Getting Help for Cocaine Abuse
People who use cocaine may wonder, “Is cocaine addictive?” Yes, cocaine is an addictive and dangerous drug that can cause many negative consequences for people who abuse it. This article will help you understand all about cocaine, including why people use it, what causes cocaine addiction, what happens when you do cocaine, the dangers of cocaine use, how to spot addiction, and how to seek rehab so you can stop the cycle of cocaine abuse and live a happier, healthier, and drug-free life.
What is Cocaine?
Cocaine is a stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant. Stimulants are a category of drugs that also includes prescription amphetamines like Adderall as well as illegal drugs like methamphetamine and methcathinone. These drugs work by speeding up the messages that are relayed from your brain to your body. People use cocaine as a powder by snorting it, injecting it, or rubbing it into their gums. It can also be smoked in crystal form, known as crack cocaine. 1
Regardless of the method of use, cocaine’s addictive potential is so high that it is classified as a Schedule II substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration. While Schedule II drugs have a high potential for abuse, they also have a currently accepted medical use. Cocaine is sometimes used as an anesthetic or to reduce bleeding, but it is now rarely used for these purposes in the U.S.2
According to the Central Intelligence Agency, the U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of cocaine.3 Estimates from the 2018-2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health report that almost 5.5 million Americans over the age of 12 reported use of cocaine the previous year. and more than 8.2 million suffered from an illicit drug use disorder (a term which includes cocaine addiction). In Nevada, an estimated 70,000 adults over the age of 12 used cocaine in the past year, while 112,000 Nevadans over the age of 12 had an illicit drug use disorder. 4
People who use cocaine cannot be sure what’s in the drug, making it an incredibly risky and dangerous drug to use.5 Despite the relatively stable number of people abusing cocaine for the past several years, there has been an alarming increase in the number of overdose deaths due to stimulants like cocaine. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) attributes this to using a combination of cocaine and opioids, or cocaine laced with other substances like fentanyl, without a person’s knowledge.
What Happens When You Do Cocaine?
Why do people get addicted to cocaine? The main reason cocaine is so addictive is because of its pleasure-reinforcing effects. Cocaine use causes changes in your brain’s reward center; it floods your brain with dopamine, the primary brain chemical that’s responsible for feelings of euphoria and pleasure. A paper published in the Psychiatric Times explains that “cocaine produces pleasure that far exceeds the normal range of human experience and becomes inexorably crystallized in memory.”6
Cocaine can cause other short-term physical and psychological effects that people may feel are positive experiences, such as:6
- Feelings of alertness.
- Increased energy.
- Increased sexual arousal.
On the other hand, the NIDA reports that cocaine can also cause negative short-term consequences to your mental and physical health, such as: 7
- Increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure.
- Abdominal pain.
- Erratic or violent behavior.
- Panic attacks.
- Heart rhythm problems.
If you use cocaine regularly for long periods of time, you may experience long-term effects that can include:7
- Loss of sense of smell.
- Nasal damage and trouble swallowing (if snorted).
- Death of bowel tissue.
- Poor nutrition.
- Weight loss.
- Lung damage (if smoked).
- Movement disorders, like Parkinson’s disease.
- Auditory hallucinations (hearing things that aren’t there).
There are other health consequences. Pregnant women who abuse cocaine may put their unborn child at risk for low birth weight, premature delivery, and problems with attention and self-regulation later in life. People who inject cocaine may have a risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis, and other forms of infectious disease. Drinking and doing coke can be particularly dangerous; the combination can put you at risk for increased cardiac toxicity. 7
Signs & Symptoms of Cocaine Abuse
You may not always be able to tell whether someone is using cocaine. However, people who frequently abuse the drug often have certain symptoms in common. In addition to the conditions mentioned above, you may notice physical symptoms such as:2 effects on body and 9 and 10 bullets
- Jitteriness or shakiness.
- Talking or moving fast.
- Enlarged pupils.
- A lack of appetite.
- Not sleeping or sleeping during the day.
- Problems breathing.
- Runny nose.
Behavioral signs of cocaine abuse can also include:2
- Mental exhaustion.
- Changes in social circle.
- Avoiding family or friends.
- Poor personal hygiene.
- Mood changes.
- Problems at work, home, or school.
- Avoiding responsibilities.
- Financial problems.
- Stealing, lying, or sneaking around.
- Legal troubles.
Cocaine Dependence & Addiction
Cocaine dependence and addiction are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. Dependence can often lead to addiction, but someone who is dependent is not necessarily addicted.
Cocaine dependence can occur with chronic administration of the drug. Repeated use causes your body to adapt to the presence of cocaine to the point where you can longer function or feel normal without it. If you stop using cocaine, you experience withdrawal symptoms. These can lead to addiction because you feel the need to keep using cocaine to keep these symptoms at bay.11
When you abuse cocaine, your brain adapts to the presence of extra dopamine and becomes less sensitive to the drug’s effects. This can lead to tolerance, meaning you need to take more frequent and higher doses to experience previous results.
Tolerance and dependence can lead to addiction (often referred to by the clinical term “cocaine use disorder”). Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that occurs when a person has lost control of their life. Even though it causes negative consequences, people with a cocaine addiction continue to use to prevent unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. 8
Withdrawal occurs when a person suddenly cuts down or stops using cocaine after repeated administration of the drug. It can also occur to people who have not completely quit cocaine and still have some cocaine in their blood. After a binge (a period of cocaine use), people experience a crash and a variety of withdrawal symptoms. Generally speaking, cocaine withdrawal alone is not life-threatening, but certain symptoms can lead to lethal consequences. This is why it is important to talk to your doctor before you decide to stop using cocaine — you should have a plan in place to help you prevent relapse.1
Withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person. According to MedlinePlus, cocaine withdrawal may cause:12
- Agitated behavior.
- Increased appetite.
- Vivid and unpleasant dreams.
- Slowed activity.
- Depression, which can lead to suicidal thoughts in some people.
Withdrawal symptoms usually go away over time. However, people can experience cravings for cocaine that can last for months. This often causes relapse, which can lead to overdose. This is why it’s not advisable to try to stop using cocaine on your own.12
Cocaine Drug Rehab
If you are at risk for depression, unable to tolerate withdrawal symptoms, or have a risk of severe withdrawal, you should start the rehab process by undergoing detox at a professional treatment center.12 Scientists are currently investigating different medicines to help cocaine addiction, but it’s important to note that no medications are currently approved for this purpose. However, you may receive supportive drugs to help treat symptoms of co-occurring mental health disorders like depression.14
Withdrawal is generally followed by cocaine drug rehab. Treatment plans are typically tailored to meet your unique physical and mental health needs, and will therefore vary from person to person. It can involve inpatient (or residential) treatment, outpatient treatment, or a combination of both. MedlinePlus states that treatment for cocaine addiction should begin with the least restrictive option, and explains that outpatient care is as effective as inpatient care for most people.12
Residential treatment may be advisable for people with severe addictions or those who do not have supportive home environments. This option can involve participation in a therapeutic community, or TC, which is a residence that offers mutual support and helps people in recovery transition back to normal life. Treatment usually lasts between 6 and 12 months. TCs have been shown to be effective for treating cocaine addiction and helping people reintegrate into society.14
Other forms of inpatient treatment usually last for shorter periods of time. Many people transition to outpatient rehab once they have completed an inpatient stay. In either case, a minimum length of 90 days of treatment is usually required for treatment to be effective, with longer periods showing an increase in positive outcomes.15
Inpatient and outpatient treatment use different types of behavioral therapies. These can include:14
- Contingency management. This type of treatment is designed to help you stay motivated to remain clean. You receive incentives, such as vouchers or points to exchange for specific items, in return for clean urine tests or other positive changes.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy. This modality teaches you relapse prevention skills and helps you make beneficial changes to the behaviors and thoughts that contributed to your addiction.
- Community-based recovery groups. These include 12-step groups like Narcotics Anonymous, where you share your experiences and receive support from others in recovery.
Finding Help for Cocaine Addiction
Are you telling yourself, “I want to quit cocaine” and wondering how to get help for cocaine addiction? You should know that you are not alone, and help is available. Treatment can help you stop using cocaine and take back control of your life. American Addiction Centers is a leading provider of cocaine addiction rehab in Nevada and nationwide. We offer personalized treatment plans that are tailored to your specific needs. Our compassionate and understanding staff will be there to guide you throughout the entire recovery process.
Whether you’re ready to take the next step or just want to discuss your treatment options, please call our free, confidential, 24/7 helpline to speak to one of our advisors today. We can be reached at 702-800-2682.
- Alcohol and Drug Foundation. (2020). Cocaine.
- Department of Justice/Drug Enforcement Administration. (2020). Drug fact sheet: Cocaine.
- Gov: The World Factbook. Field listing: Illicit drugs.
- Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2020). 2018-2019 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health: Model-based estimated totals (in thousands) (50 states and the District of Columbia). Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Rising stimulant deaths show that we face more than just an opioid crisis.
- Dackis, C. (2007). The neurobiology of cocaine dependence and its clinical implications. Psychiatric Times, 24 (3).
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Commonly used drugs charts.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). DrugFacts: Cocaine.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Signs of cocaine use.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. What are some signs and symptoms of someone with a drug use problem?
- Penberthy, J. K., Ait-Daoud, N., Vaughan, M., & Fanning, T. (2010). Review of treatment for cocaine dependence. Current Drug Abuse Reviews, 3(1), 49–62.
- (2019). Cocaine withdrawal.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006). Detoxification and substance abuse treatment. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) series, no. 45.) 4. Physical detoxification services for withdrawal from specific substances. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Cocaine research report: How is cocaine addiction treated?
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (third edition) How long does drug addiction treatment usually last?
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