Cocaine Abuse Causes, Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

Known as a high-end designer street drug, cocaine is often referred to as the “caviar of street drugs,” and played up in the media as being the drug of choice for the rich and famous, which can make cocaine appear to be glamorous. Cocaine, a purified extract of the Erythroxylum coca bush, is anything but glamorous. Cocaine use often leads to cocaine addiction and long-term use of cocaine can cause life-threatening heart conditions, effect the brain, and leave users emotionally and mentally exhausted and overwrought.

Two major forms of cocaine are available on the street: powdered cocaine and crack cocaine. Each form of cocaine causes a different type of high experienced by the user.

Powdered cocaine, also called “blow” or “coke,” is able to dissolve in water and is often used by snorting or injecting the drug. The high achieved by snorting powdered cocaine lasts between 15 and 30 minutes, while the high achieved from injecting cocaine is more intense, but a shorter lasting high.

Crack cocaine, also called “freebase,” “rock,” or “crack,” is created through a chemical process in which a freebased crystalized rock is produced. This rock is heated in a glass pipe, a “crack pipe,” to create an inhalable smoke that is absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs. Smoking crack creates a high that lasts 5 to 10 minutes.

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The duration of the high achieved by using cocaine in either form is relatively short, so many people who abuse cocaine do so in a binge and crash pattern. This type of cocaine usage means that a user takes cocaine often in a relatively short period of time to sustain the high caused by the cocaine. This type of behavior can lead to cocaine addiction. Cocaine addiction is a long-term, chronic, relapsing disease that is caused by changes in the structure and function of the brain leading to, among other problems, intense drug-seeking behaviors and cravings.

Cocaine works as a stimulant that affects the central nervous system by increasing the levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter, in the brain. Dopamine is usually released in response to a potential reward stimulus – such as looking at a great meal – then recycled back into the brain cell that released it. This stops the signal between the two brain cells. Cocaine, however, disturbs this process, preventing dopamine from being recycled back into the brain cells. This causes large amounts of dopamine between cells in the brain, which increases the effects of dopamine and the manner in which the reward system in the brain operates.

The high experienced by cocaine is often accompanied by what users call a “speeding up” of the entire body. Users report that they talk fast, think quickly, and feel their heart racing. They often twitch and forget to eat or drink. Their mood is good while they’re high – they’re happy and excited… most of the time. That mood is prone to violent changes as they become angry or convinced that someone is out to get them. All of the good feelings caused by a cocaine high wear off and the crash that comes causes intense sadness and exhaustion that can last days. Only taking more of the drug can prevent these feelings.

Cocaine is often used with other drugs, called “polydrug” abuse, especially combined with alcohol or benzodiazepines, which are sedatives that can intensify the high and ease the inevitable crash. Abuse and addiction to cocaine and other drugs can cause major problems in all parts of a person’s life. Without proper treatment and intervention, cocaine addiction can cause life-threatening consequences.

Statistics

Cocaine use and abuse continues to be a growing problem in the United States and is considered to be one of the most abused stimulants in America. Recently, cocaine has been named as the drug most often involved in visits to the emergency room. It’s estimated that 1.9 million people use cocaine each month – 359,000 of those used crack cocaine. More men than women abuse cocaine each month. Adults between the ages of 18 and 25 report higher rates of cocaine usage with 1.5% of individuals in this age bracket self-reporting cocaine abuse in the past month. Cocaine has been and continues to be a growing drug problem in the United States.

Co-Occurring Disorders

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Other addictions
  • Benzodiazepine abuse
  • Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
  • Depression

Causes of Cocaine Addiction

People try drugs for many reasons. Many are curious and want to have fun. Others try because their friends are doing it. Some take drugs to increase their athletic or intellectual abilities. Still others use drugs to relieve problems like stress or anxiety. While drug use doesn’t always lead to addiction, it’s important to remember that drug abuse is less about the amount or how often you use and more about the negative problems caused by that drug use.

As is the case with most drugs that are abused, there’s no single root cause for a cocaine addiction. Addiction is considered a disease with many factors – genetic, environmental, biological, and psychological – that work together to create addiction.

Genetic: People who have a first degree relative, like a parent or sibling, tend to have higher rates of addiction. It’s important to note that simply growing up around people who have problems with addiction does not always lead to the development of addiction.

Biological: Research indicates that long-term cocaine usage changes the structure and function in the brain that can lead to change in the level of the protein in the brain that is responsible for dopamine action within the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that leads to pleasurable sensations within the brain.

Environmental: Research suggests that people who come from homes where there is a history of child abuse, traumatic events, or child neglect may have an increased chance of developing addiction later in life. Early usage of drugs can also increase the likelihood that a person will become addicted to drugs later in life.

Psychological: Many individuals use recreational drugs like cocaine in order to help manage symptoms of another mental illness like bipolar disorder or depression. Cocaine can fill a very empty emotional void for some.

If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Signs and Symptoms

Cocaine addiction is an addiction to a very potent drug, which means that correctly identifying the ways in which a cocaine addict will display symptoms can be a challenge. The following is a list of some of the common signs and symptoms of cocaine abuse:

Mood:

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Irritation
  • Panic
  • Fearfulness
  • Euphoria
  • Feeling superior to others

Behavioral:

  • Extremely talkative while high
  • Increased energy levels
  • Stealing or borrowing money
  • Increased mental alertness
  • Decreased need for sleep while high
  • Increased need for sleep after usage
  • Erratic, bizarre behaviors
  • Violence
  • Legal problems
  • Abandonment of once-pleasurable activities in order to get high
  • Continuing cocaine use despite mounting problems the drug is causing
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work or school

Physical:

  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Constriction of blood vessels
  • Chronically runny nose
  • Nosebleeds
  • Nasal perforation
  • Hoarseness
  • Increase in body temperature
  • Increase in heart rate
  • Increase in blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Decreased appetite
  • Malnutrition
  • Dilated pupils
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Gangrene of the bowel
  • Risks for HIV, Hepatitis and other blood borne pathogens
  • Muscle twitches
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Strokes
  • Heart attack
  • Death

Psychological:

  • Reckless and risky behaviors
  • Problems in friendships and other interpersonal relationships
  • Intense paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Violent mood swings
  • Hallucination
  • Break from reality
  • Feeling the drug is needed for survival
  • Craving cocaine
  • Unable to exert good judgment
  • Rationalization of drug use
  • Unexplained changes in personality
  • Lack of motivation

Effects of Cocaine Abuse

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Coma
  • Psychosis
  • Stroke
  • Heart Attack
  • Permanent changes to heart rhythms
  • Blood borne disease
  • Legal problems
  • Unemployment
  • Divorce
  • Domestic violence

Effects of Cocaine Withdrawal

While very unpleasant, cocaine withdrawal is rarely serious unless complicated by suicidal ideation. Symptoms of cocaine withdrawal tend to last only one or two weeks and may include the following:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Inability to feel pleasure
  • Exhaustion
  • Challenges in concentration
  • Intense craving for cocaine
  • Body aches
  • Pain
  • Tremors and shakiness
  • Chills
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