While opioids are the addictive substance that poses perhaps the greatest threat to the country, there are many other drugs that have long been a problem in the United States, and, even in the midst of the opioid crisis, continue to be an issue.
One such drug is cocaine. While cocaine is most frequently associated with the 1970s and 80s, it is still very much in use today, with an estimated 1.5 million users in 2014. Cocaine also does play a role in the opioid epidemic due to how frequently it is used in combination with other drugs, including opioids like heroin. In 2015, cocaine was a contributing factor in about 7,000 overdose deaths.
Unlike heroin or other opioids, cocaine also carries with it an oddly glamorous association due to how often movies and television depict it as the drug of choice for the rich and famous. It has even been frequently referred to as the “caviar of street drugs.”
The effects of cocaine abuse, however, are as far from glamorous as it gets. Long-term cocaine abuse and addiction can cause serious, often permanent damage to the central nervous system, respiratory system, and the cardiovascular system, often with fatal results.
It is possible to become addicted to cocaine in just one use and quickly build up a tolerance to its effects, needing to use more and more of it and putting yourself at an increased risk of overdose.
Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant made from the coca plant, which is native to South America. While the plant has been used for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years, when synthesized into cocaine it becomes an extremely addictive recreational drug.
Cocaine is typically sold in the form of white powder that is often introduced into the body by rubbing it on your gums, although it can also be snorted and even injected. Cocaine can also be heated up and processed into a smokeable form known as crack.
Cocaine is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule II substance, which means that it has a high potential for abuse and addiction and is recognized as having extremely limited medical usage.
Once cocaine has entered the body, its effects begin to take hold very quickly, causing an intense but brief high. Like most stimulants, cocaine works by altering the user’s dopamine levels.Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for regulating emotion, motivation, and reward, among other things and is in what is referred to as the brain’s pleasure center.
Generally, when the brain produces dopamine as a chemical response, it sits in the synapses until it is no longer needed and is then reabsorbed until its next use.
Cocaine is what is known as a “reuptake inhibitor,” blocking the reabsorption of dopamine, and other brain chemicals tied to balancing mood and emotion like serotonin and norepinephrine, so that their build up in the synapses. This buildup is what causes the feelings of excitement, alertness, and euphoria.
The signs of a growing addiction are often hard to spot until it has progressed to the point where someone’s dependency on a substance has become obvious. It can be difficult to notice something if you are not specifically looking for it. That said, the signs of cocaine addiction tend to be more easily distinguished as opposed to those of alcohol abuse, for example.
The abnormal behaviors associated with heavy cocaine use will also typically clash with someone’s normal personality in a noticeable way as they rely more on cocaine abuse to function in their daily lives.
As cocaine becomes the focus of someone’s life and the motivator behind the majority of the decisions they make, there are also many behavioral signs that signal not only cocaine addiction but are also consistent with substance use disorders in general.
These behaviors are all signs of cocaine addiction or at least cocaine abuse and dependency that is on its way to becoming a full-blown addiction. If you recognize these signs in someone you care about, or in yourself, then it is essential that you seek professional recovery treatment as soon as possible, starting with medical detoxification to clear your system of the substance and stem the physical and mental damage it may have already caused.
The process of cocaine withdrawal is not typically a life-threatening one, and so a cocaine detox can usually be done on an outpatient basis, with regular visits to a detox clinic. However, if someone has tried to quit using cocaine multiple times without success, then an inpatient detox may be necessary.
It is important to keep in mind though that just because cocaine has a comparatively less dangerous withdrawal than other substances, that does not mean that someone should attempt to detox on their own without at least some level of medical supervision.
If you have a particularly severe cocaine addiction, then attempting to quit on your own all at once can trigger an intense shock to your body due to the sudden loss of the dopamine supplied by cocaine, which can lead to intense emotional and psychological cocaine withdrawal symptoms.
The symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts can often feel overwhelming to the point of not only potentially causing a relapse before completing the detox process but also increasing the risk of self-harm or worse.
A professional medical detox team can properly and safely handle these kinds of complications that would be much more dangerous if faced alone.
Another reason medical detox for cocaine is a smart choice is that generally, batches of cocaine that make it to the streets are very rarely pure cocaine. Imported cocaine is often cut with all kinds of different substances to stretch out the batch and make more money for the dealer.
Since there is no way to know just what might be in the cocaine you’ve been abusing, it’s quite possible that you have been ingesting other drugs or hazardous substances as well.
A detox center can provide you with an accurate medical assessment that provides insight into drugs you may have inadvertently been taking without even knowing it ensures your health and safety during the detox process
As a stimulant, cocaine withdrawal symptoms are very different from most other drugs. Cocaine withdrawal, for the most part, lacks the physical withdrawal symptoms associated with substances like opioids or benzodiazepines.
This means that instead of tremors, nausea, vomiting, and other flu-like symptoms, cocaine withdrawal symptoms are mostly mood-based and psychological in nature.
The intensity and length of the symptoms of cocaine withdrawal depend on a number of different factors, including how long someone has been abusing cocaine for, how much of it they were taking, and how they were taking it, to name a few.
The cocaine withdrawal timeline is generally broken into three different phases: crash, craving, and extinction. While the previously mentioned factors will have a significant impact on how an individual experiences cocaine withdrawal, it will typically resemble the following process:
Cocaine has a very short half-life and peaks very quickly, so it is possible for someone to begin feeling cocaine withdrawal symptoms as soon as 90 minutes after their last dose. However, it can sometimes take closer to 24 hours for symptoms to manifest.
The early symptoms include anxiety, exhaustion, hunger, and depression, and can last as long as several days. This is also generally when the withdrawal symptoms will be at their most uncomfortable.
Once the crash stage has run its course, the fatigue, depression, and anxiety will have mostly faded and been replaced with extremely strong cocaine cravings. Symptoms of irritability, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating will be at their peak strength as thoughts of and cravings for cocaine become almost all-consuming.
Unlike the crash phase, the craving phase can last anywhere from one week to more than two months. The longer someone has been abusing large amounts of cocaine, the more likely they are to stay in the craving phase, sometimes for as long as 10 weeks.
The final stage of cocaine withdrawal is also the longest, sometimes lasting up to six months. At this point, the majority of the cocaine withdrawal symptoms should have either faded or disappeared entirely, although there are still likely to be random, intermittent cravings for cocaine.
On the bright side, these cravings will at least be much weaker and less frequent than the cravings experienced in the craving phase.
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In order to give yourself the highest chance of recovering from a dependence on cocaine, as well as just about any other addictive substance, detoxification is the crucial first step. However, it is only just that, the first of many steps involved in cocaine addiction treatment. If you do not take that next step to ongoing care, then it will be as if you just placed a bandage on the problem instead of truly addressing it. Detox removes the cocaine from your system, but that’s all it does.
To change your addictive behaviors and give yourself the best chance at maintaining sobriety and avoiding an almost certain relapse, then addiction rehabilitation treatment is essential. Depending on the severity of your addiction, this can be done in either an inpatient or outpatient setting. Typically though, most people recovering from a cocaine addiction are able to do so on an outpatient basis.
Whichever type of treatment program you choose, you will have access to different therapies and methodologies meant to help you get to the root of the issues behind your addiction, and learn to understand and better manage addictive behaviors.
No one’s recovery treatment program is going to look exactly the same. Your treatment program will generally be tailored to what will have been determined to be most effective for you personally, often in collaboration between you and your therapist or counselor.
Many treatment centers will also provide post-graduation support services, including alumni programs. These are meant to make it easier for people who have bonded during their shared experience during treatment to keep in touch and act as a network of support for each other.
Cocaine is much more dangerous than many people might think. Since the use of cocaine carries the association of being affiliated with people of high social status, the negative effects of cocaine can often be misconstrued.
But make no mistake, long-term use of cocaine can lead to damaging effects on the body as well as the brain. Cocaine’s effects on blood vessels, heart rate, and blood pressure can lead to serious heart problems and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Other dangers associated with cocaine abuse are based on how someone uses the drug. For example, if you are mainly abusing cocaine by snorting it, you are likely to experience difficulty swallowing, chronic sinus problems and nosebleeds, a loss of sense of smell, and the possibility of perforating your nasal cavity and causing it to collapse.
If you are primarily injecting cocaine, then you are at extremely high risk of an infection in the lining of your heart valves, as well as contracting hepatitis, HIV, or other diseases borne from sharing needles. There is also a high risk of the injection site becoming infected or getting an abscess.
It is not only possible to overdose on cocaine, it can also be fatal if it is not treated in time, as cocaine overdoses are commonly followed by a fatal seizure, heart attack, or stroke.
Cocaine abuse and addiction should never be taken lightly. It can permanently damage key pathways in the brain and throw off brain chemistry levels to the point where it can be almost impossible to restore them to normal, pre-addiction functioning.
No matter how comparatively safe it might seem at first, cocaine can cause disastrous, permanent damage to your body and mind. If you or someone you care about is struggling with an addiction to cocaine, don’t wait until it’s too late to make a change. Call Delphi Behavioral Health Group and let us get you or your loved one on the path to a brighter, substance-free future.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, May). What is the Scope of Cocaine Use in the United States? Retrieved June 18, 2018 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-scope-cocaine-use-in-united-states
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, May). What are the Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use? Retrieved June 18, 2018 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-are-long-term-effects-cocaine-use
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. (n.d.). Cocaine Drug Fact Sheet from https://www.dea.gov/factsheets/cocaine
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2018, June 4). Cocaine Withdrawal. Retrieved June 18, 2018 from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000947.htm