According to a study by the Substance Abuse and Health Service Administration, up to half of drug-related emergency room visits in the United States are related to cocaine abuse. Because of misconceptions about the nature of cocaine and how it affects the body, many people falsely believe that they cannot become addicted to it—which is simply not true. If you suspect that yourself or a loved one may be addicted to cocaine, it is important to get help to treat the addiction, which can have very serious consequences to health and well-being. One aspect of knowing whether or not you are addicted to cocaine is to understand how it works—the other is to recognize signs and symptoms of cocaine abuse.
How does cocaine cause addiction?
There are a few different methods of taking cocaine; the two most popular are through inhalation of the powdered form known as “coke” or “blow,” or smoking crack cocaine, which comes in “rocks,” or crystals formed by a chemical process. Almost 14% of adults in the United States have tried cocaine at some point in their lives, with young men between the ages of 18 and 25 being the most frequent cocaine users. Cocaine can also be injected, usually in a process called “skin popping,” although this is slightly less common.
If smoked, inhaled, or injected, Cocaine’s effects are nearly instantaneous. The drug blocks multiple neurotransmitters—including serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine—from being absorbed. The resulting chemical buildup causes the feeling that people associate with being high—a short-lived pleasurable sensation including increased energy and alertness, elevated mood, and a feeling of power. For many, the short-lived feelings of happiness, alertness, and power become swiftly addictive, even though the drug itself does not create a chemical dependency the way that some other drugs (such as opiates like heroin or OxyContin) do. The come-down from cocaine leads users to repeat the experience, chasing the elusive “benefits” of the high.
What are the signs or symptoms of cocaine addiction?
Cocaine addiction has some particular signs and symptoms associated with it that set it apart from other addictive drugs. For example, common signs of addiction to snorting cocaine include:
- Loss of the sense of smell
- Frequent nosebleeds
- Difficulty swallowing
- Chronic runny nose
In general, symptoms of cocaine addiction produce behavioral and personality changes as well, including irritability, restlessness, anxiety, and paranoia. Over the long term, those who suffer from cocaine addiction tend to experience extreme paranoia, where they lose touch with reality and experience auditory hallucinations. Because cocaine is a stimulant drug, it also can cause a host of related health problems, including but not limited to:
- Heart problems—including heart attack
- Respiratory problems
- Nervous system problems, such as strokes
- Digestive problems
- Contracting HIV or other diseases from shared needles (from injecting cocaine)
- Serious skin infections
- Severe allergic reactions
- Death by overdose
Warning signs of cocaine dependency are not always easy to identify—particularly for the addict themselves. Common early signs of addiction include a need to increase the dosage in order to get the same effect, suffering from withdrawal symptoms as the high wears off, and difficulty with stopping use of the drug. The longer a person is addicted to cocaine, statistically speaking, the greater their chance of death through an overdose; as the tolerance builds, users increase dosages, and with each increased dose, chances of heart attack, stroke, respiratory failure, or severe allergic reaction are amplified. If you or a loved one is addicted to cocaine, it is important to seek treatment.