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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.
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:
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.
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 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
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
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
Some of the serious health effects of cocaine abuse
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
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:
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
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:
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
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:
Some of the common signs and symptoms of frequent cocaine
use, abuse, and addiction include:
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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