Cocaine Abuse & Addiction
Throughout Colorado including in Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs, there has been a lot of focus on the opioid epidemic, particularly since the state and the region have been so hard hit, but there are other drugs that are problematic in Colorado and nationally as well.
One such drug is cocaine. The following outlines what cocaine is, and explores whether or not it is physically and chemically addictive.
What is Cocaine?
Cocaine is a drug that comes from coca. It is prepared for use as a stimulant. For many thousands of years, people in South America have chewed on coca leaves as a stimulant to bring them energy. However, cocaine brings the stimulant properties of coca to a whole new level; over 100 years ago, people synthesized the chemical in cocaine that provided that stimulant. Cocaine hydrochloride was used medicinally in many different medical tonics. Along with caffeine, it was considered to be a tonic for headaches, alcoholism, stomach pain, and menstrual cramps.
Today, cocaine is considered to be a highly-addictive drug. While it has sometimes been used for medicinal purposes, such as acting as a local anesthetic, it is more common in medicine to use cocaine-like drugs that are more effective when considering its medical applications. On the street, cocaine is commonly cut or diluted with other substances such as cornstarch. It is often known as coke.
Cocaine comes in two different forms. The powdered form is a water-soluble salt. People inject or snort this drug. The base cocaine is created when the drug is processed with another chemical such as baking soda and water, producing a substance that can be smoked. Cocaine that is smoked is also called crack.
Cocaine can also be mixed with other drugs or alcohol. Liquid Lady mixes cocaine and alcohol, while speedball mixes cocaine and heroin.
Cocaine is currently the top cause of drug-related emergency room visits in the United States. Instead of being a low-class drug, it is now known as a higher-class drug. It is most commonly used by men ages 18 to 25.
The History of Cocaine in the U.S.
In the US, cocaine is the second most popular recreational drug, second only to marijuana, which is legal in some states like Colorado. People in the United States use a lot of cocaine; in fact, the country is the world’s leader in cocaine use. At the start of the 1900s purified cocaine started to be 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 it 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 this drug was phasing out. However, it became more popular again in the 1960s and 70s, becoming particularly popular in rock culture.
Despite the fact that at one point it was seen as having a variety of uses, over the years researchers started to see just how addictive and potentially dangerous its use could be. Currently, cocaine is classified as a Schedule II substance in the U.S., which means there is a high potential for abuse.
Cocaine Methods of Use
When it’s sold on the streets, cocaine usually comes as a fine white powder, and it has a number of slang names including coke, snow, powder, and blow.
When it’s sold on the streets there’s the problem not just of addiction and the potential health problems of the cocaine itself, but dealers will often cut it with other substances to make it more profitable. This can make it more dangerous, depending on what the substances are.
Cocaine can be taken in different ways depending on the form it comes in. Generally, there is a hydrochloride salt, which is the powder version of cocaine we often think of, and there can also be a free base version of cocaine that can be smoked. This version of cocaine is usually called crack.
When someone uses cocaine, it stimulates a certain area of the brain which is the reward center. When you use cocaine for the first time, you will likely feel an intense sense of pleasure, well-being or euphoria, which is the high the drug is known for creating. People who use cocaine may also become more talkative, lose their appetite, be more alert and be unable to sleep. Cocaine can also lead to heightened feelings of sexual arousal.
In large doses, cocaine can create different feelings however including 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.
Some of the factors that determine how you’ll feel or the side effects of using cocaine include the amount you use, the purity of the cocaine, how you use it, your tolerance and whether or not you’re simultaneously using any other substances.
There are many different reasons people might say they use cocaine including the desire to simply feel high, to improve their performance in some area of life, to enjoy the social experience that comes with it, or to self-medicate mental health issues such as depression or social anxiety.
Effects of Cocaine Use
Some people may recreationally use cocaine many times and never become addicted, while for other people they may become addicted after using it only once.
Cocaine use is addictive because the drug allows the body to release dopamine. However, this happiness comes at a serious cost. The brain associates cocaine with this reward and wants to have more of it, so cocaine becomes a pathway to happiness. This leads to addiction.
Cocaine is also addictive because it promotes a feeling of energy and invincibility. Again, people love to feel like they are socially engaging and energetic. You can feel a kinship with those who are also using and feel that you are having deep conversations with them. The social connections made within a group of cocaine users can be a powerful incentive to continue to use the drug.
When people do become addicted to cocaine, it can lead to negative consequences throughout every aspect of their life including in their relationships, their jobs, and they will often experience financial and legal troubles.
People who are addicted to cocaine may also experience certain physical side effects including mood changes and irritability, changes in mental health, psychotic side effects, a loss of the sense of smell, sexual dysfunction, weight loss and more.
Physical Effects of Cocaine Addiction
Since cocaine use makes you feel like you have a lot more energy, it can lead to increased movement. It also leads to muscle tics over time. If a cocaine addict is snorting cocaine, this can lead to symptoms that mimic that of a chronic cold, such as nosebleeds.
A serious impact of cocaine use over time is potential heart damage. Over time, using cocaine can lead to an inflammation of the heart, aortic ruptures, reduced cardiac function, an increased risk of stroke, and the possibility of brain damage due to limitations in the blood supply.
Cocaine use is also associated with kidney damage. Use of the drug damages smaller structures within the kidneys, leading to cumulative damage.
Those who inject cocaine are also at risk from bloodborne illnesses such as HIV and Hepatitis C if they share needles.
Psychological Effects of Cocaine Addiction
Cocaine is psychologically addictive because of the way it impacts your brain and in particular your reward center.
The drug very quickly increases the supply of dopamine to your brain, and that affects your entire limbic system. When this happens, you experience pleasure, and your brain wants to create a feedback loop of reward. This reinforces the cravings to continue using cocaine.
Signs of addiction to cocaine include continuing to use it in spite of negative consequences, or out-of-control cravings to keep using the drug. 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.
If you are addicted to cocaine and want to quit, it is not as straightforward as just stopping cocaine use cold turkey. Detoxing from cocaine brings psychological withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms of withdrawal can vary from difficulty concentrating, slower thinking, and restlessness to much more serious symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Some people may also feel the inability to feel sexual arousal or even any feelings at all. There could be some physical symptoms too, such as muscle aches and chills.
However, this is not a reason to stay on cocaine; it is a reason to seek medically-assisted detox so that you have the ability to seek support. It is especially important to seek short-term medical detox when you have co-occurring disorders such as depression and anxiety since there is a risk of suicide when you are withdrawing from cocaine. This medical supervision is often quite short, but it can be connected to a program that involves ongoing care as well, including counseling and treatment of psychological issues such as depression.
If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts or tendencies, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
What to Look for in a Cocaine Rehab Center
When you are looking for a rehab center, what do you need? Recovery can be a complex process, and you need 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. Instead, you can turn to a rehab center where you will receive professional observation and assistance during this time when you need medical support.
Depending on where you live in relation to the rehab center, you may want to consider a Colorado drug rehab facility that has a variety of programs, including inpatient hospitalization, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient programs. This allows you to choose the type of program you need in consultation with rehab center staff, and it also allows you to move into new phases of the program when you complete the previous step. It is also valuable to find a program with outpatient and aftercare options so that you have ongoing support through your longer-term recovery.
If you are looking for drug rehab options in Colorado, The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake can help you regain control of your life. Contact us today to learn more about our drug recovery programs.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.