Cocaine Addiction and Abuse

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Recreational use of cocaine can easily develop into cocaine abuse or cocaine addiction.

While there are currently no medications to treat cocaine use disorder, science-backed therapies may be effectively delivered in inpatient or outpatient setting centers, depending on your needs and the severity of your cocaine addiction. Stimulants like cocaine can be psychologically addictive, meaning that treatment focuses primarily on behavioral and motivational interventions.

This guide explores the dangers of cocaine and outlines how cocaine dependence and addiction develop and shows you how to connect with evidence-based treatment to kickstart your recovery from cocaine addiction.

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a highly addictive Schedule II controlled substance derived from coca plant leaves. People indigenous to South America have used coca leaves for thousands of years for their stimulant properties.

Cocaine hydrocholoride was first isolated from the plant over 100 years ago. Cocaine was the active ingredient in many tonics in the early 1900s. Surgeons also used the substance as a pain reliever before synthetic local anesthetics were developed. Today, cocaine is an illicit narcotic with limited medical utility.

There are two primary forms of cocaine abuse:

  • Powdered cocaine abuse: Powdered cocaine is hydrochloride salt, which is water-soluble. People snort the powder or dissolve it into an injectable solution.
  • Crack cocaine abuse: Crack cocaine is created by processing cocaine powder with baking soda or ammonia and water and then heating the solution to remove the hydrochloride salt. This results in a smokable freebase form of cocaine that is even more addictive than powdered cocaine.

Is Cocaine a Stimulant?

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant of the CNS (central nervous system). The drug increases levels of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the brain triggering effects that include euphoria, increased energy, and heightened alertness.

Is Cocaine Addictive?

According to estimates from NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), 15% of adults in the United States have tried cocaine at least once.

Regardless of the form cocaine comes in or the route of administration, addiction can rapidly develop. This may involve physical dependence, psychological addiction, or both. Habitual use of cocaine will prompt cravings for the euphoric effects of the drug and a compulsion to use more of the substance.

As tolerance to cocaine builds, you will require more of the drug to deliver the same effects. Sustained cocaine abuse will bring about changes to the function and structure of your brain, making it more challenging to resist subsequent cravings for cocaine.

For most people who abuse cocaine, psychological dependence on the drug becomes more problematic than any symptoms of physical withdrawal. This issue can be addressed during inpatient or outpatient treatment.

How Addictive is Cocaine?

Like all Schedule II substances, cocaine has a strong potential for addiction.

Taking cocaine, whether powdered or freebase, prevents the body from efficiently reabsorbing dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical messenger or neurotransmitter associated with the following:

  • Pleasurable emotions.
  • Processing reward triggers.
  • Regulating movement.

As dopamine lingers in the brain, this provokes feelings of intense euphoria. As the effects of cocaine subside, the brain feels fatigued and fails to produce dopamine naturally. This prompts mood swings, depression, exhaustion, and other early symptoms of cocaine withdrawal. During this phase known as a cocaine crash, many people take more of the substance to alleviate this feelings. This process reinforces patterns of cocaine abuse and is likely to accelerate the development of cocaine addiction (stimulant use disorder).

Signs of Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine addiction signs can be grouped as physical, psychological, and behavioral.

Physical cocaine abuse symptoms

  • Persistent nosebleeds
  • Runny nose
  • Excessive sweating
  • Restlessness
  • High energy levels
  • Raised body temperature
  • Hypertension
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Blacking out
  • Breathing problems
  • Diminished appetite
  • Pronounced weight loss
  • Dilated pupils
  • Insomnia
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Tolerance
  • Heart attack

Psychological cocaine abuse symptoms

  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Impaired decision-making
  • Excessive confidence
  • Mood swings
  • Fleeting euphoria
  • Agitation
  • Psychosis

Behavioral cocaine abuse symptoms

  • Impulsive or reckless behaviors
  • Dishonesty regarding activities
  • Stealing or borrowing money
  • Talking excessively
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Excessive time spent using cocaine
  • Socializing exclusively with friends who use cocaine
  • Inability to stop or moderate cocaine use
  • Using other drugs in addition to cocaine
  • Losing interest in hobbies or interests
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Continuing to use cocaine in spite of adverse outcomes

Stages of Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine addiction, like any other substance use disorder, is a progressive condition that goes through several stages. These stages can vary from person to person, but they typically include:

  • Initial use and experimentation: This is the initial stage where someone tries cocaine for the first time, whether out of curiosity, to self-medicate, or due to peer pressure. The person may use the drug occasionally without experiencing any significant adverse outcomes.
  • Regular use: During this stage of cocaine abuse, a person starts using cocaine more frequently and may begin to experience some negative consequences like financial problems, relationship issues, or health complications.
  • Risky use: At this stage, a person may start using cocaine in higher doses or more frequently, leading to increased risks of addiction, overdose, and other health complications.
  • Dependence: At this stage, a person becomes physically and often psychologically dependent on cocaine, and their ability to function normally without the drug is compromised. Signs of cocaine abuse may be apparent to friends and family members. They will experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop using cocaine.
  • Addiction: This is the most advanced stage of cocaine addiction, characterized by a loss of control over cocaine use and ongoing use despite experiencing significant negative consequences such as job loss, financial ruin, relationship breakdowns, or health problems.

Cocaine addiction symptoms are outlined in DSM-5-TR, the revised fifth edition of APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

  • 1. Missing social engagements due to using cocaine.
  • 2. Spending lots of time obtaining and using cocaine or recovering from its effects.
  • 3. Taking more cocaine than planned or using cocaine for longer than intended.
  • 4. Trying and failing to moderate or discontinue the use of cocaine.
  • 5. Tolerance to cocaine developing so you need more cocaine or more frequent doses to achieve the initial effects.
  • 6. Continue cocaine use even though it is causing problems in your personal relationships.
  • 7. Ongoing use of cocaine although it is causing or inflaming a physical or psychological health issue.
  • 8. Failing to meet personal or professional commitments due to cocaine use.
  • 9. Experiencing intense cravings for cocaine.
  • 10.  Using cocaine in potentially dangerous situations.
  • 11.  Withdrawal symptoms manifesting in the absence of cocaine.

Cocaine addiction is diagnosed as follows:

  • Mild cocaine addiction: 2 or 3 criteria
  • Moderate cocaine addiction: 4 or 5 criteria
  • Severe cocaine addiction: 6 or more criteria

Dangers of Cocaine Dependence

Cocaine dependence, like any form of substance dependence, can lead to significant risks and potential harm, both physical and mental. Here are some of the main dangers of cocaine dependence:

  • Health complications: Cocaine can cause an array of health problems, from heart attacks, strokes, and respiratory failure to seizures and other life-threatening conditions. Long-term cocaine use can also damage the brain, liver, kidneys, and other organs, leading to chronic health issues.
  • Increased risk of addiction: The longer you use cocaine, the more likely you are to develop an addiction. Cocaine addiction can be challenging to overcome and can result in long-term consequences.
  • Relationship problems: Cocaine dependence can cause significant strain on personal relationships, leading to conflicts, trust issues, and even breakup or divorce.
  • Financial ruin: Cocaine use can be expensive, and dependence can lead to significant financial problems, including debt, job loss, and homelessness.
  • Legal issues: Cocaine use is illegal, and dependence may lead to legal problems, including arrests, fines, and imprisonment.
  • Mental health problems: Cocaine dependence can inflame existing mental health issues or trigger new ones, including depression, anxiety, paranoia, and psychosis.
  • Overdose: Cocaine dependence increases the risk of potentially fatal overdose. Overdose symptoms include seizures, respiratory failure, heart attack, and coma.

Cocaine Abuse Stats

The following cocaine abuse statistics from SAMHSA’s latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that:

  • 40.9 million over-18s in the U.S. reported using cocaine at least once.
  • 1.8 million U.S. adults reported past-month cocaine use in 2021.
  • 1.4 million over-18s satisfied the DSM criteria for cocaine addiction (stimulant use disorder) in the same year

NIDA’s 2021 Monitoring the Future Survey shows that:

  • 0.2% of 8th graders in the U.S. reported past-year cocaine use in 2021.
  • 0.6% of 10th graders in the U.S. reported past-year cocaine use in 2021.
  • 1.2% of 12th graders in the U.S. reported past-year cocaine use in 2021.

Cocaine Addiction Treatment at Ohio Community Health

If this guide to cocaine abuse symptoms has given you cause for concern, reach out to Ohio Community Health for help addressing stimulant use disorder.

The earlier you pick up on the symptoms of cocaine abuse and engage with treatment, the more seamless your recovery journey will be.

We specialize in the intensive outpatient treatment of cocaine addiction. Engage with personalized treatment that may include:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Group therapy
  • Individual counseling
  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Family therapy
  • Holistic therapies
  • Aftercare

Call admissions today at 513-757-5000 for immediate help addressing cocaine addiction.

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