The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes cocaine as a member of the stimulant family of drugs and states that in 2014 alone, 14.8 percent of interviewees for the National Survey on Drug Use and Health stated that they had used it in their lifetime. Cocaine is known to cause extreme euphoria, and it is also very dangerous. NIDA lists some of cocaine’s street names as coke, snow, and blow.
Cocaine is usually snorted, but it can also be injected. Crack cocaine is a form that can be smoked. The way that it is ingested affects how soon the drug takes effect. Injecting cocaine will produce a near immediate high that is strong, but does not last as long as the high from snorting. Since the high is so short – at most, 30 minutes – individuals find themselves using frequently, which sets them up for dependence.
The drug works by increasing dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that works in the brain’s reward center, and cocaine’s high is caused by a flood of dopamine that can disrupt normal brain communication and cause changes in the reward system – changes that may lead to dependence. Individuals can also build up a tolerance to the drug, where they find they need to take more cocaine to achieve the desired effect. This can be dangerous, as individuals who take too much as a result of tolerance are prone to overdose.
Effects of Cocaine
When individuals use cocaine, they may experience side effects, such as:
- Dilated pupils
- Increased heart rate
- Abdominal pain
- Increased blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
- Anxiety and panic
- Erratic behavior
The 2007 NSDUH estimated that 23.2 million individuals needed treatment for drug or alcohol dependence and only 2.4 million of those individuals received the treatment they needed.
When individuals commit to treatment – either voluntarily or because mandated by law – they should be assessed for any co-occurring medical or mental health diagnoses as well. This will ensure they will receive appropriate care, which is especially important if they have a medical diagnosis, such as hepatitis or HIV, and/or mental health diagnoses, such as anxiety or depression.
Medical detox is often the first step in overcoming cocaine dependence. Detox is a natural process that individuals go through as drugs are purged by the body. Medical detox ensures that clients stay safe throughout the process. Medical staff monitor individuals around the clock, keeping them both stable and comfortable during the process. Some of the withdrawal symptoms individuals can expect to experience when detoxing from cocaine include:
Following the medical detox process, individuals have multiple options for continuing treatment, including both inpatient or outpatient treatment. Inpatient treatment provides a structured environment for individuals, which includes individual and group therapy. Outpatient treatment also includes therapy and 12-Step meeting attendance.
Individuals suffering from severe or long-term addictions may be best suited to a residential program, which can last 3-12 months. These programs incorporate all facets of treatment in one facility, from medical detox and behavioral therapy to job training to prepare individuals for returning to life outside of treatment.
Currently, there are no medications that can aid in recovery from cocaine dependence. However, there are medications that treat other illnesses that are being tested for efficacy in treating cocaine dependence.
NIDA states that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the most well-known form of therapy used for treatment of drug dependence. It focuses on helping individuals identify and change thoughts and behaviors that are related to substance abuse, as well as helping individuals to recognize, avoid, and cope: recognize any high-risk situations that put them at risk for using cocaine, avoid those situations when possible, and cope with drug-related cravings.
Self-help groups, such as 12-Step programs like Cocaine Anonymous, help individuals foster relationships with peers in different stages of recovery, and these relationships can help them maintain sobriety via a sense of accountability and support. Ongoing aftercare is critical to long-term recovery. Many individuals in recovery from cocaine addiction participate in some form of aftercare, even if only periodic 12-Step meeting attendance, for the rest of their lives.