With both anesthetic and stimulant properties, cocaine is a strong narcotic falling into a class of energizing drugs colloquially known as “uppers.” Most often snorted or rubbed into the gums, cocaine can also be smoked or injected for a powerful, rapidly hitting high. As cocaine interacts with the brain’s dopamine systems, physical addiction quickly develops, leading to physical – and psychological – cravings that perpetuate chemical dependency on the drug. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a stunning 15 percent of Americans had tried cocaine by 2008 alone.
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The History of Cocaine
Derived from the leaves of a coca plant, cocaine has been used medicinally for centuries, largely because of its analgesic and energizing properties. As early as the 16th century, cocaine intoxication spread throughout Europe, by direct ingestion of coca through chewing. Cocaine was first purified and isolated during the mid-1800s, followed by the synthesis of cocaine alkaloids, employed as numbing agents and anesthetics towards the end of the 19th century.
As acceptance of cocaine’s medicinal properties grew, widespread and mainstream cocaine use increased. Cocaine became available in varied mediums, including smokable, powder and intravenous preparations, even famously finding its way into Coca-Cola soft drinks in minimal amounts. As the 20th century dawned, however, the negative effects and addictive properties of cocaine led to its regulation. By 1970, widespread use of cocaine was banned in the United States, gaining it a place on the controlled substance list. Though illegal today in the United States, cocaine use – and ensuing addiction – still occurs, worsened by the 1980s epidemic of smokable, rock-form cocaine, known as “crack.”
Street or Slang Names
Cocaine’s long and storied history has led it to accumulate a wide variety of nicknames, particularly when purchased on the street. Common terms for cocaine include “coke,” “blow,” “candy,” and “snow,” inspired by the drug’s white, powdery appearance. Other names for powdered cocaine include “dream,” “dust,” “yao,” and “zip.” According to the National Institute on Chemical Dependency (NICD), street slang terms for crack – cocaine’s solid form – include variants such as “rock,” “ice cube,” “bad,” “ball” and “black rock.”
What Makes It So Addictive?
From the moment that cocaine is ingested into the body, it instigates a series of potent chemical changes in the brain. Acting on neurotransmitters, cocaine alters brain chemistry, causing the unnatural over-release of these powerful chemical messengers. As cocaine acts on dopamine – a brain chemical responsible for feelings of calm, well-being and happiness – the user experiences cocaine’s euphoric effects. Cocaine interacts with the ventral tegmental area of the brain (commonly called the VTA), lighting up the brain’s pleasure centers and reinforcing the drug’s euphoric associations. Cocaine also prevents dopamine from being recycled, continually triggering its ongoing stimulation and release.
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
Physical signs of cocaine addiction can range from subtle to obvious in nature. Symptoms of cocaine addiction can include dilation of the pupils, irritation of the ocular tissues, and tremors or twitches fueled by hyperactivity. Nasal passageways become particularly susceptible to cocaine use, largely because of the drug’s most popular method of ingestion known as insufflation (“snorting”). Congested noses and frequent or sudden bleeding from the nose are among the drug’s classic signs, sometimes culminating in a condition known as “coke nose,” marked by wheezing as the cartilage barrier (known as the septum) breaks down and deviates. Many cocaine users also experience formication – known among cocaine addicts as “coke bugs” – described as a phantom “crawling” sensation under or across the skin. Severe and rapid weight loss may also be apparent, resulting from cocaine’s appetite suppressing qualities, leading to the development of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa.
When users have fallen prey to cocaine drug addiction, those close to them often notice key changes in personality and behavior. At the outset, cocaine can cause addicted individuals to exhibit rapid speech, disjointed thoughts, attention span problems, and manic episodes fueled by delusions of grandeur – colloquially known as “cocaineomania.” Over time, mental and emotional issues may become more obvious, as cocaine addicts become prone to mood swings, anxiety attacks and severe depressive episodes. Complete transformations in personality can occur, leading cocaine addicts to become hyperactive, aggressive and even violent, engaging in classic outbursts of rage.
Health Concerns Related to Cocaine Abuse
Some of the long-term health concerns associated with cocaine abuse include:
- Sexual performance issues and erectile dysfunction
- Chronic bronchitis and emphysema from repeated cocaine freebasing (smoking)
- Elevated risk of heart disease, stroke and cardiac arrest
- Bleeding in the brain (brain hemorrhage
- Bowel and intestinal gangrene
- Digestive issues such as loose stools, diarrhea and constipation
- Liver disease and organ damage
- Seizures and tremors
Unfortunately, while the pleasure-oriented effects of cocaine may be more difficult to feel, cocaine users do not build tolerance to potential side effects, increasing the risk of serious damage or death with heightening doses. In particular, those who with a long-term history of cocaine abuse who have completed a period of abstinence may be at higher risk for unintentional overdose, as the body has lost ability to tolerate high doses from the past. Other risk factors for cocaine overdose include the intravenous injection of cocaine and drug cocktails that mix cocaine with alcohol, sedatives or other drugs.
Individuals exhibiting symptoms of a cocaine overdose should receive immediate emergency medical attention. Signs of a cocaine overdose include:
- Shaking and seizures
- Hyperthermia or dangerously high fevers
- Chest pains
- Vomiting and severe nausea
- Intense, relentless headaches
- Slurred speech and other stroke symptoms
- Breathing problems and respiratory arrest
- Loss of consciousness
- Profuse sweating
Withdrawal Signs and Symptoms
When cocaine is abruptly removed from the body – particularly after lengthy periods of use – the body makes an attempt to adjust to sobriety as it detoxifies. Often jolted by the fast-onsetting physical changes associated with sudden cocaine cessation, the body responds with telltale physical symptoms of cocaine withdrawal.
As opposed to the dramatic physical responses withdrawal to other street drugs can cause, many cocaine withdrawal symptoms are relatively subtle in nature. Physical withdrawal from cocaine can, however, include symptoms such as ravenous appetites (as the urge to eat returns), slowed reflexes, depressed motor skills and exhaustion.
Cocaine withdrawal can also have psychological symptoms as the brain experiences – often for the first time in years – the chemical imbalances cocaine has caused. According to the National Institutes of Health, mental symptoms of cocaine withdrawal are not always apparent to outside observers. One of the most powerful withdrawal symptoms associated with cocaine addiction includes powerful, overwhelming urges to use the drug again. Emotional disturbances such as mood swings, bouts of rage and anger, irritability, and deep depression can occur. Cocaine users experiencing withdrawal may also suffer from sleep disturbances (nightmares, hypersomnia or insomnia), lethargy and extreme paranoia.
Staging an Intervention
When someone you love battles cocaine addiction, time can be of the essence – and getting them into treatment can become a matter of life and death. Studies have repeatedly shown that how an individual enters treatment – whether of their own volition or by coercion from others – matters less than the duration and intensity of treatment they receive.
Cocaine Abuse Statistics
Cocaine abuse and addiction remain an ongoing problem across the nation. Here are just a few of the facts and figures surrounding modern cocaine abuse.
- More than 1.5 million American residents engage in cocaine use at least once every 30 days.
- Among 2009’s drug-involved emergency room visits, cocaine-associated health issues were responsible for more than 400,000 separate ER trips in 2009 alone.
- Among methods of ingestion, insufflation (snorting) remains the most popular way to intake cocaine, with smoking cocaine and intravenous use coming in second and third, respectively.
- Nearly 2.5 percent of US residents have engaged in some form of cocaine use over the course of their lives, according to the New York Times.
- An excess of 600,000 people in the United States struggle with some degree of cocaine use.
- More than 40 percent of those who use cocaine have become violent during a cocaine high.
- A mere 25 percent of addicted individuals who attempt to stop using cocaine without professional treatment get sober.
Types of Addiction Treatment
Once the decision has been made for treatment, drug addicts can begin the healing process with enrollment in a cocaine addiction treatment program. Most residential recovery programs will involve on-site detoxification facilities, some form of counseling, group meetings and wellness exercises. However, each addiction treatment option tends to have a distinct emphasis, each with their own dedicated benefits.
In holistic cocaine recovery programs, natural methods of detoxification are generally favored over medical detox, emphasizing nonaddictive medications, natural therapies and mind-body healing techniques. At their core, holistic programs tend to have a 360-degree focus, incorporating individualized therapy, 12-step modalities, nutrition, fitness and spiritual support.
In some cases, cocaine addiction recovery work may be best performed in a single-sex setting. Some women’s cocaine addiction treatment programs harness the power of community and relationship to promote the healing process in an atmosphere of safety and camaraderie. A female-only setting may be especially attractive to cocaine addicts with histories of domestic violence or sexual abuse or those needing special emphasis on concurrent female-centric issues such as body image and eating disorders.
Many rehabilitation centers simply cannot effectively treat individuals under the age of 18. As such, specially licensed facilities exist to focus on addiction recovery for those in their teenage years – a time when, despite their minor status, teens are most prone to drug experimentation and dependency. Some teen centers even offer tutoring services or satellite classes to help teenagers stay academically on track as they heal.
Sometimes,cocaine addiction occurs as an attempt to cope with real and painful psychological issues. Dual diagnosis facilities can offer side-by-side treatment of mental health issues, in addition to cocaine addiction treatment. Dual diagnosis centers specialize in helping addicts who also suffer from a wide range of mental health disorders, from clinical depression, anxiety or dissociative disorders and personality disorders to more severe conditions such as bipolar disorder and even schizophrenia. Many dual diagnosis treatment centers can also offer help for co-occurring behavioral or “process” addictions, including compulsive gambling, sex addiction, self-injury and eating disorders.
Get Help for Cocaine Addiction Today
At Axis, we specialize in providing hope and healing to clients who have struggled with long-standing addictions to cocaine. With a state-of-the-art drug detoxification program and intensive and progressive addiction therapies, clients undergo a total transformation as they achieve sobriety. Call us today to speak with a cocaine addiction intake specialist and learn how Axis can help you or a loved one finally break free from a life of drug addiction.
- The Risks of How The Drug Is Administered
- Types of Cutting Agents
- How Abuse Changes a Person’s Behavior
- How Long It Stay in Your System
- What Use Does to the Central Nervous System
- What Use Does to the Circulatory System
- What Are the Chances of an Overdose?
- What to Expect From Withdrawal
- Symptoms of a Physical Addiction
- Effects of a Psychological Addiction