Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug known to increase one’s level of alertness, attention, and energy. Derived from the coca plant, native to South America, cocaine has been utilized for certain valid medical purposes by health care providers, however, is most commonly abused recreationally. Using cocaine is illegal, and thus, many people will partake in risky and dangerous endeavors in order to obtain the drug. Other names for cocaine include: coke, snow, rock, blow, and crack.
As a street drug, cocaine comes in fine, powder form. Often times cocaine is mixed with other drugs, such as stimulant amphetamine or opioids, including fentanyl, in order to increase profits. Adding synthetic drugs to cocaine is extremely risky as it increases the number of overdose deaths among users. Because this drug is highly addictive and destructive by nature to its user, it is extremely important that someone abusing this drug seek help immediately. Learning how cocaine affects the user’s brain, withdrawal symptoms experienced when detoxing off cocaine, and how to get help for drug abuse are essential in order to move forth on the path of sobriety now.
How Cocaine Use Affects the Brain
Cocaine increases dopamine levels in the brain, the neurotransmitter responsible for control of movement and reward. When dopamine is working optimally, dopamine will recycle back into the cell that released it. However, when cocaine is used dopamine is unable to be recycled, thus creating large amounts of build up between nerve cells and stopping their normal communication. This buildup creates a “high”: intense feelings of energy and alertness. Prolonged cocaine use can create a tolerance to the drug, meaning that the person using the drug becomes less sensitive to the dopamine “high” and needs larger amounts in order to feel its effects. This, in turn, reinforces taking more of the drug in an attempt to feel the same high and to prevent experiencing the withdrawal symptoms from detoxing off cocaine.
In addition to the effects cocaine has on the brain, usage of this drug creates a myriad of short and long-term health side-effects for the individual abusing this drug. Short-term health effects of using cocaine include:
- Extreme energy and happiness
- Hypersensitivity to sight, sound, and touch
- Mental alertness
- Paranoia (extreme, fearful distrust of others)
- Unpredictable and violent behavior
Other health complications of cocaine use include:
- Raised body temperature and blood pressure
- Dilated pupils
- Constricted blood vessels
- Tremors and muscle twitches
Long-term health effects of cocaine largely depend on what method is used. These include:
- Smoking: cough, respiratory distress, pneumonia, asthma
- Snorting: nosebleeds, runny nose, loss of smell, issues with swallowing
- Needle injection: skin or soft tissue infections, scarring or collapsed veins, higher risk of getting HIV, hepatitis C, and other bloodborne diseases
- Consuming by mouth: bowel decay as a result of reduced blood flow
The effects of using cocaine can appear almost immediately and disappear within a few minutes to an hour. Additionally, a person can overdose and die from using cocaine. Some severe health consequences from overdose include: an irregular heart rhythm, heart attacks, seizures, strokes, difficulty breathing, hallucinations, extreme agitation and anxiety.
Detox and Withdrawal Symptoms Experienced from Cocaine Use
As with any drug, there is a risk of addiction, especially with repeated use. As such, many people addicted to cocaine may continue taking the drug in order to avoid the withdrawal symptoms experienced from detoxing off the substance. Withdrawal symptoms often experienced when detoxing off cocaine include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased appetite
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
- Slowed thinking
- Depressed mood
- Physical craving for cocaine
- Inability to experience sexual arousal
- Slowing of activity
- Physical fatigue
- Inability to feel pleasure
- Muscle aches
- Nerve pain
The cravings for cocaine and depression can last for months after detoxing off cocaine. As such, it is essential that if one is withdrawing off cocaine that they get the help and support they need during this period of time. This could be from a professional medical doctor that specializes in addiction or an inpatient/intensive outpatient drug rehab. If the person using cocaine is suffering from any co-occurring mental health disorders, it would be most beneficial to follow up a medical detox with a comprehensive inpatient addiction treatment plan so that both disorders can be addressed effectively. The withdrawal timeline can vary person to person depending on:
- The length of time cocaine was used: If cocaine was abused for a relatively short period of time, withdrawal symptoms may be short in duration, usually resolving within 7-10 days after the last use. However, if someone abused cocaine for years, they may have lingering withdrawal symptoms for weeks, and even months after the last use (especially psychological effects, such as depression and anxiety).
- Amount of cocaine used: People who abused larger amounts of cocaine may experience more intense withdrawal symptoms than someone who used much less.
- If other drugs were abused along with cocaine: If someone developed a dependence to more than one drug, they will potentially feel withdrawal symptoms from detox more intensely.
- Any co-occurring medical or mental health issues: If the person abusing cocaine also has another underlying mental health issue, such as depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, or personality disorder, the withdrawal process may be more complicated.
- What environment the cocaine was abused in: If someone abused cocaine to escape a stressful environment, or stress factors such as relationship or work issues, then the cravings for a return to cocaine may be more intense, as they may want to continue coping from these stressors.
Addiction Treatment for Cocaine Use
Since cocaine is a powerfully addictive substance, it takes an immense amount of support to start walking on the path of sobriety, especially in the first couple of months when the cravings are the most intense. One of the most beneficial and proven tools to long-term sobriety is going to an inpatient drug rehab facility. It is through an inpatient drug rehab experience that someone suffering from substance abuse can eliminate outside distractions and therefore solely focus on their sobriety. This greatly increases the chances of maintaining sobriety when transitioning out of rehab. Inpatient rehabs that include medically-guided detox, support groups, and counseling have shown to provide the most holistic, well-rounded approach to lasting sobriety. If one does not get to the root of why they are using cocaine in the first place, the likelihood of returning to the drug is much greater. This is especially true if the person is triggered by an emotion that caused the use of coping with the drug in the first place. Furthermore, a person’s health and safety is monitored in inpatient drug rehab environments, thus creating a sense of peace an individual needs while detoxing.
The time to get sober is now. Don’t let another moment pass you by if you are struggling with an addiction to cocaine. You deserve the support and guidance needed to endure any trials that may come your way while walking out the path of sobriety. Reach out today and a friendly enrollment advisor will gladly talk to you about your options and how to get you the help you are worthy of.