Cocaine Addiction: Signs, Causes, Withdrawal & Treatment
Drug abuse is a problem in the United States, with millions of Americans abusing illicit substances in a way that may present a real danger to their physical and emotional health. Among the drugs that are abused is cocaine, and available information shows that cocaine use is rising in the U.S.
Contrary to the way cocaine use is often portrayed in the media, it is not always easy to tell when a loved one is using this powerful and dangerous drug, so it is helpful to have a comprehensive understanding of cocaine abuse, including knowledge of its signs and symptoms. Thankfully, while cocaine addiction is a serious problem, research is also very clear that it is an addiction that can be successfully overcome with appropriate treatment.
What Exactly Is Cocaine, and Why Is It So Addictive?
Cocaine comes from the leaf of the coca plant, which is native to South America. About a century ago, scientists figured out how to isolate and purify cocaine hydrochloride from the coca leaf, resulting in the creation of a new and powerful compound. For some time, cocaine was thought to have many medicinal purposes, and the drug was used to address many physical and emotional ills, including to treat hysteria and to block pain. However, with further use and study, it soon became apparent that cocaine was a truly addictive and potentially destructive drug.
Cocaine is a stimulant. This means that it stimulates the body’s central nervous system and can cause a rush of energy, movement, and focus. It tends to be used in one of two ways: Snorted through the nose, injected, swallowed, or smoked, with the smoked form being known as crack. No matter how the drug is ingested, it is highly addictive, although it is especially addictive when smoked because of how rapidly it takes effect. Cocaine looks like sugar and appears as a finely ground powdery white substance. Its smokable form, known as cocaine base or crack, looks like crystalline rocks.
Cocaine is so addictive because of the way it alters the brain and brain chemistry after repeated use. Cocaine increases the body’s levels of dopamine, a chemical produced in the brain that can make someone feel good. It is typically associated with the body’s reward center. Cocaine use can make it so that your body does not actually process dopamine, resulting in a large amount of the chemical being circulated in your body. This not only makes the cocaine user feel euphoric but also sets up a scenario in which the brain craves more cocaine in order to release more dopamine.
The brain adapts to the drug with repeated use, causing it to need more of it to get the same effect. This has the potential to increase a person’s dependence on the compound, and it also raises the chances of an overdose when larger amounts of the drug are ingested in the pursuit of a high.
What Are the Signs of Cocaine Abuse and Addiction?
Someone who is under the influence of cocaine may appear to be very energetic, hyper, and in a great mood. They will likely seem more talkative and excitable than usual. However, there are a variety of negative effects associated with cocaine intoxication, including appearing very paranoid, irritable, and hot. A cocaine user’s mood may rapidly change; they may appear very happy one second and paranoid and annoyed the next. Hyper-confidence is also a common sign of cocaine use. Someone using cocaine may become boastful and show feelings of invincibility. That confidence can often appear as extreme aggression or dangerous risk-taking as an individual’s usual inhibitions break down.
The signs of cocaine addiction are multifaceted, and a person who uses cocaine can show a variety of physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms.
From a physical perspective, cocaine use is associated with a variety of potential problems. These include:
• Mouth and nose problems, such as bleeding gums, dry mouth, nose bleeds, damage to one’s sense of smell, challenges swallowing, changes to taste, and more. This is because of the way cocaine is usually ingested, either through the nose or gums.
• Heart problems. These are common consequences of long-term cocaine use. Studies have shown that cocaine can damage the heart by increasing the risk of heart disease, causing users to be more likely to suffer from heart attacks. This can happen as a result of long-term use or while someone is actively using cocaine due to increased blood pressure and damage to the structure of the heart.
• Cardiovascular problems. Cocaine can constrict blood vessels, leading to issues with blood circulation and oxygenation. Injection use of cocaine is also associated with degraded vein structures.
• Muscle problems, including a loss of muscle control, spasms, tremors, and twitching.
• Increased risk of suffering a stroke.
• Increased risk of infectious disease. People who inject cocaine via needles and share those needles show an increased risk of contracting multiple infectious diseases, including hepatitis C and HIV.
Cocaine abuse and addiction have also been shown to cause many long-term psychological issues. These include:
• Mood changes. Someone who is intoxicated with cocaine or who is addicted to the substance may have a difficult time controlling their moods. Many psychological states are possible, including paranoia, anxiety, aggression, restlessness, and irritability.
• Hallucinations. When used extensively, cocaine can potentially cause hallucinations, with a particular likelihood for auditory hallucinations.
• Paranoia. Cocaine use can often cause a spike in paranoia, making it difficult for the user to trust other individuals or believe that anyone is truly looking out for their best interests. This can create an additional barrier to treatment, as individuals who are abusing cocaine and acting in a paranoid manner may have a difficult time trusting counselors or engaging in personal improvement.
• Depression. The conclusion of a cocaine high can cause a user to feel depressed. This leads to an increased risk of suicide attempts in cocaine users.
There are also a series of behavioral and social challenges that tend to emerge as a result of cocaine use. These include:
• Risky behaviors. Cocaine tends to lower inhibitions and make someone feel more confident in their actions. As a result, they fail to adequately calculate the risks of something that they are doing. This may lead to a variety of negative behaviors, including increased risk-taking and engaging in potentially dangerous sexual practices.
• Secrecy. As an individual who is using cocaine attempts to conceal their use from family and friends, they will exhibit increased secrecy. Someone who is using cocaine is also likely to suffer from a change in social circles and may spend more time with a new set of friends.
• Decreased performance in work or school, both of which can accelerate as an individual’s addiction problems grow. This, in turn, can lead to financial problems, and these financial problems can be enhanced if someone is spending large amounts of money on cocaine.
Cocaine Addiction Treatment
While the issues posed by cocaine abuse can be significant, there is no reason to despair, as ample evidence has demonstrated that treatment for cocaine abuse can absolutely help someone defeat their addiction and resume their normal lives. However, that treatment must be high-quality and comprehensive, meaning it helps someone overcome their addiction by working in numerous ways. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways that cocaine addictions can be treated.
Before any therapy can begin, the process of detoxification must take place. Detoxification, or detox, involves purging the body of any remnants of cocaine or other illicit and addictive drugs. This process can be difficult and often requires counseling, medical supervision, and other supportive tools. Thankfully, many professional clinics operate these types of facilities, and people who complete the detox process are more likely to successfully kick their addiction.
Furthermore, there are medications that can be used to treat cocaine and ease the detoxification process. These include Propranolol, Baclofen, Topiramate, and more. Many of these drugs operate by altering the functioning of the neurotransmitters in the brain, making it easier to adjust to ceasing cocaine use. They may also treat some of the painful and uncomfortable symptoms of cocaine use, including muscle spasms and nausea.
A variety of types of talk therapies can be employed to treat cocaine addiction. These include:
• Cognitive behavioral therapy: These aim to alter the way someone interprets events and thinks about life in general. Healthier thinking can improve someone’s mood, lessen depression, reduce anxiety, and ultimately have a positive effect on addiction.
• Contingency management: Altering someone’s motivations via contingency management is also helpful. A person who is addicted to cocaine will earn “points” that can be redeemed for prizes or privileges at a rehabilitation facility. This can help to rewire the brain and alter the reward centers.
• Group therapy: A trained professional works with multiple addicted individuals at the same time. There are multiple group therapy structures for cocaine detox and addiction, but all essentially employ multiple techniques in order to help people work together, identify common experiences and find shared solutions to overcoming addiction.
• Partial hospitalization: A person stays in an inpatient facility for much of the day but is allowed to return to their home at night. Conversely, many clinics offer 24/7 supervised residential programs. These programs tend to be more intensive and allow for constant monitoring of the person in question in order to ensure that they are sticking to a therapeutic plan and not using drugs.
• Family therapy or social therapy: This therapy helps an individual to examine the relationships they have with their loved ones, identify toxic patterns and work to improve broken relationships in order to lead a better life. This, in turn, can reduce motivation for drug use. Changing someone’s social circle by identifying bad influences may also help an individual break free from their addictions.
As you can see, recovery from cocaine use is absolutely possible, and there are a number of high-quality treatment centers available to help someone do just that. One example is the First City Recovery Center, located in Kokomo, Indiana. We offer a variety of programs, including partial hospitalization and outpatient rehabilitation services. Contact us today by calling 877-595-3330 to learn how proper treatment can help you or your loved one defeat addiction.
Dr. Vahid Osman, MD is a psychiatry specialist in Indianapolis, IN.
Dr. Osman completed a residency at Austin State Hospital. He has over 32 years of experience in Psychiatry & Behavioral Health. He is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.