“Cocaine is a hell of a drug…”
– Rick James
Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant that’s made from the leaves of the coca plant, which is native to South America. It’s known to produce short-term euphoria, intense energy, and increased talkativeness.
Often referred to as “Coke” or “Snow,” it’s usually found in the form of a white, crystalline powder. Most users snort the drug, or dissolve it in water and inject it.
The “Party” That Never Ends
Cocaine is loosely defined as a “party drug” and a feel-good drug. It’s also considered “high-class” in comparison to other drugs, because it’s fairly expensive and relatively “clean.” However, cocaine is quite often diluted or “cut” with numerous substances—sugars, flour, cornstarch, laxatives, local anesthetics, amphetamines—in order to stretch profits.
Some might say that stigmas associated with cocaine abuse are less demeaning, because the terms “junkie” and “addict” are more often applied to users of other hard drugs, like heroin or methamphetamine. Though cocaine abuse can affect anyone, it’s traditionally been considered a rich-man’s drug and an expensive habit.
Some cocaine users turn to crack cocaine because it’s much cheaper. Crack is usually found as small chunks of white “rocks,” and it’s typically smoked.
( If anyone knows of studies examining the financial demographics of cocaine users, please leave a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ve looked all over the internet to no avail.)
In 2014 in the U.S., about 1.5 million people aged 12 or older were current users of cocaine—with about 354,000 of those people using crack. In the same year, about 913,000 people aged 12 or older in the U.S. had a cocaine use disorder. That’s nearly 2/3 of all cocaine users who develop a dangerous habit using this highly-addictive drug.
The Lure of Cocaine
Throughout history, cocaine has been used and abused for the intense high it produces:
- Some ancient cultures chewed on coca leaves in religious ceremonies, or to improve work performance.
- Sigmund Freud was a regular cocaine user, promoting it as a “magical substance” to cure depression.
- In the late 1850s, cocaine was popular in elixirs, tonics, and the new soft drink Coca-Cola for several years.
- Through the 1970s to 1980s, cocaine frequented Hollywood party scenes, glamorized as a drug that provided energy and helped people stay “up.”
Despite these early misconceptions about the drug, cocaine use can have severe long-term effects on the mind and the body.
By the 1900s, the dangers of the drug were clearly evident as cocaine-related deaths and hospitalizations increased. In 1922, the United States officially banned the drug, but it has remained one of the most popular and dangerous drugs of abuse. In 2008, it was the 2nd most trafficked illegal drug in the world.
The Dangers of Cocaine Addiction
What separates cocaine addiction from other drugs is the extreme shortness of the high:
The average high a user gets from snorting cocaine only lasts for 15-30 minutes. These highs are less intense, as it takes longer for the drug to be absorbed into the bloodstream when snorted. A smoking high, although more intense due to the rapidity in which the drug is absorbed into the bloodstream, lasts for an even shorter period of only about five to ten minutes. After the euphoric high comes the crashing low, in which the addict craves more of the drug and in larger doses.”
This is what makes coke incredibly dangerous. People often go on four-day coke binges because—generally speaking—it’s too difficult to stop unless you pass out, run out of money, get arrested, or end up in the hospital.
When a recreational cocaine user crosses the threshold into addict, they can spiral into a miserable cycle. It’s not uncommon for a cocaine addict to receive a paycheck on Friday, but be broke by Monday. They start the next week depressed and anxious—dealing with the consequences of their actions, as well as crashing dopamine levels. They may get through the week, swearing off cocaine for good. Yet, once Friday comes, that first line of cocaine starts the cycle all over again.
Once you’re caught in that downward spiral, it’s very difficult to stop yourself before you hit a bottom.
Your Brain and Body on Cocaine
Cocaine is a stimulant that floods the brain with dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. Usually, your brain produces and recycles these chemicals naturally, but cocaine stops that process from happening. As these neurotransmitters build-up, users experience intense, short-lived euphoric feelings which keep them coming back for more. Tolerance to cocaine develops rapidly, so a regular user needs increasingly higher doses to feel the same high.
Particularly dangerous is the dopamine crash a user experiences after a cocaine binge. Because dopamine is interpreted as a reward by the brain, giving a user intense pleasure, it gets more and more difficult for a cocaine abuser to feel pleasure from other things. The drug becomes their focus and overrides basic desires for food, sleep, and meaningful relationships.
Psychological Effects of Cocaine:
(varies with dose and the tolerance of the user)
- increased alertness, wakefulness
- decreased fatigue
- increased energy
- clearer thinking
- increased concentration
- elevated mood
- mild to high degree of euphoria
- increased athletic performance
- increased irritability
- restlessness, anxiety
With high doses, an individual may enter a cocaine psychosis—often characterized by confusion, irritability, fear, paranoia, hallucinations, anti-social behavior, and aggression.
Physical Effects of Cocaine:
- elevated heart rate
- increased blood pressure
- increased body temperature
- increased speed of breathing
- dilated the pupils
- decreased sleep
- lack of appetite
Contrary to what many people believe, it is possible to overdose on cocaine. Cocaine abuse can decrease the body’s seizure threshold and produce seizures or strokes in susceptible individuals. It can also cause heart muscle damage, leading to cardiac arrhythmias, rupture of the aorta, and heart attack—all of which can be fatal.
Symptoms of Cocaine Withdrawal
When you try to quit cocaine, you can experience withdrawal symptoms—the severity of which will depend on your history of cocaine use. One of the strongest symptoms is the craving for more cocaine.
The withdrawal symptoms of cocaine don’t cause the same physical sickness as other drugs like heroin or alcohol, which create a dependence in the body. It can be described as more of a crash than a withdrawal. Nonetheless, withdrawal from cocaine can be extremely uncomfortable, mentally and psychologically.
- appetite problems
How to Quit Cocaine
The best way to quit cocaine safely is with help from professionals. We recommend attending an addiction treatment center with the supervision of medical professionals.
It’s best to start with detoxification, because your mood and vital signs should regulate before you begin to work on treatment. In detox, doctors and nurses can monitor your health. They may prescribe medication to ease your withdrawal symptoms, but there are no drugs that are FDA-approved to help people quit cocaine or ease cravings.
Complete detox from cocaine can take several days, and the recommended course of action after detox is a stay in a rehab center. Inpatient rehab will provide you with a safe, controlled atmosphere that’s separated from any potential relapse triggers or temptations to seek out drugs.
In treatment, you’ll learn skills and coping mechanisms to help you manage cravings and move forward in life without cocaine. Therapy will be a huge factor in learning to modify your behavior and your impulse control.
Successful cocaine addiction treatment helps you transition from addiction into recovery. You’ll begin to embrace new ideas and make meaningful changes in your everyday behavior.
Life After Treatment
After-care is just as important as treatment. Many recovered addicts give credit to a 12-step program for their continuous and long term recovery. Cocaine Anonymous is a 12-step group that will help you dig into the reasons behind your cocaine use, form a support group around you, and build a life without cocaine.
There are many other non-12-step addiction support groups that you can look into as well. In general, attending at some form of recovery meetings is highly recommended to provide you with social support.
Also, continuous therapy or one-on-one counseling is helpful in maintaining recovery. Getting sober is difficult, but it’s staying sober that’s the challenge. Recovery is a process, and constant maintenance is essential. All it takes is one small slip or relapse and the entire cycle can start all over again.
Can’t I Quit On My Own?
It is possible to quit cocaine without the help of a detox or rehab, but it isn’t recommended. More often than not, the do-it-yourself approach eventually leads to relapse. For your physical and psychological health, you should always consult a doctor before you try to quit cocaine.