Cocaine addiction was at a peak in the United States from the late 1970s through the 1990s and remains a significant threat today. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were 1.9 million past-month cocaine users in 2008. Of that number, 359,000 reported being current users of crack, a freebase form of cocaine.
Cocaine is a potent central nervous stimulant that produces a short and intense rush of euphoria in users. With a high lasting from 15-45 minutes, depending on the individual and method of administration, cocaine addicts can display bizarre patterns of use and behavior, which can lead to devastating consequences.
Cocaine Addiction in the Brain
The effects of cocaine on the brain of a user are dramatic. In normal function, when there is an anticipated reward, such as preparing to eat healthy food, the nerve cells in the brain release a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which stimulates the reward center. Dopamine is primarily responsible for feelings of pleasure and regulation of movement. When the reward center receives the dopamine, the neurotransmitter is then recycled back into the sending nerve cell for later use.
When cocaine is introduced, abnormally massive amounts of dopamine flood the reward center and the drug blocks the brain’s ability to recycle the dopamine back into the nerve cells. This results in large amounts of dopamine to linger in between nerve cells, and this blocks communication functions in the brain, thus producing the characteristic high associated with cocaine use.
When cocaine is used chronically over a prolonged period, the brain adjusts to the effects mentioned above and decreases its natural production of dopamine. Consequentially, without cocaine, a user lacks the feelings of well-being and pleasure he or she would naturally have, prompting more cocaine use to feel better. As this pattern continues, tolerance can begin to build, requiring higher and more frequent doses of cocaine to achieve the same effects. With the combination of depleted dopamine production and a requirement for higher and more frequent doses of cocaine, users can quickly become addicted to the drug. Additionally, the short-lived high produced by cocaine is a contributing factor to the speed with which cocaine addiction can develop. Although cocaine provides a fast and intense high, the crash from cocaine use is just as fast and intensely low, dropping users in a state of depression, anxiety, paranoia, and agitation.
Some of the most common effects of cocaine use include:
- Increased energy and focus
- Decreased appetite
- Dilated pupils
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Constricted blood vessels
- Elevated body temperature
Many of these effects are further intensified by the way in which most cocaine addicts use the drug. Binge use is characterized as repeated, continuous use for an extended period, such as multiple days and nights at a time with no sleep. During a cocaine binge, users will use the drug repeatedly to maintain a high and often stay awake for days at a time. Without proper rest and nutrition, more dangerous psychological effects of cocaine can begin to surface, such as full-blown psychosis, severe paranoia, irritability, aggression, and violence.
In addition to these psychological issues, cocaine can have devastating effects on the body of a user, as many cocaine-related deaths can occur as a result of heart attack or fatal stroke. Additionally, if an addict is injecting cocaine intravenously, he or she runs a significantly increased risk of infection and spread of infectious disease by using dirty and shared needles.
Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine Addiction
Cocaine addiction has several signs that can be evident to those closest to the addict. While some signs of cocaine addiction can be applied to any drug of addiction, others are more specific to the class of drugs to which cocaine belongs, stimulants.
Some of the most common signs of cocaine addiction are as follows:
- Dilated pupils
- Frequent and severe mood swings
- Unexplained financial problems
- Increased criminal and legal issues
- Increased isolation
- Periods of excessive energy followed by malaise
- Change in personal appearance and hygiene
- Discovery of drug paraphernalia (i.e., needles, spoons, straws, aluminum foil, straight edge razors, baggies)
- Weight loss
- Poor health and nutrition
- Inability to get or maintain a job
- Frequent absenteeism during gatherings or functions
- Talking and moving at a fast pace
- Increased paranoia
- Frequently impaired judgment
When an individual becomes addicted to cocaine, his or her motivation in life revolves around getting and using cocaine. Without the drug, an addict may have no sense of happiness, socialism, energy, or well-being. The psychological dependence created by chronic and long-term use of cocaine causes many of the bizarre mood swings exhibited by cocaine addicts.
Dangers of Cocaine Addiction
Cocaine addiction is still a severe and dangerous problem in the United States and across the world. Some of the most critical aspects of cocaine addiction are the behaviors associated with it. When a cocaine addict is desperate to get more drugs, he or she may engage in hazardous and illegal activities to finance and continue the addiction.
Many of the more common behaviors exhibited by cocaine addicts to maintain their addiction are as follows:
- Sexual favors for dealers or prostitution to get more cocaine.
- Involvement in criminal activities for cocaine directly from dealers or cash to buy more.
- Forgery or fraud to gain financial access to more cocaine.
- Use of dangerous combinations of drugs to enhance the effects of cocaine (i.e., heroin and cocaine, referred to as speedball).
- Use of other hazardous stimulants to seek a better high. This can include drugs like meth and crack.
In addition to these dangerous behaviors are various negative consequences cocaine addicts suffer as a result of their addiction which includes, but are not limited to:
- Isolation and exile from family and other loved ones.
- Legal trouble arising from possession, sale, and solicitation charges.
- Health-related complications, most severe of which is death by heart attack or stroke from chronic use of cocaine.
- Severe paranoia that may develop to complete psychosis (disconnection from reality that can result in hazardous and homicidal behaviors).
- Loss of possessions, home, and vehicles arising from financial neglect.
- Endangerment of oneself or others resulting from aggressive or violent behavior while under the influence of cocaine.
Treatment for Cocaine Addiction
The cycle of cocaine addiction is one that is very difficult to recognize for those who suffer from it, and many cannot see the dysfunction in life, let alone figure out a way to overcome it. Addiction is an insidious disease that gets progressively worse over time without treatment and abstinence from addictive drugs and destructive behaviors.
While cocaine is a dangerous drug, addiction is the behavioral problem that fuels cocaine use, and it is this behavioral issue that addiction treatment aims to address. The first thing that must happen for a cocaine addict to get help is for him or her to recognize that life has become unmanageable and he or she is not in control of cocaine use or any other aspect of life. This may take more work for some than others, and in this circumstance, it is not uncommon for families and loved ones to seek the assistance of a professional in an addiction intervention. During an intervention, an addiction professional and the loved ones of the addict can confront the user and offer a tremendous gift of treatment. There are different methods of intervention to utilize, the efficacy of which is dependent on the individual and family dynamics.
Once an addict agrees to get help for his or her cocaine addiction, the next step is detoxification from cocaine.
Since there is no physical dependence associated with this drug, the primary obstacles to overcome with cocaine detox are the symptoms of:
- Intense cravings
- Severe mood swings
- Vivid and disturbing nightmares
While not easy to overcome, cocaine detox is usually completed within five days and can be done in a safe and secure environment of a detox facility, which is often a part of a drug rehabilitation program.
After detox has been completed, addiction treatment can begin. It is here that addicts learn about themselves, addiction, and how their personal lives, traumas, issues, environments, associates, and experiences have all affected the behaviors that have been related to addiction. In treatment, addicts experience some personalized and individualized treatment therapies that aim to empower them to use the tools and skills learned in treatment to avoid relapse in the future.
At A Forever Recovery, we understand the dangers of cocaine addiction and the urgency of therapy. Additionally, we know that one single form of addiction treatment is not useful for every circumstance. This is why we offer a multitude of treatment plans based on personal belief, and we have an open-ended program that allows addicts whatever time they need to reach the goals necessary for a safe integration back into society while remaining sober.
Please don’t wait for addiction to progress any further; call us now so we can help you find your road to recovery, based on your needs and goals. We are here to help.