Cocaine addiction can often times be hidden in plain sight, making it difficult to identify. Understanding and recognizing the signs, symptoms, risks and more is the first step in the recovery journey.
Understanding Cocaine Addiction
Learn about cocaine addiction
Cocaine is a very expensive way to get high; the price of the drug has clearly contributed to its mystique among the rich and famous, who have glamorized a very potent, very dangerous, and illegal stimulant. Cocaine, unlike synthetic drugs, is actually a purified extract derived from the Erythroxylum coca bush found in the Andes region of South America. The two primary forms of cocaine seen on the street today are produced by different chemical processes. Powdered cocaine, often referred to as “blow” or “coke,” dissolves easily in water and can be snorted intranasally or injected into the veins. Crack cocaine, called “crack,” or “rock” on the street, is produced in a chemical process that allows it to be abused in a freebase form and smoked by the user. Smoking or injecting cocaine leads to nearly instant results and the rapid absorption of cocaine by the nasal tissues makes snorting coke almost as fast-acting. Smoking or injecting cocaine tends to produce a faster, stronger high that lasts for less time than snorting coke. Whatever the method of abuse, cocaine quickly and easily enters the bloodstream and travels to the brain.
Once cocaine is buried deep within the brain, it interferes with neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers used by nerves to communicate with each other. Cocaine successfully blocks the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and other neurotransmitters from being reabsorbed. This reuptake inhibitor leads to a chemical buildup between the nerves, resulting in the user feeling high. Cocaine users describe the sensation that cocaine use brings them as an extremely elevated mood, with feelings of supremacy and an increasing sensation of energy and mental alertness. On the downside, cocaine abusers often report that they also feel paranoid, irritable, anxious, and restless. These effects of cocaine tend to last between 30 minutes and two hours.
Many individuals who abuse cocaine do so in binge-crash manner. Binge-crash means that an individual will continue using coke for extended periods of time until they have exhausted their stash of blow and then crash for days, sleeping and eating. This pattern of cocaine abuse can quickly lead to addiction and dependence upon cocaine, which will require treatment.
A good number of people who abuse cocaine also abuse other drugs. Some individuals attempt to stave off the unpleasant side effects of cocaine – anxiety, paranoia, and restlessness – by combining cocaine with a downer such as benzodiazepines, opiates, or alcohol. This combination of uppers and downers can lead to massive cardiovascular complications. Others will combine this stimulant with another stimulant, such as methamphetamines, to produce even greater feelings of energy and wellbeing. This combination can lead to seizures and death.
Cocaine addiction statistics
Cocaine is responsible for more emergency room visits in the United States than any other drug. Approximately 14% of adults in the United States admit to having tried cocaine, with one in every 40 adults reporting that they used coke within the past year. Men aged 18 to 25 are the biggest cocaine users, with approximately 8% using blow in the past 12 months.
Causes and Risk Factors
Causes and risk factors for cocaine addiction
The causes for cocaine abuse and addiction are not well understood. However, it’s a commonly held belief that individuals who struggle with addiction to substances such as cocaine have a number of causes working together to create the addiction. These causes may include:
Genetic: Individuals who have a parent or other first-degree relative with addiction problems are at a higher risk for developing an addiction within their lifetime. While not a definitive indicator, genetics often play a role in addiction.
Brain Chemistry: Cocaine works to block the re-uptake of dopamine, the pleasure-inducing neurotransmitter, in the brain, producing feelings of energy and well-being. It’s been theorized that people who are born lacking in dopamine or dopamine pathways may seek out pleasurable activities – such as cocaine abuse – to correct an inborn imbalance.
Environmental: Individuals who grow up in a home in which addiction is present may come to see drug use as acceptable. In addition, individuals who begin to use and abuse drugs at an early age are at a greater risk for developing an addiction later in life.
Psychological: Individuals who struggle with mental illnesses, such as depression or bipolar disorder, which have marked periods of feeling low and sad may turn to cocaine to self-medicate these symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of cocaine addiction
The symptoms of cocaine abuse will vary depending upon the length of the addiction, the amount used, frequency of abuse, and physical dependence upon the drug. The most common symptoms of cocaine abuse include the following:
- Feelings of well-being
- Lying about cocaine use
- Hiding cocaine use from friends and loved ones
- Failure to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home
- Strained interpersonal relationships
- Wearing long sleeves to cover track marks
- Legal problems
- Sudden money problems
- Exited speech
- Fast speech
- High levels of energy and excitement
- Gastric ulcers
- Perforation of stomach or small bowel
- Impaired sexual function
- Inability to smell
- Dilated pupils
- Difficulties swallowing
- Chronic, runny nose
- Extremely violent behavior
- Break from reality
Effects of cocaine addiction
Long-term cocaine abuse can lead to a multitude of very serious problems for an individual. The longer the individual has been using cocaine, the more serious the consequences are. Effects of cocaine abuse include:
- Mounting financial problems
- Rhabdomyolysis – sudden kidney failure
- Nasal perforation
- Permanent lung damage
- Collapsed veins
- Cardiovascular complications
- Abscesses at injection sites
- Infections involved with sharing needles – HIV/AIDS, hepatitis
- Respiratory arrest
- Cardiac arrest
- Sudden death
Withdrawal effects of cocaine addiction
Cocaine stimulates the pleasure center of the brain, responsible for rewarding us with pleasant feelings related to “good behaviors,” such as eating and having sex. Using cocaine to stimulate these areas feels similarly good – often so much so that individuals begin to crave the drug and use more and more cocaine. With repeated usage tolerance, dependence, and cocaine addiction also develop. When an individual abruptly stops using cocaine, they may experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
Cocaine withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Increasing cravings for cocaine
- Anhedonia – the inability to feel pleasure
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Muscle aches
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
Cocaine addiction and co-occurring disorders
There exist a great number of illnesses that co-occur with cocaine abuse and addiction. The most common co-occurring disorders include:
- Benzodiazepine abuse
- Bipolar disorder
- Depressive disorders
- Methamphetamine abuse
- Opiate addictions