14 Jul How Addictive Is Cocaine?
Cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug that causes changes in a person’s brain immediately after taking it. There are many ways to ingest the drug, including snorting the powdered form through the nose, mixing the powder with liquid and injecting it, rubbing the powder on gums, and smoking the drug either by itself or mixed with other substances like marijuana or tobacco. All forms of cocaine use are dangerous due to the high risk of overdose and addiction.
Most people have heard that cocaine is a very addictive drug, but what does “very addictive” actually mean? Some individuals may think that they can try cocaine “just once” to see what a high from the drug feels like, but it is difficult to try cocaine one time and never use it again. The Centers for Substance Abuse Research state that it is possible to become addicted to cocaine after using it just one time. People who use cocaine in its powdered form are less likely to become addicted after using the drug once, but there is still a risk of addiction.
While it is true that not everyone who uses cocaine will become addicted to it after just one use, the risk is still present and potentially deadly. Despite the dangers, new people start using cocaine every day. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), there were 1.5 million cocaine users in the United States in 2013 who were 12 years old or older. This startling statistic shows how addictive cocaine actually is.
First-Time Cocaine Use
Addiction to any drug involves dependency and tolerance. Dependency means that a person needs to keep taking the drug to avoid the onset of unpleasant and sometimes painful withdrawal symptoms. Tolerance means that a person needs to take more of the drug over time to achieve the same effect they experienced when they first took the drug. Not all drugs can cause someone to become addicted after just one use, but cocaine is an anomaly and can cause users to quickly become addicted.
When a person uses cocaine for the first time, the drug causes multiple changes in their body and brain. Almost immediately after using cocaine, the person will experience the following symptoms:
- Decreased Appetite
- Euphoria and Pleasure
- Feelings of Mental Alertness
- Heightened Sexual Arousal
It is important to note that everyone is unique and drugs impact each person differently. But the above symptoms are the usual effects that a person will experience after using cocaine. Other factors that influence the intensity and duration of the effects of cocaine, include the dosage, purity, route of administration, co-current drug use, and a person’s level of cocaine tolerance.
Since taking cocaine for the first time is a new experience for a person’s brain, the sensations that associated with a cocaine high tend to be the most intense when the person first uses the drug. Many people find that they experience decreased levels of euphoria the next time they use cocaine, because tolerance appears almost immediately after taking the drug for the first time.
While a person’s first experience with cocaine is often described as euphoric, not everyone has such a positive experience. Some people have adverse reactions to the drug. They may experience anxiety, paranoia, erratic or violent behavior, rapid heartbeat, and high blood pressure. In some rare cases, first-time cocaine use can cause heart attacks, seizures, or even death. The risk of having a bad reaction to cocaine is higher for people who take larger doses of the drug or who have preexisting health conditions.
How Does Cocaine Impact the Brain?
To ensure the survival of the human race, the brain has evolved over millennia to reinforce certain activities such as eating and sexual activity. When a person engages in these activities, the brain releases a neurotransmitter known as dopamine as a reward, which produces pleasurable sensations and encourages the person to engage in the behavior again.
When a person first uses cocaine, their brain releases a flood of dopamine. However, the drug blocks a critical process in the brain that is called reuptake. As a result, the dopamine that the brain releases sits in the synapse, causing excessive dopamine activity. This activity causes heightened neural stimulation, which people who use cocaine know as a high.
The first high from cocaine tends to be the strongest because a person will develop tolerance to the drug over time. Quite quickly, the human brain adapts to the presence of cocaine, and it stops responding with the same intensity that it did the first time the person used the drug. The brain may also stop appropriately responding to other stimuli like food and sex, causing the cocaine user to experience an overall diminished ability to feel pleasure.
People may try to recreate the initial high of cocaine or simply try to experience some feeling of pleasure by taking higher or more potent doses of the drug, which can be very dangerous. This behavior not only can contribute to cocaine addiction, it can also lead to a cocaine overdose. The typical symptoms of a cocaine overdose include:
- High Blood Pressure
- Irregular Heart Rate
After a person experiences these symptoms, they can have a heart attack, stroke, or seizure. People have a higher risk of experiencing an overdose from cocaine if they take a higher or more potent dose of the drug or if they mix cocaine with a depressant like heroin, in a mixture called a “speedball,” or alcohol. Luckily, prompt medical treatment can help patients recover from a cocaine overdose.
Cocaine overdose treatment is most effective when a person receives immediate medical attention. As a result, it is important to call 911 immediately if someone begins exhibiting any of the symptoms of an overdose. Until medical help arrives, it is best to stay with the person. Medical professionals also recommend protecting the individual from nearby objects if they start to have a seizure and placing a cold compress on them to lower their body temperature.
Professional medical treatment for a cocaine overdose involves monitoring the patient’s heart rate, temperature, blood sugar, and psychological state. Doctors also often prescribe benzodiazepines to help manage cocaine overdose symptoms and prevent them from developing into something more serious.
Prompt cocaine overdose treatment can mean the difference between life and death. In 2014, approximately 5,500 people died from a cocaine overdose. Many of these tragic deaths could have been prevented with appropriate medical treatment.
Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine Abuse?
While cocaine can induce feelings of euphoria and alertness, it also causes numerous mental and physical health problems, ranging from feelings of anxiousness and depression to high blood pressure and seizures. The harmful effects of cocaine abuse include:
- Anxiety and Panic Attacks
- Delusions and Hallucinations
- High Blood Pressure
- Inability to Smell
- Increased Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke
- Sexual Dysfunction
- Weight Loss
Physical and mental health aren’t the only areas of life that suffer when someone starts abusing cocaine. There are other signs of cocaine abuse that impact every area of a person’s life. Personal relationships, careers, finances, and hobbies all suffer when someone is addicted to cocaine. Over time, addiction becomes the primary focus in a person’s life, as they spend every waking hour thinking about when they can use cocaine again. When someone is fixated on using cocaine, other responsibilities and priorities take a back seat to the drug.
It can be difficult for someone who is addicted to cocaine to maintain the relationships in their life, so marriages may fall apart, while family and friends may start to distance themselves from the cocaine user. Due to the physical and psychological changes that cocaine causes, a person’s performance at work or school can suffer. In many cases, the individual may end up losing their job entirely, leading to financial hardships. Finally, cocaine addiction can cause people to get in trouble with the law. Some individuals may get arrested for drug possession, while others may find themselves resorting to illegal measures to acquire the drug their body craves.
Overcoming Cocaine Addiction?
Overcoming an addiction to any drug can be difficult, but recovering from a cocaine addiction can be especially challenging. Since cocaine is such an addictive substance, people come to rely on the drug to feel normal. When a person stops taking cocaine, they tend to experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms within 24 hours of their last dose. At this time, the body and brain struggle to cope with the lack of cocaine in the system and the following withdrawal symptoms can appear:
- Increased Appetite
- Intense Cravings for Cocaine
- Lack of Pleasure
- Muscle Aches
When people experience these symptoms, they may be tempted to return to cocaine use to stop these uncomfortable problems. In fact, many people go through the cycle of withdrawal and relapse more than once. However, most withdrawal symptoms will dissipate by the second week of sobriety. After two weeks, only cravings and feelings of depression remain.
The best way to overcome the symptoms of cocaine withdrawal is to undergo medically-supervised detoxification, or detox. During the cocaine detox process, medical professionals who understand drug addiction wean the patient off of cocaine, slowly decreasing the dose of the drug. Utilizing this method is one of the best ways to reduce both the intensity and duration of withdrawal symptoms. Medical professionals also monitor the patient during detox and they sometimes administer medications to help manage the symptoms of withdrawal. Medical detox can occur at home on an outpatient basis or in a hospital or drug treatment center. While it is possible to detox at home, individuals who have severe withdrawal symptoms or who have struggled to stop using cocaine in the past should consider an inpatient drug rehab treatment program.
After a patient completes the detox process, they can begin the next stage of treatment for their cocaine addiction. The most successful drug treatment program involves comprehensive psychological counseling and ongoing support. The purpose of counseling is for patients to identify the root causes of their cocaine addiction and to learn new coping skills and stress management strategies to take the place of cocaine abuse. Counseling will also include drug abuse education and tips for relapse prevention. It is critical for individuals in recovery to have a support network to rely on when they encounter rough patches in their recovery. This support can come from friends, family, medical professionals, support groups, or a combination of these resources.
Although using the drug one time does not guarantee that someone will become addicted to cocaine, it is not uncommon for a person to become addicted to cocaine after using it just once. Any amount of cocaine use puts a person at risk for becoming dependent on the drug and experiencing the harmful physical, psychological, social, professional, and legal consequences that are associated with cocaine abuse.
The best course of action is to avoid using cocaine in the first place; however, some people are already struggling with an addiction to this powerful stimulant. If you or someone you love is ready to break free from cocaine addiction, the drug treatment professionals at HARP can help.
HARP specializes in treating addiction to a variety of substances, including cocaine and other stimulants. Our team of caring medical professionals and addiction treatment specialists provides medically-supervised detox, psychological counseling, support services, and long-term recovery resources to help each client have a comfortable and productive stay at our cocaine addiction treatment center before they reenter their life – clean and sober. With the right help and support, recovery is possible. HARP can help clients live a life free from cocaine addiction.