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Cocaine Addiction & Dependence

Cocaine can be easily accessed internationally, with over 7.5 million reported users worldwide. The drug’s popularity has grown vastly from the 1970s, where it was used recreationally among the party scene. Now, cocaine addiction is one of the most prevalent medical issues of the 21st century.

The drug known as cocaine is derived from the leaves of the coca plant, which can be found throughout South America. The substance delivers a potent stimulant effect as well as being an effective anaesthetic. That being said, the drug has the potential to cause severe damage to the brain and the body and is therefore illegal around the globe.

More often than not, the type of white powder sold as cocaine on the streets will have been mixed with other substances such as flour and talcum powder. It is rare, in this day and age, to come across what is known as freebase cocaine – the drug in its purest form.

Is Cocaine Addictive?

In short, cocaine is an extremely addictive drug and the reason for this is that the drug acts upon the reward system of the brain meaning that those who take it can become addicted exceptionally rapidly. In some cases, a person may develop an addiction to cocaine the first time they try the drug.

Once the cocaine’s effects begin to wear off, the user may develop cravings to use more and this can then lead to a tolerance build-up. This means that the user will require higher and higher doses to achieve the same effects as the first time they used the drug.

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How Is Cocaine Used?

Cocaine is one of the more popular drugs used for recreational purposes and has a reputation for being used as a ‘party drug’ with many younger people experimenting with it.

The most common way to get the drug into the system is through snorting. This is done by taking an amount of the white powder and placing it in a line which is then snorted through the nose. However, the substance is sometimes rubbed onto the gums and in some cases, onto a cigarette filter before smoking. In addition to this, some users will take a quantity of cocaine and ingest it, wrapped in rolling paper. This method is commonly referred to as ‘parachuting.’

Another form of the drug, known as crack cocaine is usually smoked through a pipe or a plastic bottle. Whether using cocaine or crack cocaine, there is also the option to inject the drug after heating it until it melts into liquid form, although this method is not as common.

cocaine risk factors

Risk Factors for Cocaine Addiction

It is important to keep in mind that cocaine addiction can happen to anyone, even trying the drug just once can create dependence. However, there are certain groups of people who may be more susceptible to cocaine addiction than others. These might include any of the following:

  • Some careers are seen to be high risk, these include medicine, entertainment and the financial industry
  • Those with a family history of cocaine addiction
  • People with a family history of mental health problems or who have a history of mental health disorders themselves
  • Those with increased disposable income
  • People who have previously experimented with substances
  • Individuals who have experienced addiction previously
  • Younger people, generally aged between 16 and 30 years old
  • Those with high levels of education
  • People who are exposed to substance use within the peer groups
  • Those who often travel to cocaine-producing regions
  • Sex workers
  • Individuals with a history of abuse or trauma, particularly in childhood

How Does Cocaine Affect the Brain and Body?

As with any drug, cocaine can harm the mind and body, especially when used over a long period. However, when people first begin experimenting with the drug, they may feel a sense of euphoria and whilst this occurs extremely quickly after taking the drug, the effects also wear off rapidly.

The effects on the body when taking cocaine are primarily raised blood pressure, a heightened sense of alertness and elevated energy levels. For many people who take the drug, they admit to feeling as though they are ‘on top of the world.’ When users take cocaine, the brain quickly releases high levels of the hormone, dopamine which is what is responsible for these sudden, euphoric feelings.

However, after the initial rush of taking cocaine, a sudden crash can cause users to feel extreme fatigue and other negative symptoms such as anxiety and depression as well as irritability. In many cases, these symptoms can bring on cravings for another dose of the drug.

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How Does Cocaine Make You Feel and How Long Does This Last?

There are certain factors which will determine how cocaine affects each person who uses it, this might be how much a person takes, how long they have been using the drug, their age and general health as well as the method by which it is administered.

For most people, taking cocaine brings on high energy levels which can make the person talkative, excitable and much more in touch with their senses. In addition to this, someone using cocaine may feel much more confident than usual.

In contrast, some users of the drug may experience a sense of panic or anxiety which can cause serious distress. They may also feel paranoid, jealous or experience hallucinations. A person who reacts in this negative way to cocaine might also appear to behave unusually. Usually, someone under the influence of cocaine will have less need for sleep and food as a result of the stimulant effect of the drug.

Since there are various methods of using cocaine, the duration of its effects will vary depending on how it is taken. For example, within minutes of snorting the drug, users may begin to feel its effects but these may wear off within as little as a quarter of an hour. Even less time will be spent feeling the ‘high’ of cocaine if it is injected since this method causes effects to dissipate in just ten minutes.

cocaine effects

Short Term Effects of Cocaine Addiction

In the short term, cocaine can have many effects on both body and mind. Alongside the ‘high’ that people experience when taking the drug, you can also expect to see any of the following:

  • Increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Higher body temperature
  • Aggression
  • Appetite loss
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Constriction of the blood vessels
  • Potential violent behaviour
  • Potential overdose which could be fatal

Long Term Effects of Cocaine Addiction

If a person uses cocaine over a longer period, they may be susceptible to some of the long-term side effects of the drug. Primarily, addiction can develop, however, there are other unpleasant effects of long-term cocaine use:

  • Permanent damage to the brain
  • Organ damage
  • Blood vessel damage
  • Physical damage to the nasal passages as a result of snorting the substance
  • Gum disease leading to tooth decay
  • Hallucinations
  • Issues with sexual function and fertility
  • Diseases and abscesses caused by injecting the drug
  • Respiratory failure
  • Mood disorders including depression

Cocaine Dependence to Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine can alter the balance of chemicals within the brain and for this reason, can become highly addictive. When additional dopamine is released within the brain during an episode of taking cocaine, this can trigger the reward system, causing the person to want to experience these feelings once again. The drug is so powerful in causing dependence that many people become addicted to it within the first 12 months of using, in some extreme cases, addiction can develop almost instantaneously.

It may surprise you to learn that aside from having a profound effect on the reward and pleasure systems in the brain, cocaine is also able to interact with your ability to make decisions and on your memory. The drug causes raised levels of a variety of hormones within the brain such as dopamine and serotonin but can also affect how these hormones are transported around the body.

In turn, this can alter the way the brain works, causing users to develop tolerance and sensitisation to the drug. For a person struggling with cocaine addiction, being able to resist taking the drug becomes extremely difficult, in some cases, impossible.

Signs of Cocaine Addiction

Each person who takes cocaine may be prone to different signs and symptoms of its use, these variables can be based on the dose and the length of time the person has been using the drug as well as their overall health. However, there are some common signs that one can keep a lookout for if cocaine addiction is suspected.

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Teen Cocaine Addiction – Signs and Symptoms

With many younger people experimenting with drugs and other substances, it can be easy for a teen to develop a cocaine addiction, especially with the drug having a reputation as being glamorous and favoured among the rich and famous. Spotting the signs early provides the young person with the best chance of recovery. If you are concerned that your teen or someone close to you may be struggling with cocaine addiction, there are signs that you can look out for.

A teen may become deceptive and attempt to cover up their behaviours, they may also begin lying about where they have been and what they have been doing. In addition to this, you may notice that the young person begins to change their eating and sleeping habits.

Many teens who are battling with cocaine addiction may develop new social circles or become involved in illegal activity as a way of funding their habit. You might also see negative behaviours beginning to develop in school and increased demand for money.

It is not uncommon for the teen to begin taking less interest in their appearance and personal hygiene as the need for cocaine become their main priority.

Can Cocaine Addiction Cause A Risk of Psychosis?

Cocaine can severely increase the risk of developing psychosis as many as 50% of cocaine users claim to have experienced at least one symptom of the condition. This can be even more of a risk in those who use the drug over longer periods.

Compared to other recreational drugs, cocaine has a much greater power to cause psychosis and even when the substance is abstained from, the effects of psychosis may continue for many months. These symptoms might include:
cocaine psychosis

  • Delirium
  • Violent behaviour
  • Lethargy
  • Disorganised speaking
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Suicidal or homicidal thoughts
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorganised thinking

Cocaine Addiction in Pregnancy

The use of any drugs during pregnancy can be extremely detrimental to the health of both mother and baby, but cocaine can be particularly devastating for the unborn child. During early pregnancy, cocaine use can greatly increase the chance of miscarriage. Whilst cocaine may not widely cause defects at birth for many babies, there have been many cases in which babies who were exposed to cocaine during pregnancy were born with a variety of abnormalities.

What’s more, using cocaine during pregnancy can have implications for the mother, most commonly headaches and seizures. However, using the drug can also cause the waters to break prematurely, which can lead to early labour and consequently, problems for the baby. In addition to this, the blood pressure can be elevated which can lead to a variety of problems during delivery.

What Are the Dangers of Taking Cocaine with Alcohol?

Taking cocaine alongside alcohol can be potentially very dangerous and can much more easily cause death than by taking cocaine alone. The reason for this is that the liver is not able to metabolism both substances efficiently enough which in turn, can cause unnecessary stress on the organ. What’s more, this can have an impact on the cardiovascular system.

Unfortunately, many people combine the two substances and whilst this may heighten the euphoric effect of the drug, it can also exacerbate the comedown.

How Is Cocaine Addiction Treated?

Many components make up cocaine addiction such as physical dependence and psychological issues as well as environmental factors. For this reason, treating the condition requires an in-depth and varied approach.

Many people struggling with cocaine addiction will benefit from a residential program where they will stay in a facility whilst undergoing various treatments designed to tackle every aspect of addiction. These programs vary in length with some lasting for just a few weeks and others running more than 12 months.

Behavioural treatments can be used to enable the person to challenge their behaviours and develop new, more positive ones. These therapies can be done as part of an inpatient program or whilst the person remains in the community as an outpatient. They may include cognitive behavioural therapy, reward systems and goal setting.

There are medications available to help those battling cocaine addiction to cope with underlying psychological problems such as depression. There is no medicine available to cure the condition but if the symptoms are managed through prescribed drugs, the person may be much more easily able to tackle their addiction.

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What Is the Treatment Process for Cocaine Addiction?

The beginning of your journey to recovery from cocaine addiction will be to undergo an assessment which will help your care team determine the best plan for you. This will involve having a psychical examination and a psychological one and during this process, your doctor may prescribe you with any medications that he or she feels necessary for your treatment.

After this, you will be expected to go through the detox phase, during which, your body will get rid of the toxins left by the cocaine and you are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms, which whilst unpleasant, can be managed through support and medication.

Once you have successfully detoxed from the substance, your physical dependence will be broken but there will be a lot of work to complete surrounding your psychological addiction and this will be done in the form of rehab therapy. You will be able to explore your feelings and emotions with trained counsellors and therapists who will help you to develop techniques for avoiding relapse.

Once your time in the rehab facility comes to an end, you will be given ongoing support in the form of aftercare which may include continued therapy sessions, support groups and medical check-ups.

cocaine withdrawal

Understanding Cocaine Withdrawal

When you detox from cocaine, you will more than likely experience some rather unpleasant withdrawal symptoms as your brain and body readjust to the lack of the drug. Each person will experience withdrawal differently depending on the severity of their addiction but some of the most common symptoms may be:

  • Cravings for the drug
  • Changes in mood – perhaps feeling depressed, anxious or irritable
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia, which can heighten the fatigue you feel
  • An increase in appetite
  • Physical agitation or, in contrast, physical slowing

Coping with Withdrawal from Cocaine Addiction

There is no quick fix when it comes to dealing with the symptoms of withdrawal from cocaine but it is important to continue with your detox and keep in mind that, when compared to other drugs, the detox period from cocaine is significantly shorter. That being said, it can be much more intense.

To cope with the symptoms you are experiencing, it is important to lean on your loved ones and your medical care team for support, you might also be given medications such as anti-depressants to help you through.

However, medication alone won’t get you through and it is important to focus on a healthy lifestyle filled with exercise, a balanced diet and good levels of sleep.

Warnings From Cocaine Withdrawal

In many cases, cocaine withdrawal is not dangerous, especially when compared to other substances but there are certain health risks and so undergoing a medically supervised detox can sometimes be the safest way to withdraw from the drug.

For many people with a cocaine addiction, suicidal feelings can be prevalent through withdrawal and so it is important to ensure that you have a good level of emotional support to avoid a tragic situation.

Is It Possible To Recover From Cocaine Addiction?

Whilst you may find yourself tempted to take cocaine again even after treatment is complete, this is not to say that recovery is not possible. There are thousands of cases of successful recovery from cocaine addiction but it is important to remember that it takes commitment.

You should be prepared to face the problem and accept support from your family, medical professionals and your friends, this will give you a better chance at success. Addiction is a disease and therefore it can be treated. Recovering from cocaine addiction is a very real possibility provided you are willing to do it.

Cocaine Overdose Risk

Cocaine overdose can cause serious damage to the body by overstimulating its systems, this can include organ damage and at worst can be fatal. With cravings becoming so intense within those addicted to cocaine, this can easily lead to overdose when high doses of the drug are taken.

Someone who has overdosed on cocaine might experience tremors, high blood pressure, high temperature and irregular heartbeat which may go on to develop into cardiac arrest. In addition to this, they may appear agitated and confused, experiencing signs of psychosis and some people may even have seizures.

Treating Cocaine Overdose

If a person has overdosed on cocaine, the most important factor in first aid comes in the form of lowering the person’s body temperature through the use of a cold compress. There is also a high risk of seizure but placing the person on their side in a safe location can reduce the risk of complications such as blocked airways and injury should a seizure occur.

Once the person is in the care of a medical team, the aim of lowering their temperature will continue and alongside external cooling, a drip may be given. Doctors will run a variety of tests to determine how much cocaine the person has taken as well as any impact on the heart it has had. Treatment can also include giving sedatives as a way of preventing the person from causing harm to themselves or those around them.

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