Dependence upon cocaine can be devastating. Characterized by extreme mood swings, mental health symptoms that can include psychosis and delusions, and an inability to function without the drug, dependence on cocaine and other stimulant drugs can impair a person’s ability to:
- Maintain a job
- Manage their own physical and mental health
- Care for children or other dependents
- Keep up with day-to-day household necessities
Experimentation with cocaine on any level is dangerous, but when your loved one’s use of cocaine turns into a daily habit characterized by taking larger and larger amounts of the drug in order to stay high, it should be cause for alarm. Their inability to stop using cocaine or manage the effects indicates that now is the time to get help.
If your loved one is ready to come back from cocaine addiction, don’t wait to get help. At Alta Mira, we offer an intensive addiction treatment program complete with detox and long-term aftercare services that can aid your loved one in overcoming dependence upon cocaine – alone or in combination with other substances. Call now for more information.
Cocaine is a white powder derived from the coca plant native to South America. Snorting the powder, swallowing it, or dissolving it in water and injecting it can cause a euphoric high in the user, a high that can trigger an immediate psychological craving for more of the drug. Also, cocaine can be made into a drug called “crack” – in this small rock form, cocaine is usually smoked through a pipe.Depending upon the method of ingestion, the high is slightly different:
- Injecting cocaine: Rapid high but lasting only about 10 minutes
- Smoking crack or cocaine: Rapid onset of a high that lasts between 5 and 10 minutes
- Snorting cocaine: Rapid onset high that is less intense than that created by injecting or smoking the drug; lasts between 15 and 30 minutes
- Swallowing cocaine: Slower onset of a high that can last between 15 and 30 minutes
Cocaine: A Brief History
Cocaine is not a new substance of abuse. Natives of South America have used the drug for its stimulant properties for more than 15 centuries, according to the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ). A processed version of the drug wasn’t created until 1859, however. Declared a cure-all for a wide variety of ailments, it was first used throughout Europe and eventually made its way to the United States by the 1880s.
In the United States, cocaine was an ingredient in everything from anesthesia used for medicinal purposes to Coca-Cola (the cocaine content of the soda was replaced with caffeine in 1903). Use of the drug spread, and so too did stories of its abuse and the development of addiction. In 1910, President Taft declared that cocaine was a threat to the nation; measures were taken to regulate it federally by 1914.
Due to the restriction against its use and sale, the drug largely dropped out of use for almost 50 years, but in the 1960s, it again became popular. In the 1970s, it was classified as a Schedule II drug, which means that it has legitimate medical uses but is highly addictive and prone to abuse. Abuse of the drug became a larger and larger problem through the 1980s until the federal government stepped in, making strong efforts to stop shipments of the drug before they entered the country.
The introduction of crystal meth, a cheap stimulant drug with effects similar to those of cocaine but at a much lower price point and synthesized here in the United States, caused the use of cocaine to drop in the 1990s. Since that time, it has remained in regular use across all socioeconomic groups at low but consistent rates.
Street Names for Cocaine
According to the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), cocaine is commonly referred to on the street as:
Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine Abuse
There is a wide range of short-term effects of cocaine use and abuse that can alert family members to the potential need for drug abuse intervention and treatment, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). These can include:
- Dilated pupils
- Extreme extroversion (e.g., chattiness, overly interested in conversation or events)
- Excessive movement or inability to sit still
- Higher blood pressure, body temperature, and heart rate
At high doses, signs of cocaine abuse can include:
- Erratic behavior
- Violence or aggression
- Anxiety or panic
- Muscle twitches
Severe medical emergency can also result due to abuse of cocaine. Issues can include:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Heart attack
- Respiratory arrest
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
Dependence upon cocaine can occur with frequent and heavy abuse of the drug. Though family members may not see their loved one using cocaine regularly, they may notice certain signs that, in combination, can indicate an addiction to the drug. These include:
- Chronic runny nose and/or nose bleeds
- Possession of jewelry (e.g., rings, lockets) with compartments that have white residue
- Possession of paraphernalia for using cocaine (e.g., cut up straws, rolled up dollar bills, needles, glass pipes, etc.)
- Extreme mood swings (e.g. very high highs followed by “crashes” characterized by depression and/or anxiety)
- Friends or acquaintances who seem to have the same habits and maintain the same schedule
- Cryptic phone conversations or text messages that may indicate setting up a buy or talking about using the drug
- Losing interest in old friends, hobbies and goals that once defined their lives
Addictiveness of Cocaine
Cocaine creates a high by attaching to the dopamine transporters in the brain and blocking the recycling process of dopamine that usually occurs. This causes a buildup of dopamine in the synapse, which in turn makes the user feel high.
It is this feeling that many people become immediately attracted to. Some develop a craving for this feeling and seek it out again and again by taking more and more cocaine in a binge pattern for a single evening. Still others repeatedly attempt to replicate that initial high frequently until they develop a physical dependence in addition to their psychological craving. For many, this can happen in a few short days, making cocaine a highly addictive drug.
Health Risks of Cocaine Abuse
Use of cocaine significantly increases heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure. Though a healthy individual may be able to handle a moderate dose, too large of an amount of cocaine can result in acute medical emergency and regular, heavy use of the drug can lead to chronic health problems.
Acute health problems:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Decreased appetite
- Heart attack
- Sudden death caused by cardiac arrest
Chronic health risks:
- Loss of sense of smell
- Hepatitis C
- Severe bowel gangrene
- Mental health problems including anxiety and paranoid psychosis
Health risks increase when cocaine is combined with the use of other drugs. For example, combining cocaine with alcohol creates a third and lethal substance called cocaethylene. This substance can destroy the liver and cause health problems years after cessation of drug use. Similarly, the use of cocaine and heroin (called a “speedball”) significantly increases the chance of sudden death due to overdose.
Abuse of and addiction to any substance can significantly damage a person’s ability to function in the world on a normal level. Though they may think that they are keeping their addiction secret or that its effects are not leaking into specific aspects of their life (like work or home), it’s rarely the case that others are unaware of their problem.
Ironically, a common reason that cocaine addicts refuse to seek treatment is because they believe it will negatively impact their career or their family life. However, most people don’t realize that their ongoing addiction is actually harming their opportunities for advancement and growth or their relationships at home and that getting the help they need will actually improve their options for the future, not harm them.
The social risks associated with avoiding treatment for cocaine addiction when it is necessary include:
- Divorce or loss of significant other
- Loss of custody of children
- Loss of job, career prospects or progress in education
- Loss of reputation in the community and at work
- Legal problems and potential loss of freedom due to cocaine-related charges and illegal actions under the influence
Though social losses due to cocaine dependence may not be reversed with treatment, getting intensive help that allows the patient to turn over a new leaf can help them to rebuild and/or start over.
Don’t Wait: Cocaine Addiction Treatment Can Help
Without treatment, cocaine abuse and addiction can cause devastating injury and irreparable harm. Eventually, like all drug addictions, it will lead to death due to overdose, accident under the influence, or chronic health problems caused by long-term cocaine abuse.
If your addicted loved one is dependent on cocaine and unable to stop abusing the drug, immediate intervention and treatment are their best hope for the future. Contact us today at Alta Mira and learn more about how our intensive addiction treatment program can help them jumpstart the healing process now.