When you think of cocaine, what’s the first thought that comes to mind? Perhaps it’s the movie Scarface or The Wolf of Wall Street. Maybe you think about Miami in the early ’80s when the drug made it the murder capital of the United States. No matter what comes to mind, this dangerous stimulant seemed to finally be contained throughout the United States until recently, where it has made a dramatic return. Cocaine has been fueling the party scene across the United States, helping its users dance until the sun rises and be ready for more. Although cocaine might seem harmless, that’s simply not true. Cocaine has become increasingly more dangerous because of what dealers are cutting it with today. Even in its purest form, it’s an extremely addictive drug.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drug overdose deaths soared in 2020 to record levels. The figures were unprecedented and unlike anyone has ever seen.  During the 12 months from May 2020 to April 2021, the CDC reported 100,306 overdose deaths in the United States, up 28.5 percent from the 78,056 deaths from the year before. Although opioids led the way with the most overdose deaths, cocaine deaths also increased dramatically. Addiction experts attributed this to COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns when people could not leave their homes. One way to deal with their anxiety, stress, fear, and battle loneliness was to use drugs, causing this huge spike in overdose deaths. 

While cocaine has always been dangerous in its own right, there is even more cause for concern today because of the massive influx of fentanyl throughout the United States. Cocaine has long been cut with various drugs to increase profits for dealers, but this was mostly with substances that didn’t cause much harm. In some cases, we’d see a contaminated batch, but users never had to worry about fentanyl. It’s becoming increasingly common that the stimulant is contaminated with fentanyl, which is an opioid drug 50 times more potent than heroin. If you’ve never used opioids and ingested cocaine under the belief that it’s cocaine, your body will instantly shut down and go into overdose.

If you’ve ever used cocaine, you know how it can become instantly addicting. After one line, your body craves more and more of the drug. There have been studies with rats and cocaine, where the potent drug was given to rats, and they would choose it over food to sustain life. Cocaine is so addicting that food, which is life-sustaining, was avoided in favor of cocaine. What does this mean? Well, if you’ve been using cocaine, you’re at a high risk of developing a substance use disorder (SUD) that requires professional addiction treatment. What can you do? You can reach out to the professionals at Summit Behavioral Health to help you achieve your goals. 

Below, we’ll discuss your options and how you can get the help you need to get back on the right track free of cocaine addiction. 

What Is Cocaine?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines cocaine as an extremely potent stimulant drug derived from the coca plant. For thousands of years, individuals in South America have ingested the leaves from the coca plant by chewing them for a stimulating effect. Although coca leaves are used as teas and sprays for their healing properties in countries like Peru and Colombia, the legality changes when the chemical is extracted in secret labs in the jungle and turns into powder. 

The purified version, known as cocaine hydrochloride, was isolated from the plant more than 100 years ago. Cocaine was the primary ingredient in tonics and elixirs and the earliest formulations of Coca-Cola, hence the name. Before synthetic local anesthetics were created, cocaine was used to block pain. Over time, researchers found that it’s a powerfully addictive substance that alters the brain’s structure when used repeatedly. 

Cocaine is classified as a Schedule II drug today, meaning it has a high potential for abuse but can also be administered by a doctor for medical use, such as local anesthesia for some ear, eye, and throat surgeries. Long-term use of cocaine shows that exposure can cause neuroadaptations and cause long-term changes in the brain because of the neurons that release glutamate. For that reason, cocaine, sometimes referred to as coke, yay, powder, or white girl, can be extremely addictive. 

If you’ve been using the drug or know someone that has, it’s important to know the signs of cocaine addiction. 

What Are the Signs of Cocaine Addiction?

Cocaine, even in its purest form, is a dangerous drug. Not only is it addictive, but it can lead to a fatal overdose. Those who use the drug for a prolonged period are also at risk of long-term damage to their health, ranging from organ failure and nasal damage. Cocaine abuse constricts blood vessels, leading to an increase in unhealthy blood pressure. The effects come on quickly and are short-lived compared to other substances, lasting around 15 to 30 minutes. When used in smaller doses, cocaine produces feelings of sociability, happiness, concentration, and a decreased need to sleep.

Large doses of cocaine are particularly dangerous and can lead to nosebleeds, violent behavior, strokes, heart attacks, and sometimes, death. The most common adverse side effects attributed to cocaine use include the following:

  • High blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Coma
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Confusion
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Seizures

Long-term side effects become more severe, depending on the frequency and amount of cocaine used at a time. Cocaine abuse affects the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, and gastrointestinal system. Prolonged cocaine abuse will lead to physiological and behavioral side effects, including depression and addiction. Cocaine addiction is defined as compulsory use of the drug despite the consequences and risks. 

The most common signs of cocaine addiction include the following:

  • Risky behavior
  • Ignoring hygiene 
  • Changes in the person’s sleep patterns
  • Lying
  • Secrecy
  • Paranoia
  • Mood swings
  • Financial problems
  • Loss of interest in activities that once brought joy

Those who develop a cocaine addiction could frequently go from a sense of mania and euphoria when they’re under the influence to feeling irritable and low when they’re in withdrawal. Cocaine withdrawal is the body’s reaction to the absence of the drug it’s developing an addiction on, causing extreme discomfort. Cocaine withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Intense cravings
  • Irritability
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Fever

How severe cocaine withdrawal is will depend on various factors, including the severity of a person’s habit and if other drugs or alcohol are abused. 

What Is Involved in Cocaine Addiction Treatment?

If you’ve developed a substance use disorder due to cocaine use, addiction treatment is your best option. Although stimulant withdrawal isn’t dangerous compared to other drugs, it’s extremely uncomfortable, meaning you’ll need to be admitted into medical detox, where you’ll spend three to seven days as the drug exits your body. You might be given antidepressants and other medications to alleviate your symptoms. 

Once complete, you’ll move into the next level of care, which could either be an inpatient/residential facility or outpatient program. In either one, you will receive rigorous therapies that delve into the root of your cocaine addiction. When you’re cleared and released, aftercare is important, and you must attend 12-step programs to manage your addiction long-term. 

How Dangerous Is Cocaine Overdose?

All drug overdoses are dangerous and should be treated with urgency. A cocaine overdose can be deadly. If you or someone you know is abusing the drug, it’s important to understand the toll it can take on your finances, health, and relationships, as well as the signs of a cocaine overdose. According to WebMD, an estimated 14,600 people died from a cocaine overdose in 2018. The rate of deaths has continually increased since 2013. It helps to know and be able to recognize the signs of a cocaine overdose, which include:

  • Hallucinations
  • High blood pressure
  • Extreme agitation or anxiety
  • High temperature and sweating
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Irregular heart rhythm
  • Seizures
  • Trouble breathing

If you witness a cocaine overdose, please call 911 immediately and listen to the instructions the operator gives you. The sooner you get help, the higher the odds they’ll survive.

Cocaine Abuse Statistics

  • In 2018, 14,600 people died of a cocaine overdose in the U.S.
  • In 2021, 0.2 percent of eighth-graders used cocaine.

In 2020,  1.9 percent of people 12 and older reported cocaine use in the past 12 months.

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