Cocaine is a highly addictive drug that produces euphoria, increased energy, strength and sociability, and a sense of control. It comes from the Coca plant and is known on the street by such names as coke, gold dust, flake, snow, toot and blow.
Because a cocaine high typically lasts only an hour or so, users often go on cocaine “binges” taking multiple doses in a short period of time. It is also common for cocaine addicts to mix the drug with heroin, Valium, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs. Like other drugs, cocaine triggers the reward centers of the brain, changing the brain chemistry so that the user struggles to feel good — or even normal — without the drug.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, new research shows that chronic cocaine abuse is clearly related to dysfunction in those parts of the brain involved in higher thought and decision-making. Scientists who performed the study suggest that the resulting cognitive deficits may help explain why those addicted persist in using the drug or return to it after a period of abstinence. The study was conducted by Dr. Robert Hester of Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and Dr. Hugh Garavan of Trinity College and the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
Cocaine vs. Crack Cocaine
Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant that comes in two chemical forms:
- hydrochloride salt cocaine: this chemical form of cocaine comes in powder form and can be dissolved in water; this form of cocaine can be taken intravenously (by vein) or intranasally (in the nose)
- freebase cocaine: freebase cocaine has not been neutralized to make the hydrochloride salt, and this form of cocaine is smokable
Crack is the street name given to a freebase form of cocaine that has been processed from the powdered cocaine hydrochloride form to a smokable substance. The term “crack” refers to the crackling sound heard when the mixture is smoked. Crack cocaine is processed with ammonia or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and water, and heated to remove the hydrochloride.
Before it reaches the street, crack is typically “cut” with sugars, local anesthetics or other illicit drugs to reduce its purity. For this reason, it is difficult to know what to expect when using crack cocaine.
Cocaine is typically dissolved and injected or snorted as powder, whereas crack cocaine is most commonly smoked. Users report that crack cocaine produces a shorter but more intense high and is cheaper than cocaine.
Symptoms of Cocaine Addiction
Cocaine abuse can produce powerful drug cravings. In animal studies, rats work harder to get cocaine than any other drug.
Symptoms of cocaine addiction vary depending on the method of use, but may include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- High blood pressure
- Persistent runny nose (cocaine drip)
- Weight loss
- Irritability and restlessness
- Teeth grinding
- Cold sweats
- Tremors and muscle jerks
- Nasal and sinus problems (coke nose)
- Bronchitis and chest pain
- Feeling that bugs are crawling under the skin
In serious cases, cocaine addiction can lead to cocaine psychosis (similar to paranoid schizophrenia), seizures, stroke, heart attack, coma and death. People addicted to cocaine often experience job loss, divorce, financial hardship, incarceration and other problems before realizing that they need cocaine rehab.
Repeated and regular use of crack can lead to addiction, which leads to negative effects on your health. These negative effects can include:
- Cardiovascular effects, such as irregular hearth rhythm and heart attacks
- Respiratory effects such as chest pain and respiratory failure
- Neurological effects, such as strokes, seizures, and headaches
- Gastrointestinal complications, such as abdominal pain and nausea
These effects and medical consequences of cocaine can be life threatening, and because of the dangers presented by cocaine use, it is important to find treatment for yourself or a loved one who is battling cocaine addiction.
Psychological Effects of Cocaine Abuse
Using cocaine harms not only the body, but also the mind. The drug causes mental, emotional and psychological damage that can be very difficult to overcome.
The parts of the brain that cocaine directly affects are the areas that reward us, such as the areas associated with good behavior, sex, food or other healthy activities. This is why using cocaine feels so good to most people, and why it is a highly addictive drug that causes intense cravings, tolerance, dependence and ultimately addiction.
Once a person is dependent on cocaine, it is very difficult to quit. In fact, addiction professionals do not recommend that people try to stop using cocaine on their own, as the withdrawal can be psychologically demanding, causing many people to abandon their efforts to stop using the drug altogether.
Getting someone into treatment for cocaine addiction can be a life-saving decision. In cocaine rehab, the addict can recognize their addiction for what it is: a chronic disease that requires professional treatment.
Cocaine rehab is typically most effective in a residential setting. While the physical withdrawal symptoms of cocaine addiction are not life-threatening and typically pass in a week or less, the psychological drug cravings are intense and lead many people to relapse.
In cocaine rehab, addicts typically have access to the following services, among others:
- Medical monitoring and medication, as needed
- Individual, group and family therapy
- Twelve-Step meetings such as Cocaine Anonymous
- Sober recreational activities
- Education about cocaine addiction
- Relapse prevention planning
Pharmacological treatment: While there is no medication to treat cocaine addiction directly, during the detoxification process in treatment, antidepressants are typically used to help manage the symptoms of withdrawal that usually come in the early periods of abstinence from cocaine.
When searching for a treatment program for yourself or a loved one, it is important that treatment programs address the physical, emotional, and social effects of drug use on the patient and their families.
Getting clean requires more than a stay in cocaine rehab — it requires an ongoing commitment to protecting one’s sobriety. Along with the skills learned in treatment, finding interests outside of abusing cocaine and a supportive peer group can help addicts stay on the road to lifelong recovery.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: Drugs, Brains, and Behavior – The Science of Addiction
- National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
- National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Narcotics Anonymous
Adapted from: CRC Health – Addiction Treatment Centers, http://www.crchealth.com/
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence https://www.ncadd.org/
American Psychiactric Association,https://www.psychiatry.org
American Psychological Association, https://www.APA.org
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) https://www.drugabuse.gov/