17 Jul Signs of Cocaine Abuse
Cocaine is a highly addictive drug that has been one of the most visible of all illicit substances in the United States since the 1970’s. Today, cocaine is a major force in addiction, drug trafficking, and drug related deaths. The illegal trade surrounding cocaine is a multi-billion dollar industry that helps fund drug cartels in South America and Mexico; while placing enormous strain on the health and law enforcement services in the United States. The wide availability of cocaine in all of its various forms has resulted in widespread addiction among drug using populations. What continues to set cocaine apart in this regard from other commonly abused drugs is its wide dispersal of addiction across nearly every demographic in the United States. Rich and poor, young and old, and people of every race and ethnicity have had some experience with cocaine addiction over the last four decades.
Because cocaine use has been so widespread and prevalent in the United States, there exists a large body of literature discussing the signs of cocaine abuse. In this article, we’ll distill some of this information down for you, providing some clarity about what signs you should look out for when you suspect a loved one may be abusing cocaine. Seeing a loved one descend into a cocaine addiction can be an extremely difficult process, and navigating the ebbs and flows of cocaine addiction can be taxing in both a personal and financial sense. Often loved ones don’t realize how much their addiction is affecting those around them, and encouraging them to seek out professional medical help can be a challenge. We hope this article will serve as a resource to you and give you tips on how to support a loved one who is suffering from an addiction to cocaine.
Cocaine is a stimulant synthesized from the coca plant native to South America. Indigenous tribes in South America chewed the coca leaves up to 5,000 years ago for its mild stimulant properties that helped them acclimate and function at high elevations. First extracted from the leaf of the plant in the mid-1800’s, cocaine was used medicinally and in popular products until the early part of the 20th century. Patterns of drug abuse began to appear as the product became more widely available, so it was made illegal in the United States and many Western countries. Cocaine continues to be used, rarely, as a local anesthetic in some medical procedures to this day.
Despite its roots as a medicinal and cultural substance, cocaine is most widely available currently as an illicit substance. Cultivated predominantly in its native South America, cocaine is synthesized and smuggled into the United States and around the world through vast drug trafficking rings to be sold on the streets. Within the illicit market, cocaine is often sold “cut” or repeatedly mixed with diluting agents to increase the profits. Commonly, cocaine is mixed with cornstarch, flour, or talcum powder to give the appearance of a greater quantity of the substance than is being purchased.
Once cocaine is purchased it is most frequently consumed by either insufflation, or snorting, or smoking. Cocaine that is snorted is a fine white powder substance. Cocaine that is smoked is generally processed into a rock-like crystalline formation that reduces impurities. Referred to as “crack,” this form of cocaine produces the fastest and most intense high, but lasts only a few minutes before users need to take another dose. Less common than smoking or snorting is injection, where users use a needle to inject a liquid cocaine substance into a vein in order to achieve a very fast acting high. In such cases, cocaine is often mixed with heroin to form what is known as a “speedball”, a dangerous chemical combination that contains both a powerful stimulant and depressant.
Regardless of the modality of use, once cocaine is taken, it interacts with the body powerfully and quickly. The effects of cocaine vary from person to person, but in general cocaine interacts with the central nervous system (CNS) to produce a rush of dopamine, the chemical responsible for acting on the pleasure sensors of the brain. Cocaine enters and acts on the body quickly, but leaves the body within a relatively short period of time. After this, users will need to consume another dose in order to feel the euphoric effects once again. This cycle of quick action and a powerful high, followed by an equally fast breakdown and excretion by the body, leads to the strong chemical dependency that cocaine creates in users.
Short-Term Signs of Cocaine Abuse
Because cocaine creates such a powerful high, use results most obviously in erratic behavior in the short term. This erratic behavior can take many forms, and varies greatly depending on the tolerance of the person using cocaine, their personality, and any underlying issues going on in their life. Users may appear unnaturally giddy, laughing at things that wouldn’t normally be funny or otherwise exhibiting a strange or excessive sense of humor. They may be more loud and boisterous than they are normally. A common indication of recent cocaine use is a noticeable increase in energy for no apparent reason. Typically, users have a burst of excess energy that can result in fidgeting, rubbing their nose or face, twitching, or excessive sweating and flushed skin.
For other people, cocaine abuse leads to pronounced levels of alertness. This usually occurs in conjunction with rapid mood swings and irritability, particularly as users come down from their high. Cocaine has an extremely fast half-life in the body, and so coming down from a cocaine high occurs quickly and users can experience withdrawal symptoms even as a first-time user. This can lead to a wide spectrum of emotions, from initial exuberance and happiness that quickly shifts into irritability and sometimes violence. Cocaine’s stimulant effects on the CNS also affect the body’s ability to perceive light, causing users to be extremely sensitive to bright lights. Loud noises can also be extremely disturbing following cocaine use.
These shifts in the emotional spectrum of those who have recently used cocaine or are coming down from a cocaine high are compounded by the final short term sign of cocaine abuse. Paranoia, varying in degrees from mild to extreme, is a common effect of recent cocaine use. Users may act overly suspicious, believing others are watching them or talking about them. The increased perception of sound and light can heighten this state of paranoia, at times leading to the user lashing out in dangerous or violent ways.
Long-Term Signs of Cocaine Abuse
Signs and symptoms of long-term cocaine abuse depend greatly on the person using the drug and their habit. If they have been using high doses for long periods, their signs may be more acute or pronounced than others that have maintained a low or intermittent usage of cocaine for a long period of time. This latter pattern of usage is relatively uncommon in long-term abuse. This is due to the fact that cocaine interacts directly with the dopamine sensors in the brain, causing a rush of dopamine when taken. Over time, users must continue to increase their dosage as their tolerance to the drug increases and their body begins to interact with the drug differently.
In most cases, long-term users of cocaine have a habit that increasingly demands higher and higher doses to achieve a semblance of the effect they are going for, creating a powerful addiction that often completely dictates all aspects of their lives. The interaction of cocaine with the body’s CNS and neurochemistry have a direct impact on the common long-term signs of cocaine abuse.
The foremost signs of long-term cocaine abuse are all related to an overall deterioration of a user’s physical and mental state. Most long-term users experience wide swings in depression and anxiety. These are particularly heightened following a period of binge use, in which large amounts of cocaine are consumed over a short period of time. These periods of depression and anxiety can be both long-lasting and incredibly acute. Users will often experience negative repercussions in their personal lives, relationships, and job as a result of both conditions.
Other signs of long-term cocaine abuse include periods of extreme irritability and restlessness. These are often most intense following a period of heavy use or binge, which can leave the body drained and result in erratic moods and behavior. Similar to the short-term effects from cocaine abuse but more powerfully felt and debilitating, feelings of irritability and restlessness are sometimes accompanied by extreme paranoia. This paranoia can include the user to experience auditory hallucinations, which will make them appear even more erratic to those close to them. Less common long-term signs are due to the interaction of cocaine with the CNS and musculoskeletal structures of the body. Long-term cocaine users often exhibit signs of uncontrollable muscle movement, including shaking, tremors, jerking, and pronounced fidgeting or tics.
In some rare cases, long-term cocaine abuse can lead to serious movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.The serious effects of long-term cocaine abuse illustrate the damage that cocaine causes throughout the body and the mind. Extreme, and at times violent, mood swings, cycles of depression, and acute paranoia are all common indications of long-term cocaine abuse. Added onto this is the oppressive weight of a cocaine addiction, which requires increasingly high doses to achieve a euphoric state.
Other Signs of Cocaine Abuse
Besides the physical and mental signs that your loved one may be abusing cocaine, there are also a few other indicators that you should keep an eye out for. The first is to be mindful of the presence of any paraphernalia that may be used to administer cocaine. These will vary depending on the method of cocaine use. Taking cocaine intravenously will require the use of hypodermic needles. Often these are accompanied by a spoon that the cocaine is dissolved on and drawn into the needle. Spoons used for this purpose will have scorch marks along the bottom side, and may be included in a “kit” of other tools used for the habit.
Users who smoke cocaine or crack will most often do so using a small glass pipe. Additionally, the combustion of cocaine or crack will give off a telltale acrid scent that is distinct from other smells. Some users that smoke cocaine will do so by using a piece of foil on which the cocaine is placed and burned, with the smoke subsequently inhaled with a straw or other tube. Cocaine that is snorted will also leave behind signs. Remnants of powdered cocaine residue on surfaces, clothing, or even the face and nasal passages of the user are all common indicators.
Tools to snort cocaine are often a small razor blade to reduce the substance to a fine powder before snorting, a rolled up dollar bill or cut piece of straw that will contain cocaine residue and small baggies that cocaine is bought in. Snorting will also result in a runny nose, causing users to sniffle or inhale through their nose repeatedly to clear their nasal passageways. Repeated use of cocaine by snorting will cause damage to the nasal passageways, resulting in frequent cases of a bloody nose with no outside sources of trauma.
Lastly, cocaine abuse often results in negative consequences in personal and professional relationships. Long-term cocaine abuse makes it difficult to hold a steady job or provide focus and energy into the relationships with those close to the user. You may notice a steady withdrawal in your loved one, both from you and the world in general, as they begin to place more focus on maintaining their habit. Additionally, cocaine abuse is an expensive habit to maintain. Financial troubles, combined with other indicators such as emotional instability and increasing depression or paranoia, will often be evident as a cocaine addiction progresses.
Being mindful of the signs of cocaine abuse will allow you to be proactive in addressing this addiction with your loved ones. Often, the signs of cocaine addiction are not present in isolation. You will most often see multiple signs that your loved one has begun abusing cocaine. The most important step once cocaine abuse is recognized is to seek professional guidance to help your loved one overcome their cocaine dependence and addiction. Contact HARP Drug Rehab Center today to learn about our drug treatment programs that can help your loved one recover and lead a life that is free of cocaine addiction.