Next to marijuana, cocaine is the most commonly abused illegal substance in the United States. Users flock to it because it produces a short and intense high. For generations, cocaine has found a prominent place in American culture. It has been glamorized in movies (Scarface anyone?) and popular songs, and it has even been regarded as an object of grandeur, dubbed a “rich man’s drug” or the “caviar” of illicit narcotics.
All that glorification often overshadows the potentially deadly effects it produces. Because users consume cocaine with alcohol and opioids (often unintentionally), those adverse effects are amplified. Another danger that comes with cocaine use is the fact that few dealers sell a pure product. They cut the drug with various fillers and substances to stretch the product and increase profits. When people buy the drug off the street and consume it, they are exposing themselves to a variety of substances that range from the inert like cornstarch, flour, and sugar to the deadly heroin and fentanyl.
These realities make it is unwise to attempt to kick cocaine on your own. Plus, relapse rates suggest that many who try to go cold turkey will inevitably fail.
A History of Cocaine
To understand cocaine’s addictive nature, it is important to fathom its historical reach and pharmacological action. Cocaine is a potent stimulant made from the leaves of the coca plant, which are mostly found in South America. Indigenous cultures would chew the coca plants to experience their euphoric effects.
U.S. companies developed a concentrated version of the coca leaves by creating cocaine hydrochloride in the late 19th century, which is the white powder that would be the most common form of the substance. Cocaine was viewed as a wonder drug when it was introduced in the U.S. It was utilized as a painkiller, anesthetic, and a treatment for morphine addiction.
It was sold as a powder, an injectable mixture, and as cigarettes. Cocaine also was added to ointments, margarine, and drinks. The most famous of those drinks would be the beverage known as Coca-Cola. But soon, cocaine would be known for its addictive properties, which is why the drug was no longer included in the famous beverage by 1903.
Cocaine stimulates the reward pathway of the brain by binding to the dopamine transporter. This causes the naturally occurring chemical to build up in the brain, which produces a rush of euphoria. When users take cocaine, they feel more happy, energetic, alert, and sociable. They also display hypersensitivity to sight, sound, and touch. Because cocaine impacts the brain’s reward system so profoundly, people develop an incentive to use. They will take stronger, more frequent doses to recapture that high.
Depending on how the drug is administered, the effects of cocaine can be felt within seconds or minutes. The pleasurable feelings last between five and 90 minutes. When cocaine is injected, it results in a shorter high. Snorting, the most popular method of ingestion, produces a high more slowly than injection and lasts between 15 minutes and 20 minutes.
What Are the Signs of Cocaine Addiction?
Cocaine addiction can occur rather quickly. When someone becomes dependent, they will develop a tolerance where they will need more of it to get high. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that dependence occurs when the body can function normally only when the drug is present. Another aspect of dependence is that when use stops, it produces withdrawal symptoms.
Cocaine is no different. When someone ceases use, they will display symptoms that are psychological in nature, which include:
- Intense cravings
- Increased appetite
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Difficulty concentrating
- Agitation and mood swings
- Suicidal thoughts
- Intense nightmares
- Inability to experience sexual arousal
As with any substance addiction, cocaine use completely rewires the brain, so much so that a person will use despite adverse circumstances, particularly when health and legal complications manifest. Besides the psychological effects, the drug also induces traumatic, life-threatening events associated with the heart and circulatory system. Those complications include:
- Blood vessel constriction
- Dilated pupils
- Increase in body temperature
- Increase in blood pressure
- Gastrointestinal complications
What cannot be overstated is the sheer lethality of the drug. When someone abuses cocaine with another substance such as alcohol, the risk of death greatly heightens. Yet, the pull and subsequent reward of cocaine addiction can be so compelling that quitting on your own can be virtually impossible.
If you or a loved one is battling cocaine addiction, enrolling in a professional addiction treatment program offers you the greatest chance of success.
Why Is Professional Addiction Treatment Necessary?
There is a prevailing notion that a successful recovery occurs when someone has managed to stay sober without succumbing to relapse one time. That cannot be further from the truth. Because substance addiction is a brain disorder characterized by chronic use, relapse is a natural part of the recovery process. However, what cocaine shares with other addictions is that it has a high relapse rate, typically between 40 percent and 60 percent.
That relapse rate is lessened when you enter into a professional addiction treatment program. If you have a history of abusing cocaine with alcohol or other substances, a recovery program becomes absolutely essential as you battle to reclaim your sobriety and life.
What’s more, without the aid of a treatment program, you could subject yourself to life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, particularly if you have abused cocaine with other substances in the past.
In a professional treatment program, your care will start with medical detoxification. In this phase, you will be given medications and undergo other interventions so that your withdrawal process is safe and comfortable. Licensed medical staff will provide around-the-clock supervision and support as cocaine and other toxins, whether that is alcohol or another substance, are removed from your body.
The detox consists of three stages:
- Evaluation: Doctors conduct a general physical and mental health exam and screen you for co-occurring disorders. They also measure substance levels in the bloodstream and use this data to determine the best treatment plan for you.
- Stabilization: Stabilization involves keeping you safe as you withdraw from cocaine. This procedure will minimize any pain, cravings, or discomfort you feel during the process. It also involves helping you manage any other unforeseen symptoms or ones that are extreme, such as seizures, which can be life-threatening.
- Transition: In this last step of detox, you receive resources and information about how to proceed with your addiction care.
The next step after detox is to receive ongoing care at a treatment facility. You will have the option of enrolling in a partial hospitalization program (PHP) or an intensive outpatient program (IOP). PHP is ideal if you have a severe cocaine addiction because you will have access to intensive therapeutic treatment and clinical services. With IOP, you will receive comprehensive addiction treatment while you live at home. Both programs are designed to treat the root cause of your addiction and equip you with effective strategies to prevent relapse.
Because substance addiction often requires a lifelong commitment to sobriety, aftercare is a critical hedge against relapse and re-addiction. An alumni program will allow you to stay connected, inspired and supported by a recovery community that consists of individuals who are dedicated to achieving lifelong sobriety.
In essence, a professional treatment program allows you to obtain specialized, intensive, and effective treatment that you would not otherwise receive if you attempted to kick a cocaine habit on your own.
What Makes Cocaine so Dangerous?
Cocaine is deadly and dangerous. It reinforces a cycle of abuse that can ultimately produce fatal overdose symptoms. This reality again points to why a cocaine addiction should be addressed through professional care before it is too late.
You can suffer life-threatening overdose symptoms such as:
- Cardiac arrest
- Cardiac arrhythmias
What’s more, when the effects of a cocaine overdose become more noticeable, the chance of death significantly increases, impacting major body systems in the process. The complications that result from a fatal cocaine overdose include:
- Heart attack
- Multiple organ failures
Cocaine Use Statistics
- Between 14 million and 21 million people use cocaine each year.
- According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there were 14,556 overdose deaths involving cocaine in 2017.
- Between 2012-2016, there was a 23-fold increase in the number of deaths from cocaine and synthetic opioids (not including methadone).