In the United States Cocaine is the second most commonly used drugs and the average of users is constantly on the rise. As a powerfully addictive stimulant, this drug directly affects the user’s brain functions. When snorted, cocaine reaches the brain instantaneously, giving the user an instant gratification of a high within seconds.
From a quick high to a quick exit, the drug leaves the user craving more, wanting to gain the high again and again. The user may even increase the dose in hopes to maintain a longer high and keep their high going.
- What Is Cocaine?
- Who Uses Cocaine?
- Cocaine Addiction
- Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine Withdrawal
Cocaine is a stimulant narcotic and a Schedule II illegal substance in the United States. It is most commonly sold in the form of a white powder or powdery clump that is broken down and inhaled through the nose. Some users will smoke it or inject it with a needle; it can also be rubbed into the gums or swallowed. A variant of the drug known as crack cocaine, which looks like rocks or crystals, is more commonly smoked and can be even more addictive than the standard form. Crack cocaine is an excess substance created during the process of making pure cocaine and is known as a cheaper, dirtier relative of the drug.In its purest form, cocaine is derived from the coca plant (Erythroxylon Coca). Recreational and even ritualistic ingestion of this plant dates back centuries to South America and some other regions. Upon being consumed, cocaine — chemical name benzoylmethylecgonine — unleashes high levels of the pleasure chemical dopamine into the brain. The feeling is very short-lived, leaving users fiending for more once the quick high subsides which can lead to cocaine addiction.
Pure cocaine has a unique chemical smell and taste. The powder is made after extracting the active ingredient from the coca leaves, alkaloid, and mixing it with sodium bicarbonate and bleach. When purchased on the street, cocaine is very often diluted or “cut” with any number of other chemicals: detergents, amphetamines, and silicon, to name a few examples. Users of this impure cocaine are even more at risk of developing cocaine addiction and overdose as there is usually no way to tell just what hazardous ingredients they are putting in their body.
Cocaine goes by a long list of street names and slang terms:
C or Big C
For a period of time, cocaine was used medically in the U.S. It was introduced as a surgical anesthetic in the late 19th century, and gradually went on to be a household drug. Perhaps its most infamous mainstream use was as an ingredient in Coca-Cola and some other popular beverages, such as certain wines. It was eventually banned for a time, until its resurgence as a drug of abuse in the 1960s. In the 70s and 80s, cocaine became a fixture in the party scene, in disco clubs, and in rock and roll music (for example, Eric Clapton wrote a song titled, “Cocaine”). It became widely accepted in social settings, not unlike marijuana and alcohol. As awareness of the drug’s grave dangers become more and more apparent, its popularity finally saw a dip in the 1990s. But cocaine still claims thousands of victims a year and sends tens of thousands of users into the downward spiral of addiction.
People of every demographic use and abuse cocaine. Approximately one in six people in the United States older than age 25 have tried the drug at least once — more than 52 million adults. In 2012, an estimated 16 – 21 million people around the world were current users, with 1.6 million current users in the U.S. (age 12 or older).Studies show cocaine use has more of a “regional variance” than any other major drug, meaning the prevalence and common demographics depends on the part of the country being observed. White males age 26 and older are the heaviest users by a large margin. In 2015, males abused cocaine at nearly double the rate of females, and use among Caucasians was more than double that of the next two ethnicities — Hispanics and African-Americans — combined.
The journey from a one-time use to becoming a “coke head,” the slang term for an abusive or addictive user, can begin after just a single use. A defining trait of this particular substance is the spastic behavior users exhibit and the sudden pull to sustain the high at all costs. Coke alters the brain chemistry, and cocaine addiction is notorious for being troublesome to overcome.
Cocaine is considered highly addictive and one of the most habit-forming substances on the planet. As soon as the drug enters the brain — whether through inhalation, smoking or injection — it warps the brain’s reward pathway and its production of certain chemicals related to pleasure (such as dopamine), as well as stress. The user will soon associate certain positive feelings with memories of their cocaine high, and naturally start to crave another fix in hopes of recreating the sensation. Stress triggers can also set off these cravings, which can vary from person to person.Historically, physical addictions to cocaine may not develop as quickly as select other narcotics, such as heroin. But a psychological dependence and repeated exposure can pave the way for serious physical dependence and traumatic withdrawal symptoms. On average, addiction develops over the course of one year in people who take cocaine on a regular basis. The most at-risk users for eventual dependency, according to research, are people aged 21 – 25, females and African-Americans.
There is no telling when addiction can take hold. Cocaine, particularly crack cocaine, can lead to addiction after just a single use. Once in the throes of addiction, the user will forego school, work or personal obligations in order to seek out more of the drug. The restlessness and anxiety between uses can quickly become overwhelming and lead to a complete loss of judgement; addicts often spend every last penny to their name in order to renew their high. They will also rapidly develop a tolerance to the drug — wherein it takes a higher dosage to reach the same effect. With cocaine in particular, this tolerance can develop and remain even after prolonged periods of abstinence. Whether this behavior develops over the course of a week or steadily over several months, it eventually comes at the cost of professional, social and emotional stability.
In addition to this litany of destructive behavior, not to mention the physical hazards of the drug, cocaine addiction can lead to “binge” sessions where the user will consume copious amounts in a single sitting — as both a way to overcompensate for stress and a perceived sense of self-reward. A cocaine binge can cause someone to lose sight of how much they are taking and put themselves, and others, at a great risk. Drug overdoses are not uncommon outcomes of cocaine binges; this can lead to permanent internal damage or death.
In cases of addiction, users must admit their problem and seek help as soon as possible. If you feel someone in your life may be struggling with cocaine addiction, speak up and do not wait to see how it turns out. Rehabilitation at a certified rehab facility is often the only way to break cocaine addicts away from their habit and return them to good mental and physical health. Any amount of cocaine use is not to be taken lightly; addiction is a medical disease that can not be addressed alone.
The faster a drug reaches the brain upon being used, the more likely a user is to develop abusive habits, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Snorting cocaine involves a longer journey through the body and to the brain than inhaling smoke. Users who smoke cocaine, then, have a higher chance of addiction. This is an additional reason why crack, which is far more commonly smoked, is generally considered more likely to cause addiction. That does not make powder cocaine any less of a threat, though.
Cocaine is among the most prevalent factors in addiction treatment and rehab. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported around 910,000 Americans meeting the criteria for cocaine dependence in 2014. With thousands trying cocaine for the first time every year, it is inevitable that many will develop an abusive habit and require intervention from a doctor or treatment center.The cocaine addiction rate is, in one way or another, related to several other alarming statistics. Some of the numbers related to cocaine abuse are:
- Between 5,000 and 6,000 unintentional deaths in the U.S. each year involve cocaine.
- In 2011, approximately 505,000 of the 1.3 million emergency room visits related to drug misuse involved cocaine.
- In 2015, between 1.8 percent and 2.3 percent of U.S. 12th graders (4.4 percent on the West coast) used cocaine.
- 17 percent of people who try cocaine develop a dependency.
- 50 – 90 percent of cocaine addicts experience relapse when attempting to get clean without professional help.
Though the mainstream appeal of cocaine may have diminished slightly since the 1980s, the potent powder continues to infiltrate our country and present a real danger to those who choose to experiment. In 2016, the U.S. Coast Guard seized more than $5.6 billion in cocaine — 416,600 pounds. An estimated 2,834 tons of the drug were shipped to the U.S. in 2016, compared to 577 tons in 2013. Only 7 percent of these shipments were seized. The widespread availability of the drug has translated to an unfortunate toll among those who use it; cocaine-related overdose deaths rose from 11 to 13 percent between 2010 and 2015.
Additional studies show that cocaine’s street price has fallen 20 percent over the last 20 years, making it easier than ever for just about anyone to find, purchase and face the many serious consequences of the substance.
Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine Addiction
The first signs of cocaine abuse may be minor compared to more blatant cocaine addiction behavior. The physical and psychological symptoms will inevitably escalate along with the behavioral signs and consequences across their life. Getting a loved one to break from cocaine abuse is far easier in the early stages. Once the illness of addiction takes over, reversing the damage can take months or even years. Worrisome signs may indicate a cocaine problem, if not a similarly dangerous issue, so early intervention in any case can go a long way in resolving whatever the problem may be. Some basic signals that your loved one is abusing cocaine include:
- Strange and unusual behavior
- Keeping secrets or giving suspicious answers to questions
- Leaving early, showing up late, or missing obligations entirely
- Increased impulsivity
- Financial troubles
- White stains on clothes, belongings or skin
Cocaine is not cheap. In order to fund a cocaine habit or addiction, users will often go to extreme lengths to pay for the next bump. This can mean repeatedly asking for money, stealing from friends or family members, taking on extra jobs, taking out loans, selling their possessions, or beginning to sell drugs themselves. It is not uncommon for addicts to empty their savings accounts or retirement funds in the process of feeding their addiction. As cocaine abuse progresses, it can result in a series of life-altering outcomes that should be red flags and prompt immediate attention. These can include:
- Quitting or getting kicked out of school
- Leaving or getting fired from a job
- Bankruptcy or serious debt
- Lost friendships and relationships
- Trouble with the law
On top of all this — and often simultaneously — cocaine addiction will cause physical and mental harm that can land users in the emergency room at any moment. Cocaine has an enormous effect on a user’s well-being, the warning signs of which appear as a multitude of symptoms. Cocaine users may exhibit any combination of these tell-tale symptoms:
- Emotional swings
- Insomnia, followed by hypersomnia, or prolonged periods of sleep
- Short attention span
- Hyperstimulation and energy levels
- Bursts of elevated mood and euphoria
- Lethargy and introversion
- Loss of appetite
A common thread among habitual cocaine users is the unpredictable and extreme variance in mood, caused by a chemical imbalance. A loved one who develops a cocaine addiction can become distant and unrecognizable from the person you used to know. This can make it difficult to observe minute details or confront the situation. The more these symptoms pile up, though, the more urgent the problem becomes.
The physical effects of cocaine abuse can range from minimal to severe. Each user reacts to the consumption of this drug in a different way, and may showcase certain symptoms while avoiding (or hiding) others. Any indication of a possible cocaine problem deserves attention — ignoring these symptoms may be the difference between life and death for your loved one. Some of the common physical symptoms of cocaine abuse include:
- Dilated pupils
- Twitching or shaking
- Runny or bloody nose
- Darkened circles around the eyes
- Stomach pain
- Increased body temperature
- Rapid heartbeat
- Headaches and migraines
Between uses of the drug, withdrawal side effects can characterise a physical addiction. The symptoms of cocaine withdrawal can include depression, fatigue, intense cravings and extended periods of interrupted sleep. In the most severe cases, cocaine withdrawal can cause heart issues and seizures.
Cocaine is extremely potent and the physical side effects can vary wildly based on the amount taken, the user’s size and body chemistry, and any other chemicals mixed in the cocaine or taken alongside it. Overdose and sudden death are very real possibilities after just one use, let alone a short period of regular abuse. In 2012, approximately 1,800 Americans aged 12 and older tried cocaine for the first time every single day, opening themselves to many undesirable outcomes related to the drug.
The longer someone is exposed to cocaine, the higher their chances of severely impacting brain functions and physical health. A serious addiction is just one of the long-term hazards associated with a cocaine habit. Treatment specialists often have to address a host of other issues when a new patient is admitted to rehab for a cocaine problem. This may demand outside help from other doctors, specialists, or therapists, along with any number of medications and rehab programs. For an unfortunate number of addicts, some of the health effects caused by cocaine use are irreversible. Long-term health effects of cocaine use can include:
- Chronic impotence and sexual dysfunction in men and women
- Other reproductive complications
- Difficulty breathing and swallowing
- Lung damage and disease
- Seizures and convulsions
- Damage to the septum, nose, and airways
- Lost sense of smell
- Extreme weight loss and malnourishment
- Chronic nosebleeds
- Gastronomical problems and bowel decay
- Movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease
The unhinged lifestyle and lapse in judgment that many cocaine addicts experience can lead to numerous additional health risks. These might include:
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Unwanted pregnancy
- Prenatal cocaine exposure in unborn babies
- Bloodborne illnesses due to sharing needles, such as HIV and hepatitis C
There are approximately 750,000 cocaine-exposed pregnancies in the U.S. each year. Abusing cocaine during pregnancy can lead to spontaneous miscarriage, difficult delivery and numerous other complications both leading up to and during delivery.
Intense psychological distress is also observed with long-term cocaine abuse, including chronic paranoia and auditory hallucinations. Studies also show that general cognitive abilities, such as memory and motor tasks, are impaired with prolonged use. Cocaine drug effects can end in heart failure or death at any point along a user’s relationship with the powder. Signs of chronic cocaine abuse may start small, but will eventually become too much to ignore.
A tolerance to cocaine develops in the early period of use and strengthens over time. This is among the most troublesome side effects related to addiction — users constantly need to take larger amounts to feel the same familiar effects. Though no amount of cocaine is “safe” to take, the drug is exponentially more dangerous in larger doses. An addict can easily overlook the amount they are consuming in order to catch a buzz. In the blink of an eye, they can take a fatal or otherwise life-threatening dose.