Starting with the crack-cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and ʼ90s, the perils of cocaine addiction and abuse have been growing more and more apparent. With movies such as “Scarface” and the more recent Wolf of Wall Street,” the consequences of such addiction are glorified. Cocaine addiction continues to be a problem in the U.S. to this day, which means it’s important to recognize the signs of addiction apart from its Hollywood portrayal. If you or someone you know is struggling with a cocaine addiction, we are here to help.

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a powerful central nervous system stimulant that is made from the coca plant native to South America. The plant has been used for various nutritional and medicinal purposes for thousands of years. However, when coca’s naturally occurring psychoactive opioid is synthesized into cocaine, it becomes a highly addictive recreational drug.

Cocaine is sold on the streets as a white crystal powder and may also be called blow, coke, rock, and snow, and users typically snort it or rub it into their gums. It can also be dissolved in water and injected, but this is much less common. With extra processing, cocaine can be heated up and turned into its smokable freebase called crack cocaine, or just “crack.”

When cocaine first enters the body, it starts to affect the brain quickly. The substance blocks the recycling of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, which results in a buildup that causes an intense feeling of happiness and excitement.

Today, cocaine is a Schedule I drug in the U.S. and a controlled substance all over the world. Still, it remains one of the most widely used illicit drugs, second only to cannabis. While the U.S. shifts its focus to the current opioid epidemic, cocaine addiction and overdose continue to be a significant problem.

Cocaine Addiction

In 2014, there were about 1.5 million cocaine users in the U.S., according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Cocaine contributed to more than 7,000 overdose deaths in 2015. Even though the crack-cocaine epidemic of the ʼ80s and ʼ90s is undermined by the current opioid epidemic, cocaine is a major part of both. Many cocaine users combine it with other substances, such as mixing cocaine and heroin, which can prove to be fatal.

Not everyone who uses cocaine for the first time becomes addicted, but that is a significant risk one takes each time the drug is used. Recognizing the early signs and symptoms of cocaine use and abuse in yourself or your loved ones is essential in treating cocaine addiction.

There are many signs both behaviorally and physically to look out for when you suspect someone of cocaine addiction. Addiction, in general, will typically involve social isolation, mood swings, and a change in weight. However, the effects of cocaine may also cause agitation, nervousness, and paranoia.

Other Behavioral Signs Include:

  • Excitability
  • Irritability
  • Risky behavior
  • Talkativeness
  • Poor hygiene
  • Financial difficulties
  • Sleeping pattern changes

If you suspect someone might be using cocaine, you may also find other evidence of drug use like residue on the face or clothes, drug paraphernalia, and an increased demand for privacy. You may also notice physical symptoms which include dilated pupils, a runny nose, and nosebleeds.

If you are worried that your cocaine use might be turning into addiction, the most common sign is a strong compulsion to continue using. If you’ve tried and failed to cut back or stop using, you might have developed a psychological or chemical addiction.

What is Involved in Cocaine Addiction Treatment?

Because cocaine addiction was such a large problem in past decades, treatment specialists have come up with several treatment methods. The best treatment options available in the United States involve behavioral therapies and psychological approaches. There are currently no pharmacological options that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but researchers are working on new options.

Depending on the severity of your addiction or the presence of other substances, the first step in treating addiction may be the detoxification process. Since your body is used to having the drug or other substance in it, withdrawal symptoms are quite common once the substance is no longer present. The severity of the withdrawal symptoms is heavily dependent on the amount of time the drug has been abused before the detox.

After detox, the recovering cocaine user is either admitted into an outpatient or residential program. While all of them vary in their length and methods, there are many common successful methods that many drug treatment processes share.

One approach that has shown particular success in treating cocaine addiction is contingency management (CM). In fact, one review that looked at a study between 1970 and 2002 determined that CM is among the more effective treatment approaches for substance abuse disorders. CM uses incentives to encourage your continued abstinence and encourages the pursuit of positive goals with positive reinforcement.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is also a proven approach when it comes to relapse prevention. This approach involves developing new skills in recognizing potential triggers and avoiding them. It can also help you deal with cravings when they do occur. Drug use may come with a range of other problems like comorbid psychological disorders. CBT is one of the best options for dealing with these fringe issues along with the potential for relapse.

Sober living houses can also be beneficial to ensure long-term structure and accountability as you learn how to build your sober lifestyle. Still, there is no one-size-fits-all addiction treatment. The best treatment centers will tailor the program you with a combination of ideal treatment options.

It is important to note that, at Arete Recovery, as soon as you enter a treatment program, a case manager will walk you through all steps of recovery including the medical detoxification stage through aftercare and even including any question you may have about your insurance. Case managers will help you determine housing and education after treatment and will be a close friend during your recovery process.

How Can I Help a Loved One?

If someone you know has cocaine addiction or withdrawals after heavy or frequent cocaine use, treatment centers will always be the healthiest and best option. But what about the time they are not spending in recovery, and are instead living with you or around you a lot of the time?

When your loved one has cocaine addiction, being supportive and giving a positive outlook on things can be just as important as going to a recovery center. As a close companion, you must always provide a comfortable environment for them while they are in the recovery process. Sometimes a single pat on the back can turn the tides of the recovery process and be the difference between relapse and full recovery.

If your loved one is part of an outpatient program and is visiting the recovery center a few times a week, make them feel at home when they aren’t with their doctor. Tell the person you are proud that they found the strength to seek treatment, and compliment their progress.

If the person in recovery is part of an inpatient program and living in a residential recovery center, even a phone call can and will help. A simple “Hi, I was just checking in on you and making sure everything is going well” works wonders. At Arete Recovery, we understand that the client’s comfort is crucial in the success of recovery, and you can help anyone going through treatment by simply giving them a call.

It is common for someone going through treatment to feel left out, abandoned even. A method that we found useful is to start using more personal pronouns.

Saying things like “we” and “us” more creates a bond between you and your loved one. Make sure they know that together you are a team that is fighting against this addiction.

Cocaine Facts and Statistics

  • Between 70% and 80% of the world’s supply of cocaine is produced in Colombia. Its proximity to the United States contributes largely to the amount of national cocaine abuse.
  • The United States is the No. 1 consumer of cocaine, according to the Medium. The U.S. consumes about $28 billion per year.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2012, almost 4.7 million Americans age 12 or older reported using cocaine in the past year, and almost 38 million reported ever using cocaine in their lifetime.

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