What is Cocaine?

Cocaine addiction destroys lives. Cocaine is an illegal drug that comes from the Erythroxylon coca leaves found in the Andean mountains and South America. Cocaine can also be manufactured synthetically. Its original use was medical as it was a great numbing agent, but the addictive component of the drug led doctors to seek other forms of anesthesia. Cocaine is a white powder, also manufactured in crystal and liquid form that can be:

  • Injected,
  • Snorted,
  • Smoked.

The drug quickly enters the bloodstream traveling to the brain and other organs. There is an immediate rush and a sensation of exhilaration. Unfortunately, cocaine is often cut with other drugs and chemicals compounding the problem. Cocaine is a stimulant that alters the brain’s system of experiencing pleasurable feelings. There is no question that cocaine is addictive, How does Cocaine Work? All drugs travel through the body in the bloodstream. And, all drugs flood the receptors in the brain that send messages to the rest of the body. Cocaine enters the body and is immediately absorbed into the brain. The neurons or communication transmitters in the brain influence the nervous system and organ function. Cocaine alters these neuron functions by stimulating the release of dopamine and then blocking its reabsorption. During healthy brain function, dopamine is reabsorbed into the neuron thereby ending the pleasure signal. With the presence of cocaine, dopamine accumulates outside of the neuron. The accumulation of dopamine provides the user with:

  • A false sense of euphoria
  • Alertness
  • Energy

The maintaining the unnatural increase of dopamine levels requires more cocaine. A person tries to regain the initial drug induced experience by consuming larger quantities of cocaine. Tolerance and addiction are linked. Researchers have found a significant decline in the grey matter of the brain (necessary for healthy brain function) in long-term cocaine users.

Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine Addiction

  • A change in thinking
  • Attention problems
  • Multiple substance use
  • Agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Delusions
  • Sexual Dysfunction

There are serious health risks associated with cocaine addiction.

  • Heart Attack
  • Stroke
  • Abdominal pain
  • Severe bowel gangrene due to blood flow restriction
  • Increased risk of contagious diseases, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Decreased appetite
  • Muscle spasms

Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine Withdrawal

Addiction goes beyond a person’s will power or thinking process. Addiction includes the body’s tolerance for having the drug present in the brain and the regular intake of the drug. Addiction is physical, emotional, psychological and mental. As tolerance builds with addiction, the body signals its need for more with withdrawal symptoms. When the need is not being met, the body experiences a crash. Lack of energy, lack of pleasure, anxiety and other psychological conditions combined with intense cravings characterize a cocaine crash. The crash is just the start of the withdrawal process. Because most cocaine addicts use other drugs, withdrawal may be more complicated. The addict in withdrawal may experience the following:

  • Increased cravings
  • Insomnia
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Delirium (this can be fatal as it includes severe changes in the nervous system including blood pressure, pulse changes and severe sweating)
  • Psychotic breaks (caused by changes in the dopamine levels in the brain)
  • Violence
  • Overdosing (unable to cope with the feelings associated with cocaine withdrawal the addict will take more cocaine)

Other drug related withdrawal symptoms will be present that will also require attention.

Detox and Treatment for Cocaine Addictions

It is important to understand that not all substances have the same detox protocols. Medications used to detox a heroin addict are not necessarily the same as those used to detox a cocaine addict. Cocaine users as multidrug users must safely detox from all substances. Mental health disorders, such as depression, can either be the underlying problem to the cocaine addiction or they can be drug induced. These mental health disorders require proper identification and treatment. Appropriate treatment starts with an accurate assessment at detox and then moves into the treatment plan. Detox needs to be closely monitored by a licensed, trained addiction physician who can administer medication as needed and monitor a client’s progress. Once a client has been stabilized:

  • Physically
  • Emotionally
  • Psychologically
  • And the detox completed, the cocaine addict will need to go into treatment.

Detox alone is not considered treatment! The chances of relapse are greater without treatment as are the chances of overdosing. According to the government’s National Center for Biotechnology Information’s article Cocaine and Psychiatric Symptoms (1999), treatment needs to address all levels of dysfunction including:

  • Psychological
  • Occupational
  • And familial

Treatment Alternatives offers clients a continuum of care model from detox and treatment. Treatment of substance abuse is rooted in a multidisciplinary approach. Every aspect of the client’s life and personality must be evaluated and a cohesive treatment plan created. That plan must be regularly updated to address a client’s current needs. Part of treating cocaine addiction is learning about relapse prevention. In Relapse Prevention sessions, the cocaine addict is given the tools to avoid triggers and ways to productively handle cravings. Counseling, network support, life skills sessions, healthy leisure activities and sober living environments build a strong foundation for long term recovery. Life is worth living free of drugs and alcohol; Treatment Alternatives can make that wish a reality. Resources

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