Cocaine is a highly addictive and powerful central nervous system stimulant. Those who fall victim to cocaine addiction experience intense but short-lived effects, including increased energy, confidence, and euphoric feelings.
What Is Cocaine?
Cocaine is purified cocaine hydrochloride that originates from the coca plant of South America. The chemical is isolated from the plant and used as a powerful stimulant. Initially, doctors used cocaine to treat depression and as a local sedative. In the 1960s, cocaine became a popular recreational drug, despite the drug’s short and long-term risks.
Cocaine earned its label as a Schedule II drug in the 1970s, as research revealed the depth of negative consequences associated with cocaine abuse. Now, cocaine is often sold for recreational use as a white, powdery substance commonly snorted or consolidated into crystals or rocks as “crack cocaine.”
How Does Cocaine Work in the Body?
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant that binds to the brain’s dopamine transmitter, blocking the mechanisms that remove dopamine from the brain’s reward pathway.
As a result, dopamine accumulates in the brain, stimulating pleasure and a sense of reward and motivation. Cocaine’s ability to amplify the brain’s reward pathway is why it carries a high risk of addiction.
What Are the Effects of Cocaine?
Cocaine is a stimulant that triggers activity in the body’s nervous system. The initial high of cocaine causes exhilaration, enhanced self-esteem, high energy levels, improved mental alertness, talkativeness, and increased physical performance.
However, repeated cocaine use leads to many negative effects, including:
- Increased sensitivity to light, touch, and sound
- Decreased appetite
- Constricted blood vessels
- High blood pressure and body temperature
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
Since the euphoric effects of cocaine use are usually short-lived, people may engage in repeated cocaine use over hours or days.
What Are the Dangers of Cocaine Abuse?
Cocaine abuse can lead to severe health risks and cause long-term adverse effects. Cocaine’s effects can harm the entire body. However, cocaine use is most detrimental to the body’s cardiovascular system and mental health.
Cocaine Use and the Heart
Cocaine addiction is particularly disruptive to the cardiovascular system. Cocaine use increases the force of the heart muscle’s contractions, which increases stress on the heart.
According to the CDC, complications from the increased pressure on the heart muscle include arrhythmia, cardiac arrest, inflammation or deterioration of the heart muscle, and aortic ruptures.
Cocaine and Mental Health
Patients with short-term cocaine withdrawal symptoms may experience anxiety, fatigue, depression, and suicidal ideation. In addition, patients suffering from cocaine addiction can encounter challenges with memory and poor attention span. They may also struggle to perform motor tasks and make decisions.
According to a recent study published in Scientific Reports, those with stimulant use disorder have an increased risk of developing psychosis, paranoia, anxiety disorders, and chronic depression.
Cocaine and Other Health Concerns
The use of cocaine can also cause malnourishment, damage to the liver and kidneys, decreased blood supply to the gastrointestinal tract, and perforation of the nasal tissues.
Developing support systems is essential for recovery. For those participating in SACOT, it is strongly recommended that clients return home to a supportive, healthy, and drug-free environment. Having people that love and support you during treatment can be the difference between a successful and difficult recovery journey.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine Addiction?
The signs and symptoms of cocaine addiction depend on the length and frequency of drug use and the level of physical and psychological dependence.
Common symptoms of cocaine addiction include:
- A binge and crash cycle of abuse
- Mood swings
- Lying about drug use
- Financial problems or a sudden need for money
- Withdrawal from friends and loved ones
- Engaging in risky behaviors
- Chronic runny nose or nose bleeds
In addition, individuals developing cocaine addiction may experience significant weight loss.
Cocaine withdrawal symptoms occur as soon as the effects of cocaine wear off. Individuals experience an intense craving for more cocaine and become irritated, anxious, and tired.
What Is the Best Option for Cocaine Addiction Treatment?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, most patients who seek treatment smoke crack cocaine or have an addiction to more than one drug. Substance abuse treatment is complex, so safe withdrawal involves care from medical professionals.
While the FDA has not approved medication-assisted treatments for cocaine addiction, researchers continue to explore this option. Fortunately, behavioral therapies offer a practical option for treating cocaine addiction.
Outpatient Drug Abuse Treatment
Most individuals struggling with addiction can benefit from outpatient programs that support lifestyle changes. The outpatient treatment programs at Next Step Recovery include:
- Intensive Outpatient Program
- Substance Abuse Comprehensive Outpatient Treatment (SACOT)
- Outpatient Program
Each of our outpatient programs works with those struggling with cocaine addiction to address mental health concerns, develop healthy habits, and avoid future drug use. We offer therapies that include:
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
Family therapy involves a licensed addiction therapist who guides families through the problems that cause substance abuse and helps to create a supportive environment for recovery.
Group therapy allows people who are working through recovery to share their challenges and victories, provide social support, and offer advice.
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Medically Reviewed By Susan Stader MS, LCMH, LCAS, CCS
Susan Stader is the founder and director of Next Step Recovery and NSR of Asheville, an Intensive Outpatient Program and a Long-term Extended Care program in Asheville, NC. She received her Master’s in Community Counseling in 2004 at Western Carolina University and went on to get her licensure in addictions and mental health counseling. Susan believes that treatment should be gender-specific and offered in a small setting. Small recovery communities, such as hers, are more intimate and effective in overall client satisfaction and care.
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