Cocaine is a very addictive and powerful drug. The federal government has, in fact, classified it as a high dependency, high abuse risk stimulant. Cocaine is available in different forms, and it can also be abused in different ways. As a result, cocaine signs and symptoms can also be very different.

Powdered Cocaine

Powdered cocaine can be snorted (when it is inhaled using the nose), or it can be injected intravenously by mixing it with water. A technique known as “skin popping” also exists, whereby it is injected directly right underneath the skin. This method is popular because the high usually lasts much longer, but it is also one of the most dangerous methods due to the increased risk of complications, including infections. The majority of people will snort cocaine. Signs and symptoms of these include:

  • Losing one’s sense of smell
  • Having nose bleeds
  • Having symptoms of a common cold
  • Problems with swallowing
  • Having a chronic runny nose
  • Hoarseness

Crack Cocaine

The other form of cocaine is presented in rock form. This is known as “crack cocaine”, which is heated up and then smoked, generally using a special kind of pipe. Crack cocaine has much lower levels of purity, because it is generally cut with many other, potentially dangerous, chemicals. As a result, the symptoms of using crack cocaine, particularly for the long term, can be far more pronounced. They are often the same as with snorting powder cocaine but more pronounced. Furthermore, with prolonged use, many people start to lose their teeth and have problems with their skin.

Symptoms of Cocaine Addiction

People who are addicted to cocaine tend to notice changes to their personality and their behavior. Those around them tend to notice that these symptoms get gradually worse over time, a sure sign that the dependency is worsening. Some of the common symptoms include:

  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety

How Does Cocaine Dependency Affect People?

If people abuse cocaine and become dependent or addicted to it, they can start to suffer from severe paranoia. This is a temporary mental state that is a form of paranoid psychosis. This means that they can no longer tell what is real and what is not. Additionally, they often start to hear things that aren’t real (auditory hallucinations). Furthermore, when people ingest cocaine, which is also quite common, the stomach lining can start to become ulcerated. In the worst case, they will experience gangrene (death of the tissue) in the bowels because the blood flow to these organs is significantly reduced.

No matter how people use cocaine, what form of cocaine they use, and how they use it, those who use cocaine are at increased risk of stroke and heart attacks. In many cases, people who die due to cocaine abuse do so because of a heart attack or seizure, which is followed by respiratory arrest. This means that they literally stop breathing until they die.

People who are dependent on cocaine, meanwhile, have an increased risk of the following medical conditions:

  • Heart attacks and other heart problems
  • Respiratory failure and other forms of respiratory problems
  • Strokes and other types of problems with the nervous system
  • Problems with digestion
  • Problems with infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, which people who inject cocaine are of particular risk of due to sharing needles
  • Severe allergic reactions
  • Serious skin infections
  • Death

Cocaine and the Brain

Whenever people are addicted to drugs, their brain becomes affected. With cocaine, people start to feel euphoric, or have intensely pleasurable feelings. Cocaine is also a type of stimulant, which means that various chemicals in the brain start to surge. The most important one is dopamine, which also provides people with feelings of reward. This is one of the reasons why cocaine is so addictive, because people feel like they are being rewarded when they use it. In people who do not use drugs, their brain will produce dopamine when they do something that gives them pleasure, but something that is done in ordinary life. Helping an old lady crossing the road, feeding the homeless, or doing anything else that gives people a sense of pleasure and achievement is all down to dopamine, which is exactly what cocaine targets.

There are two ways in which cocaine leads people to feel euphoric:

  1. It increases the levels of dopamine in the brain as a chemical reaction
  2. It stops dopamine from being reabsorbed into the body and the nerve cells as it would do normally.

When someone habitually uses cocaine or becomes dependent or addicted to it, the body no longer responds in the same way. This means that users must constantly increase the dosage of the cocaine that they use, or they won’t be able to feel high. This is particularly dangerous because so little of the cocaine that is on the street is actually pure, and most people simply do not know what their particular purchase is cut with. As such, once they start to increase their dosages, if they happen to get a nearly uncut bag of cocaine, they could easily overdose.

It is common for people who use cocaine to experience long term changes in the way their brain works, not just in terms of the reward system. As a result, their behavior, and particularly towards others, can become unpredictable or unusual. Additionally, people who abuse cocaine often feel frustrated with themselves because they can no longer reach that same high that they had the first time they used it. To deal with this frustration, they constantly increase their dosage, which in turn increase the chances of overdosing and becoming another drug overdose statistic.

It is important to see cocaine addiction and abuse for what it is: a disease that requires treatment. It is a chronic disease, and one that is very difficult to treat. That said, just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it is impossible. There are excellent treatment programs out there dedicated to helping those who have fallen into the trap of addiction climb back out of it.