Maybe you know someone who uses cocaine purely as an aid in their academic activities. Obviously, it’s only to enhance their work performance. They can’t be an addict, can they? Perhaps that person is you. Let’s take a look at some of the signs of cocaine addiction. They include:
- Weight loss
- Nosebleeds or a runny nose (from snorting powder cocaine)
- Frequent nightmares or
- Nagging cough (from crack-smoking)
- Psychosis and hallucinations
- An inability to stop using
- Withdrawal when not using
- A negative change in the quality of life, relationships, and employment
Why Do People Abuse Cocaine?
Based on the signs of abuse, it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun but cocaine is a very addictive stimulant. A study published in the journal The Lancet evaluated the danger, dependence, and probable misuse of 20 different drugs. It was found that cocaine is second only to heroin as the most addictive drug. Many people do start using it as a way to stay alert during exams or stressful work situations, but before you know it, you have a dependence.
What Causes Cocaine Addiction?
Addiction happens because cocaine increases a natural chemical messenger in the circuitry of the brain. The chemical messenger is dopamine and it is associated with the control of movement and the reward system. In a brain that is functioning normally, dopamine is released by a brain cell to carry the message to another brain cell. Normally, the dopamine is recycled back into the cell that released it. In turn, this shuts off the messaging between the nerve cells.
When cocaine is introduced into the brain, it prevents the dopamine from being recycled. This results in large amounts of dopamine building up in the spaces between the cells, halting their communication. The surge of dopamine in the reward circuit of the brain reinforces the drug-using behavior.
Eventually, the brain’s reward circuit adapts to the extra dopamine. This causes it to lose its sensitivity to it. This results in the person needing stronger and more frequent doses to get the same reward feeling they got the first time or just to ease the withdrawal symptoms. This is known as tolerance, and now, you have an addiction.
Who Is Most At Risk for Cocaine Addiction?
Anyone. Anyone who uses cocaine is at risk for addiction. However, there are some factors that increase the risk. They are:
- Addiction to alcohol or other drugs
- A family history of dependence on cocaine or other drugs
- Mental illness, such as depression
Short- and Long-Term Signs of Cocaine Use
The use of cocaine varies from occasional use to compulsive use and different patterns in between. But whatever method of taking it is used, it has the potential to cause the absorption of toxic amounts of cocaine. This can result in heart attacks, strokes, or seizures. All of these can cause sudden death, even in a young, seemingly healthy person.
- Intense happiness
- Irritability or anger
- Feeling paranoid
- Decreased appetite
- Extreme sensitivity to touch, sound, and sight
- Loss of sense of smell
- Trouble swallowing
- Tears in the intestines
- Increased risk for stroke and seizures
- Problems paying attention
- Difficulties with memory
- Bleeding in the brain
Other Risks Associated with Cocaine Abuse
You’ve probably never thought about it, but there are other risks tied to the abuse of cocaine. However, drug use and intoxication can damage your ability to make good choices. A lack of good judgment can lead to risky sexual behavior. This includes trading sex for drugs and sharing needles. These choices increase a cocaine user’s risk of becoming infected with diseases like HIV and hepatitis C (HCV) which affects the liver. Sadly, there aren’t any vaccines to prevent infections from HIV or HCV.
When studies looked at the patterns of HIV infection and progress discovered that cocaine use actually speeds up the HIV infection. At the same time, it obstructs immune cell function and promotes the spread of the HIV virus.
All of this increases the damaging effects on different types of cells in the spinal cord and brain. Likewise, it has been found that infection with HIV increases the risk for co-infection with HCV which has an adverse effect on the liver. Complications of the liver are common and many co-infected people die of cancer and chronic liver disease.
Making The Cut
The stimulant, cocaine hydrochloride crystal, is the main psychoactive ingredient in cocaine and is responsible for causing the cocaine “high.” However, if you use cocaine, (and even if you don’t), you probably already know that you are not buying pure cocaine. The powder cocaine sold by dealers is cocaine hydrochloride that is “cut” or mixed with other ingredients. In fact, filler ingredients may make up 80% of the product sold.
The ingredients that are cut into cocaine as a filler can be very different, which increases the risk of using whatever drug concoction was sold as cocaine. Some of the fillers include:
- Additives with psychoactive or numbing effects greatly increase the risk.
- It’s not likely that street cocaine’s only psychoactive ingredient is cocaine, and this increases the risk of addiction.
- Cheaper stimulants, especially other white powdery stimulants such as caffeine are commonly used to cut cocaine. The following substances are often mixed in:
- Crystal meth
- Poisonous fillers that cause damage through toxicity although they don’t have any psychoactive effects.
- White powders that imitate the appearance of cocaine but only serve to weaken it.
Dealers have been mixing an assortment of street drugs with fentanyl. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine, but it’s 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin.
Of all the substances that may be cut into cocaine, fentanyl is one of the greatest risks. It is among the main causes of a large increase in overdose deaths, even in small doses. Because fentanyl is not even the same type of drug as cocaine, it seems odd to mix it with cocaine. Still, it is happening and it’s probably because it intensifies the euphoria that both drugs promote.
Other opioid compounds such as carfentanil are also being found in cocaine lately. These are even more powerful and toxic than fentanyl. Cocaine users are often surprised that opioids and other stimulants are reported on drug tests. They believed they had only used cocaine.
The “Death Hit”
Although it is comparatively rare for poisonous ingredients to be mixed into cocaine, the dangers are real and serious. Cocaine containing poison is known among users as a “death hit” because it can kill you. Seek medical help immediately if you or someone you know has taken cocaine and is experiencing serious adverse effects.
Although some people recover from the medical symptoms, deaths have been reported. Strychnine is a toxic ingredient that is sometimes used to cut cocaine. Strychnine is used in rat poison and can be deadly for humans. Also, arsenic sometimes gets cut into cocaine and in large amounts can be fatal.
On its own, cocaine has a natural numbing effect on the nose, throat, and gums. Due to this, cheap and legal local anesthetics such as Novocain, lidocaine, and benzocaine are often mixed into the cocaine. This gives the impression that the cocaine is of high quality to experienced users.
Anesthetics do not produce the high of cocaine, but they do produce a similar freezing sensation when rubbed on the teeth or gums or snorted. Cocaine will cause the gums to go numb but it may be due to one of the analgesic cutting ingredients.
Using Cocaine With Other Substances
Cocaine and Alcohol
As we have discussed, using cocaine has an effect on your heart, and drinking alcohol with cocaine increases the risk. Although it’s a common occurrence, the combination of alcohol and cocaine, or even within a few hours of each other, can be extremely chancy because of these complications:
- Increases heart rate
- Raises blood pressure
- Magnifies the risk of a heart attack
In addition, alcohol and cocaine react within the liver to form a chemical called cocaethylene. This chemical has toxic effects on the heart, liver, and other vital organs. Alarmingly, this can happen even if cocaine and alcohol are used separately on consecutive days.
Cocaine and Heroin (or Other Opioids)
The use of heroin and cocaine together is commonly known as a “speedball.” The combination can have serious, potentially fatal risks to the user. Cocaine and heroin have opposite effects on the central nervous system. Therefore, heroin depresses it and cocaine stimulates it. Common effects include:
- Breathing problems
- Heart problems
Cocaine and MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly)
Since cocaine and MDMA are both stimulants, taking them together can compound the effects of both. This includes:
- Increased heart rate and body temperature
- Can be fatal
Cocaine and Antidepressants (Prozac, Zoloft, etc.)
Using antidepressants with cocaine can heighten the risk of “serotonin syndrome.” Serotonin syndrome is a condition when the brain is overloaded with serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical your body produces that is necessary for your nerve cells and brain to function. But too much serotonin causes symptoms that range from mild to severe, such as:
- Fever and excessive sweating
- Increased heartbeat
- Seizures, shaking, and shivering
- Muscle rigidity
Symptoms of Cocaine Withdrawal
Addicted users of cocaine who stop using suddenly will experience a crash known as withdrawal. Symptoms of withdrawal can be severely uncomfortable and, many times, cause the addicted person to relapse just to end the withdrawal symptoms. Effects of cocaine withdrawal include:
- Paranoia and suspicion
- Sleep issues
- Increased appetite
- Powerful cravings
Treatment for Cocaine Addiction
Because of the severity of some withdrawal symptoms, some people may need medical supervision while detoxing from cocaine. Although there aren’t any government-approved medicines available currently to treat cocaine addiction, supervised detoxification can reduce the chances of relapse. Support systems such as family, friends, treatment facilities, and other people recovering from addiction can help get through this phase.
After your body has cleansed itself from the toxins of addiction, it is time to start the work of keeping you clean. There are several levels of care, and each is designed to address the needs and difficulties of your personal situation.
- Inpatient: In an inpatient program, you will reside in the treatment center and have medical and staff supervision 24 hours a day.
- Outpatient: An outpatient program can be considered the second level of care. If you enter at the inpatient level, you may want to use this program after inpatient treatment has ended. You attend sessions during the day and are free to go home at the end of the day. Some people cannot possibly live at the treatment facility, and this is the next option.
- Sober Living: After completing the treatment program, if you don’t feel confident enough to return to your home environment, you may enter a sober living home.
- Support Groups: Peer support groups are a good way to maintain your focus on abstinence after completing your formal treatment.
Treatment Therapies for Cocaine Addiction
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the most successful treatment programs use evidence-based treatments. These therapies have been developed through scientific testing and measurement. Effective therapies include:
- Individual and Group Therapy: Confidential sessions between just you and your counselor. Or with a group who can offer support and other perspectives.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT can be effective for supporting long-term sobriety and relapse prevention.
- 12-Step Programs: Twelve-step programs emphasize taking responsibility for behavior, and meetings with peers who hold you accountable for your behavior.
- Family Therapy: Addictions affect the whole family. Family therapy helps educate members and put the family back in balance.
- Contingency Management (CM): CM uses motivational incentives to encourage people to not use drugs.
Getting Help at Addiction Intervention
Whether you’re using cocaine or a combination of drugs, you must be thinking it’s time to quit. Or maybe a loved one is in need. For a lot of people, cocaine use is described as a social activity that they do with friends. Think about: Peer pressure.
But, if you are using it to deal with low self-esteem, or you’re self-medicating to hide depression, there are better ways to manage both issues. Using cocaine is not a solution. It only hides the problem while it creates more. If you need help with overcoming addiction, support and services are more available than ever.
Find Help with an Intervention Today
If your loved one or someone close to you is struggling with an addiction, don’t let it drag you down. You may need to talk to an intervention specialist. We are experienced in helping people find interventionists and all addiction treatments.
In addition, we can help you find treatment at several levels of care, from inpatient to sober living. Don’t let this problem continue. You don’t have to. Contact us now. Let us help you find a solution.