Table of Contents
- What is Cocaine?
- Understanding Cocaine Addiction
- Short and Long Term Effects of Using Cocaine
- Symptoms and Treatment of Cocaine Withdrawal
- Factors that Increase Risk of Developing Cocaine Addiction
- Symptoms and Treatment of Cocaine Overdose
- What If I Know Someone Going Through Cocaine Addiction?
- Cocaine Addiction Recovery at Avenues Recovery
In 2018, almost 900 people died from cocaine-related overdoses in Maryland. The majority of these deaths — over 80% — involved the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl. Fentanyl is dangerous enough on its own, but when it laces street cocaine and heroin without users knowing, it makes for a particularly toxic cocktail. Despite cocaine’s recent dip in public attention, addiction and deaths involving the drug are still rampant, especially in Maryland.
This resource page will explain the origins of cocaine, addiction treatment options, and everything in between.
What is Cocaine?
Cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug derived from coca leaves. Historically, people in South America began consuming coca leaves as far back as 8,000 years ago, evidenced by archaeological ruins in Peru. Only in the last 100 years has the purified chemical, cocaine hydrochloride, been extracted and used as an all-purpose remedy and precursor to local anesthetics. It was even an ingredient in the earliest recipes for Coca-Cola.
Today, cocaine is still sometimes used in legitimate medical settings as a local anesthesia. However, cocaine as an uncontrolled street drug is a highly addictive substance that alters the brain with frequent use.
What Does It Look Like?
Cocaine can come in crystalized powder — which is usually snorted or injected after being dissolved in water — or rock form, also known as crack cocaine for the cracking sound heard when it’s smoked. Regardless of form, its color varies from white to beige. Oftentimes drug dealers dilute (or “cut”) the substance with flour, talcum powder, or cornstarch to boost their profits. They’ll also mix in procaine, amphetamine, or other substances to enhance the effect of the drug. These additives can change the overall color and consistency.
What Does It Taste Like?
Generally cocaine tastes bitter — the more bitter, the more concentrated. People often test the purity of their batch by putting some on their tongue or rubbing it on their gums. Purer cocaine usually has a numbing effect, but this could also be the result of a numbing agent added to mimic the sensation of pure cocaine. Other additives can also affect the overall taste.
What Does It Smell Like?
Cocaine usually smells chemical-like and sweet, even floral. The chemicals come from the extraction process, which involves carbonate salt, kerosene, diesel, sulfuric acid, and/or ammonia. Crack cocaine in particular is said to smell like burnt plastic or rubber when smoked.
Cocaine goes by a number of street names: Coke, C, Snow, Powder, Blow, Flake, Icing. Users occasionally mix cocaine with heroin, also known as a Speedball.
Understanding Cocaine Addiction
Cocaine is highly addictive because of how it changes the brain with repeated use. It triggers the release of dopamine in the brain’s reward circuit, resulting in the sensation of heightened alertness and energy. When produced naturally, dopamine indeed causes the feeling of pleasure, but then it is recycled back into the neuron. Cocaine blocks this process, causing a buildup of dopamine that changes how the brain processes pleasure.
Crack cocaine is especially potent. Because users inhale the smoke into the lungs, it enters the bloodstream almost immediately and has the highest “high.” Some people are known to get addicted to crack cocaine with a single use.
With repeated cocaine use, the body develops a tolerance, which means more of the drug is required in order to experience the same high. Tolerance turns to dependence, whereby users need to take the drug just to feel normal. If they don’t, they experience intense withdrawal symptoms.
Doctors usually diagnose cocaine addiction with the help of the DSM-5 criteria outlining cocaine use disorder, which ranges from mild to moderate to severe. Criteria include mood, behavioral, physical, and psychological symptoms, which are discussed in the next section.
Short and Long Term Effects of Cocaine Addiction
The onset and duration of cocaine’s effects depend on the way it’s administered. Taken orally, the user should feel its effects after 10-30 minutes and last 45-90 minutes. When used intranasally, it takes only 3-5 minutes and lasts 10-20 minutes. Solutions injected intravenously or inhaled in crack form take just 5-10 seconds to create a high, which lasts 5-20 minutes. These timelines can vary depending on concentration and/or other substances in the drug.
In the short term, cocaine causes users to feel energetic, alert, talkative, euphoric, and sensitive to sight, sound, and touch. It can also decrease the need for food or sleep, constrict blood vessels, dilate pupils, and increase body temperature and blood pressure.
In the long term, these symptoms intensify, accompanied by many of the following:
- erratic or odd behavior
- reckless or impulsive actions
- nasal perforation
- chronic runny nose
- muscle spasms
- weight loss
- sexual dysfunction
- mood swings
The most common long-term health complications associated with prolonged cocaine use are heart attacks, seizures, strokes, gastrointestinal problems, and even sudden death. Intravenous users also run the added risk of contracting HIV and/or hepatitis C through needle-sharing and risky sexual behavior as a result of impaired judgment.
Symptoms and Treatment of Withdrawal
Once someone is already addicted, trying to curb or stop using cocaine results in uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include:
- unpleasant dreams
- difficulty concentrating
- increased appetite
The acute phase of withdrawal usually occurs 24 hours after last use and can last anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks. Since cocaine is a stimulant, withdrawing from it can cause heart problems. Therefore, it is important to monitor one’s cardiovascular function during this phase, preferably under the medical supervision of a rehab clinic.
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) is characterized by sporadic withdrawal symptoms spread out over a period of months or even years. PAWS include panic attacks, insomnia, and mood swings. During this time, it is vital that the recoverer has a reliable support system.
Cocaine Addiction Treatment Options
An inpatient residency program can help the individual cope with detox and rehabilitation, which is often one of the most difficult and vulnerable times in their life. There are currently no medications to help ease the symptoms of cocaine withdrawal, but cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and support groups can help people uncover the root causes of their addiction and build a long-lasting plan for sobriety.
Alternatively, patients can opt for an outpatient program that allows them to detox in the comfort of their own home but still have regular check-ins with medical professionals and therapists.
Factors that Increase Risk of Developing Addiction
Anyone can become addicted to cocaine at any stage of life. However, these factors can increase your chances of developing an addiction.
If you have a family history of cocaine addiction, this puts you at a higher risk of developing it yourself. Or you can develop an “addictive personality” through your family experiences. For example, if your parents are alcoholic, you might choose not to drink but instead use other habit-forming substances, like cocaine.
On a related note, our environments also influence our addiction risk. Children and teens experiencing parental neglect or abuse are at a higher risk of using drugs to cope. Peer pressure can also result in addiction.
C. Age at First Use
Using cocaine at a young age can not only impair brain development but also lead to mental health disorders in adulthood. Compared to alcohol or marijuana, cocaine is already more addictive for adults, so the long-term health consequences for children are magnified.
Symptoms and Treatment of Overdose
Like with most substances, a cocaine overdose can happen upon first use or any time after. This occurs when someone takes an amount that is potentially life-threatening. The symptoms of a cocaine overdose include:
- heart attack
- irregular heart rhythm
- difficulty breathing
- high blood pressure
- extreme anxiety
There is no medication to reverse an overdose. However, the overdose symptoms can be managed in a medical setting. If the overdose causes a heart attack, stroke, or seizure, medical professionals (ER doctors or EMTs) can stop the seizure or restore blood flow to the heart or brain.
What if I Know Someone Going Through Cocaine Addiction?
If you know someone addicted to cocaine, be patient and nonjudgmental. Feeling scorned by loved ones only makes it harder to seek help. Plus, the neural alterations caused by cocaine can make it difficult for the person to acknowledge that they have a problem. An intervention specialist can facilitate communication between the addicted person and his/her family on this difficult topic and help the person find a suitable treatment center.
Someone who exhibits the following signs is likely addicted to cocaine and needs help:
- agitation, restlessness
- secretive or deceptive behavior
- borrowing or stealing money
- no longer partaking in previously enjoyable activities
- risky or impulsive behavior
- physical symptoms: nosebleeds, weight loss, insomnia, increased heart rate
Cocaine Addiction Recovery at Avenues Recovery in Maryland
To deal with Maryland’s ongoing cocaine addiction cases, high-quality and accessible recovery centers are key.
At Avenues Recovery, you’ll be surrounded by seasoned medical professionals who specialize in addiction recovery. No matter what stage of the process you’re on — detox, rehabilitation, therapy — your health is our priority.
We offer residential treatment, Partial Hospitalization (PHP), Intensive Outpatient (IOP), and Outpatient (OP) treatment programs that are all customizable to your unique needs. These options can include family and couple therapy sessions, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), immersive 12-step programming, outdoor activities, and more.
Our modern facilities have a casual atmosphere, beautiful grounds, and advanced amenities so that you can recover comfortably. At the center of every treatment plan are our core values: life skills, wellness, nutrition, social acceptance, financial responsibility, and family.
We believe in your strength and resilience. Let us guide you to a healthier, happier tomorrow.