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Article Summary

A Guide To Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine regularly accounts for a large segment of addictions to drug and alcohol abuse treatment programs. Most of the people who seek treatment for cocaine abuse and addiction suffer adverse effects from smoking crack. Further, the rate or polydrug use among addicts is high, meaning that the typical crack user also abuses other drugs.

Next to meth, cocaine ranks among those drugs that create significant psychological dependence on users who quickly become tolerant to the drug. It is also related to the risk of disease contraction, psychiatric disorders, and death.

Cocaine addiction is a complex issue involving serious changes in the brain and accompanied by a wide range of familial, social, and environmental factors. As such, treatment should be tailored to deal with this broad context and any other co-occurring psychological disorders that require pharmacological and behavioral intervention.

Understanding Cocaine

A powerfully addictive stimulant, cocaine is made using coca plant leaves found in South America. Although it is sometimes used for legal medical purposes by health care providers - as a local anesthesia - the drug is also illegal.

Used in the street, cocaine looks like a white crystalline powder. Dealers usually mix it with flour, talcum powder, and cornstarch to increase their profits. Others mix cocaine with other addictive drugs, such as amphetamine. The drug is variously referred to as blow, coke, crack, rock, and snow.

The federal government has classified cocaine as a high dependency and high abuse risk stimulant. The different symptoms, signs, and effects of abuse vary depending on how one ingests it.

In powdered form, cocaine is snorted by inhaling through the nose. Some users dissolve it in water and directly inject in through a vein or right under the skin (a process referred to as skin popping). The latter method of use increase the length of the high but also carries the risk of other medical complications and infections.

The most common ingestion method is snorting. Signs of cocaine snorting include:

  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Losing the sense of smell
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • A nose that is chronically runny

Another form of cocaine is processed to form a rock crystal (crack) which can be smoked through a pipe. Since the purity level is so low and there is a risk that other dangerous chemicals might have been introduced into the crystal, long term users of crack cocaine usually experience dramatic - and sometimes fatal - symptoms.

Cocaine Uses

Recent estimates show that close to 1.9 million people abuse cocaine every month. Adults in the 18 to 25 age group report higher rates of usage. Further, research shows that more men than women use the drug.

The conventional methods of use include snorting through the nose or rubbing into the gums. However, some people dissolve cocaine powder with water before injecting it directly into the bloodstream. Others combine heroin and cocaine to form a Speedball and inject the solution.

The other popular mode of use revolves around smoking rock crystals processed from cocaine (referred to as freebase cocaine). The users heat the crystal to produce vapors that they can inhale directly into the lungs. As the rock is heated, it crackles - which is why the drug is referred to as crack cocaine.

Addicts use cocaine to enable them to perform simple mental and physical tasks fasters, although the narcotic might cause you to experience the exact opposite effect. Taking the drug in large doses will eventually lead to violent, unpredictable, and bizarre behavior.

Most users take this narcotic in binges - consuming it repeated in a relatively short time and at increasingly higher doses. This allows them to maintain the high longer, but also leads to burns on the fingers and lips from the hot crack pipes.

A high from crack is similar to that from powder cocaine but does not last quite as long. Therefore, crack users often disappear after a while to get another hit of the drug (anywhere between 10 and 15 minutes).

If you take high doses of the narcotic, or in binges, you will suffer symptoms such as aggressiveness, antisocial behavior, paranoia, delusions, and disorientation. Once you get hooked on cocaine, it will become your primary priority in life - over and above health, sanitation, work, career, and family.

Cocaine Effects

Cocaine works by increasing the levels of dopamine - a natural chemical messenger - in the brain circuits that control movement and pleasure. Ordinarily, the brain naturally released dopamine within these circuits as a response to such potential rewards as good food or stellar company.

After the pleasurable feeling, the brain will recycle dopamine right back into the cell from which it came. In the process, the brain turns off the signals between the nerve cells affected by the pleasure.

Cocaine is dangerous because it will prevent the recycling of dopamine. As such, excessive amounts of the chemical will build up in between the nerve centers of the brain. This flood will eventually disrupt normal communications in the brain, thereby causing the cocaine high.

Cocaine is so powerful that its effects will show up almost immediately after use before they disappear after anywhere between several minutes to a hour. The duration of the effect and its intensity will depend on how you use the drug.

To this end, smoking or injecting this narcotic tends to produce a stronger and quicker but shorter-lasting high in comparison to snorting it. Snorting cocaine will create a high that lasts for about a quarter to half a hour while the high after you smoke it will last between 5 and 10 minutes.

Cocaine abusers and addicts often experience severe paranoia, a temporary state of heightened paranoid psychosis. During this state, they will lose touch with what is happening and suffer auditory hallucinations (such as hearing unreal sounds).

If you ingest the drug by mouth, it will cause ulcers within the lining of the stomach and kill tissue in the bowel (gangrene) due to the reduction in blood flow around the intestinal tract.

Regardless of the frequency or manner of use, cocaine addicts also run the risk of suffering strokes and heart attacks. In fact, most of the deaths related to the use of this narcotic arise from seizure and heart attacks followed by immediate respiratory arrest whereby the user is unable to breathe.

Some of the serious health effects of cocaine abuse include:

  • Contracting diseases such as HIV after injecting the drug using shared needles
  • Death
  • Digestive problems
  • Heart problems, such as cardiac arrest
  • Kidney damage
  • Nervous system problems, like strokes
  • Respiratory effects, such as respiratory failure
  • Severe skin infections
  • Severe allergic reactions

Cocaine Side Effects

A strong stimulant, this drug will stress your vascular system and heart. After using it, your heart rate will speed up and your blood vessels constrict. These side effects might trigger cardiac arrest, stroke, or heart attack.

If you continue taking cocaine over the long haul, you run the risk of a damaged or enlarged heart that will not be able to pump blood efficiently. Additional side effects arising from crack abuse include:

  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Dilated pupils
  • Faster heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • High body temperature
  • Muscle twitches
  • Nausea
  • Restlessness
  • Tremors

Cocaine Addictive Qualities

Similar to any other form of drug and substance addiction, cocaine dependence will arise because of the effects the narcotic has on the brain in stimulating intense feelings of pleasure.

As a stimulant, cocaine will increase the levels of chemicals in the brain - particularly dopamine. The drug will also produce a euphoric effect by preventing dopamine from getting reabsorbed back into the nerve cells of the brain.

Habitual abuse will cause your body to build a tolerance to these increasing levels of dopamine in the system. Progressively, you will have to take higher doses of the drug to achieve a high. In many cases, cocaine abusers suffer changes in the reward system of the brain. This results in unpredictable or unusual behavior to anyone around them.

After using cocaine for a while, you will become frustrated if the increased tolerance makes it hard for you to get as high as you used to when you were first introduced to the drug.

You will increase your dose to try and prolong and intensify the effect, which will simultaneously heighten your risk of suffering adverse psychological and physiological effects and an overdose.

Addiction will also produce notable personality and behavioral changes - which also act as signs of increases in the frequency and volume of use. These changes include irritability, restlessness, anxiety, and paranoia.

Cocaine Overdose

If you use cocaine, you might end up overdosing on it. An overdose will occur when you consume too much of the drug and suffer toxic reactions resulting in adverse and severe symptoms, or even death. The overdose might be unintentional or intentional.

Death from overdosing on cocaine can occur at any given time - either the first time you use it or after that. In particular, mixing this narcotic with alcohol and/or heroin is dangerous and might be the reason behind your overdose.

When you overdose, cocaine will affect your blood and heart vessels leading to such health consequences as heart attacks, strokes, seizures, and irregular heart rhythm. Immediate medical assistance is the only way to save someone who has overdosed on any of the many forms of coke.

At the emergency room, first responders and doctors will try dealing with the overdose by clearing these conditions to restore the flow of blood to the heart, stopping the seizure, and supplying oxygen-rich to the parts of the brain that have been affected in case of a stroke.

Because cocaine overdose often leads to a heart attack, stroke, or seizure, first responders and emergency room doctors try to treat the overdose by treating these conditions, with the intent of:

Cocaine Withdrawal

Although withdrawal from cocaine use, abuse, and addiction is rarely severe, it comes with unpleasant and uncomfortable symptoms. These side effects will last for close to a week or two. They include:

  • Anxiety
  • Body aches
  • Poor concentration
  • Chills
  • Depression
  • Exhaustion
  • Fatigue
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Increased Appetite
  • Intense cravings for cocaine
  • Pain
  • Slowed thinking
  • Tremors and shakes
  • Unpleasant dreams
  • Insomnia

Cocaine Dangers

Cocaine use is dangerous, primarily because it increases the risk of HIV, Hepatitis C, and other communicable diseases after addicts share needles while taking the drug intravenously. Even those who use it recreationally might be at risk of the neurological changes the drug causes.

To this end, recreational use will reduce your ability to control and regulate your behavior. As such, you won't be able to control your movement, conduct ordinary activities, or react to stimuli in the environment.

Long term use is also associated with a reduction in decision-making capabilities, performance, and attention. More particularly, the narcotic will change the chemistry in your brain. The typical behavioral anomalies that associated with cocaine include:

  • Unusually erratic behavior
  • Psychotic symptoms
  • New-onset ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

Signs And Symptoms Of Cocaine Abuse

Some of the common signs and symptoms of frequent cocaine use, abuse, and addiction include:

a) Mood Symptoms
  • Anxiety
  • Euphoria
  • Fearfulness
  • Feeling superiority
  • Irritation
  • Panic
  • Restlessness
b) Behavioral Symptoms
  • Abandonment of those activities you once enjoyed
  • Bizarre behavior
  • Erratic behavior
  • Extremely talkativeness
  • Increased energy
  • Recklessness
  • Risky behavior
  • Stealing and borrowing money
  • Violence
c) Physical Symptoms
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Chronically runny nose
  • Constriction of blood vessels
  • Cravings
  • Decreased appetite
  • Dilated pupils
  • Faster heart rate
  • Gangrene (of the bowel)
  • Headaches
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Higher body temperature
  • Hoarseness
  • Malnutrition
  • Muscle twitches
  • Nasal perforation
  • Nosebleeds
  • Reduced need for sleep
  • Risk of contracting blood borne pathogens, such as HIV and Hepatitis
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Sleepiness after usage
  • Tremors
d) Psychological Symptoms
  • Break from reality
  • Hallucination
  • Intense paranoia
  • Lack of motivation
  • Poor judgment
  • Psychosis
  • Rationalizing cocaine use
  • Violent mood swings

Treatment For Cocaine Addiction

If you know someone who might be hooked on cocaine, you should help them get treated as early as possible. With therapy and medications, the addiction can be dealt with, and the user will finally be able to leave their compulsive drug seeking and abuse behind.

At an inpatient residential facility, the addict will be cleaned up. The detoxification and rehabilitation will ensure that the cocaine user receives all the treatments required to expunge the drug out of the system, and teach them how to deal with the emotional, physiological, and psychological effects of the narcotic.

On the other hand, the psychologists at outpatient treatment centers provide cognitive behavioral therapy to teach the coke user to recognize, escape, and avoid all situations that might compel them to start abusing the stimulant. They will also provide group therapy.

Last but not least, you can also get the addict to sign up for support programs such as Cocaine Anonymous, which uses the twelve-step approach to fighting addiction and keeping it in remission.

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