Facts about Cocaine
What is cocaine?
Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant. It is a fine, white powder processed from the leaves of coca plants grown in South America. It is typically snorted but can be injected. Cocaine can also be added to other drugs such as heroin (this combination is called a “speedball”).
What is crack?
Crack cocaine, crack, or rock is a solid, smokable form of cocaine. Crack is the street name given to the form of cocaine that has been processed to make a rock crystal, which, when heated, produces vapors that are smoked. The term “crack” refers to the crackling sound produced by the rock as it is heated. It produces an almost immediate high, and the fact that it is inexpensive to produce and buy makes it a popular alternative to the more expensive powder cocaine.
What are the physical consequences of cocaine use?
Cocaine is a stimulant. Its effects can last from 5 to 10 minutes when smoked, or 15 to 30 minutes or longer when snorted, depending on how much is taken, as well as differences in body types and chemistry. Cocaine can lead to a num- ber of health issues, but most notably it can raise heart rate and blood pressure, leading to heart attack or stroke. Most cocaine-related deaths are a result of cardiac arrest. Cocaine users who inject the drug can also be exposed to HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne illnesses.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) uses the term “stimulant use disorder” to define a pattern of stimulant use that leads to significant physical, interpersonal, medical, or work problems. Stimulant use disorder is rated as mild, moderate, or severe based on how many criteria are met. A person diagnosed with stimulant use disorder can also be classified as in remission, or what is commonly referred to as “in recovery.” Those with stimulant use disorder should receive treatment, and those who identify themselves as addicts often find the skills and support to stay sober through peer support groups like Narcotics Anonymous.
Addiction is considered a brain-based disease characterized by abnormal drug-seeking behavior that leads to impaired control over one’s drug use.
Addiction means a person will continue using alcohol or other drugs despite the harm it does to their health, family, work or school, and relationships. An addict may experience withdrawal symptoms (physical pain, fatigue, depression, trouble sleeping, irritability) if he or she stops using, and may need to keep using just to feel normal. “Curing” addiction is not a matter of willpower or moral strength any more than is curing diabetes or cancer. Like diabetes and cancer, addiction is considered a chronic disease which is beyond one’s control and fatal if left untreated.
How does cocaine use affect a co-occurring mental health disorder?
Co-occurring disorders, or dual disorders, occur when a mental health disorder, like depression or schizophrenia, is present along with addiction, alcoholism, or other substance use disorders. Screening for co-occurring disorders should be part of any good assessment or treatment plan.
Cocaine can affect the same neurochemicals that researchers believe to be abnormal in bipolar disorder. Thus, the use of cocaine may trigger an earlier onset of bipolar disorder in people who are vulnerable to the disorder. It’s also possible that cocaine use could re-create depression or mania in people with bipolar disorder.
Chronic cocaine use can also worsen major depressive disorder, which can lead to increased use. As people with major depressive disorder use cocaine, they move from feeling euphoric to depressed and then, very often, paranoid.
Ritalin is a stimulant medication prescribed for people with ADHD. People using Ritalin should avoid any form of cocaine, because its abuse can lead to stimulant overdoses leading to heart problems, strokes, hyperthermia (elevated body temperature), and convulsions. Abuse of both cocaine and alcohol compounds the danger, increasing the risk of overdose, especially if the person is already using Ritalin.
How does cocaine use affect the brain?
When a person uses cocaine, there is an immediate rush of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which the brain’s neurochemical circuits perceive as pleasurable and rewarding. Because cocaine disappears from the brain quickly, chemical messages urge the user to repeat the experience as soon as possible. Thus, the user develops cravings for the drug.
As the user uses more and more, this causes a change in the brain’s reward system requiring more and more of the drug to achieve the same effect. This is called tolerance, and is one sign of a substance use disorder, or addiction. As the user requires more cocaine just to feel normal, this can lead to increasingly damaging behaviors.
Any form or amount of cocaine can do lots of damage to the body because it targets the brain and central nervous system.
Is addiction to cocaine treatable?
Yes. Treatment usually involves detoxification and outpatient or residential therapy. While no medications have been proven to reduce cocaine cravings, stimulant addiction has been effectively treated with a combination of methods such as motivational interviewing and experiential learning. The Matrix Model is a treatment model backed by more than thirty years of research. It was developed in California in the 1980s, when cocaine addiction was at record-high levels.
Addiction won’t go away, like a cold or the flu. It is a chronic disease, meaning you have it all your life. However, by staying sober and getting ongoing support, recovering people can live normal, healthy, productive lives.
There are many resources out there. The websites for the following organizations were chosen for their usefulness and user friendliness.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
This government organization is dedicated to addiction research and education. Through its website you can access up-to-date publications about many different drugs of abuse as well as emerging trends.
Matrix Institute on Addiction
Learn about the Matrix Model of treatment for substance use disorders at the website for the Matrix Institute.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
SAMHSA is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Its mis- sion is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities. Its website offers information and resources about preventing and treating addiction and mental illness.