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According to recent studies, more than 2.1 million people in the United States have used cocaine at least once in their lives. Cocaine is one of the oldest known drugs and has been abused around the world for many years. Cocaine addiction leads to extreme physical and psychological consequences that can have permanent effects on the user and those around them. Cocaine is one of the most widely abused stimulants in the entire country and is the cause for thousands of overdoses and physical complications that lead to emergency room visits each year.
Although cocaine is widely addictive and can lead to extreme physical consequences, there is help. Many treatment centers provide recovery solutions for those suffering from cocaine addiction. From inpatient care to outpatient support groups, cocaine addiction can become a thing of the past for the addict who is ready and willing to seek and to accept help when it is offered.
What is Cocaine Addiction?
Cocaine addiction is a psychological and sometimes rather physical dependence that comes from an individual’s need or desire to use cocaine. The psychological desire that individuals who are addicted to cocaine have to use this dangerous drug will often lead them to using so much of the drug that they have very adverse reactions physically, psychologically and on their own families. Cocaine addiction can cause emotional trauma for families, financial distress, and a range of complications for the user and for their loved ones.
The risk of an individual becoming addicted to cocaine is relatively high. Classified as a Schedule 2 drug by the DEA, cocaine addiction is a risk for just about anyone who abuses the drug. In fact, according to a landmark study that was published in 2005, the risk of an individual becoming addicted to cocaine after just one use is 5%, this risk increases with each subsequent use of the drug and can elevate to an alarming 90% or more.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction to this powerful stimulant develops easily, in part because the effects of the drug only last for a very short time. To sustain the high, users typically repeatedly take cocaine in a short period of time and at increasingly higher doses. This leads the user to develop a habit of using the drug over and over again in an effort to continue or to produce the same “high”, leading to addictive behaviors quickly.
How is Cocaine Used?
Cocaine is abused in a number of different ways and, some of the methods of cocaine abuse have a more powerful impact than others. One of the most common methods of cocaine use is to snort the drug. Snorting the drug causes the effects to last for about an hour and then gradually taper off. In order to prevent the “coming-down” effect, the user will use cocaine more and more each hour or less to keep the high going.
Another method of cocaine use it to inject the drug using a needle. This method has many adverse effects. Shooting or injecting cocaine is dangerous because:
- shooting cocaine produces a much stronger high
- injecting cocaine can lead to STDs from the use of dirty needles
- injecting cocaine can lead to increased risk of infection
- injecting cocaine can lead to an increased risk of overdose because it’s difficult to measure the amount being used
Cocaine can also be smoked. In the soft form, cocaine is typically added to another substance to be smoked such as sprinkled on a joint of marijuana or placed into a cigarette mixed with standard tobacco. The effects of smoking cocaine in it’s powder form are not typically as strong as when the drug is manipulated into a hard form, called crack, through chemical changes and cooking. Smoking crack is highly addictive, highly dangerous and a much larger problem in most cases than smoking powder cocaine itself.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that the way cocaine is taken affects the duration of its effects. The faster it is absorbed, the more intense the high but for a shorter time. Specifically, the effects of smoking last 5 to 10 minutes, but are felt immediately. When snorted, the cocaine high takes longer to arrive but lasts 15 to 30 minutes.
Potential Genetic Causes of Cocaine Addiction
Genetically, scientists believe that there are some instances in which cocaine addiction is a greater potential for some than it is for others. German studies show that cocaine addicts are 25% more likely to carry a particular variant of a gene that is considered to cause the addiction. This does not mean that cocaine addiction is guaranteed based on the presence of that gene, just that some people who have this particular genetic makeup are more likely to suffer from cocaine addiction, especially if the place themselves in a circumstance in which they use cocaine.
Cocaine has an adverse effect on the pleasure receptors of the brain and repeated use of this drug will cause these receptors to no longer respond to normal, real pleasure. This actually leads to a physical change in the way that the brain responds to pleasure and can lead to long term reactions for the cocaine abuser. In essence, those who use cocaine for a prolonged period of time will no longer feel good or happy if they do not have cocaine to use. This leads to withdrawal and an increased physical dependence on the drug in an effort to feel better or to feel happy.
Short Term Effects of Cocaine Addiction
In the short term, cocaine addiction will not be highly difficult to overcome but it will cause some negative consequences. The short term effects of cocaine addiction typically support the health aversions that come from using cocaine and many of these effects will go away within a few hours. Because the short term effects of cocaine abuse are so much smaller than the long term effects, cocaine addiction can often go unnoticed for many months before the dire, extreme physical consequences take place.
Short term effects of cocaine abuse include:
- Cardiovascular problems
- heart rhythm disturbances
- heart attack
- chest pain
- neurological effects such a strokes or seizures
- loss of appetite
- abdominal pain
- difficulty swallowing
- hoarse throat or voice
- runny nose
- sinus infections
Effects of Injecting Cocaine
The effects of injecting cocaine can cause many more adverse health reactions that are typically much more dangerous and can be much more long term that those effects of snorting or swallowing cocaine. The effects of injecting cocaine include:
- Other STDs
- Infection of the injection site
- Track marks or needle marks
- Allergic reaction
Cocaine Addiction Symptoms
Many symptoms of addiction could present if an individual develops a tolerance to cocaine. Tolerance is the process of using a drug to get high and then having to use more and more of that drug to produce the same or a similar effect. Over time, the use of cocaine will not produce the same euphoric effects and if it does, it’s usually the result of the individual have used a large amount of the drug which thus increased the risk of overdose and other medical health complications.
Signs of Cocaine Addiction to Look Out for:
- Weight loss. Because cocaine is a stimulant, those who abuse cocaine will often go without meals for a period of many hours or sometimes days. This leads to a significant amount of weight loss. Sometimes, the cocaine use will level out to a point that the individual can and will eat even while they are high but in the early phases, weight loss is a significant factor of the addiction.
- Covered clothing. Intravenous users of cocaine will cover their arms, legs and other areas of their body where they have been injecting cocaine. Some inject through their neck and will wear turtle neck shirts (even in the summer), others will inject in their arms or legs and you’ll notice that they will wear winter like clothing, even when it’s clearly warm outside.
- Money lost or missing. If there are unexplained instances of money being lost or missing there is a good chance that drug addiction is a potential cause. Many cocaine addicts will lie about where their money went, why they need money or other factors. They may even steal money in order to get their next dose of cocaine or they may excessively borrow money.
- Mood changes. The cocaine user will show signs of fatigue that can very quickly be followed by signs of increased energy and alertness. Anxiety my also be present for the cocaine addiction either when they are anxious about getting cocaine or when they are anxious and paranoid about the recent use of the drug. Irritability is also common if they do not have the cocaine.
- Abstinence from loved ones or friends. Many cocaine abuses will avoid their friends or family members. Some will completely change the group of friends that they hang out with so that they can hang out with others who use cocaine and share in their addiction.
- Continued use of cocaine despite legal, financial or relationship trouble. Cocaine addiction will cause the addict to continue their desire to use cocaine even once they realize that they use of cocaine has led to financial problems, legal problems or once they have lost relationships as a result of their cocaine abuse.
In addition to these symptoms, the US National Library of Medicine describes psychological symptoms of cocaine abuse and addiction to be agitation, paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, or violence.
When to Seek Medical Care for a Cocaine Problem
A single use of cocaine will not guarantee addiction and may not warrant the need for medical care or treatment but in some cases, drug use leads to a psychiatric change or physical change in the body that requires immediate attention. If any of the following situations occurs when you are using cocaine or after using cocaine you should seek immediate medical treatment:
- foul, itchy or bloody discharge from the sinuses
- sinus infection that causes facial or severe sinus pain
- chronic cough paired with fever
- phlegm production or foul mucous
- redness or swelling at an injection site
- foul or infectious discharge from an injection site
- severe headache that won’t go away
- chest pain
- loss of consciousness
- double vision
- inability to speak or slurred speech
- weakness of extremeties
Treatment for Cocaine Addiction
Many methods of treatment are available for those who become addicted to cocaine. The most important thing to remember is that cocaine addiction treatment must consist of you making the important decision not to use cocaine anymore! In most cases, treatment for cocaine addiction will require the help of a counselor, therapist and other medical staff.
While there are no available, FDA-approved medication therapies at this time, there are some in testing and development, according to the US National Library of Medicine and others.
Fortunately, the physical dependence that an individual has on cocaine will typically subside within a few days at most. Cocaine is not a highly physical addictive drug but there are many psychological aspects that come with this addiction. Cocaine detox will consist of:
- not using cocaine at all!
- Receiving treatment for mild headaches, panic attacks and other anxiety related problems that may come from the discontinued use of cocaine
- treatment for runny nose, nasal congestion and sinus infection that may be present from cocaine use
- over the counter medications that can help to break up mucous from cough
Self Help for Cocaine Addiction
Individuals who are addicted to cocaine can help themselves by taking some time to rest and recuperate from their addiction. Some of the self help methods that may be beneficial at treating cocaine addiction include:
- using a humidifier to add moisture into the air to reduce sinus infections
- using a saline solution to cleanse the nose
- taking acetaminophen or a similar anti-inflammatory medication to reduce headaches
- talking with a doctor about a medication or behavioral therapy for anxiety, depression and insomnia
- applying a topical antibiotic such as bacitracin or vaseline to reduce drying or cracking around the nose
- reducing the use of other lung irritants such as marijuana or nicotine to reduce the cough
- taking Robitussin or another mucous relieving over the counter medication to reduce cough or to create a more productive cough
- drinking plenty of fluids to replenish the body from dehydration
Counseling and Therapy for Cocaine Addiction
Because cocaine trains the brain to no longer feel happy or pleasure unless it receives cocaine, there is a definitive need for counseling and therapy after an individual has been addicted to cocaine. Many methods of counseling and therapy exist and some have been proven more effective than others. The two most common methods of therapy that have been proven effective at treating those who suffer from cocaine addiction include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy – treatment is tailored to the individual patient’s needs in order to place an emphasis on the thoughts that lead to their cocaine use and then making behavioral changes to the reaction that they have to these thoughts.
- Community reinforcement therapy – treatment is provided in the means of community support. When an individual does not use cocaine for a period or time or reaches a treatment goal the are positively reinforced with a coupon or voucher that will provide them with a pleasurable experiences. Vouchers may be for a meal at their favorite restaurants, a gift card for their favorite department store or a similar voucher.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, behavioral therapies are some of the most effective treatments for cocaine addiction at this time.
Follow up Treatment for Cocaine Addiction
Anyone who is addicted to cocaine should be prepared for a follow-up routine that will help to keep them on track and moving forward in the right direction. Follow up treatment is typically discussed as the patient leaves a treatment facility or the hospital where they were admitted for overdose care. Everyone in the patient’s family should be involved in follow up care including their parents, friends, close relatives and of course outsiders such as their counselors and therapists. Most follow up care programs will consists of treatment by a psychiatrist, counselor, therapy, family doctor, infectious disease specialist (when HIV, AIDs, Hepatitis or another disease have resulted from the cocaine abuse) and even a surgeon or other medical staff as necessary.