Cocaine is an illicit drug that many people abuse in order to experience its stimulant effects. However, abuse can be extremely dangerous and possibly lead to addiction.
Understanding Cocaine Abuse
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America.” It can be abused either by snorting, injecting, or smoking (although the final method is usually associated with crack cocaine).
Many people abuse cocaine for a number of reasons. The drug causes highly desirable effects such as
- Sociability and talkativeness that makes one more at ease in social situations
- A decreased need for food and sleep, often resulting in weight loss
- A renewed sense of energy
- A euphoric high
However, what people who misuse this drug are not taking into account are the dangers of cocaine abuse and the serious issues the drug can cause. Understanding how cocaine can affect your mind, body, and everyday life will allow you to realize how dangerous the abuse of this drug can become.
Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine Abuse
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “The faster the absorption the more intense and rapid the high, but the shorter the duration of action.” Someone who snorts cocaine or injects it will experience effects almost immediately, but these will usually only last for about 15 to 30 minutes. Common side effects associated with a cocaine high can include
- Dilated pupils
- An increase in body temperature
- An increase in blood pressure
- An increase in heart rate
- An increase in energy and alertness
It is common for someone on cocaine to be very talkative and energetic, which are usually the telltale signs of stimulant abuse. Someone who injects cocaine will be likely to exhibit track marks on their arms or legs, while an individual who snorts the drug will often have nasal issues, including a runny nose and nosebleeds.
Another sign of cocaine abuse is when the symptoms of a substance use disorder come on very quickly. Those who misuse this particular drug are likely to become addicted fast and will struggle with issues like
- Apathy toward things that used to matter to them
- Getting in trouble at work or school
- Experiencing family problems
- Experiencing behavioral and mood problems
Consistent cocaine abusers will not sleep or eat very often so they will also lose weight quickly. And, like most stimulants, the drug is likely to cause abuse that occurs in a binge-crash cycle. This is where individuals keep using as long as possible in order to prolong their high and then suddenly crash when they stop, experiencing all the withdrawal effects. Then, they repeat the process over again.
Dangers of Cocaine Abuse
People often abuse stimulants only for their desirable effects, not realizing how many risks they are taking when abusing the drug. For example, the binge-crash pattern causes individuals to experience severe withdrawal effects, including depression, which can lead to suicidal thoughts. Other risks of cocaine abuse include
- An increased risk of heart attack or stroke (NIDA for Teens)
- Because of the stress the drug puts on the heart, one is much more likely to experience serious heart problems or heart disease, even if at a young age.
- Unpredictable and dangerous behavior
- The drug can cause severe mood swings, and many people who enjoy the euphoric effects do not realize they will also experience severe anxiety, paranoia, and even panic attacks.
- The drug also has a tendency to cause users to become hostile and violent.
- A temporary psychosis, including hallucinations and dangerous behavior, can take hold of those who abuse cocaine in the long-term. While this issue will often subside with treatment, according to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, it can resurface years later without warning.
- Loss of one’s sense of smell and damage to the nasal septum
- Chronic headaches
- Reproductive damage
- Chronic insomnia
Also, according to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, a person can die from abusing just one large dose of cocaine, which may lead to cardiac arrest and then respiratory arrest. This makes cocaine one of the more dangerous drugs available, as its overuse can be deadly.
One who uses cocaine frequently also puts themselves at risk of experiencing severe consequences of their risky behavior, including contracting HIV, hepatitis B and C, or other transmittable diseases through the sharing of needles or unsafe sex (NIDA). The use of cocaine, in any form, can lead to severe effects, not all of which are easy to––or even can be––reversed.
Who Abuses Cocaine?
According to Harvard Medical School, 1.6 of the 22 million Americans 12 and older who met the criteria for substance abuse dependence were dependent on cocaine. While the drug was thought to be on the decline among substance abusers, there are still many people who abuse cocaine in addition to other substances. There is also a disproportionately large number of college-aged individuals who misuse prescription stimulants, and unfortunately, these individuals often turn to cocaine when their tolerances become higher.
Cocaine abuse is dangerous no matter how it is performed or who is abusing it. This is especially true of this particular drug because it is often laced with other substances of which the user may have no idea. As such, the many risks of the drug far outweigh its desirable effects.
Cocaine is one of the more addictive street drugs available today. Though it is only considered a Schedule II substance, it is hardly ever used medically, and those who abuse it almost always gain it from dangerous sources. However, many people who misuse cocaine do not care because, after becoming addicted, all that matters is obtaining more of the drug.
Tolerance and dependence set in quickly because of the constant binge-crash cycle that most users follow. Because the withdrawal effects are largely psychological in nature, an individual will often sleep them off before using more of the drug. Unfortunately, they will need more each time in order to experience the same effects.
In addition, the level of cravings caused by the drug is unlike those caused by any other substance, according to the National Library of Medicine. A person who suddenly stops taking the drug or cannot obtain more will experience cravings so intense that they will often do anything to make them stop.
Am I a Cocaine Addict?
If you have been struggling with your cocaine abuse and wonder if you have become an addict, ask yourself the questions below to find out if you should seek help right away.
- Do I think about cocaine even when I am not using?
- Do I abuse the drug consistently and try to prolong my high as much as I can?
- Have my loved ones expressed concern about my substance abuse?
- Do I constantly lie to cover up the issues cocaine is causing in my life?
- Do I make excuses to do cocaine?
- Am I unhappy unless I am high?
- Have I experienced any physical or psychological issues as a result of my cocaine abuse?
- Have I experienced any professional or personal problems as a result of my cocaine abuse?
- Have I tried to cut back in the past and failed?
- Do I think I would be unable to stop using on my own?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you should absolutely seek treatment. Remember, substance abuse alters the brain in such a way that quitting is difficult––and often dangerous––without professional help. This is why seeking treatment is so important for long-term cocaine abusers.
Cocaine Addiction Treatment
Cocaine addiction is treated similarly to other types of substance use disorders. While there are currently no medications approved by the FDA to treat cocaine addiction, drugs like antipsychotics and antidepressants might be helpful during the withdrawal stage. In addition, certain behavioral therapies could be beneficial to recovery, such as
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: a program that helps patients relearn positive coping skills and behaviors to avoid relapse
- Contingency management: a program that asks patients to take drug tests and then provides them with rewards when their tests come back negative
- The Matrix Model: a program specifically designed to treat stimulant addiction that utilizes different therapeutic methods and asks that the therapist build a positive relationship with their patient
Cocaine Anonymous and other support groups can often be utilized in addition to professional treatment to help patients overcome their substance abuse and create real change.