Cocaine Addiction and Abuse

The stimulant drug cocaine has a high abuse potential because of the way it triggers the reward systems in the brain resulting in pleasurable feelings. According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 913,000 Americans met the criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorder for having cocaine dependence or abuse in the last 12 months. This statistic shows just how addictive cocaine can be and shows the magnitude of Americans that need help overcoming their cocaine addiction.

Understanding Cocaine

In order to understand how a person can develop a cocaine addiction, it is important to understand cocaine. Cocaine belongs to a group of drugs known as stimulant drugs. Cocaine is derived from the Coca plant in South America. Cocaine was first used in the 1800s as a surgical anesthetic. Since then it has become a popular illicit drug of abuse because of its euphoric side effects.

Cocaine is an extremely powerful central nervous stimulant that causes a lot of dopamine to be released into the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is associated with the brain’s reward system. It enables a person to feel pleasure and is responsible for movement.

Cocaine Effects and Abuse

Cocaine affects everyone differently. The impact cocaine has on a person depends on a lot of different factors. These factors include a person’s size, weight, overall health, whether or not a person is used to taking cocaine, and the dosage taken. The strength of the cocaine is also important because when purchased on the street it can vary greatly from batch to batch.

When a person first uses cocaine, the powerful immediate high they experience will last about 15 to 30 minutes. After that, short-term effects of cocaine will last about 1 to 2 hours. These effects include reduced appetite, unpredictable and violent behavior, indifference to pain, an increase in how talkative the user is, dry mouth, dilated pupils, high blood pressure, and increased risk-taking behaviors, which can result in possible sexually transmitted diseases or bloodborne infections from sharing needles. A person may also feel mentally sharper, confident, happier, energetic, and stronger.

Long-term effects from prolonged use of cocaine can include headaches, stroke, lung damage, damage to nasal septum, irritability, moodiness, heart attack, seizures, auditory hallucinations, and sudden death from overdose.

Cocaine abuse can also result in an overdose. If you suspect you or someone you love is experiencing a cocaine overdose it is crucial to call 911 right away. If a person takes too much cocaine they could experience a potentially fatal overdose. Signs of a cocaine overdose are stroke, seizure, tremors, kidney failure, hallucinations, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, paranoia, agitation, and panic

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Addiction to Cocaine

Addiction is a multifaceted disease that impacts the brain causing a person to engage in compulsive substance use regardless of the potentially fatal consequences. A person who has an addiction has an immeasurable focus on using a particular substance such as cocaine to the point that it completely takes over their life. Drug addiction alters a person’s brain as well as impacts a person’s social, family, and other environmental factors.

Is cocaine addictive? Yes, cocaine is highly addictive. People who use cocaine will eventually develop tolerance towards cocaine. Tolerance is when a person becomes less sensitive to the drug and needs a stronger, more frequent dose to produce the original euphoric effects. An increased tolerance eventually leads to the development of dependence on the drug in order to feel normal. If an individual becomes dependent on the drug and decides that they do not want to continue to use cocaine they will experience withdrawal symptoms.

Cocaine addiction signs that indicate a person is experiencing a cocaine addiction and dependence on the drug are uncontrollable drug-seeking behavior and withdrawal. Uncontrollable drug-seeking is when a person will do anything to obtain a fix of the drug to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Cocaine withdrawal symptoms include cravings, depression, fatigue, increased appetite, slowed thinking, agitation, unpleasant dreams, restless behavior and insomnia.

Further, symptoms of cocaine use can be broken down depending on the method of cocaine use. For example, snorting cocaine could result in a loss of smell, nosebleeds, nose infections, sinus infections, and getting runny noses often. Smoking cocaine could lead to a person developing a chronic cough, asthma, pneumonia, and respiratory distress. Eating cocaine could result in severe bowel decay. Injecting cocaine could lead to an increased risk for contracting HIV, HEP C, and other various other bloodborne diseases. It could also cause collapsed veins and scaring.

Now that you know cocaine is addictive you might be wondering how addictive is cocaine? Cocaine is so addictive because it alters the brain’s sense of reward and punishment. The buildup of dopamine in the brain results in continuous stimulation of the brain’s sense of reward producing the euphoric sensation. Until the effects of the drug wear off, a person will continually feel those euphoric sensations which cause them to crave more.

Cocaine and Other Drugs

Sometimes people will mix cocaine with other drugs in an attempt to obtain different effects.  Stimulant drugs that cocaine is often mixed with are caffeine, amphetamine and synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Fentanyl is an extremely potent synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. In 2016, 37 percent of overdose deaths involved cocaine mixed with fentanyl. Mixing other drugs with cocaine leads to more overdose deaths among individuals who use cocaine.

People also mix cocaine with depressant drugs like alcohol, marijuana, and heroin.  Mixing cocaine with other drugs like alcohol can make it more dangerous. Combining drugs creates a new set of potentially deadly side effects because drugs do not interact well with one another.

Cocaine Statistics

Cocaine related deaths have been on the rise. From 2014 to 2016 deaths involving cocaine increased by 37 percent per year. In 2016 almost 5 million Americans reported currently using cocaine which was about 2 percent of the population. According to the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) in 2017, among the 70,237 drug overdose deaths that occurred in America, 13,942 or almost 20 percent of those involved cocaine. This is an almost 35 percent increase in cocaine-related overdose deaths from 2016. In 2017 cocaine was responsible for 1 in 5 overdose deaths. The CDC also mentioned that cocaine-involved death rates have increased among both male and females aged 15 and older.

These statistics all point to the need for people with cocaine addictions to find treatment. Without proper treatment a person’s cocaine addiction could be fatal.

Treating a Cocaine Addiction

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2013, cocaine accounted for about 6 percent of all admissions to drug abuse treatment programs. Typically, addictions are cured with a combination of medications and behavioral therapies. However, there are no medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help a person overcome a cocaine addiction.

Finding a high-quality rehab clinic can help you or a loved one overcome a cocaine addiction. At a rehab clinic, you will be provided support from trained medical and mental health professionals to help you recover from your cocaine addiction. Rehab clinics offer support and a comfortable living area to help ease the pain associated with detoxing. They also can provide various behavioral therapies to help change your maladaptive thoughts towards cocaine.

Currently, behavioral treatment is the most effective treatment for cocaine addiction. A few types of behavioral therapies that rehab clinics offer are cognitive behavioral therapy, contingency management, therapeutic communities, and community-based recovery groups. Cognitive-behavioral therapy attempts to change thinking patterns and offer coping skills to overcome stressful situations that might make a person engage in drug use. Contingency management attempts to use positive reinforcement to help people refrain from drug use. Therapeutic communities are inpatient rehab centers and outpatient programs that individuals overcoming their addiction can go to in order to gain support in abstinence and recover from drug use. Community-based recovery groups attempt to surround the recovering individual with the support needed to overcome their addiction.


Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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