Drug overdoses have become all too common in the U.S. The problem of drug misuse, addiction and overdoses have become part of a national epidemic. Much of the spotlight is on opioids, which are prescription painkillers, but benzodiazepines are also dangerous. Benzodiazepines are prescribed so often to treat symptoms such as insomnia and anxiety that people start to feel they’re safe. They are safe at therapeutic levels for the most part, but the line into misuse can be crossed easily and accidentally in some cases.
Many substance misuse problems and overdoses aren’t the result of just one type of drug. Instead, people who struggle with addiction or who overdose often use drugs from different classes. It’s not uncommon to combine benzodiazepines with alcohol, opioids or stimulants. This increases the risk of becoming addicted and of suffering a fatal overdose. The vast majority of prescription drug overdoses aren’t intentional. People just don’t necessarily know the risks. The best way to avoid the risk of an overdose with prescription drugs is to take it exactly as prescribed. This includes taking the right dosage, taking it only for the period of time prescribed and not combining it with anything else.
In answering the “What is cocaine?” question, it’s important to consider what this drug looks like. 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 cocaine addiction is also very expensive. Due to its high cost, 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
- Laundry detergents
- Boric acid
- Local anesthetics
- 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 may find themselves turning to crack as an inexpensive way to feed their cocaine addiction, which can greatly exacerbate their health risks and the severity of their dependence.
“Is cocaine addictive?” is a commonly asked question regarding this substance. The short answer is yes. 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. This is why cocaine addiction often ensues abuse.
Historically, physical cocaine addiction 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, cocaine addiction develops over the course of one year in people who use the drug 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.
Another factor to consider when answering the “Is cocaine addictive?” question is time. There is no telling when cocaine addiction can take hold. Cocaine, particularly crack cocaine, can lead to addiction after just a single use. Once in the throes of cocaine 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; cocaine 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 it, therefore, have a greater chance of cocaine 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. Regardless of how it’s used, cocaine addiction can ensue.
Cocaine addiction is among the most prevalent conditions treated in rehab facilities. 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 and cocaine addiction 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. Cocaine addiction is still a threat. 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. Is cocaine addictive? Yes, but help is available to treat cocaine addiction at rehab facilities like The Recovery Village.
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Burch, Kelly. “Record Amount of Cocaine Seized During 2016.” The Fix, 2 Mar. 2017, https://www.thefix.com/record-amount-cocaine-seized-during-2016. Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.
CESAR (Center for Substance Abuse Research). “Cocaine.” CESAR (Center for Substance Abuse Research), 29 Oct. 2013, https://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/cocaine.asp. Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.
Doward, Jamie. “Warning of Extra Heart Dangers from Mixing Cocaine and Alcohol.” The Guardian, 7 Nov. 2009, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2009/nov/08/cocaine-alcohol-mixture-health-risks. Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.