It’s easy to turn on the news today and hear all the latest initiatives regarding the use of heroin or prescription opiates. It’s for good reason that this problem has come to the forefront of everyone’s minds considering that the heroin-related deaths have quadrupled in the past eight years.
With all this new coverage, it’s easy to lose sight that there are many other drug-related issues happening in our country. Cocaine usage is still a major concern and from 2010 to 2015, there was a 1.6-fold increase in the total number of cocaine-related deaths. This problem isn’t going away just because we aren’t talking about it.
While all the attention is on heroin and opiate abuse; others are dying from cocaine and other drugs.
More about Cocaine
Cocaine is a stimulant drug that is produced from the coca plant. This is a native plant to South America. Some healthcare providers use the drug in local anesthesia for surgery purposes. While this is legal, using it outside of this environment is dangerous.
On the street, cocaine appears as a fine, crystal-like white powder. Sometimes dealers will mix the drug with products such as flour, cornstarch or talcum powder to boost their profits. Some dealers also mix it with amphetamine which is a stimulant as well.
Street names include:
Users will snort cocaine in the powder form through their nose. Some people also rub it on their gums. Those who choose to inject the drug will first mix the powder into water. There is also a combination of heroin and cocaine that people inject referred to as a Speedball.
It is also processed into a rock crystal, called freebase. The common name for this form of cocaine is Crack and it is a popular way to smoke the drug. Users will heat the rock and produce vapors that can be inhaled.
Most users tend to go on binges with this drug. They will take large amounts of the drug repeatedly over a short period of time.
Cocaine’s Effect on the Brain
Cocaine is effective at increasing the levels of dopamine in the brain circuits. Dopamine is a natural chemical messenger that controls your movement and pleasure levels. In normal people, the dopamine found in these circuits responds to rewards. For example, when you smell good food, the dopamine is released and you feel pleasure.
Once that reward is over, the dopamine recycles back where it came from and shuts down the signal until the next time. When a person takes cocaine, they prevent the dopamine from recycling. This causes users to receive an excessive buildup of dopamine between their nerve cells. Ultimately, the flood of dopamine will disrupt the normal communication in the brain and cause the user to feel high.
Short-Term Effects of Cocaine
Some of the short-term effects include:
- Mental alertness
- Extreme energy and happiness
- Hypersensitivity to sound, touch and sight
- Paranoia or distrust of others
- Blood vessels that are constricted
- Dilated pupils
- Raised blood pressure
- Raised body temperature
- Fast heartbeat
- Muscle tremors
- Muscle twitching
While some users seem to experience a boost in the ability to perform mental and physical tasks with ease after taking cocaine, others seem to have the opposite effect. When taking a large amount of the drug over a short period, users end up with unpredictable, violent and bizarre behaviors.
The effects of cocaine appear almost immediately after use. They also disappear just as quickly in as little as a few minutes to an hour. The length of time the effects are felt are largely dependent on the method which was used. Injecting or smoking cocaine tends to produce a stronger and quicker high but it lasts less than snorting. Generally, smoking will produce effects for five to ten minutes at a time while snorting might last for fifteen to thirty minutes.
Longer-Term Health Effects of Cocaine
Depending on which method of cocaine is being used, these are some of the possible long-term health effects to be expected.
For those who snort cocaine:
- Loss of smell
- Trouble swallowing
- A runny nose
For those who consume cocaine by mouth:
- Damage to the throat, tongue or lining of the stomach
- Reduced blood flow to the bowels which leads to severe decay
For those who inject the drug:
- Risk of contracting Hepatitis C, HIV and other blood-borne diseases
Overall long-term effects no matter which method include:
- Movement disorders which include Parkinson’s disease (these can occur many years after the use has ended)
- Severe paranoia
- Losing touch with reality
- Hearing noises
It is possible for someone to overdose while using cocaine. This occurs when the user has taken too much of the drug and has a reaction. Overdoses happen all the time unintentionally.
What surprises people is that there are a large number of instances where people have overdosed after the first use of cocaine. In addition, many users also consume alcohol while taking the drug, which is a dangerous combination. If it is mixed with any other drug, the potential for lethal consequences is raised greatly.
Overdose tends to occur as a result of issues with the heart or blood vessels. This can include a user experiencing a rhythm to the heart that is irregular or a heart attack. In addition, people die from having a seizure or stroke because the cocaine affects their nerves.
Medical attention is critical in the case of a possible overdose. Medical professionals must either restore the flow of blood to the heart, restore oxygen to the brain or stop a seizure in order to save a life.
As with all drugs, cocaine is addictive and can lead to long-term effects on the brain. These alterations on the circuits inside the brain cause a person to become addicted. Eventually, the circuit gauging rewards will adapt to the excessive amounts of dopamine that are brought on by the drug.
This causes people to need higher levels of cocaine as well as more frequent dosing in order to achieve that same high they’ve felt before. In addition, they will need to increase levels so they don’t feel withdrawal.
Withdrawal symptoms include:
- Slowed thinking
- Trouble concentrating
Treatment for Cocaine Addiction
If you or someone you love is addicted to cocaine, it is imperative that treatment is prompt. Otherwise, you face long-term health effects and the possibility of death.
Treatment for cocaine addiction should include:
- Cognitive behavioral counseling
- Motivational incentives
- Contingency management
- Group therapy or the attendance of 12-step meetings
Thankfully, recovery is attainable and you can have hope for a better, more fulfilling life. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help before it’s too late.
Contact Clearbrook Today
If you or someone you know and love is currently struggling with cocaine addiction, we can help.
For 45 years, Clearbrook Treatment Centers has been providing effective drug and alcohol treatment to the chemically dependent person.
Please do not wait any longer. Contact our Admissions Specialists now and get the help you need today!