Cocaine Addiction and Abuse

Cocaine was once the main ingredient in a popular soft drink, and it has been lauded by such historical luminaries as Sigmund Freud. However, this drug of choice for the social set has a long and sometimes bloody history.

More About Cocaine Abuse

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine, which goes by the street names Blow, Coke, or Powder, is a crystalline white powder that’s extracted from the leaves of the coca plant. This is where the soft drink Coca-Cola got its name and former active ingredient. It thrives in the steamy environment of South American rain forests, and it may be said to be the number one cash crop and illegal export of that region. For thousands of years, natives chewed the leaves for their analgesic properties. For this reason, cocaine or derivatives like lidocaine and benzocaine are sometimes used to numb pain from injuries and during surgery.

This drug is a Class II central nervous system stimulant that elicits euphoria and a sense of invincibility in users. The heightened, pleasurable feelings obtained when someone first uses coke often lead to a cycle of use and abuse that devastates lives and often leads to financial ruin. It’s estimated that up to 1,800 Americans try cocaine for the first time every day.

Coke is usually snorted, but it can be smoked or dissolved in water and injected. The drug hits within a minute or so of entering the bloodstream, but its effects are short-lived, lasting only about 30 minutes; mild withdrawal symptoms lead to cravings almost as soon as the initial effects wear off. This is why even social use is usually conducted in binges that can last all night. Cocaine addiction sets in very quickly, sometimes within a week of frequent abuse. Alternative forms of the drug, like crack cocaine, are even more addictive and deadly.

molecular makeup of cocaine

Cocaine Addiction Statistics

Although use is lower than when the drug was at its peak in the 70s and 80s, cocaine addiction statistics demonstrate that the drug is still a major force in US addiction rates and drug-related deaths. According to research conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), nearly one million Americans fit the criteria detailed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for addiction, dependence, or abuse.

A different study by the same agency discovered that 35 million individuals age 12 and older have used cocaine within a year of the study, and almost nine million have used crack. The death rates from cocaine use peaked in 2006 at just over 7,000. They’ve dropped slightly since that study was conducted, but remain at over 5,000 per year.

Why is Cocaine Addictive?

The active ingredient in cocaine, benzoylmethylecgonine, causes the brain to flood with excessive amounts of dopamine. This causes intense feelings of euphoria and happiness. Those who use the drug, even occasionally, appear super confident and energetic. Repeated use disrupts normal dopamine production, leading to brain dysfunction when use stops. The addiction is mainly psychological, as abusers crave the feelings gained from using the drug.

How cocaine is used and what additives are mixed in contribute to cocaine addiction rates and the deadliness of the drug. Two of the most dangerous factors involved with cocaine abuse are the effects and strain on the heart and the danger when it’s cut or used with other drugs. One of the deadliest combinations is called a speedball, which is when cocaine is mixed with heroin and injected. Because the effects of the cocaine wear off sooner and elicit cravings, users will often take more before the level of heroin is reduced, leading to overdose. Because opiates are relatively cheap, they’re sometimes used to cut cocaine to increase volume – and profits – with the same result.

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A Tale of Two Addictions

Due to the expense and difficulty obtaining high-quality coke, the powder form of the drug is often associated with wealth. Crack is created with the excess of powder cocaine that’s left after processing it for higher purity. Crack cocaine is a cheap, easy-to-obtain high that has devastated underprivileged communities around the country. For comparison, a gram of powder can be purchased for about $60 – $100, depending on the purity. A crack rock can be had for $10 – $20 and contain any number of other substances, including soap, baking soda, or salt. It is almost exclusively smoked through narrow glass tubes or in pipes.

The drug first hit the streets in the 80s, leading to an explosion in crack cocaine addiction and mostly gang-related street violence. This was partially due to the intense but short-lived high that caused cravings for more within 15 minutes of taking a hit. Since the drug was cheap and easy to make, it flooded the streets and led to a national epidemic before making its way around the world.

Although such high proportions of use have dropped since the initial crack craze, it still accounts for a large percentage of overall cocaine use, especially among young people. Through a 2006 survey conducted by Monitoring the Future, it was discovered that 8.6 million Americans over the age of 12 have used crack cocaine. The drug accounted for 71 percent of all admissions for cocaine abuse treatment that year. Since that survey, levels remain fairly stable, but they’ve tapered slightly over the past two years.

Is There Help for Cocaine Addiction?

Yes. As long as an individual is alive, rehabilitation is possible. Because cocaine addiction affects brain functioning, suddenly quitting without medical intervention and assistance is difficult. It can even be life-threatening. The recommended course of treatment is medically supervised detox in a residential facility.

Staff at such treatment centers are trained professionals who have experience helping those who are addicted to cocaine and other substances recover in a safe, secure environment. Such treatment is mandated under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) stipulation that insurers must provide mental health services, and there is a range of therapeutic environments to choose from.

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