Facts About Cocaine Addiction
In this post, we will discuss what cocaine is, how it’s used, the effects it can have both physically and mentally and the signs and symptoms you should look out for pertaining to addiction to cocaine.
What is cocaine?
Cocaine is a powerful, dangerous, and highly addictive stimulant drug. It is made from leaves from the coca plant native to South America, most specifically Bolivia, Peru, and Columbia.
Once they are ready for harvest, the leaves are picked and then mixed with weed killer, cement, gasoline, and sulfuric acid – among other caustic chemicals – to turn the leaves to paste before being sold on (1).
Once it is turned into a powder and sold to traffickers, dealers often mix cocaine with talcum powder or flour to increase their profits.
Street names for cocaine include blow, coke, candy, snow, and Charlie. Cocaine from the coca plant can also be used for medicinal purposes as it can act as a local anaesthetic (2).
How is cocaine used?
Cocaine is most commonly snorted through the nose, rubbed on the gums, or diluted with water and injected directly into the bloodstream.
It can also be smoked. Each method of administration produces highs of varying degrees and lengths. However, while the high tends to happen almost immediately after administration of the drug, rarely does a cocaine high last more than 30 minutes.
What are the effects of cocaine?
Cocaine produces a range of short-term side effects that occur immediately after the administration of the drug. However, continued heavy use can cause long-term and sometimes irreversible side effects.
Short-term side effects
- Increased mental alertness
- Increased energy
- Non-stop talking
- Sensitivity to light, sound, or touch
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Dilated pupils
Long-term side effects
Repeated cocaine use causes the user to build up a tolerance to the drug. This means that they require larger amounts more often to feel the desired effect. The immediate but short-lived highs make cocaine a highly addictive and dangerous substance.
Long-term use causes a range of long-term side effects that include:
- Loss of smell
- Frequent nosebleeds
- Septum issues – in rare cases, the septum can rot away
- Increased risk of HIV or hepatitis – especially if the drug is injected
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Respiratory distress
- Significant weight loss
- Increased risk of heart attack or stroke
- Increased risk of Parkinson’s disease
- Memory loss
How is the brain affected by cocaine use?
When we do something that we enjoy, our brains release a “feel-good” chemical called dopamine. The dopamine that was released is then recycled back into the brain to prevent an overflow. Cocaine use releases dopamine but prevents it from being recycled by the brain.
This then makes the brain feel that it needs to keep producing dopamine, causing a build-up. Because the overflow of the feel-good hormone is directly related to taking cocaine, the brain sends signals that it needs cocaine in order for you to feel that good again.
Studies have shown that repeated cocaine use can alter the physical structure of nerve cells within the brain – a change that can last many months after the last administration of cocaine (3). This change in brain chemistry is directly linked to altered behaviours including addiction and cravings.
What are the signs and symptoms of cocaine addiction?
Knowing the signs of cocaine addiction is helpful if you feel that someone you know may have an addiction.
Signs differ from person to person but some of the most common signs of a regular cocaine user are:
- Mood swings and irritability
- Loss of appetite leading to significant weight loss
- Frequent runny nose and constantly sniffing
- Increase in confidence
- Financial or legal issues
- Track marks, usually on the arms, if they inject it
- Being secretive about their whereabouts
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Opting to spend time with other cocaine users
Cocaine overdose signs and symptoms
An overdose occurs when the levels of cocaine in the system are toxic to the body. Cocaine overdose can happen from the very first administration of the drug, however, the risk of overdose increases the longer the addiction occurs.
This is because your body will build a tolerance to the drug, and you will need to take more cocaine overtime to reach the desired effect.
Cocaine overdose can be fatal, and if you suspect you or someone else may have over overdosed, it is important to seek medical help as soon as possible.
Cocaine overdose signs and symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Elevated heart rate
- Increased body temperature
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blurred vision
Treatment of cocaine overdose
There are currently no medications available to help treat cocaine addiction. And while there is no way to reverse a cocaine overdose, there are ways to manage the side effects. Medical professionals will first rule out pregnancy in women of childbearing age, and then treat the clinical symptoms such as hypertension, tachycardia, and anxiety (4).
It is also important to note that it is not always necessary to take cocaine to suffer from an overdose. Many people smuggling cocaine across borders either swallow small bags of the substance or insert small bags into their rectum.
If these bags rupture, the cocaine will be leaked into your system in huge amounts causing serious side effects and can lead to death, especially if the person transferring cocaine within their body is not a regular cocaine user.
What treatment is available for cocaine addiction?
As with most addictions, cocaine addiction treatment usually begins with a detoxification process. This is when the substance is removed from the body. The only way to completely detox is to stop taking the drug. Detox usually lasts around a week but can take longer when the addiction has become severe. During this time, the person will experience some unpleasant side effects and withdrawal symptoms.
Some common withdrawal symptoms of cocaine are:
- Anxiety or depression
- Difficulty concentrating
- Vivid nightmares
- Muscle aches
- Fever or chills
- Intense cravings for cocaine
- Increased appetite
- Sexual dysfunction
Other treatment options include:
1. Inpatient rehab facility
An inpatient rehab facility is a place where you check-in and stay for an agreed amount of time – usually between 30 and 90 days depending on the severity of the addiction. While checking in, you will receive therapy, learn the importance of nutrition, and partake in leisure activities such as yoga.
You will have access to medical professionals at all times who will make sure you are getting any medication you need to ease withdrawal symptoms and getting the care needed to prepare you for leaving the facility drug-free.
2. Outpatient rehab
Outpatient rehab does not require you to stay anywhere other than your own home. This option allows the patient to continue with work or school while still receiving the help they need through appointments at a healthcare facility.
3. Cognitive behavioural therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for addiction. It works by altering the way you approach certain situations by changing the way you think and feel in a more positive way. It can help with managing triggers and overcoming invasive negative thought processes that can often lead to substance abuse.
4. 12-step programmes
12-step programmes are meetings with other people suffering from addictions and people who have overcome addictions. They are usually held at community centres or church halls and don’t cost much to attend.
They can help by allowing you to see that you are not alone in your journey to sobriety, and you are not a failure. You can learn coping techniques and get valuable advice from the other members as well as voicing your own concerns and anxieties to people who have experienced the same thing.
5. One-to-one therapy
As addiction is common among people with underlying mental health issues, treating the mental health issues is imperative when treating addiction. One-to-one therapy can help shed light on any mental health issues you may have and can identify the root cause of your addiction. Knowing the cause of your addiction can be extremely beneficial when you are trying to overcome it.