Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine Addiction

cocaineCocaine is a very addictive stimulant drug. Cocaine comes in two forms: the powdered hydrochloride salt form of cocaine is usually snorted or dissolved in water and then injected; the rock crystal form known as crack is heated to produce a vapor or smoke, which is inhaled. The second form is called “crack” because it makes a crackling sound when the rock is heated.

Methods of Cocaine Abuse

There are three ways abusers take cocaine: snorting through the nose, injecting directly into the bloodstream, and smoking vapors. The injection and smoking methods cause a faster, more intense high, but the duration is shorter than when snorting the powder. All three types of cocaine abuse can cause severe health problems such as heart attack, stroke, damage to nasal tissues (including break-through to brain tissue), and with needles there is a risk of contracting HIV/AIDS or other infectious diseases such as Hepatitis C.

People abuse cocaine because of the initial effects of increased energy, reduced fatigue, elation, and mental alertness. However, the continued abuse of cocaine damages the brain’s ability to regulate the natural “pleasure” chemicals on its own. Because the high of cocaine is short-lived, it is often abused in binges.

Your Brain on Cocaine

Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant that increases levels of dopamine, a brain chemical associated with pleasure. Dopamine is the body’s way of giving a positive reward and can be elicited naturally when we have positive experiences. Think about how you feel when you see a loved one after a long period of time – or you win money – you feel euphoric and elated due to the release of dopamine and other pleasure chemicals. Normally, this feeling drops off after a few minutes. Cocaine, however, prevents dopamine from being recycled and causes excessive build up of the chemical. By interfering with the brain’s normal reward-response system, abusers undermine their natural ability to feel pleasure. This is often cited as the reason for high relapse rates when cocaine addicts seek treatment.

With repeated use, tolerance develops. Many cocaine abusers report that they never quite achieve the same high they did when they first tried cocaine. They will increase the dose to try to achieve the euphoria of early use, but this also increases the risk of dangerous side effects and often leads to addiction.

How Cocaine Hurts Your Health

Cocaine constricts blood vessels, and increases body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. It can cause headaches and gastrointestinal problems. Because cocaine decreases appetite, chronic abusers sometimes suffer from malnourishment.

Snorting cocaine can damage the abuser’s ability to smell and can lead to severe damage of the nasal passageways, as well as the throat. Many long-time abusers report problems with swallowing.

Ingesting cocaine can cause severe bowel gangrene as a result of reduced blood flow.

Injecting cocaine can cause allergic reactions and increases the abuser’s risk of contracting HIV and other blood-borne diseases.

Binge abusers may feel irritable, restless, and anxious. Some abusers may even become paranoid, with reported cases of psychosis in which the abuser loses touch with reality and can be dangerous to himself or others.

Abusers may experience acute cardiovascular or cerebrovascular emergencies, such as a heart attack or stroke, which may cause sudden death. Cocaine-related deaths are often a result of cardiac arrest or seizure followed by respiratory arrest. These events can occur even upon the first use of the drug, especially if there is an unknown underlying risk factor for heart problems.

Another danger occurs when cocaine users drink alcohol concurrently. Basically, the dual usage of cocaine and alcohol creates a third substance called cocaethylene. Cocaine abusers drink to increase the euphoric effects, unaware that they are essentially playing a dangerous chemistry experiment in their own bodies. Cocaethylene is associated with a greater risk of sudden death than cocaine alone.

Treatment Options for Cocaine Addiction

Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been shown to be effective for decreasing cocaine use and preventing relapse. Treatment must be tailored to the individual patient’s needs in order to optimize outcomes—this often involves a combination of treatment, social supports, and other services. Residential drug rehab is usually the best option for cocaine abusers, especially drug rehabs with a cognitive-behavioral therapy component (also known as CBT). Because of the long-term impact on the brain’s ability to feel pleasure after quitting cocaine, a longer residential program is advised. It is better to participate in at least 90 days of residential treatment at a drug rehab with a strong relapse prevention component.

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