For generations, cocaine has been one of the most popular illicit drugs of choice; it is also one of the most powerfully dangerous and addictive drugs a person can put into their body.
Cocaine has split apart families, ruined relationships and futures, and ended lives with how it drags someone to the depths of addiction.
The important thing to remember is that no matter how much damage it has done, either mentally or physically, it’s never too late to get help.
The human brain naturally produces and releases a hormone called dopamine in response to whenever we do something good. The pleasurable, rewarding sensation when we enjoy a good meal, have sex, or otherwise enjoy ourselves is the dopamine creating a positive association, so we know to anticipate and seek out those activities again.
Under normal conditions, the brain gradually reabsorbs dopamine – after consuming the meal or having sex, we don’t feel the urge to continue doing those activities. That’s the dopamine wearing off. But when you have cocaine in your system, not only does it make your brain pump out excessive amounts of dopamine (hence the intense euphoria), it actively stops your brain from reabsorbing the dopamine. While the pleasure of a good meal or sexual intercourse wears off, cocaine keeps the brain in a frenzy of pleasure, against its will and against natural safeguards.
The feeling is so powerful that a user is compelled to seek out more and more hits, because nothing in life could possibly compare to that sensation. But as more and more cocaine is fed to the brain, and as the brain releases more dopamine than it can possibly reabsorb, the brain’s biochemistry is drastically altered; now, deriving pleasure from normal, healthy activities becomes impossible, and the only way to achieve any kind of satisfaction is from cocaine. All it takes is one use of cocaine, according to a study done by the University of California (at Berkeley and San Francisco), and the brain is permanently, and drastically, rewired to seek out more of the drug.
- Approximately 639,000 people aged 12 and up had used cocaine for the first time within the previous 12 months.
- About 76.2 percent of those 639,000 people were over the age of 18 when they first used cocaine. The average age for first-time users, between the ages of 12 and 49, was 20.
Nonetheless, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has found that from 2000 to 2013 use of cocaine among high school seniors dropped by 48 percent. The DEA also said that, from 2007 to 2012, the availability of cocaine in the United States has been trending downwards. Figures from the National Seizure System in 2012 reported that only 7,143 kilograms of cocaine were seized at the US-Mexico border, a drop of 58 percent from 2011, when the figure was 16,908 kilograms.
In contrast to the feelings of euphoria and power mentioned above, cocaine has other effects on its users, ranging from mildly inconvenient to persistent and chronic:
- Persistently runny nose and nosebleeds
- Flushed skin and increased body temperature
- Dilated pupils
- Persistent restlessness
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Loss of appetite
Taken in isolation, these signs are not clear indicators that a person is using cocaine, but in combination, and in addition to other strange behavior, these signs could suggest a drug habit in progress.
Because cocaine has such a powerful and addictive effect on a person, it causes very unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. The long suppression of the body’s neural and hormonal systems comes to an abrupt end, causing signals and impulses to be sent like haywire. PsychCentral says that the body and brain are “thrown into confusion” by the sudden cessation of the powerful substance on which they had become so dependent. The confusion manifests in withdrawal symptoms like:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased craving for the drug
- Drastic mood swings
- Risk of violent behavior
- Suicidal thoughts
Extreme Effects of Cocaine
Psychology Today warns that when cocaine is binged on – that is, high doses of cocaine are taken repeatedly over a short period of time – a user can experience paranoia and even psychosis, where they hallucinate and are unable to distinguish between reality and their hallucinatory perceptions.
Getting a loved one into rehab
Convincing a loved one to get professional help for their cocaine habit is not easy. They may argue that the cocaine helps them feel good; they may be in denial that they have a problem at all; or they may simply act with violence, hostility, or indifference when the topic of their addiction is broached.
With those kinds of obstacles, having the rehab conversation can not only be difficult, it can also be downright demoralizing. That’s where staging an intervention can help. A well-conducted intervention will force the addict to acknowledge that her behavior is harming her life, that it is damaging her relationships, and that friends and family will draw a line in the sand – either get help or face the consequences.
A well-conducted intervention will also present an addict with a laid-out treatment plan. It’s not enough to simply threaten penalties if your loved one doesn’t clean up; you have to show them, to the best of your ability, that there is a way out of addiction. Detailing the difficulties that her cocaine habit has caused might get her to admit that she has a problem, but giving her information about good rehabilitation and treatment programs might be what convinces her to seek help. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence writes that interventions moderated by professionally trained interventionists result in 90 percent of addicts making a commitment to follow up with treatment.
Treatment and therapy options
Once you have convinced a loved one to seek treatment for cocaine addiction, the facility at which he checks in will employ specific treatment approaches: one to break his physical need for cocaine, and the other to break his mental association with cocaine. The first step is called detoxification; the second step involves psychotherapy.
Detoxification is a complex process that should not be attempted alone, or in a casual environment. Weaning an addicted body off cocaine can be painful and stressful, which is why it should be done in the presence of medical professionals who can guide the addict through the detoxification process. Certain anti-anxiety medications may be administered at the discretion of the facility doctors to help the detoxification process along and make the withdrawal symptoms more bearable for the patient. The journal Neuropsychopharmacology mentions Baclofen as a potential drug to help reduce the craving for cocaine as an addict goes through withdrawal.
Once detoxification is complete, the patient is ready for psychotherapy. This is the process of helping the former user understand the reasons and triggers in their life that led them to cocaine, and teaching them how to change their thoughts and behavior in positive and healthier ways. Cognitive behavioral therapy is commonly employed by doctors to educate their patients in ways to avoid relapse, and to hold onto their newfound sobriety when they feel challenged or tempted by cocaine (utilizing the new methods of thinking and acting they learned in therapy). Other psychotherapeutic measures can include motivational incentives, to reward patients with tangible gifts, that they can use as they re-integrate themselves into ordinary life, for maintaining their abstinence from cocaine.
Psychotherapy is a crucially important part of cocaine addiction treatment. The National Institute on Drug Abuse warns that craving for cocaine can remain with a person for years after their treatment. Detox alone does not help combat that problem; therapy and community support (12-step groups, for example, and general group therapy sessions) can make the difference between holding off the temptation to use again, and a relapse.
Getting cocaine addiction treatment
All drugs are powerful, but cocaine is one of the most destructive drugs one can take. The damage it can do to a person’s health and well-being, their body and mind, their relationships and future, can be extensive. But there is always hope. No matter the extent of the corruption cocaine has wrought on your life, or the life of a loved one, rehabilitation and therapy are still on the table. Here at The Recovery Village, we want to help you or your loved one get well. If you have questions about the effects or symptoms of cocaine use, or if you want to find out about starting treatment, please give us a call.
Call for a free assessment. 352.771.2700