Chronic cocaine abuse results in psychological and physiological effects that are devastating to the user. Addiction to this drug stems from the euphoric feelings it produces, and it is this feeling that drives most addicts to use the drug on a regular basis. Although cocaine does not permanently alter the human brain, chronic use eventually destroys the cardiovascular system in an irreversible manner and causes a host of other negative symptoms.
Approximately 35 million Americans have admitted to trying cocaine at least once. One out of four individuals living in the United States between 26 and 35 years of age have regularly used cocaine at some point in their life. Over 15,000 deaths per year are associated with the use of this drug and in 2010, approximately 300,000 infants were born with a cocaine addiction. Throughout 2006, there were 12,000 federal arrests involving the drug and as of 2013, approximately two million people in the United States were addicted to cocaine.
How Cocaine Abuse Creates Euphoria
Dopamine is vital to the proper operation of the central nervous system, and is responsible for pleasurable sensations. Cocaine blocks dopamine from being reabsorbed by the user’s system, which creates a buildup of the chemical in the brain. This ultimately leads to a euphoric state that typically lasts from 30 minutes to several hours. Below are the negative side effects that accompany the euphoric state:
- Hyperstimulation – This sensation is also referred to as the “Superman effect,” as it causes the person to feel invincible. This often leads to irrational actions and lack of self control.
- Lessening of fatigue – Those using cocaine do not experience normal fatigue that is typical at the end of a long workday or the exhaustion that eventually comes when one’s natural energy is depleted. This false sense of energy often leads to sleep deprivation in cocaine addicts.
- Increased mental alertness – Cocaine makes people feel as if their brains are functioning at an incredible speed, as mental processes come one after another at breakneck speed during the euphoric phase. However, to those around them, such individuals often appear erratic and uncensored, as if they have a disorder such as attention deficit.
- Increased restlessness – Fidgeting, twitching and rapid eyeball movements are common side effects of cocaine use. Those addicted to the substance may also be unable to sit still for more than a few minutes and may experience restless leg syndrome at night.
- Anger and irritation – Cocaine users often have irrational anger and seem continuously irritated, similar to those who take stimulants or ingest excessive amounts of caffeine. This is because cocaine decreases the brain’s tolerance for small irritations, leading to what others usually view as overreactions.
- Paranoia – Paranoia, psychosis and the feeling that others are “out to get you” is a common side effect of cocaine abuse. Users often misjudge circumstances around them and experience irrational thoughts, such as believing that others are constantly targeting them for sabotage or plotting against them in some way.
Cardiovascular Disease and Pulmonary Embolism
Those who abuse cocaine are also at a very high risk for heart and circulatory problems. For example, because cocaine constricts blood vessels, heart damage is almost always seen with long-term abusers. Lack of oxygen and blood to the heart can result in a heart attack, irregular heartbeat, the latter of which can lead to stroke or death, and irreversible cardiomyopathy–heart muscle disease. In addition, conditions such as vasculitis, the medical term for inflammation of the blood vessels, can result in blood clotting disorders, aneurysms, and even pulmonary embolism. A pulmonary embolism is a large blood clot that lodges in the lung and almost always results in death. This is because there is an extremely narrow window of time for medical intervention. Most individuals who develop a pulmonary embolism die before they can be treated.
Unfortunately, cocaine is associated with a certain mystique and the drug has been perpetuated in films and even by certain Hollywood celebrities as being the “nectar of the gods,” rather than the addictive and destructive substance it is in reality. This encourages some individuals to try it, and they subsequently become addicted.
The Importance of Seeking Treatment for Cocaine Abuse
Anyone who abuses cocaine should seek inpatient treatment as soon as possible. Arguably, some of the most beneficial aspects of inpatient treatment are the emotional safety and peace of mind participants receive when they are treated at a facility. Arguments with significant others, the care of children, stress from work, and tension over everyday chores and responsibilities are eliminated so that the patient can focus on his or her recovery.
Additionally, professionals are on the scene to continuously assess the person’s progress, rather than having to make an evaluation based on a few hours a week of outpatient sessions. Such facilities are also equipped to make the person’s recovery as comfortable as possible, something that is almost impossible for a person to do on his or her own. Anyone struggling with cocaine addiction or cocaine abuse should seek expert assistance at a professional inpatient facility without delay.