What does it take for a person to become dependent on cocaine? The answer isn’t as simple as most people would think.
For many users, cocaine use disorder begins to develop with the first interaction with the drug. Other people may dabble recreationally, taking a significant amount of time before misuse turns into a full-blown addiction.
Developing a dependence on any substance is never a good idea. However, cocaine can be more detrimental to your health over the long term than any other drug on the market.
In this article, we discuss the short and long-term effects of cocaine, as well as the signs to look for when someone you love might possibly be suffering from cocaine abuse disorder.
First, let’s examine in detail exactly what cocaine is.
What Is Cocaine?
In its pure form, cocaine is a white powdery or crystalline substance in chunks made of bright, flaky layers. Before it finds its way onto the black market of the United States, it takes a journey from South America, passing through many hands along the way.
Before being transformed into the white powdery substance most people are used to, cocaine begins as the coca plant. In a crude process involving water, gasoline, and lots of crushing and stirring, these leaves secrete what eventually becomes a paste.
Chemists extract cocaine from these various plant materials by using solvents, acids, enzymes, heat, carbon dioxide, vacuum distillation methods, and/or chromatographic techniques.
The purity level of cocaine varies greatly depending on where it was produced and sold. Most street dealers sell products containing anywhere from 10 percent to 90 percent pure cocaine. On average, street cocaine contains 20 percent purity.
Common Ways of Taking Cocaine
In its final state, cocaine can be ingested in one of several ways. Individuals can insufflate (sniff), inject, and smoke this substance, leading to a fast-acting, very addictive high.
Once inside the body, it travels quickly throughout your bloodstream. Depending on the dosage, users report an intense rush of euphoria, alertness, energy, and a significant increase in heart rate.
Cocaine interacts with certain receptors in the body, causing chemicals like serotonin to be released in extremely high amounts. This release is what causes the high users experience after ingesting cocaine. It’s also what causes “the jones” for cocaine or the overwhelming urge to consume additional amounts of the drug.
After an extended period of regularly using the drug, a dependence is formed, ultimately leading to cocaine abuse disorder. This brings us to one of the most commonly asked questions regarding cocaine – what’s the difference between abuse and addiction?
Cocaine Abuse vs. Cocaine Addiction
The question is often posed of whether there is a difference between cocaine abuse and cocaine addiction. Many mental health professionals and physicians would argue that there is no difference – basically calling them one and the same.
However, the argument has also been made that there is indeed a difference between these two terms. This theory argues that cocaine abuse ‘bridges’ cocaine use and cocaine addiction.
Under the assumption that cocaine use is the casual ingestion of cocaine, the abuse would be the period in which users significantly increase their intake. Many times, this increase happens because users associate pleasure and feelings of joy with cocaine use.
Eventually, they believe that most activities can only be enjoyed if they’re using cocaine. Once these feelings manifest, the next step is full-blown addiction.
Regardless, the onset of a cocaine use disorder happens at varying rates depending on several factors. One of the most significant factors is the way a user administers the drug.
The Differing Methods of Administration for Cocaine
Normally, cocaine is ingested in one of three different ways. Depending on the specific route of administration, users report varying feelings associated with each different method.
This is probably the most common method of ingestion when it comes to cocaine. Users roll a dollar bill or use a portion of a straw and sniff the drug into a nostril. After the drug reaches the nasal passage, it’s absorbed through the tiny blood vessels throughout the lining of the nose and reaches the brain.
Freebase cocaine is the process of heating the cocaine on a piece of tin-foil and inhaling the vapor that’s produced. The hydrochloride is separated from the cocaine during the reaction, leaving only pure, unadulterated cocaine.
Users may also mix powder cocaine with water and place it in a syringe. The mixture is then injected, leading to an extremely intense high that’s felt immediately.
Earlier, we mentioned the “jones” for cocaine and briefly touched on the high potential for addiction. We’ll further explore what makes cocaine so addictive in the following section.
What Makes Cocaine so Addictive?
It’s difficult to pinpoint why people turn to cocaine since it seems to appeal to individuals differently. One common theory suggests that humans evolved with a strong sense of self-worth based on our ability to survive.
Our brains were designed to work towards goals and rewards. Therefore, anything outside of normal behavior patterns triggers fear within us. Since cocaine releases chemicals similar to opiates, our bodies associate it with pain relief and comfort.
Cocaine and the Brain
After repeated exposure to cocaine, our brains begin producing fewer receptors in order to protect themselves against becoming dependent upon it. Over time, this leads users to seek out higher doses and greater amounts of the drug. After addiction takes hold and the brain is rewired, using cocaine becomes a normal behavioral pattern, and users have an inherent fear of abstaining.
Another possible reason for dependency is learned helplessness. By repeatedly experiencing negative situations, addicts learn that nothing works to help solve them. Instead of trying new things, they continue down the same path hoping for better results next time.
It doesn’t take long for users to experience the negative results of cocaine abuse. Short-term and long-term benefits both pose significant health risks.
What are the Short-Term Effects of Cocaine?
Short-term effects of cocaine use can take place during use as an immediate result of ingestion, a side effect of crashing, or a negative byproduct that affects your health. These effects may include:
- Weight loss
- Anxiety/Panic attacks
- Poor appetite
- Dry eyes
- Flushed look
- Abnormal pulse
- Respiratory distress
- Chest pains
- Heart attack
Clearly, short-term effects can present significant health risks that have the potential to be deadly. What about the long-term effects?
The Long-Term Side Effects of Cocaine Use
The following list includes potential long-term challenges associated with cocaine abuse.
- Lung damage
- Kidney disease
- Heart disease
- Hepatitis C (risk of IV use)
- HIV (risk of IV use)
- Nerve disorders
- Sudden cardiac arrest
Additionally, children born to women who abuse cocaine during pregnancy run the risk of developing ADHD, learning and behavioral challenges, mental retardation, autism, asthma, and other disorders.
Because of the toll cocaine takes on your mind and body, individuals exhibit certain signs of abuse even after a short period of frequent use.
What are the Common Signs of Cocaine Abuse?
Depending on the method of ingestion and length of abuse, individuals will display clear signs of the presence of cocaine abuse disorder. Be aware of the following indicators:
- Mood swings
- Sudden weight loss
- Dry mouth
- Black marks on hands
- Needle marks
- Burn marks on lips
- Runny nose/constantly sniffing
- Frequently low on money/selling possessions
- Withdraws from friends/loved ones
- Sleeping all day
A Short List of Medical Complications from Cocaine
Rare medical complications from cocaine abuse may arise in certain users. Most of these complications are rare – but it’s important to remain vigilant.
- Chronic cocaine abuse can lead to users becoming susceptible to infectious skin diseases of the face
- Significant risk of developing adverse conditions associated with the heart and cardiovascular system
- Complications with the nose and sinuses
- Long-term mental complications are also possible, including stimulant-induced psychosis and other neurological damage
Because of the neurological damage cocaine does, long-term users commonly develop issues with processing thoughts and even speaking. Additional cognitive challenges may also arise, especially after life-long abuse.
Other Risks from Cocaine Abuse
Long (and short-term) users run the risk of encountering additional challenges, directly and indirectly, related to frequent cocaine use. The following list contains additional risks involved with cocaine use disorder:
- Individuals run the risk of severing ties and close relationships with family and other loved ones.
- It’s not uncommon for many users to have issues with their professional lives, normally ending up in termination.
- IV users have a significant risk of contracting Hepatitis-C, HIV, and other bloodborne illnesses. Additionally, further injury from using needles to inject cocaine is possible, including MRSA and other infections.
- Throat issues are possible in users who sniff cocaine because of the constant sinus issues and subsequent drip of the drug and its adulterants into the throat.
Another significant risk that hasn’t been receiving as much attention recently due to the explosion in opioid overdoses is cocaine overdose.
Can You Overdose On Cocaine?
Many people assume that you can’t overdose on cocaine. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. About 15,000 people die each year from complications associated with cocaine toxicity.
While cocaine overdose is the most prevalent in users who IV-administer the drug, overdose is possible via sniffing and smoking as well. The most significant risks associated with cocaine overdose are heart attack and stroke.
When users overdose on cocaine, there are usually three distinct phases that can be identified. If you’re aware of the signs and symptoms, it’s possible to contact help and potentially save a life.
The following timeline outlines what takes place during a cocaine overdose:
Users exhibit the following symptoms during acute cocaine toxicity:
- Spinning sensation
- Rapid heartbeat
- Rapid breathing
During the second stage, symptoms become more severe. Help must be sought before or shortly after this stage is experienced:
- Loss of bladder control
- Irregular breathing
By the time stage three arrives, if users aren’t already under the care of medical professionals, it’s likely too late.
- Cardiac arrest
- Loss of vitals
- Respiratory failure
Experiencing an overdose is one of the many costs associated with cocaine addiction. When someone struggles with cocaine abuse disorder, the price to pay is high.
The High Cost of Cocaine Addiction
There are high costs associated with cocaine addiction. The most tragic part is the individual suffering from abuse isn’t the only one who must pay this price.
Cocaine addiction can cost a user their job, family, freedom, and ultimately their lives. However, loved ones close to the user must cope with the loss of a father, mother, son, or daughter forever.
Society even pays the price of cocaine addiction indirectly through tax increases because of the cost of housing inmates incarcerated in the prison systems. Innocent people also encounter cocaine users with HIV and Hepatitis-C and contract these diseases unknowingly.
And if the risk of overdosing from cocaine alone isn’t a sufficient ‘wake up call,’ the real (and rising) danger from cocaine laced with fentanyl is claiming lives in America on a daily basis.
In concluding our article on cocaine and its many hazards, its clear the user isn’t the only one affected by their cocaine use disorder, which makes it even more crucial to get help while you have the momentum and are reading these words.
Treatment for Cocaine Abuse and Addiction
It may seem like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, but there are sources of help for individuals suffering from a cocaine use disorder. You just need the right team by your side.
At Icarus Behavioral Health, we specialize in providing custom treatment plans to clients who suffer from a variety of substance abuse disorders and mental health challenges. Our highly-qualified, professional staff is passionate about helping people reclaim their freedom and lives from cocaine.
If you need support, we encourage you to seize the opportunity and reach out today. Contact one of our Admissions specialists to get enrolled and start your journey towards recovery, the time is now!