrition, poor dental hygiene, chronic dry mouth, and teeth-grinding.
Nonetheless, the most severe damage that prolonged abuse of meth can produce is to the brain, and, sadly, it is often permanent. Meth alters the brain in critical ways, decreasing the number of neurons in the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS is extremely limited in its capacity to generate new replacement neurons, which is what makes damage to the brain sometimes permanent.
Brain damage caused by meth abuse may affect essential cognitive functions, such as the following:
- Aspects of attention and movement
- The capacity to visualize objects in space and generate nonverbal memories
- The ability to remember and also learn new information
- The self-control and inhibition of potentially damaging behaviors
Moreover, when the brain has become so completely damaged from the effects of meth, in many cases, there is no going back to “normal.”
Getting Treatment for Cocaine or Meth Addiction
As both are powerful and potentially addictive stimulants, cocaine and meth share many of the same characteristics, but the most important is the harmful and possibly deadly effects they have on one’s health, brain, and life. An addiction to one or both these stimulants can feel impossible to overcome, but there is always hope.
Although there are no medications indicated for the treatment of cocaine or meth addiction, these conditions can be addressed using psychotherapy, psychoeducation, individual and group counseling, and group support. By using a comprehensive approach to addiction, persons can learn how to effectively manage their disorders and reclaim the fulfilling life they deserve, free from substance abuse.
Please contact us today if you or a loved one have an addiction to cocaine or meth. Recovery in Tune provides the expert care and support you need to achieve sobriety, prevent relapse, and sustain long-lasting wellness!
Related: What Are Designer Drugs?