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Article Summary

A Guide To Cocaine Addiction

Although cocaine abuse and addiction was once considered to be an endemic problem in the US, there is evidence to show that the trend might have changed over the past few years. During this time, the use of the drug has been somewhat stable. For instance, in 2013, the number of people above the age of 12 who were still using was at 1.6%.

This percentage is significantly lower than the percentage of a similar demographic that was using the substance in 2006. Today, even fewer young people are reporting that cocaine is easy to obtain. Similarly, the use of the drug among high school students has gone down by close to half since 2006.

However, the number of people who still use cocaine is still calling for attention. This is because cocaine is one of the deadliest drugs that can lead you to addiction - even after a single instance of experimental use.

Whether you know someone that might be addicted to the drug, or you have been struggling with it, this guide will open your eyes to cocaine, what it is, its effects and dangers, as well as its addictive qualities.

By reading this article, you will be better prepared to understand the various signs and symptoms of using the drug, as well as what you can do to combat your addiction - or that of a loved one.

Read on to find out more:

Understanding Cocaine

NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, reports that more than 14% of the entire American population above the age of 12 has used cocaine at one point or the other in their lifetimes.

At its most basic, cocaine can be defined as a CNS (central nervous system) stimulant that keeps people awake and increases their energy levels. At the same time, the drug raises blood pressure and heart rate.

It works by making the user feel good through the flooding of the brain with the chemical dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical messenger used by the brain to increase feelings of happiness and pleasure.

As a powerful and addictive stimulant, cocaine has been used for thousands of years in the form of coca leaves in South America. During this time, South American natives would chew and ingest the coca leaves - biologically referred to as Erythroxylon coca - for the stimulant effects of the cocaine in them.

However, it was only about a century ago that cocaine hydrochloride - the purified chemical in the coca leaves - was isolated from its natural plant. At the turn of the 20th Century, purified cocaine was among the main active ingredients used in most elixirs and tonics for treating a variety of ailments. The drug was also added to earliest formulations of Coca Cola.

Similarly, before synthetic local anesthetic was discovered, surgeons would use the drug as a pain killer during operations. Since then, however, research has shown that this drug is powerfully addictive and that it alters the structure and function of the brain when used repeatedly.

As a result, the US government classified cocaine as a Schedule II drug. This means that the substance has a high potential for addiction and abuse. However, doctors can still administer it for legitimate medical reasons - including as local anesthesia for some throat, ear, and eye surgeries.

On the street, cocaine is typically sold as a fine white crystalline powder known as Blow, Powder, Snow, C, Crack, Rock, or Coke. Dealers often dilute, or "cut" it using non-psychoactive substances like baking soda, flour, talcum powder, or cornstarch to increase their profit margins from its sale.

Some of them might also adulterate their batch of drugs with other substances like procaine, which is chemically similar to local anesthesia. Others adulterate it with amphetamine, which is also a psychoactive stimulant.

In terms of use, some people also combine this drug with heroin to create Speedball - an even more potent drug that has high incidences of overdose and fatality or death.

Cocaine Uses

Since cocaine has such a short half-life, it will take effect quite fast - sometimes in a couple of minutes. Similarly, the high from the drug is also short lived and lasts for 5 to 30 minutes depending on the mode of use and how quickly your bloodstream absorbs the drug.

According to the Genetic Science Learning Center (University of Utah), the fastest way to get the drug to your brain is through smoking. Intravenous use is the 2nd fastest mode of use. As a direct result, most users tend to ingest the drug by smoking it.

The drug creates its infamous high by blocking the brain from recycling dopamine. This means that it causes large amounts of these happy cells to collect inside the brain at the same time.

As a direct result, the drug causes users to be overly excitable, talkative, and have high confidence levels and fewer inhibitions. It additionally lowers their appetite and need for sleep. However, when they come down from the drug, they undergo a crash during which they may sleep or eat more than usual.

That said, most people administer cocaine by inhalation, intravenously, intra-nasally, or orally. During intranasal use, people snort the cocaine powder by inhaling it through their nostrils. From there, the drug is absorbed straight into the bloodstream through nasal tissue.

Some users rub cocaine on their gum - a form of oral use while others dissolve it in water and inject the solution into their veins. This intravenous mode of use releases cocaine directly into the bloodstream, thereby heightening the intensity and effects of the drug.

In terms of inhalation, people inhale the smoke or vapor from burning cocaine into their lungs. The absorption of the drug into the bloodstream after inhalation is almost as fast as through intravenous use. It creates fast euphoric effects in the process.

On the other hand, the use of cocaine ranges from compulsive or repeated use to occasional use - with various patterns in between these two extremes. Any mode of use may lead to the absorption of toxic amounts of the drug causing seizures, strokes, and/or heart attacks, all of which may eventually lead to sudden death.

Since the substance tends to leave the body quite fast, some people tend to abuse the drug in binge patterns. This means that they take several doses after every few minutes. This might lead to faster psychological and physical dependence on the drug.

In other instances, the user may take a high dose at the same time. This often leads to violent outbursts, irritability, anger, and hostility. Long term use, on the other hand, may lead to negative side effects like hallucinations, anger, anxiety, and paranoia.

That said, there are two chemical forms of the drug - the freebase or water insoluble cocaine base and the water soluble hydrochloride salt. Users snort or inject the hydrochloride salt because it comes in the form of a powder.

The base form, on the other hand, is manufactured by processing cocaine with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) or ammonia and water before heating the mixture to produce a substance that can be smoked. Crack, the street name used for freebase cocaine, is a term that refers to the somewhat cracking sound that you hear when you smoke this form of cocaine.

Cocaine Effects

As mentioned above, cocaine works to increase the availability of dopamine - a neurotransmitter - in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is commonly associated with euphoric emotions, the processing of various cues of reward, and the regulation of movement. Today, cocaine is often associated with considerable potential for abuse and dependence. At the same time, abusing the drug is related to increased risk of:

  • Death
  • Disease
  • Psychiatric disorders

Despite these risks, cocaine is still used widely as a recreational drug because of the perceived positive effects it has on energy, motivation, and mood. The abuse of the drug is so widespread that it accounts for most emergency room visits according to a DAWN (Drug Abuse Warning Network) report published in 2011.

NIDA, on the other hand, has reported that deaths from cocaine overdose have increased by 29% from 2001 to 2013 while over 5,000 people lose their lives as a result of such an overdose in 2013.

As you can imagine, cocaine is an addictive substance that may change your brain's chemical composition especially with regular use. This means that it might be difficult for you to stop using the drug unless you get help.

Adverse Effects

Among the serious effects from cocaine abuse and dependence is damage to heart muscle. The drug can cause significant damage by inducing the death of the cells in the heart's muscles - a condition referred to as cardiomyopathy. On the other hand, using the drug intravenously may lead to the inflammation of the heart's inner tissues, a condition called endocarditis.

Such cellular effects of the drug may cumulate into more severe conditions - such as cardiac arrhythmias and heart attacks - which might prove to be fatal. Other effects of cocaine induced cardiotoxicity include but are not limited to:

  • Increased risk of brain damage or stroke as a result of interruptions to the supply of blood available to the brain
  • Inflammation of the heart's muscles
  • Severe decline in life quality and health as a result of blood loss and reduction in cardiac function
  • The aorta rupturing

If you are addicted to cocaine, you may also experience severe paranoia, a temporary state of paranoid psychosis. When you are in this condition, you will lose touch with reality. You may also experience severe auditory hallucinations, where you start hearing non-existent sounds.

On the other hand, if you ingest the substance by mouth, you may get ulcers in the lining of your stomach as well as the death of large amounts of tissue - in the form of gangrene - inside your bowels due to the reduction in the flow of blood to the stomach.

Regardless of the frequency or mode of use, cocaine users are highly susceptible to strokes and heart attacks. In fact, most of the deaths that are related to this drug as a result of seizure and/or heart attack followed by serious respiratory arrest, during which you will stop breathing.

Other serious health effects caused by cocaine abuse and dependency include:

  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Contracting HIV and a variety of other communicable diseases as a result of using cocaine with a shared needle
  • Death
  • Digestive problems
  • Dilated pupils
  • Faster heartbeats
  • Heart problems, such as heart attacks
  • High blood pressure
  • High body temperature
  • Muscle twitches
  • Nausea
  • Nervous system problems like strokes
  • Respiratory effects like respiratory failure
  • Serious skin infections
  • Severe allergic reactions
  • Tremors

On the other hand, the long term health effects of prolonged cocaine use will mostly depend on the mode of use. These include, but are not limited to:

a) Oral Use

This may cause reduced blood flow, leading to severe bowel decay.

b) Intravenous Use

If you inject cocaine into your bloodstream, you may raise your risk of contracting such blood-borne diseases as Hepatitis C and HIV. However, even if you do not take the drug intravenously, you may still contract HIV because it may impair your judgement and cause you to engage in risky sexual behavior.

c) Intranasal Use

On the other hand, people who snort cocaine for a long time may lose their sense of smell, or experience difficulty with swallowing, frequent runny nose, and nosebleeds.

Last but not least, cocaine abuse is now commonly associate with serious kidney damage. This is prolonged use of the drug often causes the inflammation of the different microstructures inside the kidney.

Cocaine Side Effects

In the short term, cocaine is also quite as dangerous. This is because it causes the following side effects:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abnormal heartbeat
  • Coma
  • Death
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme happiness
  • Headaches
  • Heart attack
  • Hypersensitivity to touch, sound, and sight
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased body temperature
  • Increased energy
  • Irritability
  • Mental alertness
  • Muscle twitches and tremors
  • Nausea
  • Panic
  • Paranoia, defined as an unreasonably extreme distrust of others
  • Seizures
  • Strokes

At times, cocaine may also suppress your immune system, meaning that you will be more prone to infectious illnesses like colds and flus. Therefore, frequent chronic illnesses as a sign of regular cocaine abuse.

Cocaine Addictive Qualities

The DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) has classified cocaine as a Schedule II Drug. This is due, in part, to the drug's high potential for abuse and addiction. In particular, the substance may make you feel good by altering how your brain experiences pleasure. This will make it more difficult for you to feel good naturally when you are not on the drug.

Using the drug regularly, therefore, may lead to tolerance. This means that you are going to need higher doses of cocaine to feel the desired effects. You will also spend more of your time, energy, and resources looking for, using, and recovering from the drug.

In the process, you may overlook or completely neglect your other responsibilities at work, home, or school. The drug might also cause you to withdraw from social interactions and participation in events and activities you used to love.

a) Dopamine

Some people will become instantly addicted to cocaine the first time they try it. Why? Mostly as a result of dopamine, the chemical responsible for feelings of pleasure in the brain.

Cocaine, to this end, is mostly addictive because it works on the brain's dopamine reward system. Dopamine, as explained above, is the neurotransmitter responsible for the brain's natural reward system. It is due to this chemical that you feel good when doing anything pleasurable such as laughing or eating.

This addiction pathway plays a crucial role in most addictions and not just from cocaine. Cocaine, in particular, will expose your brain to higher levels of dopamine. In the process, you will feel a surge of happiness and euphoria that might be hard for you to forget.

With time, your brain may start prompting the behavior that caused these pleasurable experiences. At this point, your tenacious cravings for cocaine will begin and it will be hard for you to ignore them.

b) Corticosterone

Researchers have also discovered that corticosterone, the body's stress hormone, may also be involved in the mechanism of cocaine addiction. Studies, to this end, indicate that people who tend to feel more stressed produce higher levels of this hormone. This makes them more sensitive even to relatively low cocaine doses.

This increase in vulnerability to the effects of cocaine in the brain might make it harder for stressed individuals to overcome their addiction to the drug. During periods of stress, cocaine may also seem to be more powerful and relaxing. This effects sometimes results in intense cravings for the drug.

c) Prefrontal Cortex

The prefrontal cortex is the self-control center of the brain. Over time, those who abuse cocaine may experience a deterioration of the white matter in this center - the part of the brain responsible for regulating self-control and decision-making.

Whenever you are tempted to use cocaine, you may only be able to overcome these temptations if these parts of your brain are functioning at their full capacity. Therefore, when they are dulled by the damage that cocaine causes, you may have a hard time battling your addiction.

Cocaine Overdose

Among the many dangers of excessive cocaine use is overdose. Overdose will occur when you use too much of the drug and get a toxic reaction resulting in serious and harmful symptoms or even death. The overdose, of course, may be unintentional or intentional.

Death from cocaine overdose may occur the first time you use the drug, or a little later on. Most people who abuse this drug tend to do so when they are drinking alcohol. This behavior is quite risky because it may increase the chances that you will overdose. Another deadly and dangerous combination is mixing cocaine with heroin.

Most of the frequent and severe consequences of cocaine abuse that often lead to an overdose involved the blood and heart vessels. These come in the form of health issues like heart attacks and irregular heart rhythm as well as in the form of nervous problems such as strokes and seizures.

Since overdosing on cocaine may lead to seizure, stroke, or heart attack, emergency room doctors and first responders will often try treating the overdose by dealing with this conditions to:

  • Restore the flow of blood to the heart (deals with heart attack)
  • Restore the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the parts of the brain that were affected (mediates in strokes)
  • Stop the seizure

Cocaine Withdrawal

As with any other addictive substance, using cocaine repeatedly may cause changes in the reward circuit of the brain. This may eventually lead to dependence and addiction. The brain's reward circuit might eventually adapt to the excessive dopamine levels caused by the substance. As a result, you may have to take more frequent and stronger doses of the drug to achieve the same initial effects.

This also means that you are more likely to suffer withdrawal whenever you are off cocaine for longer than your brain is used to. In this condition, you may experience any or all of the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Increased appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Slowed thinking
  • Unpleasant dreams

Cocaine Dangers

Using cocaine in binges often leads to serious psychological developments. It is for this reason that cocaine use is responsible for so many emergency room visits and health scares.

What most people do not know is that some of the trips to the emergency room are actually related to the episodes of psychosis caused by the drug. Examples of the psychotic symptoms caused by the drug include visual hallucinations and false beliefs (or delusions).

Cocaine may also cause you to feel like there are bugs and insects crawling all over your skin, or even that the people around you are trying to kill you or injure you in one way or the other.

Using the drug continuously even after you experience these dire episodes is illustrative of just how addictive cocaine is. The onset of psychosis might also indicate that you are progressing towards even more extreme doses of the substance after becoming tolerant to the amounts you previously used to take.

Signs And Symptoms Of Cocaine Abuse

Most cocaine users are unable to tell that they are addicted. In these cases, it might be up to loved ones, friends, and family members to spot the common signs and symptoms of the addiction.

Early detection is one of the best ways to start the journey to treatment and recovery from cocaine addiction. Consider the following common signs and symptoms of cocaine use:

a) Appearance

  • Burned fingers or lips (from smoking)
  • Dilated pupils
  • Nosebleeds (from snorting)
  • Runny nose (from snorting)
  • Track marks (from injecting)

b) Heart

  • Cardiac arrest
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Enlarged Heart
  • Faster heart rate
  • Heart attacks

c) Mental State

  • Aggressiveness
  • Delusions
  • Euphoria
  • Hallucinations
  • Overconfidence
  • Paranoia
  • Poor judgment
  • Unusual excitement

d) After Binge or Long Use

  • Agitation
  • Apathy
  • Depression
  • Exhaustion
  • Intense cravings
  • Long episodes of sleep
  • Needing higher doses

e) Others

  • Aggressiveness
  • Argumentativeness
  • Boosts in confidence
  • Burn marks on the lips and hands
  • Changes in focus and concentration
  • Depression
  • Dilated pupils
  • Disinhibition
  • Dramatic mood changes
  • Effusive enthusiasm
  • Enlarged pupils that make the eyes look almost fully black
  • Excitability
  • Fast speech
  • Feeling elated
  • Financial difficulties
  • Frequent than normal sexual encounters
  • Hyperactivity
  • Increase in energy levels
  • Increase in risky behavior
  • Increased agitation
  • Increased alertness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increasing need for privacy
  • Insomnia as a result of lack of interest in sleep
  • Irritability
  • Losing interest in food
  • Losing interest in sleep
  • Loss of interest in activities that you once loved
  • Mood swings
  • Muscle tics, or involuntary movements
  • Nasal congestion
  • Needle marks
  • Nosebleeds
  • Paranoia
  • Poor hygiene
  • Residue of white powder around the mouth and nose
  • Restlessness
  • Runny nose
  • Scattered speech, including skipping from one topic to the next
  • Social isolation
  • Talkativeness
  • Weight loss as a result of lowered interest in food

f) Paraphernalia

  • Glass, plastic, or metal straws
  • Mirrors
  • Powdery residue
  • Razor blades
  • Small spoons
  • Tightly rolled up money bills

g) Behavioral Signs

  • Refusing to engage in discussions about the drug
  • Skipping school or work to abuse the drug
  • Spending grocery or rent money on the drug
  • Spending more time with acquaintances who support the habit
  • Trying to stop abusing cocaine by feeling unable to stop

Treatment For Cocaine Addiction

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of cocaine use addiction is crucial for early intervention. It is also essential for getting the affected individual on the right path to recovery.

In case you notice that you have any of these signs - or that someone you love has been displaying them - it is vital that you start seeking treatment. This is because continued use of the substance might lead to adverse effects as discovered above, including death from an overdose.

Reading about addiction to cocaine and identifying the addiction in a loved one or in yourself can be terrifying. However, there is good news in the form of therapy and medications, which can help you learn how to control the addiction, overcome the compulsive drug use, and eventually get clean.

Luckily, there are many different treatment options designed to deal with cocaine abuse, dependence, and addiction. This means that you can get treated in any of the following facilities:

a) Luxury Rehab Centers

Luxury rehabilitation facilities will provide residential treatment from addiction as well as high end amenities that you would typically find in a resort. These are designed to make the journey to recovery as happy and as comfortable as humanly possible.

b) Executive Rehab Centers

Executive rehabilitation facilities are similar to luxury programs in the sense that they provide the same plush amenities and cocaine addiction treatment. However, they are also designed to cater to the busy executive professional. As such, they will provide you with the structure and resources that will allow you to continue being actively involved in your work even as you undergo rehab and treatment for your cocaine abuse.

c) Standard Rehab Centers

Standard rehabilitation facilities come in the form of outpatient - non-residential - and inpatient - residential - treatment services for cocaine addiction. Although the amenities provided at these centers are not as lavish or as extensive as you would find at an executive or luxury facility, the programs are quite affordable.

That said, the nature of your cocaine addiction treatment may be both pharmacological and behavioral.

1. Pharmacological Therapies

Otherwise referred to as drug-based therapy, pharmacological therapies are designed to administer medications to treatment your dependence on cocaine through physiological methods.

This form of treatment may, therefore, use medications to mimic the effects of cocaine with to a different or reduced extent. The dose of the medication will thereafter be reduced or tapered over time. In the process, you will be weaned off your dependence so that you can continue working on fully recovery and abstinence from cocaine.

However, you should note that medically-assisted treatment tends to be specific to the detox and rehab program you sign up for. Therefore, these treatments are not provided universally.

2. Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapy refers to psychosocial treatment designed to address the motivations, reasons, and potential underlying psychological problems associated with your abuse of and addiction to cocaine.

These modes of treatment are particularly effective for people who are dependent on cocaine. They may include CM (Contingency Management), which is based on certain incentives like cash or prizes for those who are able to keep away from cocaine.

It might also come in the form of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), which is designed to address the main reasons behind your cocaine abuse and addiction. CBT is effective because it may alter your maladaptive modes of thought and action that might have contributed to your addiction.

Overall, seeking treatment for cocaine addiction will be your first step towards recovery. Of course, you first need to research to find the right program for you. Talk to us today to learn more about cocaine and how you can overcome it.

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