Anyone who’s used cocaine or amphetamines for recreational purposes knows how powerful these drugs can be. Both drug types act as central nervous system stimulants and both influence the same chemical processes in the brain.
While cocaine abuse and amphetamine abuse, for the most part, produce the same types of effects, the mechanisms of action differ in important ways. Ultimately, amphetamine abuse in any form stands to bring on a range of dangerous effects, though the most powerful substances tend to cause the greatest amount of harm.
Understanding how cocaine abuse and amphetamine abuse disrupt the brain’s chemical system can shed some light on just how dangerous these drugs can be. In terms of which is worse, cocaine or amphetamines, the answer lies in the degree of destruction one or the other causes in the brain.
Chemical Characteristics of Cocaine and Amphetamines
Amphetamine drugs consist mainly of prescription-based stimulant drugs, such as Strattera, Adderall and Ritalin, all of which are legal substances. In spite of the plain similarities between cocaine and amphetamines, cocaine holds a Schedule I narcotic classification, which makes it an illegal drug. Ultimately, what most distinguishes one drug type from the other in a legal sense lies in the unpredictability of cocaine potency levels from batch to batch versus the measured dosage levels for any one amphetamine drug.
According to Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, the high abuse and addiction potential associated with stimulant-based drugs stems from their ability to take over the brain’s dopamine system. This system plays a central role in regulating reward-motivated behaviors, motor control and hormone output. In effect, these drugs stimulate or speed up chemical activities within the dopamine system, which can have serious repercussions when cocaine abuse or amphetamine abuse occur over long time periods.
With cocaine abuse, users experience feelings of euphoria, a surge in energy and increased confidence for one to three hours. Amphetamine abuse produces the same effects, though the duration can run anywhere from 12 to 36 hours. Herein lies the difference between these two drug types as far as which one is worse goes.
When ingested, cocaine stimulates the release of dopamine from chemical-producing brain cells in large amounts. Users experience the “high” effects of the drug for as long as the brain contains high levels of this chemical. On average, 50 percent of the amount ingested is fully metabolized within an hour’s time.
While amphetamine effects stimulate dopamine production levels in the same way, these drugs also block the brain’s reuptake or recycling mechanisms which normally reabsorb excess amounts of dopamine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. As a result, excess amounts of dopamine remain within the brain’s chemical system for a considerably longer time period than with cocaine.
Compared to cocaine’s one hour half-life time, it can take up to 12 hours for 50 percent of ingested amphetamine amounts to be fully metabolized. The longer elevated dopamine levels persist the greater the damage done to the brain’s chemical system, making amphetamines by far the worse of the two drug types.
The abuse and addiction potential associated with cocaine abuse and amphetamine abuse runs considerably higher than other types of drugs. While amphetamine abuse will likely produce the most harmful effects in terms of brain damage and psychological dysfunction, any form of stimulant drug abuse holds the potential to destroy a person’s quality life within a short period of time.
If you or someone you know struggles with cocaine or amphetamine abuse and have more questions about abuse and addiction, please feel free to call our toll-free helpline at 800-768-8728 to speak with one of our addictions specialists.