“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.
Cocaine is often referred to as coke, C, snow, flake, or blow. It is usually found in the form of a white, crystalline powder. Most users snort the drug, or dissolve it in water and inject it. Cocaine
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 such as sugars, flour, cornstarch, laxatives, local anesthetics, and amphetamines – in order to stretch profits. Today, Cocaine is a schedule II drug; meaning it has a high potential for abuse but can be administered by a doctor for medical purposes such as local anesthesia for ear, eye, or throat surgeries. However, in today’s world it prescription is not common.
Some might say that stigmas associated with cocaine abuse are less demeaning. Terms such as “junkie” and “addict” are more often applied to users of other hard drugs, like heroin or methamphetamine. Cocaine abuse can effect anyone, however, it’s traditionally been considered a rich-man’s drug and an expensive habit.
Some cocaine users turn to crack cocaine because can be less expensive. Crack is a form of cocaine that has been processed into a rock crystal – 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 about 1.5 million people aged 12 or older were current users of cocaine in the United States—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
Cocaine is one of the oldest, most potent and dangerous stimulants. Throughout history, cocaine has been used and abused for the intense high it produces.
- Native Peruvians chewed coca leaves only during religious ceremonies
- Sigmund Freud was a regular cocaine user, promoting it as a “magical substance” to cure depression.
- In the late 1850’s, cocaine was popular in elixirs, tonics, and the new soft drink Coca-Cola for several years.
- Through the 1970’s to 1980’s, cocaine frequented Hollywood party scenes, glamorized as a drug that provided energy and helped people stay “up” and provide chemical extroversion.
Cocaine was first extracted in 1859 by German chemist Albert Niemann. It wasn’t until the 1880’s that it started making a widespread impact in the medical community. In 1886, the popularity of the drug received widespread popularity when John Pemberton included coca leaves as an ingredient in his new soft drink, “Coca-Cola.” The euphoric and energizing effects on the consumer helped skyrocket the popularity of Coca-Cola by the turn of the century.
As the infamous soda became popular, cocaine use increased and the dangers of the drug became more evident. Public pressure forced the company to remove the drug from the drink in 1903. By 1912, the dangers of the drug were clearly evident. Hospitalizations from the substance spiked and the United States reported 5,000 cocaine-related deaths. By 1922 the drug was officially banned. 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. When this occurs the addict craves more of the drug and in larger doses.”
Cocaine is an incredibly dangerous drug. Since the high from cocaine lasts for a short time, users have been known to get caught in four-day coke binges or more – taking the drug repeatedly at higher doses. As dosages or frequency of use increases, so does the risk of adverse psychological effects such as panic attacks, paranoia, and hallucinations. For one that is addicted, it can be especially difficult to stop. Often times for an individual to quit, it takes multiple negative consequences. Some of these can include: passing out, running out of money, getting arrested, or ending up in the hospital, etc. Regardless of how much the drug is used and how frequently, cocaine increases the risk that the user will experience a heart attack, stroke, seizure, or respiratory failure; any of which can result in sudden death.
When a recreational cocaine user crosses the threshold into addict, they can spiral into a miserable cycle. It is 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 which increases depression. The addict 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. This is rigorous cycle and epitome of what a cocaine addiction can look like.
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
Both freebase (crack) and cocaine floods the brain with dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. Usually, your brain produces and recycles these chemicals naturally, but cocaine inhibits 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.
Once a cocaine binge has ended, the dopamine crash that one can experience is particularly dangerous. Because dopamine gives the user intense pleasure, it is interpreted as a reward by the brain. When this happens 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. If the brain does not settle back to it’s original equilibrium, a person who has struggled with cocaine abuse for an extended period of time may develop permanent depression and require ongoing mental health treatment.
Cocaine can cause physical damage to the brain. If the linings of the veins and arteries are damaged, it can lead to chronic headaches due to restricted blood flow to the brain. The damage can cause blood clots, leading to a stroke. Seizures can occur during a binge or chronic abuse which may require long-term treatment. Users who struggle with the drug have been known to show reduced levels of glucose metabolism in many areas of the brain. This causes neurons to under-perform and they may begin to die. Cocaine can increase stress hormones like cortisol in the brain, which can raise blood pressure permanently, damaging the cardiovascular system.
A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University found that cocaine may cause brain cells to cannibalize themselves. The study describes cocaine triggering autophagy in neurons in mice, or the process of cells eating themselves from the inside out. These cells purged useful resources during metabolism, leading to a stress reaction of cannibalizing other internal cell structures. Mice who’s mothers had been fed cocaine during pregnancy, but who were not cocaine-dependent themselves showed this phenomenon.
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 and increased irritability
Cocaine psychosis is a temporary medical condition which is normally caused by excessive drug use over a long period of time. In short, a coined term has been used to describe it as an “overdose of the mind.” Psychosis happens when the brain cannot handle the toxic levels of cocaine administered to the body. As a result the mind loses it’s ability to focus on reality. Symptoms can include paranoia, delusional behavior or outright hallucinations. It can and will cause an individual to act irrationally, lash out, and to be otherwise seemingly out of control. It is common for those who experience this type of psychosis to hallucinate and think they see or hear something or someone talking about them or threatening them. Cocaine psychosis can cause extreme delirium which can make an individual act bizarre or violent. Extensive restraint features in hospitals or treatment can be common in order to force an individual who suffers from cocaine psychosis to remain calm and prevent any risks or dangers to themselves or others. In the midst of a cocaine psychosis, paranoia and auspiciousness are two common outcomes. Studies have shown that a number of homicides, violent crimes, injuries, and accidents can all be tracked back to excessive cocaine use. Cocaine psychosis can often be characterized by confusion, irritability, fear, paranoia, hallucinations, anti-social behavior, and aggression.
Physical Effects of Cocaine
In order to prevent a potentially fatal outcome, it is important to identify the signs of cocaine addiction in a loved one as well as yourself. Here are some of the physical effects of cocaine use which can include but not be limited to:
- Elevated heart rate
- Nose bleeds
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased body temperature
- Increased speed of breathing
- Dilated 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 arrhythmia’s, rupture of the aorta, and heart attack—all of which can be fatal.
Extreme heart muscle damage is one of the most serious effects of cocaine abuse. Using cocaine can cause cardiomyopathy which includes cell death in the muscle’s of the heart. Intravenous cocaine use can also lead to endocarditis which involves inflammation of the inner tissues of an organ.
The abuse of the drug can also be linked back to kidney damage. The prolonged use of cocaine is thought to be related to to the inflammation of important micro-structures with this organ. Cocaine-induced heart failure or damage may also increase the risk of stroke or brain damage resulting from interruptions in the blood supply available to the brain.
Recreational use is associated with decreased ability to regulate and control behavior, leading to inhibited abilities to control movements, react to environmental stimuli and carry out daily activities.
Symptoms of Cocaine Withdrawal
While trying to quit cocaine, one can experience withdrawal symptoms—the severity of which will depend on your history of cocaine use. One of the strongest symptoms is a 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. Cocaine withdrawal can be described more as a crash. Nonetheless, withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable mentally and psychologically.
As the body and brain is craving more cocaine, withdrawal symptoms can include:
- 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 staff. If you are highly addicted or a heavy user, you may find it difficult to stop as you battle the strong urge to use the substance to relieve withdrawal symptoms. In this case, it’s best to start with detoxification. Your mood and vital signs will need to become regulated before you begin to work on treatment and re-enter society. In detox, a fully staffed team of doctors and nurses can monitor you easily and may prescribe medications to ease your withdrawal symptoms. Currently, 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. There, you can begin to embrace new ideas and make meaningful changes in your everyday behavior. If you are determined to quit cocaine on your own, stay surrounded by close and positive people. Make sure to seek out help through support groups, psychotherapy, and people whom you trust.
Life After Treatment
Aftercare is just as important as treatment. Once you re-enter the world, the real work starts. Triggers and cravings may appear as you learn how to cope with life free from addiction. Many recovered addicts give credit to a 12-step program for their success. Cocaine Anonymous is a common 12-step group that can help you find a sense of balance and ease from the grips of your old life. From there you will have the opportunity to meet other’s who have achieved long-term sobriety successfully. This experience can be the catalyst to help you form a support group around you and build a life without cocaine.
Along with the 12-step program, there are many other non-12-step addiction support groups that may interest you as well. In general, attendance at some form of recovery meeting is highly encouraged to provide you with social support.
Continuous therapy or one-on-one counseling is helpful in maintaining recovery. Getting sober is difficult, but it’s staying sober that is the real 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?
Suddenly stopping your use on your own is not recommended and quitting cold turkey alone is not pleasant for your body or mental health. If you are an occasional cocaine user it may be more likely that you can just stop taking cocaine – however severe cravings are likely to occur. 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 or a professional before you try to quit cocaine.