Cocaine Dependence

Cocaine is a widely used drug with an enormous potential for abuse. In 2014, approximately 913,000 Americans met the criteria for cocaine dependence or abuse within the last 12 months. The study also found an estimated 1.5 million people that reported cocaine use within the past month. Studies show that the drug is implicated in a number of accidental overdoses, accounting for 97.6% of all overdose deaths, along with alcohol and opiates. 

A Few Facts About Cocaine

Cocaine Dependence - Man in a suit and tie sitting at his desk with lines of Cocaine and his laptop in front of him. He is holding a rolled up piece of paper in his right hand and rubbing his nose with his left hand as if he just finished snorting a line of cocaine.Cocaine is a recreational drug that is notorious for its intense, short-lived high. One hit, snort, or puff leads to euphoria. But this rush is counteracted by severe depression, anxiousness, and an insatiable craving for more. Once this vicious cycle is set in motion, it becomes increasingly difficult to break from.

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a stimulant derived from the coca plant, which is native to South America.  The high is attributed to cocaine hydrochloride, the purified chemical isolated from the plant’s leaves. Prior to synthetic local anesthetics, cocaine was used as a pain reliever during surgery due to its numbing effect. 

Purified cocaine was used in the early 1900’s in medicinal elixirs and tonics that were designed to treat illnesses. It was also a main ingredient of Coca-Cola before the addictive and dangerous nature was truly understood.

Cocaine is a street drug that has the appearance of fine, white, crystallized powder. It can be smoked, snorted through the nostrils, ingested, or mixed with water for injection.  

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How Addictive Is Cocaine?

It is known to be extremely addictive. Although the physical withdrawal symptoms from cocaine are not as severe as other drugs, it doesn’t take long to become addicted to it because it creates an incredibly serious psychological dependence. 

How Does Cocaine Dependence Affect the Brain?

Cocaine travels quickly to the brain once it is introduced into the body. It increases the chemical messenger dopamine within the brain. Dopamine is responsible for controlling feelings of pleasure, thus, the “rush” and euphoria.

Dopamine is the body’s natural reaction to potential rewards. It is produced upon smelling a favorite food or before a ride at an amusement park. When cocaine is in the system, it produces an irregular amount of dopamine. Excess amounts build up causing euphoria, but also result in a desensitization to normal pleasures over time. This phenomenon is known clinically as anhedonia.

Short-term effects of using cocaine include:

  • Extreme energetic
  • Happiness
  • Alertness
  • Irritability
  • Moodiness
  • Hypersensitivity to sounds, lights and touch
  • Paranoia

Cocaine’s effects depends on frequency, quality, and quantity of dosage. The method of use is also a factor. When large amounts are used, it is common for the user to experience paranoia, violent urges, or other unpredictable impulsive behavior.

The short-term effects of cocaine in the brain generally only lasts for 15 to 30 minutes. The effect is even shorter when smoked. After the desired effects have ceased, opposing effects set in as the body attempts to return to normal. Intense depression often results as the brain’s receptors reel from the effects of dopamine oversaturation.

Long-term effects of cocaine on the brain are not as “rewarding” as the short-term ones are. While the immediate effects are what entices users to keep coming back for more, effects over a longer term are largely characterized by the negative, undesirable consequences of addiction. Long-term effects include:

  • Less sensitivity to natural rewards and pleasure sensations
  • Stress circuits become increasingly sensitive, promoting bad moods and feelings of unpleasantness
  • Preoccupation with getting and using more cocaine
  • Acquired tolerance necessitating increasingly more cocaine to produce the same feeling
  • Possible convulsions and extreme anxiety due to toxicity
  • Psychological effects like delusional thoughts
  • Psychological vulnerability to other drugs used along with or in place of cocaine
  • Hindered sense of smell accompanied with nosebleeds

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What Does Cocaine Dependence Do to Your Body?

There are a myriad of health problems that can occur within the body due to cocaine addiction. Some of the risks and effects are:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Malnutrition
  • Heart-related conditions 
  • Altered sleep habits 
  • Overdose
  • Psychological and physical withdrawals
  • Nose bleeds
  • Risk of HIV (when injected and sharing needles)
  • Pancreatitis
  • Hepatitis B and C
  • Mood disorders
  • Respiratory illness
  • Gastrointestinal conditions
  • Multi-drug use
  • Seizures
  • Memory loss
  • Panic attacks
  • Delayed reaction time
  • Limited attention span
  • Decreased gray matter in brain

What Does Cocaine Dependence Do to Your Heart?

Cocaine is a dangerous stimulant that elevates activity of the cardiovascular system. Along with the long list of possible health side-effects listed above, there are specific risks cocaine addiction poses to the heart and circulatory system:

  • Heart attack
  • Chest pain
  • Stroke
  • Inflaming of the heart muscle
  • Palpitations
  • Inability of the heart to contract
  • Ruptures of the aortic valve

What Cocaine Does to Your Nose?

When cocaine is introduced through the nasal passages (snorting), it can destroy tissues in the nose over time. Damage may entail:

  • Loss of the ability to smell
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Irritation of the nasal septum
  • Chronic runny nose
  • Chronic inflammation of the nasal passages

How Does Cocaine Affect the Nervous System?

Cocaine is hard on the brain, causing unwanted effects on the nervous system as well. Here are some of the possible nervous system issues that can stem from cocaine addiction:

  • Neurological disorders
  • Bleeding within the brain
  • Movement disorders
  • Bulges inside the cerebral blood vessel walls
  • Impulsive actions
  • Difficulty in making decisions
  • Cognitive disorders

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Symptoms Of Cocaine Dependence

If you suspect that you, or a loved one,is addicted to cocaine, there are some telltale signs to watch for:

  • An overly confident façade
  • Extreme good moods
  • Extreme bad moods
  • Euphoria
  • Excessive talkativeness
  • Erratic behavior
  • Excitability
  • Sneaky actions
  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Lack of appetite
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Change of friends
  • Dilated pupils
  • Frequent runny nose
  • Traces of powder on nostrils
  • Needle marks on arms or other veins
  • Extreme depression
  • Nosebleeds
  • Hallucinations
  • Accelerated pulse
  • Apathy

Cocaine users usually realize they are developing an addiction when they go from wanting the drug to needing it just to feel normal. When this point is reached, it is very difficult for the addict to overcome the addiction alone.

Cocaine Dependence Conclusion

After a point, cocaine use is not often something an individual can simply stop. The drug takes hold over someone’s willpower as a result of the profound changes it precipitates in the brain. Thankfully, there are resources available to help kick the addiction. Getting help at a professional center offers personalized addiction treatment options, which offers a better chance at success. Studies conducted on the matter conclude that longer treatment approaches yield better outcomes. If you or someone you know is suffering from cocaine’s effects, take initiative and stop the habit in its tracks. 

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