Unlike many other popular recreational drugs, such as heroin, cocaine does not cause a severe physiological dependence in the user. In fact, studies show that across large samples the addiction rate for cocaine use is far lower than that of opioids or methamphetamine, and hypothesized that some cocaine users are capable of not slipping into self-destructive habits, similar to alcohol. Yet once the psychological effects of cocaine are factored in, it becomes evident that this drug can still devastate a user’s life.
Cocaine is the most powerful naturally created stimulant in the world. It is derived from the leaf of the erythroxylum coca bush in South America, which has been chewed and ingested by natives for thousands of years. Scientists isolated the drug in the mid-17th century and used it for anesthetic purposes, based on its numbing effects. It is currently classified as a Schedule II drug in the U.S., meaning it has high potential for abuse, but may be administered by a doctor for medicinal purposes.
In its crystalline powder form, cocaine is considered an upscale, high-class drug and one which has been glamorized and sensationalized in film, television and music. Recreational use of the drug can lead to addiction, significant financial loss, increased risk of heart attacks and hardened arteries and aorta.
Signs of Cocaine Addiction
- Repeated nosebleeds
- Manic behavior
- Severe paranoia
- Constant scratching or complaints of itching
- Collapse of nostrils
- Loss of sense of smell
- Chronically hoarse voice
- Exhaustion or difficulty functioning during day-to-day activities
The Difference between Physiological and Psychological Addictions
In stark contrast to drugs like heroin and others, cocaine abuse does not lead to any physical withdrawal symptoms, which gives users a false sense of confidence that they are not addicted and will not become addicted. The problem with this theory is that there is no differentiation between being physically addicted to something or psychologically addicted – addicted is addicted; after all, the brain is a part of the body.
When a person is distinguishing the difference between physiological and psychological addiction, they are most likely referring to the withdrawal symptoms. Substances such as alcohol and opiates leave long-term users racked with intense pain, nausea and other debilitating physical symptoms of withdrawal upon ceasing use. While cocaine abuse does not lead to this type of withdrawal, other symptoms such as fatigue, depression, sleep problems and eating difficulties can be just as problematic, albeit less visible to outsiders.
People who have a cocaine abuse problem have difficulty monitoring or controlling how much they use and often still use even when faced with negative life consequences. Additionally, many cocaine abusers are polydrug users, meaning they use cocaine along with multiple other drugs, increasing the risk for overdose, multiple addictions and other adverse health complications.
According to numbers from the most recent National Drug Survey, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2013, there were 1.5 million Americans who had used cocaine within the previous month. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that overdose deaths involving cocaine increased by 29 percent between 2001 and 2013.
The Dangers With Crack-Cocaine
In cocaine’s free-base form (most often referred to as crack), the drug is catered to lower income communities. Crack is a smokable form of cocaine that is processed with baking soda, ammonia and water, and then heated to remove the hydrochloride. This form of cocaine gets the name crack because of the sound it makes when being smoked.
Smoking crack is often a preferred way to get high for many because of the speed with which it begins taking effect and the low cost compared to cocaine. It reportedly reaches the brain in just eight seconds after smoking it. However, the effects of both forms are identical upon reaching the blood stream. It’s like the difference between taking a shot of vodka and drinking a glass of wine – both will get you intoxicated, one just works faster.
While the intense and nearly immediate rush of crack is easy to abuse and binge on, it has been found that approximately 80 percent of those who have tried crack in their lives, have not done so in the past year. Most people who have ever tried crack have not done so more than once.
Easy to Lose Control
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that overdose deaths involving cocaine increased by 29 percent between 2001 and 2013.When it comes to cocaine and/or crack, the line between recreational use and problematic abuse is extremely blurry and very easy to cross without even realizing it. The fact that many abusers are able to function in school, work and in everyday life provides a false sense of security.
As a result of repeated use, the brain begins to adapt and it becomes more and more difficult for it to process reward and pleasure. Tolerance to the drug also develops, requiring users to binge to achieve desired levels of euphoria. If cocaine abuse continues, users will have difficulty experiencing joy without use of the drug. Additionally, people who are chronic abusers of the cocaine often lose the desire to eat any food, leaving them malnourished and looking frail and gaunt.
Once addiction has taken hold, there is an incredibly high chance of relapse, even after extended periods of abstinence. Several studies have shown that memories of cocaine use and the experiences surrounding it can trigger extreme cravings following exposure to specific cues associated with the drug use. The changes in the brain make users highly vulnerable to relapse.
Do You or Someone You Love Have a Problem?
It can be difficult to determine if you or someone close to you has a problem with abusing cocaine. Any use of the drug is problematic and places users on a potentially slippery slope ending in debilitating addiction. If you’d like to learn more about cocaine, addiction and recovery, Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches can help.
Please download our free eBook, Understanding Addiction to Cocaine. In it you will find information on the physiological and mental effects of cocaine addiction, as well as recommendations for selecting a detox and recovery program for yourself or for someone close to you who is struggling with addiction.
Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches has been a national leader in addiction rehab and research for nearly 20 years.