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 abuse cocaine for its jolting, euphoric effect — its origins can be traced back hundreds of years. As every user discovers soon enough, the fast-paced high leads to a debilitating crash. Unfortunately for many, the need to regain the high often leads to a whirlwind of addictive behavior and severe consequences. Addiction to cocaine is a grim reality for users of all ages, and demands immediate attention if and when it develops. Cocaine addiction is very real and should not be taken lightly.
Cocaine is a stimulant narcotic and a Schedule II illegal substance in the United States. It is most commonly sold in the form of a white powder or powdery clump that is broken down and inhaled through the nose. Some users will smoke it or inject it with a needle; it can also be 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, and is 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 some other regions. Upon being consumed, cocaine — chemical name benzoylmethylecgonine — unleashes high levels of the pleasure chemical dopamine into the brain. The feeling is very short-lived, leaving users fiending for more once the quick high subsides which can lead to cocaine addiction.

Pure cocaine has a unique chemical smell and taste. The powder is made after extracting the active ingredient from the coca leaves, alkaloid, 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: detergents, amphetamines and silicon, to name a few examples. Users of this impure cocaine are even more at risk of developing cocaine addiction and overdose as there is usually no way to tell just what hazardous ingredients they are putting in their body. Cocaine goes by a long list of street names and slang terms:

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 be a household drug. Perhaps its most infamous mainstream use was as an ingredient in Coca-Cola and some other popular beverages, such as certain wines. It was eventually banned for a time, until its resurgence as a drug of abuse in the 1960s. In the 70s and 80s, cocaine became a fixture in the party scene, in disco clubs, and in rock and roll music (for example, Eric Clapton wrote a song titled, “Cocaine”). It became widely accepted in social settings, not unlike marijuana and alcohol. As awareness of the drug’s grave dangers become more and more apparent, its popularity finally saw a dip in the 1990s. But cocaine still claims thousands of victims a year and sends tens of thousands of users into the downward spiral of addiction.

cocaine in lines
An increasing number of illicit substances have a light, powdery appearance like that of cocaine. With that being said, it has become 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 users will likely only hold small amounts at a time. When sold on the street, cocaine tends to come in measures of 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 and take advantage of buyers. These can include:

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

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 users who are paying $100 for a gram of “cocaine” may only be receiving something of 1 – 3 percent actual purity, if not zero.

Crack cocaine or “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 one in six 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 depends on the part of the country being observed. White males age 26 and older are the heaviest users by a large margin. In 2015, males abused 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 an abusive or addictive user, can begin after just a single use. A defining trait of this particular substance is the spastic behavior users exhibit 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), as well as stress. The user will soon associate certain positive feelings with memories of their cocaine high, and naturally start 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 take cocaine on a regular basis. The most at-risk users for eventual dependency, according to research, are people aged 21 – 25, females and African-Americans.

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 user will 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; addicts often spend every last penny to their name in order to renew their high. They will 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 where the user will consume copious amounts in a single sitting — as both 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 overdoses are not uncommon outcomes of cocaine binges; this can lead to permanent internal damage or death.

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

The faster a drug reaches the brain upon being used, the more likely a user is to develop abusive habits, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Snorting cocaine involves a longer journey through the body and to the brain than inhaling smoke. Users who smoke cocaine, then, have a higher chance of addiction. This is an additional reason why crack, which is far more commonly smoked, is generally considered more likely to cause addiction. That does not make powder cocaine any less of a threat, though.

Due to the intense chemical effects of cocaine on both the brain and the heart, its inherent dangers are amplified when taken in conjunction with other toxic substances. Taking cocaine at the same time as or while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs can overwhelm the body in a variety of potentially tragic ways. Mixing cocaine particularly with heroin, opiates, ethanol, or prescription antidepressants is proven to increase its potential lethality. Even mixing cocaine with caffeine can put the user at an advanced risk for serious heart issues, due to overstimulation and exhaustion.

Because it is often taken in heavy partying scenarios, the chances of experiencing a dangerous interaction is likely higher with cocaine than with a number of other substances. Cocaine and alcohol is an especially common mixture, as many people will 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 users 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 cocaine users found a strong correlation between binge drinking and cocaine use. Nearly half of cocaine users 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, a number of users will take an intense depressant to calm themselves down and try to achieve a perfect middle ground. In doing so, they will often flood their body with conflicting chemicals and put themselves at risk for serious harm. Cocaine and Xanax, the anti-anxiety medication, is one such combination. Another is cocaine and marijuana, which may be referred to as “dusting” or “snowcapping.” 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.” Users will 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 is 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.
  • 17 percent of people who try cocaine develop a dependency.
  • 50 – 90 percent of cocaine addicts 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: April 3rd, 2017 by The Recovery Village