Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant that has psychoactive properties and is used frequently as a recreational drug. It speeds up signals travelling between the brain and the rest of the body and works quickly, causing intense, pleasurable effects. These changes in brain function also affect a person’s perceptions, moods, or consciousness.
Derived from the leaves of the native South American Coca plant, it is one of the oldest known drugs to man. According the Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, cocaine was originally used as an anesthetic and was a legal and common ingredient in medicines. It was even an ingredient in Coca-Cola in the 1900s, though it was eliminated from the drink by 1929.
As explained in the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, Therapy, and Toxicology, cocaine excites the central nervous system (CNS) and increases the concentration of certain brain chemicals – known as neurotransmitters – including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
It is usually snorted, though it can also be smoked, taken orally, or injected, and has both physical and psychological effects on the body. The resulting euphoric state is brief, and as tolerance builds quickly, an individual needs to take higher doses with increasing frequency to achieve the desired effects.
Frequent use can result in the development of cocaine addiction, which in turn has a detrimental impact on the health and well-being of the person concerned
Short Term Side-Effects of Cocaine Use
As a result of increased neurotransmitter concentration and an excited CNS, users will typically experience the following effects, as outlined in the Journal of the National Medical Association:
- Increased risk of heart attack or stroke
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Intense drug craving
Long Term Side-Effects of Cocaine Use
When a person uses cocaine over an extended period, they are subject to a range of adverse physical and psychological issues, and misuse also poses a risk of overdose, which can be fatal. According to the Journal of the National Medical Association, long-term side-effects of cocaine use include:
- Severe withdrawal symptoms when use is discontinued
- Dependence and addiction
- Changes in brain structure
- Liver, kidney, and lung damage
- Permanent damage to blood vessels in the heart and brain
- Tooth decay
- Sexual problems
- Exacerbation of underlying mental health issues
- Social, financial, and legal issues
Is Cocaine Addictive?
According to Science & Practice Perspectives, cocaine is both physically and psychologically addictive. Its use leads to changes in the brain’s reward system, as explained in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry. It is a powerful drug in terms of its influence on the brain’s neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine), and even a short period of misuse can cause the brain to become dependent on cocaine to govern the release of these neurotransmitters.
If a person becomes addicted to cocaine, they are likely to experience a range of physical withdrawal symptoms, and the user’s state of psychological health can amplify its addictive properties. This relates to why some people are more prone to addiction than others.
Physical dependence and the subsequent withdrawal symptoms when the drug is not accessible can cause not only physical symptoms but also psychological difficulties. Naturally, physical dependence on cocaine will lead to psychological dependence, as the mind and body are closely connected.
Signs of Cocaine Addiction
The signs and symptoms of cocaine addiction will vary in each individual and will be dependent on several factors, including how much cocaine is being used, and how frequently. Therefore, it is important to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of cocaine addiction. The following, more common physical, psychological, and behavioural symptoms may suggest that a person has developed a cocaine addiction.
- High energy
- Excessive talking
- Excessive sweating
- Increased heart rate
- Increased body temperature
- Loss of appetite and resulting weight loss
- Runny nose and persistent nosebleeds
- Dilated pupils
- Taking higher quantities more frequently, to experience the desired ‘high’
- Brief euphoric state
- Excessive confidence
- Mood Swings
- Inability to focus, concentrate, or make decisions
- Brief euphoric state
- Changes in social circles
- Withdrawal from family and friends in favor of other cocaine users
- Neglecting relationships and responsibilities
- Social isolation
- Acting with increased energy, impulsivity, or urgency
- Lying and being secretive about cocaine use and movements
- Engaging in reckless, risky, and dangerous behaviors when under the influence
- Continuing to use cocaine even after suffering adverse outcomes from using the drug
- Poor attendance and performance at work or school
Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms
When a person stops using cocaine or significantly reduces their frequency of use, they will experience withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal symptoms associated with cocaine addiction vary in severity depending on several factors, including a person’s history of use, their state of physical and psychological health, and the level of access to effective treatment.
According to a publication in the Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, common cocaine withdrawal symptoms include:
- Intense cravings
- Increased appetite
- Increased irritability and agitation
- Muscle aches and nerve pain
- Vivid, intense dreams and nightmares
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
Withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable, but it is a necessary step on the path to recovery from cocaine addiction. While symptoms will still be experienced during a medically supervised detoxification, with the aid of therapy and medication, their severity can be significantly reduced.
Who is at Risk of Developing a Cocaine Addiction?
Cocaine addiction does not discriminate, and anyone can become addicted, regardless of their age, social and economic status, cultural background, or history of mental health. Some people, however, are more prone to addiction to others. According to the journal Addictive Behaviors, those already suffering from mood disorders and other mental health conditions are at a higher risk of developing an addiction than those without.
Depression, characterized by low motivation and a general lack of energy, can lead to cocaine addiction because the drug increases focus and energy levels. This effect can initially be a welcome change from the symptoms of depression, and cause a sufferer to use cocaine to alleviate their depressive symptoms repeatedly. However, the Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry explains that with long-term use, cocaine exacerbates the symptoms of depression, and the individual concerned may find that their condition has worsened.
According to the journal Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, anxiety can cause feelings of low self-worth and self-esteem. As the short-term effects of cocaine include increased confidence and self-esteem, it makes it appealing for those suffering persistent anxiety-related symptoms. As with depression, cocaine can exacerbate the symptoms of anxiety when used over an extended period.
According to the journal Public Health Reviews, other conditions associated with an increased risk of developing a cocaine addiction include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and other personality disorders.
How is Cocaine Addiction Treated?
To effectively treat cocaine addiction, SAMHSA explains that an initial assessment is required and includes screening for any pre-existing mental, emotional, and behavioural health issues so that treatment programs can be tailored to a client’s individual needs. Treatment typically involves medically supervised detoxification and withdrawal management, rehabilitation therapies, and a comprehensive aftercare program, which, when followed and completed, ultimately reduces the risk of relapse.
Medically Supervised Detoxification and Cocaine Withdrawal Management
Recovery from cocaine addiction requires that the body rids itself of toxic chemicals that have built up in the system following prolonged use of cocaine, and detox is the first stage of a treatment program.
During the detox phase, clients are supported with various therapies to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms, which gradually reduce in intensity over time.
According to journal Science Advances, the detoxification process typically lasts around one week and takes place under professional medical supervision, with the use of medication where necessary.
Rehabilitation Therapy for Cocaine Addiction
Various types of therapy are used during cocaine addiction rehabilitation and can take place in an inpatient (residential) or outpatient setting. The type of treatment a person undergoes will depend on the severity of their addiction and their individual needs.
Therapy can involve cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), modified 12-Step recovery programs, one-to-one therapy, and complementary therapies, as outlined in Science Advances.
Leaving rehab at the end of the treatment program does not mean the end of the road to recovery and aftercare programs are essential for helping clients remain on a path of sobriety. In the days, weeks, and months following the end of treatment, clients can potentially be exposed to people, situations and other triggers that can increase the risk of relapse.
Our aftercare program includes support groups, the continuation of therapy, and assistance during the transition from residential rehab to a sober living environment.
Comprehensive Rehabilitation for Cocaine Addiction at Excel Treatment Center
Recovery from cocaine addiction can be a long road with many challenges and obstacles along the way. Trying to deal with addiction alone is not only extremely difficult, but it also poses a significantly greater risk of relapse, than recovery efforts which are professionally supported.
If you or a loved one are struggling with cocaine addiction, it is of vital importance to reach out for help. The journey becomes easier when trained recovery specialists support you, and our individually tailored treatment programs can provide the tools and resources necessary for a successful recovery. Please contact us today to begin your journey; we’re here to help you every step of the way.