Cocaine use produces a euphoria that is short-lived and highly addictive. Withdrawal symptoms, which include depression and intense drug cravings, can last for months and make stopping use difficult without proper treatment.
What Is Cocaine?
Derived from the leaves of the South American coca plant, cocaine is a powerful and highly addictive stimulant.
Illegally bought and sold on the streets, cocaine usually looks like a fine, white powder.
Street names for cocaine include:
Typically used by snorting through the nose, cocaine can also be processed into “rock” form, heated up, and then smoked. This is called crack or freebasing.
Cocaine may also be dissolved in water and injected directly into the bloodstream via an intravenous needle.
Cocaine produces feelings of euphoria, and the high generally lasts between 15-30 minutes. Because the high wears off after a short period of time, people using cocaine are likely to use more cocaine to sustain the short-lived euphoria.
Cocaine abuse is likely to occur because of how the drug increases chemical levels in the brain associated with pleasure. This chemical is called dopamine, and it naturally travels along a reward circuit, or pathway, that triggers when a person nears a reward like the smell of a home-cooked meal.
Cocaine use disrupts this natural process and produces high levels of dopamine that causes the high. A person suffering from cocaine abuse will likely become used to having increased dopamine levels in order to feel pleasure.
The high from cocaine can be habit-forming, and a person’s behavior may reflect signs of cocaine abuse or an addiction.
Signs And Symptoms Of Cocaine Addiction
The signs of cocaine addiction are similar to many common patterns of drug-seeking behavior.
A person suffering from cocaine addiction is likely to have constant cravings for cocaine, compulsively use cocaine, show impaired judgment relating to cocaine, and continue to use cocaine despite obvious harm to themselves or others.
Addiction is a chronic brain disease that changes how a person thinks and behaves. The idea of having cocaine is likely consuming their thoughts and affecting their decision making, making cocaine use their number one priority.
Signs of cocaine use may include:
- extreme happiness or euphoria
- feelings of paranoia, or the irrational distrust of others
- increased alertness
- increased sensitivity to touch, sight, and sound
- unusually high energy
Cocaine abuse may cause a person to believe they can perform tasks more efficiently, and they may make grand plans or schemes that appear manic or unreasonable.
Other signs and health-related symptoms of cocaine abuse may include:
- dilated pupils
- fast heartbeat
- increase in body temperature and blood pressure
- loss of appetite
- muscle spasms
- trouble sleeping
- weight loss
When snorting cocaine, a person may experience a loss of smell, frequent nosebleeds, runny nose, and a hoarse, scratchy a voice.
Large amounts of cocaine may change a person’s behavior in unexpected ways. The surge of dopamine, the pleasure chemical, may cause the person to engage in a bizarre and reckless behavior.
Cocaine abuse is likely to lead to further health risks and dangers.
The Dangers Of Cocaine Abuse
A person suffering from cocaine addiction may experience long-term health effects after years of abuse.
Due to a consistent decrease in appetite, a person may become malnourished over time.
A person may also engage in risky behavior like unprotected sex or share intravenous needles.
Cocaine use also affects the area of the brain associated with movement, and long-term abuse has the potential to cause Parkinson’s disease, a disorder that includes muscle rigidity, tremors, shaking, and movement problems.
People are also likely to go on drug “binges,” or the excessive use of cocaine over a short time. These binges may cause a person to be restless, paranoid, and irritable, potentially resulting in hallucinations, losing touch with reality, and strange or violent behavior.
Cocaine overdose is another danger of abuse or addiction. Overdose may result after the first use or can occur anytime a person uses cocaine.
Many people are also likely to mix alcohol with cocaine, dangerously increasing the risk of overdose.
Cocaine is also often combined with other drugs, and a “speedball” refers to when cocaine is mixed with heroin and injected. This combination can be deadly and has resulted in countless fatal overdoses.
A recent study found cocaine overdose is a major contributor to the increase in drug-related overdose deaths, and the non-Hispanic black population is the most susceptible to a fatal cocaine overdose.
Overdose resulting from cocaine may cause the following health consequences that may or may not be fatal:
- heart attack
The dangers of cocaine addiction may occur whenever a person uses cocaine, but use may be difficult to stop because of the uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal.
Cocaine withdrawal occurs after a person stops using cocaine. Withdrawal may set in so early that a person may still have cocaine in the system when they begin to experience symptoms.
Every time a person uses cocaine, they experience a “crash” when the effects wear off. Cravings for more cocaine can be strong during this time, and the person may feel an intense lack of pleasure and a general feeling of uneasiness and anxiety.
Symptoms of cocaine withdrawal may include:
- drug cravings
- increased appetite
- restless behavior
- slowed thinking
- trouble sleeping
- unpleasant dreams
Feelings of depression and frequent drug cravings may persist for months for people suffering from severe cocaine addiction.
The psychological symptoms may be so intense that a person may have increased thoughts of suicide and death.
People who experience cocaine withdrawal may also turn to other substances like sedatives, alcohol, or antidepressants to try and self-treat their symptoms. This is not effective on its own because it changes one substance use disorder (SUD) for another.
While the symptoms of withdrawal will eventually disappear over time, the detoxification process can be difficult for a person to endure on their own.
Detoxification, or detox, is the process by which the body rids itself of harmful toxins.
A medically supervised detoxification may be necessary for those with severe addiction. This likely takes place in a hospital or inpatient treatment center where a person can be monitored by staff and administered medications if necessary.
Detox is not a cure for cocaine addiction, and a variety of treatments need to follow in order to be successful during recovery.
Treatment For Cocaine Addiction
Many people who enter rehab for cocaine addiction typically smoke crack and use other drugs.
A comprehensive treatment should, therefore, acknowledge the complexities of addiction as a disease that changes a person’s brain and social functioning.
Comprehensive treatment will likely include a variety of behavioral therapies. The ultimate goal of behavioral therapy is to change a person’s thinking and attitudes towards drugs.
One behavioral therapy researchers and other addiction treatment professionals find useful for cocaine addiction is contingency management, which involves the use of motivational incentives, like giving prizes to reward people who stop using cocaine.
Effective treatment may also include the use of medications to allow people to combat drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms to reach the right mindset for recovery.
As of this writing, there are no current government-approved medications to specifically treat cocaine addiction. However, several medications are being researched and tested for treatment.
Treatment for cocaine addiction can be complex, and a person may want to try the least restrictive option first. Outpatient therapy, when a person visits daily for treatment, may be helpful to initially try because it is less structured and restrictive. Outpatient therapy, however, can be ineffective because a person may risk exposure and temptation to use cocaine.
A stay at an inpatient treatment center may likely be the best course of action to treat a cocaine addiction. Inpatient treatment centers provide a stable environment, around the clock medical care, and variety of behavioral therapies that may include support groups and one on one therapy sessions.
Contact us today for more information regarding treatment for cocaine addiction.
NIDA – DrugFacts: Cocaine
NIDA for Teens – Cocaine
MedlinePlus – Cocaine Withdrawal