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Cocaine Addiction

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is an addictive stimulant drug that is commonly snorted, injected or smoked. It can also be rubbed on the gums and absorbed into the bloodstream. Cocaine increases dopamine in the brain, the chemical controlling the pleasure and reward system. Usually, the brain releases dopamine in response to potential rewards, such as food or sex. When the reward is gone, it moves the dopamine back into the cell that released it. Cocaine prevents dopamine from moving back into the cell, creating a buildup in the nerve cells. In this way, cocaine produces euphoria or a ‘high’. Cocaine is white in appearance and usually takes the form of a fine powder. Street names for cocaine include Coke, C, Snow, Powder, or Blow. Although cocaine used to be legal (before the 1900s), it has since been banned because of its dangerous effects and potential for dependence.

Signs of Cocaine Use

Because cocaine is highly addictive, users become very dependent on the drug and need it to accomplish everyday things. One of the most common signs of cocaine use, aside from erratic behavior is an empty bank account. Cocaine is expensive and its effects subside after only 30 minutes. Users need to take regular hits in order to maintain their high. Unless users are particularly well off or selling the drug themselves, they are hard pressed to afford a cocaine habit. Apart from major spending on cocaine, there can be significant behavioral changes that indicate cocaine use. Here are just a few:

  • Unexpected energy in the morning or evening
  • Rapid speech
  • Unusual enthusiasm
  • White powder below nostrils
  • Repeated trips to the bathroom or other secluded place
  • Unexpected interruptions to drive somewhere or meet someone
  • Significant increase in sexual drive
  • Paranoia
  • Suppressed appetite
  • Weight loss

Cocaine and Mental Health

There are several dangers that accompany cocaine use. Mental health is especially susceptible to short-term and long-term neural damage. This is primarily due to the fact that cocaine directly modifies chemicals in the brain. These are the chemicals most effected by cocaine in the brain: dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. When in balance, these chemicals properly regulate the brain’s pleasure and reward system. However, these three chemicals are greatly increased as soon as cocaine enters the system. Dopamine is effected the most. When dopamine spikes to an inordinate level, it can cause major psychiatric problems, such as psychosis. There are several mental health problems that can arise from even short-term use. They are as follows: cocaine intoxication delirium, cocaine-induced psychotic disorders with hallucination and/or delusions, cocaine-induced mood disorder, cocaine-induced anxiety disorder, cocaine-induced sexual dysfunction, and cocaine-induced sleep disorder. Cocaine can damage the brain significantly, especially when used in combination with alcohol and/or other drugs. 

Cocaine and Alcohol

Commonly, cocaine is used in combination with alcohol. Cocaine users drink alcohol to enhance the effects of cocaine. Using cocaine and alcohol together is dangerous. It generates a chemical called cocaethylene that is stronger than cocaine and longer lasting. Cocaethylene can cause long-term neurological and cardiac problems. Because cocaethylene is stronger than cocaine, users will often combine alcohol and cocaine to experience an even more euphoric high. Cocaine users will also abuse alcohol to drink more. As users drink more and more, they eventually become inebriated and to counteract the drunk, they use more cocaine to maintain an ‘even’ high. After using cocaine and alcohol, addicts become more bold and as a result, have the propensity to behave dangerously. Even though users feel ‘even keel’ or ‘sobered up’ after using cocaine, alcohol remains in their system, making them a risk to the others around them. It is not uncommon to encounter users that become angry and physically violent when combining alcohol and cocaine.

Long-term Effects of Cocaine Use

There are many dangers to using cocaine over a long period of time. Some of these include:

  • Deviated septum (from snorting)
  • Severe bowel decay from reduced blood flow (when consuming by mouth)
  • HIV and Hepatitis C (from injection)

Studies have shown that cocaine speeds up HIV infection, increasing the potential for contracting Hepatitis C, regardless of the method of use.

Getting Off Cocaine

Withdrawal from cocaine is commonly exhibited by severe fatigue, loss of interest, craving to use cocaine, and lack of motivation. For example, addicts may experience increased interest in a subject while on cocaine but after the high have no interest at all. Also, on cocaine, users might be excited and energetic but off cocaine, all they want to do is sleep. Part of withdrawing from cocaine is simply getting good sleep. This can be done safely in detox, with the supervision of medical professionals.

After completing detox, patients are admitted into 30 or 90 day programs. This time is used to bring the chemicals in the brain back into balance. It is also used to treat addicts holistically by tackling the emotional and mental components that occur alongside addiction. Northern Arizona Center for Addiction has on-site psychiatrists and doctors of psychology to help treat patients with medication and therapy. After a patient’s initial assessment, NACA constantly monitors their mood, behavior and mental state. This allows the clinical team to create the best treatment plan for each unique patient.