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About Cocaine Addiction
Cocaine is a potent, fast-acting stimulant that is made from the South American coca plant. Also known as “coke” or “blow,” cocaine is illegal to use in the United States and is classified as a Schedule II substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
By understanding the effects of cocaine addiction and the treatment options available to help people overcome this addiction, you or your loved ones can retake control of your lives once and for all.
Why Is Cocaine Addictive?
Cocaine is highly addictive because it works on certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Using cocaine produces a flood of dopamine, a brain chemical that impacts our movements, memory, and emotions.
Over time, the brain becomes used to this extra flow of dopamine. The user may begin to experience cravings for cocaine and, over time, may need more cocaine to achieve the same effects.
Ongoing cocaine use is likely to result in dependence and addiction. Cocaine addicts may not be able to quit without some professional intervention.
How Is Cocaine Abused?
Illegal cocaine is commonly taken in a few ways:
- Snorting powdered cocaine
- Smoking cocaine (a.k.a. freebasing)
- Injecting it with a needle
Cocaine often appears as a white powder. However, crack cocaine is a potent form of cocaine that can also be smoked.
Some warning signs of cocaine abuse include:
- Nose bleeds
- Changes in appetite (usually a decrease)
- Weight loss
- Dilated pupils
- Excessive sweating
- Shifts in social groups/friends
- Mood swings
Side Effects of Cocaine Abuse
The use of cocaine can impact many aspects of a person’s well-being, from causing physical and mental issues to leading to problems at home, work, or in one’s social life.
The short-term effects of cocaine use will appear within a few minutes. However, these side effects may only last for about 30 minutes, as cocaine is potent but short-lived.
Short-term effects of cocaine may include:
- Feelings of euphoria
- Increased energy
- Mental alertness
- Heightened sensitivity to touch, sound, or sight
- Feelings of anxiety or irritability
- Muscle twitching
- Nosebleeds or ongoing runny nose
- Sudden mood swings
- Suicidal thoughts
- Heart attack or stroke
- Delusions and hallucinations
Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use
Someone who uses cocaine more regularly puts themselves at risk of experiencing long-term effects on their physical and mental health.
Notably, some potential effects of cocaine result from the method by which the cocaine is ingested. For instance, smoking cocaine (or crack cocaine) can lead to the deterioration of lung tissue, while snorting can cause nosebleeds and damage to blood vessels in the sinuses.
The most common long-term effects of cocaine use include:
- Frequent nosebleeds
- Reduced sensitivity to smell (due to damaged blood vessels)
- Deterioration of nose cartilage
- Bloodborne diseases, including HIV and Hepatitis C
- Respiratory problems (e.g., chronic cough, asthma)
Of course, cocaine use can also lead to substance use disorder, a disease that often needs professional intervention to treat long-term.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) indicates that long-term cocaine abuse can increase the risks for HIV infection because “cocaine impairs immune cell function and promotes reproduction of the HIV.”
How to Know When You Are Addicted to Cocaine
If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, some signs can indicate cocaine abuse has turned into a full-blown addiction.
If you notice any of these signs in yourself or a loved one, you can talk to your physician or a licensed addiction counselor about the safest and best way to move forward.
Symptoms of cocaine addiction may include:
- Needing more cocaine to feel the same effects (i.e., dependence)
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms after using cocaine, typically after binging
- Craving cocaine; becoming preoccupied with acquiring and using cocaine
- A desire to cut back or quit cocaine but feeling unable to do so
- Neglecting other aspects of your life (finances, work, family obligations) in favor of cocaine
If your body stops getting the cocaine it has become dependent upon, you will likely begin to experience withdrawal symptoms.
Cocaine withdrawal symptoms spread out over three phases:
- Crash period (abrupt cessation of cocaine use)
- Acute withdrawal
- Extinction period (intermittent craving)
Cocaine withdrawal symptoms are not usually life-threatening. However, medical detox is often recommended rather than quitting “cold turkey” due to the potentially dangerous mental health impact that can occur during withdrawals.
Here are some of the cocaine withdrawal symptoms you may experience:
- Anxiety and depression
- Increased appetite
- Fatigue and sleepiness
- Lack of pleasure
- Extreme suspicion/paranoia
- Unpleasant dreams
- Suicidal thoughts
An overdose of cocaine occurs when a person uses more cocaine than they can metabolize, resulting in dangerous side effects and even death.
Signs and symptoms of cocaine overdose may include:
- Dilated pupils
- High body temperature
- Excessive sweating
- Irregular heart rate
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Heart attack
There is no specific antidote for reversing a cocaine overdose. However, being quick to contact emergency medical support can make a huge difference in the potential long-term damage a cocaine overdose could have on the victim.
If you suspect someone is overdosing on cocaine
- Immediately call 911 and report the overdose
- Turn the person to the side to encourage proper breathing
- Stay with the victim until help arrives
Cocaine Addiction Treatment
Cocaine addiction (also known as substance use disorder) is a serious condition that can harm your physical and mental health.
In many cases, a combination of therapy—like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—and some form of rehab treatment program is all that’s needed to get your life back on track.
For many, cocaine detox doesn’t happen at a facility and can take place in one’s own home. You may need to check in periodically with your doctor during the process or self-monitor for specific withdrawal symptoms.
Cocaine Rehab Programs
A cocaine rehab program can be started right away once you have finished detoxing and will offer combinations of therapeutic approaches so you receive the most effective treatment for your addiction.
The individualized treatment plans are tailored to your particular type of drug use and level of addiction to provide you with the highest likelihood of success.
An aftercare program can also help you continue with recovery therapy on an outpatient basis after the initial treatment period.
Many substance abuse treatment facilities are available throughout the US to help you quit your addiction.
- Inpatient rehab is an on-site treatment center where you will receive care 24/7. Inpatient care may be suggested for an individual with a severe cocaine addiction or a polysubstance addiction (i.e., addiction to more than one drug). Inpatient rehab offers the highest level of care out of all rehab options available.
- Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP) are a step down from inpatient rehab, offering in-house health monitoring and treatment alongside therapy and additional support programs. However, PHP patients do not stay overnight at the facility.
- An Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is often used for individuals with a mild cocaine addiction. The individual attends the IOP daily and maintains employment, school, or work during the day. An IOP may also be recommended after an individual has completed a more intensive cocaine rehab program, such as a 30-day inpatient stay.
The Matrix Model
The Matrix Model was designed in the 1980s for the cocaine epidemic. It has shown great success in treating cocaine use disorder.
This highly structured program includes:
- A 16-week intensive outpatient program
- Group and individual therapy sessions
- Development of faster recovery skills and prevention of relapse
- 12-week family and patient education session
- Weekly drug test
- A support group during and after treatment
- 12-step programs
One of the most startling and dangerous effects of cocaine addiction is the presence of fentanyl in the drug, usually unbeknownst to the user.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the rate of deaths involving both cocaine and opioids accelerated faster from 2009 to 2019 than the rate of cocaine-only overdose deaths.
More than three-fourths of the cocaine overdose deaths involved opioids in 2019; this proportion was higher in the Northeast region (83%) and lower in the West region (63%).
Get Help for Cocaine Addiction
If you or someone you love is addicted to or abusing cocaine, now is the time to seek treatment.
SAMHSA’s online treatment locator can help you or your loved one locate cocaine addiction rehab programs and treatment centers in your area. Alternatively, you can call their toll-free hotline (available 24/7) at 1-800-662-4357.