Cocaine acts on a set of interconnected regions of the brain, known as the limbic system. The limbic system is responsible for regulating pleasure and motivation. In the brain, the reward system is activated by the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Cocaine prevents dopamine from being recycled, which causes a buildup of this neurotransmitter. This prevents normal communication between the neurons of the brain, causing a euphoric high.

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    Recovery and the Brain

    Chronic cocaine use will cause the brain to adapt and change its reward system. The brain will gain a tolerance to feelings of pleasure and it will take more and more of the drug to achieve the same level of euphoria. This tolerance also affects natural re-enforcers; the user will feel little pleasure from reward mechanisms such as food or sex. Dopamine receptors will return back to normal levels after a period of long-term recovery. Overtime, the reward system will return to near-normal functioning. 
    Prolonged cocaine use is associated with impaired cognitive functioning, including impaired attention, memory, and learning. However, studies show that cognitive functioning can return to normal levels in long-term recovery.