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The Dangers of Cocaine Addiction

There are many things to which an individual can become dependent and addicted. We oftentimes associate addiction with alcohol and drugs such as marijuana and heroin, but there are even many behaviors that can be addictive and detrimental to one’s health and life. However, over the years we’ve found that some things, especially mind-altering substances, can be especially addictive, which means that they have a significantly higher-than-average addictive potential. With these highly addictive substances, dependency tends to occur much faster after a shorter period of experimental abuse. Moreover, the addiction is stronger as well, causing an individual to have extremely severe withdrawal in the absence of their drug of choice.

Oftentimes individuals identify alcohol and heroin as the most highly addictive substances, and while it’s true that alcohol and opioids pose a major threat to society today, cocaine is another substance that has proven to be highly addictive and difficult to overcome without treatment. Therefore, the following will be a concise discussion of cocaine, including its effects, why it’s addictive, and what makes it especially dangerous.

Why is Cocaine So Addictive?

cocaine on a mirror

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, cocaine is defined as a powerful and highly addictive stimulant that acts on the brain and central nervous system and is derived from coca leaves. Sources have found that coca leaves have been chewed and ingested for thousands of years, making cocaine one of the oldest known drugs in the world. In its purified and powdered form that’s more technically referred to as cocaine hydrochloride, cocaine abuse has become much more widespread for the past century, beginning in the early 1900s when cocaine was a primary ingredient in the elixirs and tonics that sold as treatments for a variety of common ailments. However, cocaine is only very rarely used for medicinal purposes today as a local anesthetic for minor ear, nose, and throat procedures. According to a 2008 survey, there were almost two million regular cocaine users, a number that has remained relatively steady in the years since.

Cocaine comes in two main forms: Powdered and freebase. These two forms of cocaine allow individuals to insufflate (snort), smoke, or inject the substance in order to experience its intoxicating effects, although it can occasionally be consumed orally as well. One of the reasons that cocaine is so addictive is because it has very strong and rapid effects that begin only moments after an individual has ingested the substance. After consuming cocaine, an individual experiences a spike in a particular neurochemical called dopamine, which is associated with feelings of pleasure.

Additionally, the dopamine appears to be highly active in regions of the brain that are part of the brain’s reward pathway, which serves to reinforce the cocaine use as it’s perceived by the user as a behavior that results in feelings of immense, euphoric pleasure. Although cocaine produces a very intense spike in dopamine, an individual’s dopamine levels quickly and dramatically decline as the effects of the cocaine begin to wane after as little as a half hour, causing the individual to experience strong cravings for more cocaine in order to replenish the greatly depleted dopamine supply in the brain. With repeated use of cocaine over time, an individual’s brain will produce less and less dopamine and other neurochemicals naturally, relying on an individual’s cocaine use in order to maintain adequate levels.

What are the Effects & Risks of Cocaine Use?

The habitual abuse of cocaine is associated with numerous short- and long-term effects and risks. As mentioned above, one of the most severe consequences of cocaine addiction is the body’s steady decline in natural dopamine production as well as the production of other important neurochemicals, including serotonin. Cocaine renders the brain unable to reabsorb dopamine, which is why levels of dopamine spike after cocaine use and then are depleted once the effects of cocaine wear off. The imbalance of these neurochemicals has major implications for an individual’s mood and, consequently, behavior. For instance, individuals who experience extremely low levels of dopamine and serotonin will often suffer from symptoms of depression, exhibit aggression or agitation, and have difficulty with their cognitive functioning on a day-to-day basis.

While under the influence of cocaine, individuals experience dilated pupils, constricted blood vessels with an increase in blood pressure, sweating, elevated heart rate, and a marked increase in overall body temperature. In instances when an individual takes a large amount of cocaine, he or she could be at high risk of having a stroke, heart attack, respiratory failure or even death as the body’s energy level continues to rise with no relief or expenditure, which is attributed to the drug’s stimulating effects. Moreover, the stimulating attributes of cocaine can trigger bizarre behavior in cocaine users with sudden outbursts of anger and aggression or erratic violence being common. Individuals under the influence of cocaine often report feeling paranoid and may experience tremors, twitching, vertigo and loss of balance, and a number of other effects. To others, individuals under the influence of cocaine often seem irritable, restless, erratic and often talk quickly with their speak notable for rapid changes of subject.

Cocaine Withdrawal & Treatment

After a cocaine addict ceasing consumption, one of the first and most noticeable effects will be the changes in mood. Such individuals will have lost their primary source of dopamine and other neurochemicals, resulting in severe depressive symptoms and possibly agitation. Individuals in cocaine withdrawal often report an inability to feel pleasure, extreme fatigue, and anxiety with symptoms like shaking or trembling, nausea and vomiting, and muscular or skeletal pain being typical. However, many of the effects of cocaine withdrawal can be alleviated or mitigated in a medical detox program, which afford individuals the benefit of continuous medical care in order to minimize the discomfort of withdrawal while ensuring one’s safety during the detox process. Cocaine might be an incredibly dangerous drug with numerous risks, but recovery can be made much safer and less painful by taking advantage of the available recovery options.

Find Freedom from the Chains of Addiction with the Palm Beach Institute

Cocaine is just one of the many dangerous, mind-altering substances to which many individuals have become addicted. However, there are many resources available to help such individuals to regain their health and sobriety. If you or someone you love is experiencing cocaine addiction or some other form of dependency and would benefit from learning more about recovery, the Palm Beach Institute is here to help. Call us today to speak with one of our experienced recovery specialists who can help you or your loved one begin the recovery process. Don’t wait to start the journey back to a fulfilling, sober life.

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