Cocaine is a popular street drug that enhances how much dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is available in the brain. Dopamine gives people feelings of euphoria, provides them with reward cues, and regulates their movement. Because of this, the drug is also a highly addictive substance and can easily be abused. Additionally, there are some significant dangers and risks associated with cocaine abuse, including disease, psychiatric disorders, and even death.

Because of the feelings of reward and euphoria, cocaine is a very popular recreational drug. It elevates the mood, motivates people, and gives them energy. This is one of the reasons why it is also used by some business people and executives. Cocaine can be abused in many different ways, including intravenously (by injecting it), by snorting it, or by smoking it.

Signs and Symptoms

People often can function quite well when they abuse cocaine, which means it can be hard to spot the problem in a loved one. However, there are some symptoms and signs that someone is currently “high” on cocaine, including:

  • Being effusively enthusiastic
  • Being increasingly agitated
  • Not experiencing inhibitions
  • Hyperactivity and increased movement
  • Nosebleeds or increased symptoms of a common cold
  • Muscle tics and other signs of involuntary movement
  • Changes in focus and concentration

There are some other adverse effects of using cocaine, many of which do not show immediate effects. For instance, damage to the heart muscle is one of the most serious effects. Cocaine can induce irreversible cell death in the heart’s muscles, known as cardiomyopathy. Additionally, if someone uses cocaine intravenously, it can inflame the heart’s inner tissues, which is a condition known as endocarditis. Cocaine affects the cells within the body, and the cumulative effect of this can lead to cardiac arrhythmia and heart attacks, and this can be fatal. Some signs and symptoms of cardiotoxicity in cocaine users are:

  • Notable inflammation of the muscle of the heart
  • Rupture in the heart’s major artery, the aorta
  • Significant reduction in overall quality of life and health due to severe blood loss and loss of cardiac function.

Heart damage or failure because of cocaine use is also linked to an increased chance of having a stroke. Additionally, when the blood supply between the heart and the brain is disrupted, there is a chance of permanent brain damage occurring. Furthermore, cocaine is associated with serious kidney damage as well. When people abuse cocaine for longer periods of time, the kidney’s microstructures can become inflamed and damaged.

How Cocaine Changes the Brain

It is known that when people abuse cocaine, the chemistry of the brain gets to be altered. As a result, people feel that they “need” more and more cocaine, which leads to dependency and, eventually, full addiction. Taking cocaine also leads to behavioral abnormalities, some of which are permanent. The most commonly reported behavior abnormalities include:

  • Erratic behavior that is out of sorts, and that may or may not lead to accidents and associated traumas
  • Symptoms of psychosis
  • New onset ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)

A vast proportion of people who use cocaine believe they can do so in a recreational way. Yet even they can fall victim to serious neurological changes, and these can change their lives permanently. When people are recreational cocaine users, they will still become less able to control and regulate their behavior. This also includes the way they can control their movement, and how they respond to stimuli in their environment. They will also be less able to perform regular daily activities. When people are long term cocaine users, their cognitive performance starts to decrease, which means they have a shorter attention span and become less able to make decisions.

People who use cocaine are also more likely to engage in risky and promiscuous behaviors. As such, they are more at risk of contracting sexually transmitted illnesses, including hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS. These risks are particularly high in people who inject cocaine, as they may share needles that aren’t sterile with other users.

Cocaine Abuse Statistics

A number of statistics are known about cocaine abuse:

  • According to the United Nations, some 17 million individuals around the globe in 2012 used cocaine.
  • Cocaine is believed to be the second most popular illegal substance that people abuse in this country.
  • It is believe that up to 10% of all emergency room visits are related in some way to cocaine.
  • Some 36,000 hospital admissions in 2010 for suspected heart attacks were related to cocaine abuse. The total cost for the health care system was approximately $83 million.
  • Everyday in 2010, 1,700 people tried cocaine for the very first time.

Treatment for Cocaine Addiction

People who have a dependency or addiction to cocaine have a lot of treatment options available to them. The best type of treatment tends to be offered in a residential inpatient facility, where they will remain for the duration of their therapy. However, there are also outpatient treatment facilities available, where patients travel to a clinic or center for treatment, often on a daily basis, while continuing to live in their own homes.

In these facilities, people will usually receive both behavioral treatment and pharmacological treatment. Psychological treatments and behavioral therapies look at why someone abuses a substance, specifically looking at reasons and motivation. It will also determine whether the client has any psychological issues that they addressed by turning to the substance. Scientific research has shown that using behavioral therapy is very effective in those who are dependent or addicted to cocaine.

Contingency Management

Contingency management is one form of behavioral treatment that is often used to encourage people to remain abstinent from cocaine. With contingency management, recovering patients are given incentives (including cash or prizes) if they remain positive. Other positive incentives, such as having better social interactions, are also effective. Through research, it is now known that this is a highly effective treatment method within inpatient facilities. However, it seems that the efficacy of contingency management becomes less over time, which means further therapy must also be provided.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

CBT is also a very popular type of treatment. Here, therapists look at the reasons why someone abuses a certain substance and any maladaptive ways of acting and thinking are addressed. Essentially, people are taught to think differently in situations in which they would otherwise have turned to cocaine.

Pharmacological Treatment

Pharmacological treatment, meanwhile, is drugs-based. This means recovering patients are administered medication to help them beat their physical addiction. In some cases, medication is provided that actually mimics the feelings experienced when using cocaine, but either differently or in a reduced manner. Over time, the dosage of this is tapered (reduced), which means the user is effectively weaned off the drug. This then allows users to work on their abstinence, while at the same time recovering from their addiction.

Methylphenidate treatment is an emerging and very popular pharmacological treatment for cocaine dependency and addiction. The drug was actually designed for the treatment of ADHD and it has the same neurological effects as cocaine itself. However, methylphenidate has far longer stimulant effects on the brain, while avoiding the more extreme reactions that cocaine usually brings about. It is believed that this type of treatment means that people will no longer experience such extreme “needs” for cocaine, meaning that, slowly but surely, dependency can be addressed.

Different rehab facilities use different approaches to cocaine addiction. Hence, it is very important to look at the various options and find one that is right for you. For instance, methylphenidate is only offered in selected programs, rather than being universal.

How to Find Treatment

Finding treatment is the first and most important step towards recovery. Whether you do this yourself, or someone does it for you, it is important that the treatment meets your needs. Finances are often an important aspect of this, so do look into whether insurance can cover at least part of it and whether other funding methods also exist. You may also need to know how long the program will last and whether, if you have any special needs, they can be accommodated. Perhaps the most important element is the level of aftercare that you will be offered once you complete the program.

Cocaine Abuse in Teens

Unfortunately, cocaine is abused quite commonly among teens and young people. In fact, a recent study that looked at 428 people who were currently being treated for cocaine abuse, 41% first tried it when they were 14 or younger. It is known that the younger people were when they first try cocaine, the more likely it will be that they will become addicted. Additionally, there is an increased likelihood that they will start to experience both psychiatric and legal problems later in life. Furthermore, those who started abusing the substance at a young age are less likely to respond positively to treatment. Parents are encouraged, therefore, to speak to their children about substance abuse and leave those lines of conversation open. By ensuring that they understand the dangers, the chances that they will engage in those behaviors will be much less, despite the tremendous peer pressure that teenagers are usually exposed to.