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Cocaine has been around for thousands of years in one form or another, and yet cocaine addiction is still a growing problem in modern society. The simple reason for this is that cocaine produces a high that alters the brain chemistry, leading to compulsive cravings that are difficult or impossible to deny despite the serious consequences for the physical, mental and emotional health of the person using it. Damage to relationships, finances, employment, and all facets of a person’s life can seem insignificant, while the addiction is a priority. However, recovery from addiction is possible. While it may not be easy, there are millions of people who have managed to recover from addiction and lead fulfilling lives. Let’s look more closely at this drug and ask why it is so addictive and what can be done to help those who are battling addiction.

 

What is Cocaine?

Rocks of crack in a pipe to be smoked

Cocaine, also known as coke, is produced from the leaves of the coca plant. And yes, the old story is true; Coca-Cola once contained cocaine. Many of the medicines of the 1900s contained cocaine, and it was a useful anesthetic agent used in surgery. With widespread use of the drug, it quickly became apparent that it was habit-forming, and we now know that it is extremely addictive. The street drug cocaine is usually a fine white powder that is snorted through the nose or injected. Crack cocaine is the non-soluble freebase of cocaine which, when smoked, delivers a faster, more intense high. Both forms are powerfully addictive and damaging to the body. There are serious cardiovascular effects; the risk of heart attack, heart arrhythmia, stroke, and coma is high. Abdominal pain, gastrointestinal disease, and even sudden death are just some of the short-term risks. Using cocaine even once is associated with a risk of cardiac arrest and seizure. Long-term risks of cocaine are even more serious with major impacts on the organs, most especially the cardiovascular organs such as the heart and lungs and the gastrointestinal system, resulting in ulcers and tears. There is also a high risk of neurological damage, bleeding on the brain, cognitive impairment, and even Parkinson’s disease.

 

Why is Coke an Addictive Drug?

Cocaine causes a buildup of dopamine

Repeated use of cocaine actually alters the brain structure. It changes how the brain works. When someone uses cocaine, the ‘reward system’ of the brain is stimulated as well as the parts of the brain that control memory and emotion. This part of the brain has evolved to encourage us to pursue things that we need for our survival; it rewards us when we eat a satisfying meal, pursue our goals, or have sex by releasing dopamine. Dopamine essentially makes us feel good. Addictive substances hijack this pathway and create a much larger surge of dopamine. The messages moving through the brain are amplified, and the cocaine user gets a heightened sense of euphoria. 

The parts of the brain that control emotion and memory are also affected. Your brain is very good at remembering what behaviors create that dopamine release, and you are programmed to want to repeat it. The emotional part of the brain reinforces this. Over time, and sometimes quite quickly, the urge to repeat the behavior or take the substance becomes stronger. The brain adapts to these huge floods of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, and it becomes less sensitive to them. So it takes more cocaine, or more frequent use, to achieve the desired high. This means that, over time, a cocaine user’s habit grows. As the habit grows, the craving grows, and the urge to use the drug becomes compulsive. Addiction is often defined as the compulsive need to use a substance or engage in a behavior despite negative effects. Cocaine users can experience serious physical health problems, major emotional issues, and mental health crises; they can suffer massive financial hardship; they can jeopardize employment, relationships, and family life, and still feel the all-consuming urge to use the drug.

What are the Symptoms of Coke Addiction?

Stealing money from a wallet

Cocaine is so addictive that any regular use is likely to be indicative of serious addiction. Signs that a person is addicted may include changes in their behavior, lying about where they are going or what they are doing, engaging in risky behavior that puts them in physical danger, or risky sexual behavior. They may ask to borrow money or even steal money. They may be impulsive and unpredictable and have dramatic mood swings or personality changes depending on when they last used the drug.

There are also symptoms that medical professionals have identified as symptoms of cocaine addiction. These include physical symptoms such as high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, feverishness, sweating, dilated pupils, sleep problems, runny nose, nosebleeds, changes in appetite, or not eating, which can lead to weight loss. Tests may reveal damage to the liver, lungs, and kidneys, heart problems, and cognitive issues. Psychological symptoms include things like restlessness, agitation, psychosis, depression, anxiety, mood swings, and when using the drug, euphoria, overconfidence, and abundance of energy.

 

How is Cocaine Addiction Treated?

Help me to stop in chalk with syringe and spoon

It is important not to view drug addiction as a death sentence; there are many people who have recovered from serious cocaine addiction. There is a much greater understanding of the mechanics of drug addiction now, and with this comes increased support for those who cannot control their drug use. Being addicted to any drug is not a choice; it is a medical issue that needs both medical and psychological intervention. The treatment of cocaine addiction should be overseen by a medical professional with experience in supporting the recovery process. The process of coming off the drug will be difficult, but with psychological and emotional support, it is entirely possible. Residential treatment with support for both physical and mental health is available, as are outpatient programs. There is a range of behavioral therapies designed to support those with addiction issues through the recovery process, building strategies to prevent relapse and encouraging good mental health. Group therapy for recovering addicts has also been proven to reduce the risk of relapse. The first step is to approach a professional who can discuss your options and involve you in the process of finding a path to recovery.