Cocaine Addiction

Despite its occasional glamorization as a pricey party drug, cocaine is one of the most notorious and dangerous illicit drugs in the world. Millions of people use cocaine recreationally for its jolting, euphoric effects, but the fast-paced high of this drug is followed by a debilitating crash. Unfortunately for many, the need to regain the high often leads to a whirlwind of addictive behavior and severe consequences. Cocaine addiction is a grim reality that should not be taken light, and it demands immediate attention.
Cocaine is a stimulant narcotic and Schedule II illegal substance in the United States. It is most commonly sold in a white powder form or powdery clump that’s broken down. It can be inhaled through the nose, smoked, injected with a needle, rubbed into the gums, or swallowed. A variant of the drug known as crack cocaine, which looks like rocks or crystals, is more commonly smoked and can be even more addictive than the standard form. Crack cocaine is an excess substance created during the process of making pure cocaine. It’s known as a cheaper, “dirtier” relative of the drug.

In its purest form, cocaine is derived from the coca plant (Erythroxylon coca). Recreational and even ritualistic ingestion of this plant dates back centuries to South America and other regions. When ingested, cocaine (chemical name: benzoylmethylecgonine) unleashes high levels of the pleasure chemical dopamine into the brain. The feeling is short-lived, leaving those who use it wanting more after the quick high subsides. This often leads to cocaine addiction.

Pure cocaine has a unique chemical smell and taste. The powder is made after extracting the active ingredient alkaloid from coca leaves, and mixing it with sodium bicarbonate and bleach. When purchased on the street, cocaine is very often diluted or “cut” with any number of other chemicals like detergents, amphetamines and silicon, to name a few. Those who use this impure cocaine are even more at risk of developing cocaine addiction and overdosing, as there is usually no way to determine which hazardous ingredients are being ingested.

Cocaine goes by a long list of street names and slang terms, including:

Nose candy
C or Big C

For a period of time, cocaine was used medically in the U.S. It was introduced as a surgical anesthetic in the late 19th century and gradually went on to become a household drug. One of its most infamous mainstream uses was as an ingredient in Coca-Cola and other popular beverages, such as certain wines. It was eventually banned for a time, until its resurgence as an abused drug in the 1960s. In the ’70s and ’80s, cocaine became a fixture in the party scene, disco clubs and rock ‘n’ roll music, such as in Eric Clapton’s song “Cocaine.” It also became widely accepted in social settings, not unlike marijuana and alcohol. As awareness of the drug’s grave dangers became more and more apparent, its popularity finally saw a dip in the 1990s. But cocaine still claims thousands of lives every year and sends tens of thousands into the downward spiral of addiction.

cocaine in lines
Many illicit substances have a light, powdery appearance like that of cocaine, making it harder to identify cocaine in a lineup of other drugs. When asked “what does cocaine look like,” experts might emphasize the distinct white color and smooth texture, not unlike a powder laundry detergent.

Due to its consistency, dealers tend to sell cocaine in small, tightly wound plastic baggies or twisted-up plastic wrap. Cocaine is one of the most expensive drugs on the market, so the average person who uses it likely holds only small amounts at a time. When sold on the street, cocaine tends to come in grams or ounces. Larger stocks of the drug are sold in heavyweight plastic bags or dense, rectangular units of plastic wrap. These are referred to as “bricks.” You may find cocaine in a solid, chalk-like form as well, which can be easily broken down into the eventual powder. The powder is usually then formed into thin lines or “bumps” to be snorted up the nose.

Because of the high demand for the drug and its nondescript appearance, dealers tend to mix it with similar light powders to take advantage of buyers. These powders may include:

  • Baking soda
  • Flour
  • Cornstarch
  • Sugar
  • Laundry detergents
  • Boric acid
  • Laxatives
  • Local anesthetics
  • Amphetamines
  • Silicon
  • Talcum powder

Street cocaine may contain certain additives that actually speed up or intensify the high. But in general, dealers add cheap substances to extend their supply and maximize their profit. Impure cocaine can appear off-white, pinkish, or brownish depending on the other contained ingredients. A 2015 London study revealed that a typical ounce of cocaine sold on the street was only 22–25 percent pure. This percentage can drop even lower as it moves down the line through different transactions. Many people who are paying $100 for a gram of “cocaine” may only be receiving 1–3 percent actual of pure cocaine, if not less.

Crack cocaine (freebase cocaine), the base form of the drug, takes on a more crystalline or rock-like consistency. It varies in color from white to yellow to a pale rose. This substance has an ever-growing reputation as a hyper-potent and addictive drug that is dangerously affordable and available. Someone who gets hooked on cocaine may find themselves turning to crack as an inexpensive way to feed their addiction, which can greatly exacerbate their health risks and the severity of their dependence.

People of every demographic use and abuse cocaine. Approximately 1 in 6 people in the United States older than age 25 have tried the drug at least once — more than 52 million adults. In 2012, an estimated 16–21 million people around the world were current users, with 1.6 million current users in the U.S. (age 12 or older).

Studies show cocaine use has more of a “regional variance” than any other major drug, meaning the prevalence and common demographics depend on the part of the country being observed. The largest group of people (by a large margin) that uses the drug consists of white males age 26 and older. In 2015, males used cocaine at nearly double the rate of females, and use among Caucasians was more than double that of the next two ethnicities — Hispanics and African-Americans — combined.

The journey from a one-time use to becoming a “coke head,” the slang term for someone who uses or is addicted to cocaine, can begin after just a single use. A defining trait of this particular substance is the spastic behavior exhibited by those who use it, and the sudden pull to sustain the high at all costs. Coke alters the brain chemistry, and cocaine addiction is notorious for being troublesome to overcome.

Cocaine is considered highly addictive and one of the most habit-forming substances on the planet. As soon as the drug enters the brain — whether through inhalation, smoking or injection — it warps the brain’s reward pathway and its production of certain chemicals related to pleasure (such as dopamine) and stress. The person who uses it then associates certain positive feelings with memories of their cocaine high, and naturally starts to crave another fix in hopes of recreating the sensation. Stress triggers can also set off these cravings, which can vary from person to person.

Historically, physical addictions to cocaine may not develop as quickly as select other narcotics, such as heroin. But a psychological dependence and repeated exposure can pave the way for serious physical dependence and traumatic withdrawal symptoms. On average, addiction develops over the course of one year in people who use cocaine on a regular basis. The most at-risk people who use it for eventual dependency, according to research, are those who are 21–25 years of age, female, and African-American.

There is no telling when addiction can take hold. Cocaine, particularly crack cocaine, can lead to addiction after just a single use. Once in the throes of addiction, the person misusing the drug may forego school, work or personal obligations in order to seek out more of the drug. The restlessness and anxiety between uses can quickly become overwhelming and lead to a complete loss of judgement; those who are addicted often spend every last penny to their name in order to renew their high. They may also rapidly develop a tolerance to the drug — wherein it takes a higher dosage to reach the same effect. With cocaine in particular, this tolerance can develop and remain even after prolonged periods of abstinence. Whether this behavior develops over the course of a week or steadily over several months, it eventually comes at the cost of professional, social and emotional stability.

In addition to this litany of destructive behavior, not to mention the physical hazards of the drug, cocaine addiction can lead to binge sessions in which the person consumes copious amounts in a single sitting as a way to overcompensate for stress and a perceived sense of self-reward. A cocaine binge can cause someone to lose sight of how much they are taking and put themselves and others at a great risk. Drug overdose is not an uncommon outcome of cocaine binging, and it can lead to permanent internal damage or death.

In cases of addiction, people must admit their problem and seek help as soon as possible. If you think someone in your life is struggling with cocaine addiction, speak up. Don’t wait to see how it turns out. Rehabilitation at a certified rehab facility is often the only way to help someone break away from their cocaine addiction and return to good mental and physical health. Any amount of cocaine use is not to be taken lightly; addiction is a medical disease that cannot be addressed alone.

The faster a drug reaches the brain, the more likely a person is to develop abusive tendencies, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Snorting cocaine involves a longer journey through the body and to the brain than inhaling smoke. Those who smoke cocaine, therefore, have a greater chance of addiction. This is an additional reason why crack, which is far more commonly smoked, is generally considered more likely to cause addiction. However, that does not make powder cocaine any less of a threat.

Due to the intense chemical effects that cocaine has on the brain and heart, this drug’s inherent dangers are amplified when taken in conjunction with other toxic substances. Taking cocaine at the same time as alcohol or other drugs can overwhelm the body in a variety of ways. Mixing cocaine with heroin, opiates, ethanol or prescription antidepressants is proven to increase its potential to be lethal. Even mixing cocaine with caffeine can put someone at an advanced risk for serious heart issues, due to overstimulation and exhaustion.

Because cocaine is often taken in heavy partying scenarios, the chances of experiencing a dangerous interaction is likely higher with this drug than with other substances. Mixing cocaine and alcohol is especially common, as many people seek out cocaine at bars or in live music scenarios to increase their energy after a night of drinking. In addition to the internal dangers of this combination, studies suggest that alcohol and cocaine together can lead to violent behaviors, thoughts and threats. This aggravated loss of self-control can place people in precarious situations where they endanger themselves and those around them, and can result in arrests or worse.

One UK National Addiction Centre study of those who use cocaine found a strong correlation between binge drinking and cocaine use. Nearly half of people who use cocaine in the survey said their most recent night of heavy drinking lasted more than 12 hours. One behavior likely enables the other and creates a cycle of poor judgment and self-destructive substance use.

To balance out the erratic energy and high blood pressure cocaine causes, many people who use it take an intense depressant to calm themselves down and try to achieve a perfect middle ground. In doing so, they flood their body with conflicting chemicals and put themselves at risk for serious harm. Cocaine and the anti-anxiety medication Xanax is one such combination. Another is cocaine and marijuana, which may be referred to as “dusting” or “snow-capping.” The psychoactive results of this interaction can lead to intense and volatile behavior.

One especially dangerous combination is cocaine and heroin, also known as a “speedball.” People take both drugs intravenously, often at the same time, in the pursuit of a high that combines the feelings of a stimulant and a depressant. This can cause an extreme adverse reaction, including fatal respiratory depression. Several notable public figures, such as John Belushi from Saturday Night Live, have passed away due to complications from mixing heroin and cocaine.

cocaine drug interaction
Cocaine is among the most prevalent factors in addiction treatment and rehab. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported around 910,000 Americans meeting the criteria for cocaine dependence in 2014. With thousands trying cocaine for the first time every year, it’s inevitable that many will develop an abusive habit and require intervention from a doctor or treatment center.

The cocaine addiction rate is, in one way or another, related to several other alarming statistics. Some of the numbers related to cocaine abuse are:

  • Between 5,000 and 6,000 unintentional deaths in the U.S. each year involve cocaine.
  • In 2011, approximately 505,000 of the 1.3 million emergency room visits related to drug misuse involved cocaine.
  • In 2015, between 1.8 percent and 2.3 percent of U.S. 12th graders (4.4 percent on the West Coast) used cocaine.
  • Seventeen percent of people who try cocaine develop a dependency.
  • Fifty to 90 percent of people who are addicted to cocaine experience relapse when attempting to get clean without professional help.

Though the mainstream appeal of cocaine may have diminished slightly since the 1980s, the potent powder continues to infiltrate our country and present a real danger to those who choose to experiment. In 2016, the U.S. Coast Guard seized more than $5.6 billion in cocaine — 416,600 pounds. An estimated 2,834 tons of the drug were shipped to the U.S. in 2016, compared to 577 tons in 2013. Only 7 percent of these shipments were seized. The widespread availability of the drug has translated to an unfortunate toll among those who use it; cocaine-related overdose deaths rose from 11 to 13 percent between 2010 and 2015.

Additional studies show that cocaine’s street price has fallen 20 percent over the last 20 years, making it easier than ever for just about anyone to find, purchase and face the many serious consequences of the substance.

Burch, Kelly. “Record Amount of Cocaine Seized During 2016.” The Fix, 2 Mar. 2017, Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.

CESAR (Center for Substance Abuse Research). “Cocaine.” CESAR (Center for Substance Abuse Research), 29 Oct. 2013, Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.

Doward, Jamie. “Warning of Extra Heart Dangers from Mixing Cocaine and Alcohol.” The Guardian, 7 Nov. 2009, Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.

Cocaine Addiction was last modified: August 1st, 2017 by The Recovery Village