Cocaine AddictionCocaine, widely known simply as “coke,” is derived from the coca plant, which is native to South America. Indigenous South Americans have been using coca for generations as a stimulant and anesthetic -- evidence of chewing coca leaves can even be traced back to ancient Peruvian civilizations. In the mid-1800s, German chemists discovered that the chemical compound in the coca plant responsible for its effects could be isolated. The compound, which they named cocaine, was quickly adopted in medical circles for its anesthetic properties. But a general lack of restrictions on the substance led to its use in a variety of easily accessible products, including elixirs, cigarettes and supplements. The drug became popular recreationally among people from all walks of life, from soldiers to socialites. As cocaine’s addictive properties became increasingly evident, the backlash against its widespread use increased. Eventually, it became classified as a Schedule II drug in the United States, which means it has a few limited medical uses but is tightly regulated due to its high potential for addiction. Today, it remains the second most popular illegal drug in America after marijuana, with an estimated 1.9 million users over the age of 12 in 2016 alone.
What is Cocaine?Coke as a modern street drug is a far cry from the natural leaves of the coca plant. After the cocaine compound is extracted from the plant’s leaves, its high concentration brings more powerful effects that lead to stronger highs, more intense cravings and eventually addiction. Coke is usually sold as a white powder, and is also commonly found in “rock” form as crack cocaine. It can be snorted, injected, taken orally or smoked. According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, cocaine is most often used by those between the ages of 18 and 25. It is commonly considered a “party drug,” used in social settings, because of its stimulating effects. Cocaine can make you feel more energetic, more talkative, less inhibited and more positive. The effects of one dose typically last about 30 minutes, which usually leads to users taking multiple doses in a single evening so they can maintain their high.
Cocaine’s Effects on the Brain and BodyCoke is classified as a stimulant drug, which means it speeds up certain processes in the brain to produce a high. Most importantly, cocaine stimulates the production of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is associated with brain functions like rewards pathways, pleasure and mood control. When you use cocaine, the surge of dopamine makes you feel happy, energetic, sociable and alert -- all positive sensations that lead users to enjoy cocaine and usually use it again. But even though dopamine occurs in the brain and can help you feel good without drugs, the amount of dopamine from a natural response is not as intense as from a drug high. With repeated or abusive use of cocaine, your brain can become accustomed to the elevated levels of dopamine -- without the drug, you won’t be able to experience life the same way as you used to. In fact, day-to-day life can become difficult as you struggle to feel happy or awake in a sober state. This slippery slope leads quickly to addiction, which only worsens your mental state and can also take a toll on your body physically. Among other physical effects, there are a few that stand out. One of the most potentially harmful aspects of cocaine is its ability to suppress the appetite. Long-term coke users may skip meals frequently to the point of drastic weight loss and malnutrition. Coke also causes the heart to beat rapidly when high, which over time compounds into high blood pressure, weakened blood vessels and an increased risk of heart disease or an aneurysm. In cases of overdose, coke can be fatal when the heart rate increases to the point of a heart attack. Finally, in users who typically snort coke through the nose, a host of concerns can arise including weakened nasal passages, loss of smell and even damage to or collapse of the septum.
Signs of Cocaine AddictionIf you are worried about someone close to you, you might be wondering what the signs of cocaine addiction are. Behavioral signs tend to arise first, usually in the form of personality changes and changes in interests or friend groups. Their actions may become aggressive or unpredictable, or you might notice that their mood changes drastically. Sporadic bursts of energy, positivity and talkativeness might indicate that someone is getting high. You might also notice dilated pupils, twitching or a short attention span. Other signs can include:
- Inability to maintain responsibilities
- Financial difficulties
- Rapid weight loss
- Legal trouble
Rolled up bills, hollowed-out pens, straws, and powder on smooth surfaces are all signs of cocaine use.
As cocaine addiction takes hold, it becomes harder and harder to keep up with regular responsibilities.
Users will often stay awake for long periods of time. This is usually followed by “crashing” for a few days.
As a stimulant, cocaine often creates mood swings – periods of intense energy, followed by depression.