sitting in bed, depressed

If you are use cocaine regularly, you should know that each time you use, you put yourself at risk of developing a lasting and debilitating addiction. Even if you describe your occasional use as experimentation, you could still end up addicted to this dangerous substance.

Here's how tolerance to cocaine develops and how it can affect you long-term.

What is Cocaine Addiction?

Cocaine tolerance occurs when you no longer respond to a substance in the same way you did before. Let's say, when you first began snorting coke, you only required a very small dose to give you a feeling of euphoria.

Over time, you gradually began to need more and more to achieve that same effect, right? This pattern of increasing drug use is one of the hallmarks of addiction.

Biological Aspects of Tolerance

man suffering from cocaine addiction

The neurotransmitter dopamine in the reward system of the brain is responsible for the "high" feeling you get each time you use cocaine. However, what very few people know is that each subsequent use--from the very first time--builds tolerance.

In a research study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, rhesus monkeys were given extremely low doses of cocaine each week. Researchers found that after the first dose had been administered, the dopamine levels did not rise as high during subsequent doses.

This means that the brain no longer responded the same way after the initial dose. Monkeys required higher doses to see that initial level of response. Over time, this decrease in brain response damages the reward system, making it less efficient.

Behavioral Aspects of Addiction

When you use a drug and it doesn't deliver the response you expect, you are prompted to use more of it within the same session. Your first response to the drug has been diminished almost instantly. Where once you may have had only a small amount, the following sessions you may feel driven to use two times or three times that initial amount.

This gradual need for more of the drug is how voluntary drug use becomes compulsive drug use, and eventually addiction. At first, you may have used cocaine to boost your mood and get high. After tolerance develops, you may began to feel depressed or low whenever you are not using. You experience intense cravings for the drug throughout the day. So, now you use simply to feel like your normal self, or to fend off harsh withdrawal symptoms.

Cross-Tolerance to other Drugs

White powder on black reflective surface, closeup

Another worrisome aspect of developing tolerance to cocaine is a process that frequently occurs along with it: cross-tolerance. Cross-tolerance happens when you have developed a tolerance to one drug and automatically have a tolerance to other drugs within its class.

For example, there may be one occasion in which you are out partying and cocaine is not available. However, another stimulant drug like amphetamines are being used. Your initial reaction to amphetamines may not mimic that of another person who has never used that specific drug.

Instead your brain may exhibit a decreased response to low levels of this new drug, requiring that you take higher doses to reach the euphoric state you desire. In other words, you are already tolerant to this new drug and you've never even used it before!

Tolerance Is Not Addiction...Yet

Tolerance does not mean addiction; however, it is a precursor to addictive behavior. Plus, when you factor in cross-tolerance, you are more likely to develop an addiction to multiple substances and even end up overdosing because you need more of the drug over time.

If you are experiencing tolerance and cross-tolerance, it's time to seek help. Contact Recovery Boot Camp today to learn more about your treatment options for chronic cocaine abuse.


  1. Definition of tolerance. National Institute on Drug Abuse. January 2007.
  2. Mathias, R. Even modest cocaine use may cause brain changes that could contribute to addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse. August 2001.
  3. Information about drugs. Indiana University, Bloomington.

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