Cocaine is drug that is used on a recreational basis that has significant potential for abuse that leads to a cocaine addiction. Cocaine is a schedule II drug in the United States. It is available legally for use in a liquid form only within a hospital setting. It is not available for prescription. Like all street drugs, the quality and strength of product purchased is inconsistent. In other words, short of testing, there is no way to determine what the user is actually consuming. This adds a serious element of risk to its use. Cocaine users are drawn to its perceived to be positive effects on the brain including increased energy, motivation, and an elevation in mood.
What is cocaine
Cocaine is derived from the coca leaf which is common to several South American countries, most notably Peru, Columbia, and Bolivia. The raw coca leaves are chemically processed to produce a white powder. Street cocaine is diluted with other substances such as sugar, other local anesthetics, or baby laxative. When stripped of additives, cocaine looks like small, irregular chunks. These chunks are known as rocks or “crack” cocaine.
Powdered cocaine is usually inhaled through the nose, also known as “snorting,” or dissolved in water and injected. Crack cocaine is smoked. Either form of the drug may be mixed with other drugs such as heroin, or methamphetamine. The effects of use can be felt nearly instantly.
Effects of cocaine use
Cocaine’s effect on the brain is described as an intense euphoria. Additionally cocaine dilates pupils, increases energy and alertness. These effects are caused by an increase in the availability of dopamine neurotransmitters. This sense of euphoria is highly addictive. Studies on mice indicated that obtaining another “hit” of the drug was so compelling, that the mouse will ignore food or water, eventually dying as a result of the “need.”
The impact of cocaine on the body are devastating. As as stimulant, cocaine causes your heart to beat faster and constricts your blood vessels. It can cause insomnia. All of which can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, or a heart attack. Cocaine use can absolutely cause a heart attack. The risk of stroke or heart attack is unpredictable as there is no correlation to how frequently it has been used, or even the quantity taken. Death is all too common. More than 40% of all emergency room visits for drug abuse are related to cocaine use.
Signs of an overdose include an increase in body temperature, agitation, hallucinations, convulsions, and possible death.
Impact of long term use
Over time cocaine’s negative impact on health worsens. It can permanently damage the heart muscles and lead to kidney damage. Cocaine also alters brain chemistry over time. These changes can cause behavioral abnormalities, lead to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or psychosis. Continual use results in reduced cognitive performance and poor decision making skills. All of which make life difficult.
Signs of a cocaine addiction
Cocaine is emotionally, psychologically, and socially addictive. A cocaine addiction may not be apparent at first glance, but there are recognizable signs that you can be on the lookout for.
- Increased agitation and movement or hyperactivity, this may include muscle tics
- Effusive enthusiasm and joy, at least in the beginning.
- Changes in concentration levels and focus
- Significant weight loss is common due the cocaine’s ability to suppress a person’s appetite.
- Because cocaine is commonly snorted through the nose, frequent nosebleeds may occur.
- Mood swings may be rapid due to the effect that cocaine has on the brain.
- When the drug is withdrawn, the user may be compelled to make every effort to obtain more, draining both financial and emotional resources.
There are no physical symptoms of withdrawal. However, the emotional symptoms can be dramatic and include:
- Poor concentration
- Sleep disturbances
Cocaine has a short half-life in the body so withdrawal symptoms come on fast and furiously. One prominent study (Gawin and Kleber, 1986) of cocaine withdrawal reported three distinct phases:
- The crash – is characterized by acute dysphoria, anxiety, irritability, sleepiness and exhaustion, increased appetite, decreased craving to use.
- Withdrawal – the craving to use returns, the user experiences a reduction in concentration, some irritability and some lethargy. These symptoms can persist for up to 10 weeks.
- Extinction – the former user experiences occasional cravings as a result of external cues. “Old habits die hard.”
Treatment for cocaine addiction
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 6% of all drug rehab participants were admitted for cocaine addiction. Of those, the overwhelming majority were uses of multiple drugs. The use of multiple substance complicates treatment.
There are currently no medications used specifically for treating cocaine addiction though research is currently being conducted on a vaccine to prevent relapse.
As with all forms of substance abuse rehab, the best program depends upon the specific needs of the patient. Your best bet is to consult with an addiction specialist to determine the right program for you or your loved one.
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