Cocaine addiction : signs, symptoms and treatments
Cocaine is a powerfully-addictive stimulant drug and one of the four hardest substances to quit. Here is more information on how cocaine works, signs and symptoms of cocaine use disorder and treatment options.
What is cocaine addiction?
Cocaine addiction is when someone has developed a tolerance for and become addicted to cocaine. This is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug that’s made primarily from the leaves of two coca species; Erythroxylum coca and Erythroxylum novogranatense.
People who are addicted to cocaine abuse two chemical forms of the substance; the water-soluble hydrochloride salt which is a fine, white crystalline powder, and the water-insoluble cocaine base (freebase). Users inject or snort the cocaine in powder form.
Some people find that cocaine helps them perform simple physical and mental tasks quickly and efficiently. Cocaine can also make you hyper alert and improves focus and concentration. This is why cocaine is often abused by people in high stress jobs. Large amounts of cocaine can lead to bizarre, unpredictable, and violent behavior.
What is crack cocaine?
Crack cocaine is the freebase form of cocaine. It is created by processing the drug with ammonia or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and water. This is heated to remove the hydrochloride to create a substance that can be smoked.
Crack refers to the crackling sound you hear when freebase cocaine is smoked. The drug is also known on the street as Coke, snow powder or blow.
Street dealers often “cut” cocaine powder with substances such as cornstarch, talcum powder, flour or baking soda to increase their profits. They also mix cocaine with other drugs that contain a local anesthetic or psychoactive stimulant. Some users combine cocaine with heroin and this is called a Speedball.
Why is it illegal to snort or inject cocaine?
Cocaine is classified a Schedule II drug because of its high potential for abuse. It can only be administered under strict medical supervision for legitimate medical uses, such as local anesthesia for some eye, ear and throat surgeries.
The coca plant grows in the jungles of Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, and neighboring countries. For thousands of years, people in South America chewed or swallowed cocoa leaves for its stimulant effects. More than 100 years ago, the purified chemical – cocaine hydrochloride – was extracted from the plant and used as the main ingredient in tonics and elixirs to treat a wide variety of illnesses.
Cocaine extract was even used in the early formation of what is Coca-Cola today. Cocaine extract was also used to block pain for surgeries and used for pain relief for chronic illnesses.
Eventually, research revealed that cocaine is a powerfully addictive substances that can permanently change your brain structure and how it works. Cocaine was declared an illegal substance when the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act became law in 1914. It was one of the first pieces of American legislation on the issue of drug regulation.
How do people use cocaine?
People with a cocaine addiction either snort the powder through their nose or rub it into their gums. Some dissolve the powder and inject it straight into the bloodstream. Some addicts mix cocaine and heroin which they also inject for instant effect, known as a Speedball.
Freebase cocaine is processed as a rock crystal. When this is heated and inhaled into the lungs, it makes a crackling sound which is why it’s called Crack cocaine. Some people also sprinkle crack cocaine on marijuana or add it to tobacco, and smoke it like a cigarette.
Did you know?
The main psychoactive compound in the coca plant is cocaine. However, the cocaine content in the raw leaves is very low (below 1 percent). You don’t get the same euphoria from chewing raw coca leaves as you do when cocaine is snorted or injected. You also don’t get the devastating physical and mental damage associated with cocaine use disorder.
What causes cocaine addiction?
Cocaine is a stimulant drug that increases levels of dopamine in your brain circuit which controls movement and reward. The surge of dopamine in your brain’s reward pathway causes an intense rush of pleasure known as a ‘high’. Excess dopamine in your system can permanently change how your brain works and this is why addiction is classified as a chronic disease.
Dopamine should recycle back in the cell that released it and then shut off the signal between nerve cells. However, cocaine prevents dopamine from being recycled and thi*s causes large amounts of dopamine to build up in the space between two nerve cells. Eventually, this stops normal communication between the cells.
If you continue to use cocaine and start to use it in larger doses, your brain’s reward circuit has to adapt to make the neurons less sensitive to the drug. Over time, your brain becomes tolerant of the drug so you need stronger and more frequent doses to get the same high you did in the beginning.
What is cocaine withdrawal?
The euphoric ‘high’ of cocaine happens almost immediately and disappears in anything from a few minutes to an hour. It all depends on whether you are injecting or snorting cocaine.
Heavy cocaine users can go from the physical and emotional high to crushing depression, anxiety, aggression and agitation. This is known as the “crash” when the cocaine effect wears off. The up-and-down effects of cocaine on your neural system is what leads to severe psychological and emotional dependence on the drug.
If you stop using cocaine, you’ll experience strong and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Often cocaine withdrawal is so brutal, the person gives into their craving for the substance.
What are the short-term side effects of cocaine?
- poor health and hygiene
- extreme happiness and high energy
- mental alertness
- hypersensitivity to sight, sound, and touch
What are the long-term side effects of cocaine or signs of a cocaine overdose?
- paranoia; extreme and unreasonable distrust of others
- hostility and aggression
- rapid or racing heartbeat
- dangerously high body temperature
- increased blood pressure
- constricted blood vessels
Is cocaine addiction dangerous?
Yes, cocaine can kill you instantly if you overdose on the drug. Cocaine overdose can cause a heart attack, stroke or seizure, which can lead to death. The most common signs of cocaine overdose is a rapid heartbeat, chest pain and breathing difficulties. A person who overdoses on cocaine needs emergency medical help because the event can be fatal.
Cocaine increases dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain which is what creates the euphoric high and boosts confidence and mental alertness. The problem is that cocaine also over-stimulates the cardiovascular system which is far more dangerous.
What is the recommended treatment for cocaine addiction?
Going ‘cold turkey’ where you stop using cocaine on your own is not recommended if you are a heavy user. The withdrawal symptoms are harsh and you shouldn’t try to handle them on your own.
First, you may need to be admitted for a medical detox. Currently, there are no medications approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to treat cocaine addiction. Medically-supervised detox is your best option to help manage the brutal withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings, followed by psychotherapy.
Then preferably, you should go to an inpatient addiction treatment center where you will receive an individualised addiction treatment plan that includes intensive therapy and dual diagnosis for a co-occurring mental disorder.
Is it possible to recover from cocaine addiction?
Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug and the side effects of abuse can be devastating. A cocaine overdose can be fatal. That being said, it’s possible to recover from cocaine addiction.
It’s highly recommended that people with an cocaine addiction have a medical detox in a clinical environment because withdrawal symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and even life-threatening.
What are the common symptoms of cocaine withdrawal?
Cocaine withdrawal ranges from moderate to severe depending on the frequency and duration of cocaine use.
Typical cocaine withdrawal symptoms include:
- difficulty concentrating, slowed thinking
- slowed activity or physical fatigue after activity
- inability to experience sexual arousal
- inability to feel pleasure
- depression or anxiety
- suicidal thoughts or actions
- vivid, unpleasant dreams or nightmares
- chills, tremors, muscle aches and nerve pain
- increased craving for cocaine
- increased appetite
We’re here to help.
Cocaine use disorder is a chronic disease and can create permanent changes to how your brain works. Early medical intervention and treatment can help you avoid some of the long-term health conditions that are common with cocaine addiction. The sooner you get help, the better.
Medical detox from cocaine is only the first step on your path to recovery. Your cocaine addiction treatment plan should also include counseling and therapy at an inpatient or outpatient addiction care facility.
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