In the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, researchers found that 1.5 million people used cocaine. That represents a significant drop from 2006, when about 2.5 million people used the substance. But there’s little to celebrate here, as cocaine can be remarkably dangerous. In fact, people who abuse this substance often develop very persistent cases of addiction that only a qualified treatment program can address.
How an Addiction Begins
Traditionally, cocaine has been described as one of the most addictive substances in use in the world today, as the drug has the remarkable ability to tweak pleasure centers in the brain. Mere minutes after taking cocaine, people can feel absolutely euphoric and powerful, and those sensations might not be available without the use of drugs.
Even so, research suggests that not everyone who takes cocaine develops an addiction to the substance. For example, according to studies quoted in an article produced by TIME, nearly half of all people who try cocaine don’t ever take the substance again. They might not like the way the drug makes them feel, or they may find that the sensations they experience simply aren’t worth the risks of being caught and arrested with an illegal substance.
There are some people, however, who do develop addictions, and they tend to have remarkably destructive patterns of use and abuse that damage their brain cells to such a degree that self-control becomes difficult. These users take one hit of cocaine and chase that hit with another and then another. They’re attempting to counteract the fast fade of a cocaine high by keeping the drug in their bodies at all times, and their habits can erode the portions of the brain that deal with planning and impulse control.
Similarly, some people who abuse cocaine add other substances into the mix. They might blend in alcohol at the end of a cocaine binge, allowing them to feel more relaxed and euphoric as the rush of cocaine fades away. These users might also use benzodiazepines or prescription painkillers to boost the pleasure a hit of cocaine can bring. Multi-drug use like this can also damage key portions of the brain, and if these activities continue, they can lead to devastating addictions.
At the beginning of an addiction treatment program, experts attempt to determine what kinds of habits a user has engaged in previously, and what kind of damage might be present at the moment. Often, this means performing either blood or urine tests in order to detect the presence of other drugs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 72 percent of people who seek help for a cocaine issue also abuse other drugs, so these tests are simply vital.
When experts understand what sorts of drugs are at play, in addition to cocaine, they can begin to plan for the detox portion of treatment. This is the time in which the addicted person transitions from drug intoxication to sobriety, and it can be a little dangerous. Cocaine withdrawal is associated with a variety of nasty symptoms, including:
Withdrawing from other drugs, including alcohol and benzodiazepines, can result in even more serious complications, including seizures. Medication management can help, as some prescription and over-the-counter therapies can soothe distress and allow people to feel at least somewhat healthy as their bodies move from chronic intoxication into sobriety. But supervision and emotional support might also be vital. Removing these substances from the body is just scary and a little painful, and it’s common for addicted people to need support and care, so they won’t be tempted to dive back into addiction in order to make those symptoms fade away.
Finding Emotional Causes
Addictions are more than simple physical concerns, however, as many people who have cocaine addictions also deal with very serious mental health concerns. In some cases, their use of cocaine seemed like a helpful therapeutic tool for the mental illnesses they already had, while others might find that their mental health seems to elude them more and more frequently as they continue to use and abuse cocaine.
It’s vital to identify all of the mental health concerns that could be impacting a person with a cocaine addiction, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), as pairing ill mental health with cocaine can lead to utter disaster. For example, people with undiagnosed mental illnesses might be less likely to stick to their addiction care program, and they might be more likely to relapse. Some mental illnesses can also mimic the action of cocaine, meaning that people might be strangely keyed-up and active when they should be calm. These tendencies, when paired with the impulsivity a cocaine habit can bring, could lead to suicide, and NAMI says people with cocaine addictions are more likely to die from their suicide attempts, when compared to people who don’t have an addiction.
A mental health assessment is typically conducted after detox, so the impact of drugs won’t cloud the results researchers need. Tests of memory, planning and impulse control might be part of this assessment, as well as interviews designed to identify unhappy thoughts and feelings. People who do have mental illnesses might need targeted therapies that address both their addictions and their emotional difficulties, so they have the best chance of healing.
Addiction treatment programs strive to inform people about the way cocaine works in their bodies, and how their brain cells may have changed due to their habits and behaviors. In addition, therapists attempt to help their clients identify the triggers that lead to cravings for cocaine. Often, these discussions revolve around images and sounds people associate with cocaine.
In research conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, experts found that a person’s memories concerning cocaine spark activity in the portions of the brain that deal with reward. In other words, just thinking about cocaine makes the brain crave a reward that only cocaine can bring. The researchers tested some kinds of medications with some success, but some therapists use simple exposure therapy to help their clients.
The idea behind exposure therapy is to help the brain make new connections to a common stimulus. Instead of seeing white powder and thinking of cocaine, the brain might see white powder and think of flour or sugar. Therapies like this are time consuming, as they require several sessions in which people spend time around the things that spark their cravings, but it can be a vital way to help people resist the allure of cocaine when their formal treatment programs are complete.
Preparing people to deal with triggers means more than simply watching them react, however, and a vital part of cocaine addiction therapy involves coaching. Therapists teach their clients a variety of distraction and/or relaxation skills they can use when cravings arise. Common techniques taught include:
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Rhythmic breathing
Clients might also be taught to keep the rest of their lives healthy, so they’ll be less likely to be vulnerable to return to drugs. They might learn how to develop a sleep/wake schedule, so they’ll avoid exhaustion, and how to eat well, so they won’t be hungry and jittery. Clients might also be encouraged to exercise regularly for a natural mood boost, and use crafts or other creative outlets for their negative feelings. By focusing on developing a healthier life overall, therapists might be allowing their clients to resist the urge to medicate pain with cocaine.
Expanding the Reach
While individual therapies can allow some people with a cocaine addiction to really examine and revise their lives, making changes that lead to continued sobriety, addiction treatment programs might also include the person’s close friends and family members. It might sound unusual, but a study from The Spanish Journal of Psychology suggests that a poor social or family environment is one of the top factors at play in a relapse to cocaine. By expanding the program just a little bit, and providing care to more than just the addict, these programs might lead to a lasting sobriety.
Family therapy can take many forms, and often, the sessions are variable. Sometimes, all of the members of the family participate at once. Sometimes, just one or two people work with a therapist in the session. The goal is to help everyone involved to understand the addiction just a little better, and to heal the wounds that may have developed as the addiction progresses. If all goes well, the family emerges from this therapy feeling much more unified and much more capable of handling the addiction issue, should it recur.
In addition to including the family, a comprehensive program might also provide outreach to community programs. Helping people to get jobs, find a secure place to live or deal with legal troubles can help to reduce the stress they feel, and that might also help them to resist the urge to dabble in drugs, should the opportunity arise.
Participating in a program like this isn’t easy, as it requires a significant amount of both time and determination. In fact, some people might need to stay enrolled in such a treatment program for months, and even then, they might need to move into so-called “sober living homes,” so they can continue to work on their skills before they move back into independent life.
However, those who do take their recovery seriously, and who do enroll in intensive programs and spend time in follow-up care, have a very good chance of beating back their addictions for good. For example, in a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers found that only 23.5 percent of people who participated in any kind of drug treatment program relapsed to drug use in the year that followed. Additionally, those who spent time in programs lasting longer than 90 days had a lowered chance of a relapse to weekly use of cocaine.
As studies like this make clear, people really can gain control over their addictions and move forward with their lives in a healthful manner. If you’d like to get started, we hope you’ll consider Alta Mira.
We offer all of our clients comprehensive psychological testing, so we can get a clear picture of the person’s mental health before we begin our work. We’ll offer you individualized care, based on your testing results and your preferences, and you’ll always have a say in the treatments you’re receiving now and the ones you’d like to obtain in the future. Our skilled treatment team will provide you with a remarkable amount of one-on-one support, taking into account any mental health concerns you might have, and we provide you with a lifetime of support. No matter what you need and no matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen us, we’re here to help you stay on the right path and preserve your sobriety.
Please call us – we’ll tell you more about the Alta Mira difference, and we’ll schedule your intake appointment right over the phone. The call is both free and confidential, so there’s no risk. We hope to hear from you soon.