Cocaine Addiction and Abuse in Colorado
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Last Updated - 05/04/2023View our editorial policy
Although the opioid crisis is a prevalent issue in Colorado and throughout the United States, many Americans are also struggling with stimulant drugs like cocaine.
This powerful and highly addictive substance claimed the lives of more than 200 Coloradans in 2020 alone.
Cocaine can be difficult to recover from without professional treatment. Fortunately, there are many rehab facilities available to those living in Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs or anywhere else in the state.
If you believe you or someone you love may be struggling with cocaine, it can help to learn more about the drug, discover the risks it creates and see how addiction can be treated.
What Is Cocaine?
Cocaine is a stimulant that comes from coca. For thousands of years, people in South America have chewed on coca leaves to bring them energy. Over 100 years ago, however, chemists synthesized the chemical in coca that provided the stimulant effects. This synthetic drug was used as a medicine in many different medical tonics. Along with caffeine, it was considered to be a tonic for headaches, alcoholism, stomach pain and menstrual cramps.
While cocaine has sometimes been used for medicinal purposes, such as anesthesia, it is more common to use safer alternatives. Today, cocaine is considered to be a highly addictive drug and is a Schedule II controlled substance.
Cocaine comes in two different forms. The powdered form is a water-soluble salt that people inject or snort. The rock-like form is commonly known as crack cocaine. It is created when the drug is processed with another chemical, such as baking soda and water. This produces a substance that can be smoked.
Cocaine has a number of slang names, including coke, snow, powder and blow. On the street, the drug is commonly cut or diluted with other ingredients, such as cornstarch. It can also be mixed with other drugs or alcohol. For example, Liquid Lady is a mixture of cocaine and alcohol, while a speedball is a combination of cocaine and heroin.
The History of Cocaine in the U.S.
Cocaine has been a popular recreational drug in the U.S. for more than 100 years. At the start of the 1900s, purified cocaine was used in a variety of tonics and elixirs, and its use was relatively mainstream. It was even used in the original formulations for Coca-Cola and was administered as a pain reliever during surgery.
In 1914, cocaine use was restricted unless you had a doctor’s prescription. By the 1950s, it looked like the drug was phasing out. However, it became popular again in the 1960s and 1970s, particularly in rock culture.
Although cocaine was once believed to be useful, researchers eventually saw just how addictive and potentially dangerous the drug could be. Currently, cocaine is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning it has a high potential for abuse, addiction and dependence.
What Are the Penalties for Possession of Cocaine in Colorado?
Colorado recently changed its penalties for cocaine possession. Since March 2020, it has been a Level 1 misdemeanor to carry four grams or less of cocaine. This punishment can include:
- 80 days in the county jail
- Two years of probation
- Up to 180 days in jail for probation violations
- Up to a $1,000 fine
After the third offense, a person may be sentenced to up to 364 days in jail. The fourth or subsequent offense is a Level 4 felony, which can carry higher fines and time in a Colorado state prison.
How Is Cocaine Used?
When sold on the streets, cocaine usually comes as a fine white powder. Dealers will often cut the drug with other substances to make it more profitable. This can make it more dangerous, depending on what the substances are. Recently, the powerful narcotic fentanyl has been found in cocaine in the Denver area.
Cocaine can be taken in different ways, depending on the form it comes in. The hydrochloride salt is the powder version, which is typically snorted. There is also a freebase version of cocaine, usually known as crack, that can be smoked.
Cocaine stimulates the reward center of the brain. When someone uses cocaine for the first time, they will likely feel a “high” that involves an intense sense of pleasure, well-being and euphoria. People who use cocaine may also become more talkative, lose their appetite, be more alert and be unable to sleep. Cocaine can lead to heightened feelings of sexual arousal as well.
In large doses, however, cocaine can create different feelings. These include anxiety, violent behavior, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure and a sense of paranoia. Using cocaine can also raise your risk of having a heart attack.
Factors that influence cocaine’s side effects include:
- The amount used
- The purity of the cocaine
- How the drug is used
- Cocaine tolerance
- Co-occurring substance use
There are many different reasons people might say they use cocaine, such as:
- The desire to feel high
- To improve performance in some area of life
- To enjoy the social experience that comes with it
- To self-medicate mental health issues like depression or social anxiety
Cocaine Side Effects
Some people may recreationally use cocaine many times and never become addicted, while others may become addicted quickly. Cocaine is addictive because the drug allows the brain to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure. However, this effect comes at a serious cost. The brain associates cocaine with dopamine and wants to have more of it, so cocaine becomes a pathway to pleasure. This leads to addiction.
Cocaine is also addictive because it promotes a feeling of energy and invincibility. Many people love to feel like they are socially engaging and energetic. They may feel connected to those who are also using cocaine and feel they are having deep conversations with them. The social connections made within a group of cocaine users can be a powerful incentive to continue using the drug.
Unfortunately, cocaine addiction can lead to negative consequences throughout every aspect of life, including relationships, jobs, finances and legal status. There are also many health-related side effects that can be both physical and behavioral in nature.
Physical Side Effects of Cocaine
Because cocaine is a stimulant, it increases central nervous system activity and makes people feel like they have a lot more energy. This can lead to a variety of side effects, including:
- Increased blood pressure
- Rapid heart rate
- Big pupils
- Trouble sleeping
- Appetite loss
- Loss of sense of smell
- Swallowing problems
- Chronically runny nose
- Worsened asthma
- Increased risk of infections like HIV and hepatitis C
- Tears and ulcers in the gastrointestinal tract
- Chest pain
- Inflammation of the heart
- Rupture of the aortic artery
- Bleeding in the brain
- Parkinson’s disease
Psychological Effects of Cocaine
Some short-term psychological side effects of cocaine use include:
After using cocaine, many people experience a crash that includes symptoms like exhaustion, depression and excessive sleep. After the crash is over, many people go back to cocaine use, repeating the cycle.
Over the long-term, psychological signs of cocaine addiction can include the development of cognitive symptoms that cause problems with:
- Paying attention
- Controlling impulses
- Making decisions
- Performing motor tasks
Signs of cocaine addiction include experiencing out-of-control cravings and continuing to use the drug despite negative consequences. People who are addicted to cocaine will often find that their use of the drug is compulsive, and even if they try to stop, they can’t.
A person can overdose on cocaine when they take high doses. This impacts multiple organs in the body and can be fatal. A cocaine overdose is considered a medical emergency, and its symptoms can include:
- Loss of urine control
- High body temperature
- Severe sweating
- High blood pressure
- Very fast heart rate or irregular heartbeat
- Bluish skin
- Fast breathing
Drug overdose can be fatal. If you suspect someone is experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately. Do NOT be afraid to seek help. If you do not have access to a phone, contact Web Poison Control Services for online assistance.
If you are addicted to cocaine and want to stop using the drug, it is not as straightforward as just quitting cold turkey. Detoxing from cocaine creates a variety of withdrawal symptoms that can range in severity. Because symptoms can be uncomfortable or dangerous, it can be difficult to detox without medical assistance.
Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms
When a person takes cocaine on a regular basis, their body starts to depend on its presence to feel normal. Suddenly stopping the drug can lead to symptoms like:
- Sleeping more than usual
- Increased appetite
- Aching muscles
- Difficulty concentrating
- Slower thinking
- Suicidal thoughts
- Lack of sexual arousal
- Lack of pleasure
Cocaine withdrawal typically doesn’t cause physical symptoms like vomiting and shaking; these are more common when detoxing from substances like alcohol. However, symptoms can vary based on your overall health. For example, co-occurring mental health disorders may affect withdrawal symptoms and complicate the detox process.
Withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable and even dangerous, which is why it’s best to seek out a medical cocaine detox program when quitting cocaine. It is especially important when you have co-occurring mental health disorders like depression or anxiety, as cocaine withdrawal can increase suicide risks.
In medical detox, withdrawal symptoms and complications can be quickly treated and monitored. A medical detox center can ensure that you remain adequately hydrated and receive proper nutritional support during the withdrawal process. Medical detox is often quite short, but it can be connected to an addiction rehab program that includes ongoing care, counseling and co-occurring mental health disorder treatment.
Cocaine Addiction Treatment
Recovery can be a complex process, and it’s important to consider many factors, including medical detox. If you are addicted to cocaine, it can be physically and psychologically challenging to work through withdrawal on your own. At a professional detox center, however, you will receive ongoing medical support and care that makes the detox process safer and more comfortable.
Detox alone is not enough to recover from cocaine addiction, though. For the best outcomes in recovery, it’s important to transition from detox to a professional addiction treatment program. You may want to consider a Colorado drug rehab facility like The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake, which offers:
- Medical detox
- Inpatient care
- Partial hospitalization programs
- Intensive outpatient programs (IOP)
- Outpatient treatment
- Long-term aftercare
Our full continuum of care allows you to gradually transition to less-intensive programs as you gain stability in your recovery. Detox and inpatient treatment help you overcome the difficult first steps of sobriety, while our outpatient and aftercare options give you the support needed to maintain long-term recovery.
If you are looking for drug rehab options in Colorado, The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake can help. Contact us today to learn more about cocaine addiction treatment programs that can work well for your needs.
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National Library of Medicine. “Cocaine Intoxication.” November 30, 2021. Accessed December 23, 2021.
U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration. “Drugs of Abuse.” April 2020. Accessed December 23, 2021.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What are the long-term effects of cocaine use?” May 2016. Accessed December 23, 2021.
Torres, Kevin. “Fentanyl popping up in cocaine in Denver metro area.” FOX 31, August 9, 2021. Accessed December 23, 2021.
History Channel. “Cocaine.” August 21, 2018. Accessed December 23, 2021.
Colorado General Assembly. “HB19-1263: Offense Level For Controlled Substance Possession.” May 28, 2019. Accessed December 23, 2021.
Miller, Faith. “Largest jump in Colorado overdose deaths[…] 20 years, data show.” Colorado Newsline, July 15, 2021. Accessed December 23, 2021.