Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine, also known as “coke,” is a powerful stimulant that has become one of the most widely abused drugs in America.

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is an alkaloid that occurs naturally in the coca plant, a shrub native to Peru. When it was first discovered, researchers believed that it had desirable medicinal properties. But unfortunately, cocaine also caused addiction and dependency, and has been restricted in the United States since 1914.

Cocaine is usually smuggled into the U.S. in its purest form. Before being sold on the street, the pure substance is often diluted with sugar or PCP. When it reaches its user, cocaine typically appears as a white powder.

It may then be:

  • Inhaled into the nose through a straw
  • Dissolved in water and injected
  • Applied to the gums or other mucous membranes
  • Swallowed
  • Freebased (mixed with a solvent, such as ether, and smoked)
  • Converted into “crack” using baking soda and heat. In this crystallized form it can also be smoked.

Cocaine addiction is traditionally most common among young and middle-aged adults in urban areas. However, recent rises have been noted among teenagers, the suburban middle class and women in their thirties with no prior history of drug abuse.

The Biology of Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine is not a narcotic, and though it is addictive, the link between cocaine and addiction not well understood. Researchers for the National Institute on Drug Abuse (2010) have suggested that cocaine may alter the genes that regulate a brain chemical called dopamine. This alteration creates a “rush” or pleasurable feeling, and motivates drug users to repeat the experience.

The rush has been described as:

  • An increase in energy and sociability
  • A sense of strength and competence that may be delusional
  • A sensation of spinning accompanied by nausea or headaches.

Varying with the method of use, the effects of cocaine usually peak within thirty minutes and fade within three hours. Prolonged use may lead to:

  • Cold sweats and tremors
  • Headaches, psychosis and confusion
  • Irregular heart rhythms, potentially leading to heart attacks
  • Nasal injuries and sinus infections, since cocaine is often inhaled through the nose.

Extreme changes in behavior may also occur, as addicts often go to great lengths to obtain cocaine, risking jobs and relationships.

Cocaine Addiction Risk Factors

Two primary factors raise the risk of cocaine addiction:

  • Environment: Easy access to cocaine, drug addiction in a family member, and peer pressure can increase chances of abuse.
  • Genetics: Vulnerability to addiction often runs in families.

Cocaine Addiction Warning Signs

The strongest warning signs of a cocaine addiction in a friend or family member may include anxiety, hallucinations and depression, as well as health problems with the nose and throat, such as itching, bleeding and infections.

Cocaine Addiction Treatments

A cocaine drug addiction is difficult to treat, particularly without support. Ideally, a treatment plan should involve a doctor, a counselor and the support of friends and family. Withdrawal symptoms are usually more psychological than physical, and the strongest symptom is an intense craving for cocaine. Other symptoms may include:

  • Agitation and restlessness
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Vivid, disturbing dreams.

Often, an addict needs to experience an especially traumatizing event before he or she decides to seek treatment. Family and friends can also intervene and help the addict recognize the extent of his or her problem.

How to Seek Help

If you suspect that you or a loved one may have a cocaine addiction, the following resources can offer help:

  • Cocaine Anonymous: http://www.ca.org/
  • Narconon: http://www.cocaineaddiction.com/

Resources

A.D.A.M. Inc. (2010) Cocaine withdrawal. Retrieved July 30, 2010, from https://health.google.com/health/ref/Cocaine+withdrawal

Arrowhead Drug Rehab. (2010). How to help an addict. Retrieved July 29, 2010, from http://www.cocaineaddiction.com/how_to_help_an_addict.html

NIDA, The National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2010). Counseling for cocaine addiction: The collaborative cocaine treatment study model. Retrieved July 30, 2010, from http://archives.drugabuse.gov/TXManuals/DCCA/DCCA1.html

eMedicineHealth. (2010) Cocaine abuse. Retrieved July 30, 2010, from http://www.emedicinehealth.com/cocaine_abuse/article_em.htm