Cocaine Addiction

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Frequently asked questions

What is cocaine?

Cocaine is an addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America. Cocaine comes in two forms: Powder cocaine is a white powder (which scientists call a hydrochloride salt). Street dealers often mix cocaine with other substances like cornstarch, talcum powder, or sugar. They also mix cocaine with stimulant drugs like amphetamines, or synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, which has caused deaths. Crack is a form of cocaine that has been processed to make a rock crystal that people smoke. The term “crack” refers to the cracking sound the rocks make when they are heated.

Is cocaine addictive?

Yes, cocaine use over time can lead to addiction. Addiction is a debilitating brain disease in which people are unable to stop using drugs, despite their best efforts and despite the fact that it is causing harm to their health and other aspects of their lives.

Because a cocaine high usually doesn't last long, users use it repeatedly to try to maintain their high. People who try to quit consuming cocaine after becoming addicted may suffer withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • depression
  • feeling very tired
  • increased appetite
  • bad dreams and trouble sleeping
  • slowed thinking
  • restlessness

The right treatment, however, can help a person who is addicted control cravings and stop using cocaine.

Why have there been so many cocaine overdoses? 

The increasing popularity is merely one factor to consider. Cocaine has also become more likely to be laced with potent synthetics like fentanyl during the last decade. Cocaine users are also more prone to combine it with other substances, such as opiates, which can cause opposing forces in the body. Cocaine activates the central nervous system, which is depressed by opioids. This puts a strain on the heart, resulting in an overdose.

How do people use cocaine?

Cocaine powder is snorted into the nostrils or rubbed into the gums. Others mix the powder with water and inject it directly into the bloodstream. A Speedball is a mix of cocaine and heroin that some people inject.

Smoking cocaine that has been processed into a rock crystal is another prevalent technique of consumption (also called "freebase cocaine"). The vapours are inhaled into the lungs once the crystal is heated. Crack is the name given to this type of cocaine because of the crackling sound it makes when heated. Crack can also be smoked by sprinkling it on marijuana or tobacco and smoking it like a cigarette.

People who use cocaine often take it in binges—taking the drug repeatedly within a short time, at increasingly higher doses—to maintain their high.

What factors impact how long cocaine stays in your system? 

Cocaine lingers in your system for one to four days on average after you use it. There are several factors that can affect the length of time the chemical stays in your system. The amount of cocaine you use, how often you take it, the method you use, the purity level of the cocaine, your body fat, and whether or not you use any other narcotics at the same time are all factors to consider.

How does cocaine affect the brain?

Cocaine raises levels of dopamine, a natural chemical messenger involved in movement and reward management in the brain.

Dopamine normally recycles back into the cell from which it was released, thus turning off the transmission between nerve cells. Cocaine, on the other hand, stops dopamine from being recycled, resulting in a buildup of enormous amounts in the gap between two nerve cells, preventing normal communication. This surge of dopamine in the reward circuit of the brain encourages drug-taking behaviour. With continuous drug usage, the reward circuit may adapt, making the drug less effective. As a result, users take higher and more frequent doses in order to achieve the same high and avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Short-Term Effects

Short-term health effects of cocaine include:

  • extreme happiness and energy
  • mental alertness
  • hypersensitivity to sight, sound, and touch
  • irritability
  • paranoia—extreme and unreasonable distrust of others

Cocaine aids some people in performing easy physical and mental tasks more rapidly, while it has the reverse impact on others. Cocaine in large doses can cause weird, unpredictable, and violent behaviour.

Cocaine's effects are quick and last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour. The duration and intensity of the effects are determined by the technique of administration. Snorting creates a faster, stronger, but shorter-lasting high than injecting or inhaling cocaine. Snorting cocaine can give you a 15- to 30-minute high. The euphoria that comes from smoking might last anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes.

What are the other health effects of cocaine use?

  • Other health effects of cocaine use include:
  • constricted blood vessels
  • dilated pupils
  • nausea
  • raised body temperature and blood pressure
  • fast or irregular heartbeat
  • tremors and muscle twitches
  • restlessness

Long-Term Effects

Some long-term health effects of cocaine depend on the method of use and include the following:

  • snorting: loss of smell, nosebleeds, frequent runny nose, and problems with swallowing
  • smoking: cough, asthma, respiratory distress, and higher risk of infections like pneumonia
  • consuming by mouth: severe bowel decay from reduced blood flow
  • needle injection: higher risk for contracting HIV, hepatitis C, and other bloodborne diseases, skin or soft tissue infections, as well as scarring or collapsed veins

People who use non-needle cocaine, on the other hand, could also put themselves at risk for HIV because cocaine impairs judgement, which can lead to unsafe sexual conduct with HIV-positive partners (see "Cocaine, HIV, and Hepatitis" textbox).

What happens if you mix cocaine with alcohol? 

Many people, particularly in the college and party scene, may pursue cocaine in order to continue to be able to drink. The majority of "young adults" will try it for this reason and are unaware of the dangers. When alcohol and cocaine are mixed, the liver converts it to cocaethylene, which is then digested in the liver, which is the only organ in the body that can process alcohol.

Apart from the risks listed above, mixing alcohol and cocaine has the added risk of causing a person to drink more because cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant and alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. When we drink too much, our bodies have a powerful way of alerting us—vomiting, passing out, and so on. But when using cocaine it overrides that and many people end up hospitalised from alcohol use.

What are cocaine withdrawal symptoms? 

The first sign of cocaine withdrawal is a dramatic drop in energy. This is followed by increasing irritation and severe cocaine cravings. People frequently suffer from significant mood swings and paranoia. Physical withdrawal symptoms like vomiting or shaking are less prevalent with cocaine than with other drugs, although they can occur.

How can people get treatment for cocaine addiction?

Behavioural therapy may be used to treat cocaine addiction. Examples include:

  • cognitive-behavioural therapy, contingency management or motivational incentives—providing rewards to patients who remain substance-free.
  • therapeutic communities—drug-free residences in which people in recovery from substance use disorders help each other to understand and change their behaviours.

community-based recovery groups, such as 12-step programs.


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