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Understanding Cocaine Abuse
Cocaine is a powerful stimulant that is derived from the leaves of the coca plant which grows naturally in South America. When the drug is smoked, ingested or snorted it produces euphoric effects that stimulate the body and the brain resulting in increased energy and emotions. Unfortunately, cocaine is a highly addictive substance that can lead to serious side effects when it is abused.
How Cocaine is Abused
Most of the time, cocaine is smoked or snorted but the drug may also be consumed or injected. When it enters the bloodstream it produces euphoric effects that can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.
In it’s natural state, cocaine is available in a powder form that is usually inhaled through the nose. After it is cooked down with other substances into a hard form, the drug is labeled crack cocaine. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “crack is a form of cocaine that has been processed to make a rock crystal (also called “freebase cocaine”) that can be smoked.” The crystaline form of the drug is heated and smoked at which time it is absorbed into the bloodstream and produces a much stronger euphoria that dissipates very rapidly.
How Long Does Cocaine Last?
The intensity of the cocaine high and the amount of time that the user feels the euphoric effects of the drug will depend on the method of administration. Snorting the drug results in a longer high than injecting or smoking the drug. Generally, smoking crack or injecting cocaine will produce a high that lasts somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes. Snorting the drug will produce a slightly less euphoric effect but the high will linger for closer to 30 minutes or more.
The cocaine high is followed by an intense crash that usually results in the user seeking more of the drug in order to feel upbeat and euphoric once again. Unfortunately, it is this crash and burn followed by the subsequent desire to use again that often leads to dependence and subsequent addiction.
People who abuse cocaine generally find themselves binging on the drug repeatedly in order to experience sustained euphoria. This binge pattern often leads to excessive amounts of the drug being used in a very short period of time and an increased risk of drug overdose comes with each binge. Chronic relapse becomes a necessary evil in the fight that the user has within himself to continue to feel the effects of the cocaine.
Signs & Symptoms of Cocaine Abuse
When an individual is abusing cocaine, a number of signs and symptoms may appear that can alert others to the potential that there is a drug use problem. The most common early signs of cocaine use include:
- dilated pupils
- increased energy
- excitement or exuberant behavior
- fast talking or inebriated speech
Many of these early symptoms of cocaine use are noticeable by outsiders such as friends or family members. Because the immediate effects of cocaine generally wear off within 30 minutes, many users can take cocaine regularly without friends or family ever realizing because the individual is able to hide their drug use and their subsequent erratic behavior.
Signs of Cocaine Abuse
Many of the signs of cocaine abuse differ based on the method in which the drug is regularly abused. Medical complications, psychological and behavioral changes are all likely when cocaine is being regularly smoked, snorted or injected. Below is a look at some of the signs of cocaine abuse based on each method of administration or ingestion:
- Snorting cocaine – leads to nosebleeds, difficulty swallowing, rash or hoarse voice, runny nose, sinus infections
- Smoking crack cocaine – leads to lung problems, cough, burn marks on the fingers or lips, respiratory infection
- Injecting cocaine – leads to sores or infections on the body, track or needle marks, diseases such as HIV or Hepatitis from shared needles
Signs of Cocaine Addiction
Cocaine addiction is the resulting physical and psychological dependency that comes from using cocaine excessively, for a prolonged time or repeatedly over a short period of time. The signs of cocaine addiction often begin with the early signs of cocaine abuse and then progress to more serious side effects such as withdrawal symptoms, loss of control over cocaine use and other side effects.
The most common signs of cocaine addiction include:
- Withdrawal – According to Medline Plus, “cocaine withdrawal occurs when a heavy cocaine user cuts down or quits taking the drug.” Symptoms may include anxiety, irritability, insomnia or lack of pleasure.
- Financial problems – cocaine is an expensive drug that can lead to an array of financial problems when an individual is addicted and cannot control his or her spending on the drug.
- Crash & burn state – users will often crash after a cocaine binge, sleeping for long periods of time or seeming depressed after being seemingly happy or upbeat the day or night before.
- Loss of interest – cocaine addiction will usually lead a user to feeling as if he or she has no interest in other things like family or friends unless there’s cocaine involved.
- Changes in friendships – cocaine addicts will generally spend time with other cocaine addicts rather than spend time with their old friends who don’t use drugs.
- Inability to quit – people who are addicted to cocaine may want to quit but despite their good will and desire to do what’s right they relapse and fall back into their habits of cocaine use.
Effects of Cocaine Abuse
Cocaine abuse affects the user in a variety of different ways causing an array of complications and problems. The effects of cocaine abuse can range from mild anxiety to severe paranoia that may resemble schizophrenia. In fact, sustained cocaine abuse can cause an extreme state of paranoia known as paranoid psychosis or cocaine psychosis that can make staying in touch with reality a challenge at best.
Heart attacks and strokes are very common for people who abuse cocaine. In fact, studies show that regardless of the frequency of cocaine use, heart attacks and strokes are a very common outcome for people who use cocaine. It is very common for users to suffer from cocaine induced heart attack or a seizure following just a single use of cocaine. This can lead to death in some users.
Health Hazards Associated with Cocaine Abuse
Many health hazards can arise from your decision to use cocaine. The effects of cocaine interfere with every aspect of your life and wreak havoc on your health. Cocaine can cause:
- heart problems
- heart attack or stroke
- seizures or convulsions
- respiratory damage
- respiratory failure
- digestive system problems and gastrointestinal problems
- infection from dirty or shared needles
- HIV or other diseases from shared needles
- skin infections, boils or MRSA
Psychological Effects of Cocaine Abuse
Cocaine is a highly psychological altering drug that has dramatic effects on the user’s brain. Because this drug works as a stimulant on the brain, increased dopamine production takes place when cocaine is used. Unfortunately, the body eventually gets accustomed to the cocaine as a means of triggering dopamine production and in time doesn’t realize when to produce dopamine unless cocaine is first administered—this can lead to an array of psychological problems that persist long after the drug is no longer being used.
Cocaine can produce the following psychological effects:
- cravings to use
- prevention of normal re-absorption of dopamine which can cause depression or sadness
- frustration or irritability
Help for Cocaine Abuse
If you or someone you love is addicted to cocaine, there is help available to you! According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “treatment of cocaine addiction must be comprehensive, and strategies need to assess the neurobiological, social, and medical aspects of the patient’s drug abuse.” Moreover, patients who have a variety of addictions often have other co-occurring mental disorders that require additional behavior or pharmacological interventions.”
At this time, there are no known vaccines or drugs that work in the treatment of cocaine addiction. Medications are not regularly used in the treatment of cocaine addiction itself but they may be prescribed to treat other conditions such as mental illness or certain other co-occurring substance abuse problems. Some medications, such as disulfiram, have shown some promise to help those who are addicted to cocaine but they have yet to be approved by the FDA for the treatment of cocaine addiction at this time.
Behavioral Treatment for Cocaine Addiction
Behavioral approaches to cocaine addiction treatment continue to be the key to success for those who are addicted. Many different behavioral therapies including CBT, motivational interviewing and incentive programs continue to work well at treating those who are addicted to cocaine. Contingency management and voucher programs are also used effectively in many treatment facilities to help those who are addicted to cocaine to restore balance and embrace sobriety in their lives.
Cocaine Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings offered throughout the community are widely accepted as a solid means of supportive care for those in recovery from cocaine addiction. Both of these programs provide users with supportive care that can assist the in their efforts to sustain sobriety. Participants benefit from the community involvement and the fellowship that comes from these programs of support and peer guidance and trust.
Choosing the Right Cocaine Addiction Treatment
The right cocaine addiction treatment for you will depend on various factors including the severity of your addiction, the location, your own personal health, and your budget. Some programs accept insurance while others offer affordable treatment plans to meet the very unique needs of all sorts of people suffering from addiction.
Be sure that you choose a program of treatment that provides adequate time for you to heal and recover. Some programs offer treatment for 90 days while others may only provide 30 days of treatment. Still other cocaine addiction treatment programs may provide long term care that spans 6 months or more. Ultimately, the length of time that it takes you to recover will depend on a variety of different elements in your life including your health, your commitment, your active involvement in the treatment programs and various other factors.
In choosing the right treatment program, you’ll likely be faced with the consideration of the following types of help:
- residential treatment
- partial hospitalization
- outpatient treatment
- intensive outpatient treatment
- sober living homes
- hospital detoxification
- individual, group and family counseling
- support groups
Keep in mind that there are many different types of treatment available to assist you in getting sober. From residential care that provides around-the-clock support to outpatient treatment which provides counseling and occasional monitoring for continued sobriety, there is sure to be a satisfactory level of treatment and care available to assist you in getting sober and freeing yourself from the stronghold of cocaine addiction once and for all.