A Guide to Cocaine Addiction and Treatment

Cocaine is not a drug left in the 1980s – many people still struggle with addiction and abuse of this substance in the 21st century. The drug is a stimulant that can be highly addictive and potentially deadly.1 There are treatments available that can help overcome an addiction to cocaine and stay sober. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), an estimated 6 percent of all admissions to drug treatment programs are due to cocaine use.2 A large portion of these users smoke “crack” cocaine and typically abuse multiple substances. Currently, the largest estimated group of cocaine users is those ages 18 to 25 years old, where an estimated 1.4 percent of young adults have reported using cocaine in the past month, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.4

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a drug that got its start for medical purposes.1 Doctors used the drug as a topical anesthetic for surgeries. Food and medication manufacturers also incorporated it into elixirs and tonics in the early 1900s.3 However, people starting using the drug recreationally, which led to increasingly dangerous side effects. Cocaine is a fine, white crystal powder that may also be called coke, crack, snow, or rock for slang. Sometimes, drug dealers may mix cocaine with other substances so they can sell more of it. These include cornstarch, talcum powder, or flour. 1 They may also “cut” it with other medications, such as opioids like fentanyl or heroin to make a person get higher when they use it. Unfortunately, not knowing what is mixed in with cocaine can lead to deadly effects.

How Does Cocaine Work?

Cocaine works by stimulating the brain to increase the amount of the neurotransmitter dopamine. 1 This is a feel-good chemical that can cause a person to experience a short-lived, euphoric high. When a person has this much dopamine in their brain, they inevitably crash. As a result, the brain starts to crave the extra dopamine, creating a cycle of addiction.

In the short term, cocaine can cause effects such as:

  • feeling especially sensitive to sound, light, and touch
  • feeling very awake and mentally alert
  • heightened energy
  • irritability
  • paranoia

How long the high lasts depends upon how the cocaine is used. The people who snort it may experience a high for 15 to 20 minutes while those who smoke it feel high for 5 to 10 minutes .

Common Misconceptions About Cocaine 

A surprisingly common misconception about cocaine is that a person can’t overdose on the drug.1 No one can be sure of what’s in the cocaine being used, so it’s possible that tampered cocaine can lead to death. Cocaine is also frequently combined with other drugs or substances, such as heroin or alcohol. Also, if too much is used, a person can experience a heart attack, stroke, or seizure. All of these can lead to a deadly overdose.

Another misconception about cocaine is that one route of using it is safer than the other. In 2011, Cocaine abuse was responsible for 505,224 of the 1.3 million emergency department visits related to drug abuse, according to the NIDA.4 One person may say that snorting cocaine is safer than smoking it, and another may say the opposite. 3 In reality, all methods of using cocaine are dangerous and can lead to overdose. Long-term health effects can also be experienced from all types of cocaine abuse.

Treatment That Works

What Does Cocaine Do to the Body?   

Cocaine may have euphoric short-term effects, but it can also have harmful ones to a person’s health. It can cause symptoms such as high blood pressure, elevated body temperature, and rapid heart rate.1 A person can have tremors and muscle twitches. Each of these can be harmful, especially for a person who may have a heart condition or medical history of high blood pressure.

Cocaine use has implications for many long-term health effects. While the health effects may depend upon how the cocaine is used, the risk for side effects include:

  • affected smell and frequent nosebleeds
  • increased risks for pneumonia
  • risks for conditions related to sharing needles, such as hepatitis C, HIV, or endocarditis, a serious heart infection
  • risks for decayed bowel

Sometimes people who abuse cocaine can also experience hallucinations and psychosis. They may see or hear things that aren’t there.

What Is Detoxing from Cocaine Like?  

If a person is physically dependent on cocaine, they can experience withdrawal symptoms each time they stop using it.1 Examples of these symptoms include:

  • affected thinking
  • depression
  • fatigue
  • insomnia
  • unpleasant or vivid dreams

What Are Common Struggles When Getting Sober From Cocaine?

Addiction to any drug is complicated.3 A person may want to quit, but the physical cravings and symptoms keep them from doing so. In order to stay sober, one must learn how to break the mental and physical addictions to cocaine. For a successful recovery, they must learn behaviors for dealing with their anxiety or stress instead of turning to drugs like cocaine. While accomplishing this is difficult, it can be done.

What Is Treatment for Cocaine Addiction Like?  

The flood of dopamine to the brain can be highly addictive.1 Breaking the cycle of addiction can take a combination of therapeutic approaches. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t currently approved medications to treat cocaine withdrawals or reduce a person’s dependence on the drug. They are, however, researching medications that could possibly be used as treatments. Examples include disulfiram and buprenorphine. However, the FDA hasn’t yet approved any medication to treat cocaine addiction. Doctors are even researching vaccines that could keep a person from feeling high after using cocaine to reduce the risks for relapse.2 However, these treatments haven’t made it past the test stages currently.

Therapies Used to Treat Cocaine Addiction

However, there are many behavioral treatments for cocaine. Examples of these include cognitive-behavioral therapy and motivational incentives.1 Cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT is an approach that involves educating a person on addiction and how patterns of thinking can influence behavior. Therapists can also teach a behaviors that can help a person stay sober. Examples include how to resist temptations to return to drug abuse and how to recognize when a person may be heading toward a relapse. Motivational incentive is another approach. This involves rewarding positive behaviors in recovery. Examples include negative drug tests and participation in rehabilitation groups. Tangible rewards would be received, such as movie tickets, gift cards, or points that can be exchanged for other items.2 These approaches have been shown to reduce cocaine abuse, according to the NIDA.

Once a person has withdrawn physically from cocaine and started treatments on an inpatient or outpatient basis, there are other services that can help to prevent a relapse. 1 Examples include participating in a community-based recovery group, such as Cocaine Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

People who have struggled with cocaine or addiction to multiple drugs and/or alcohol in the past have also been shown to experience success in living in therapeutic communities.2 These are homes or apartments where a person will typically stay for 6 to 12 months. They live with other individuals who are also sober and committed to maintaining their sobriety. An advantage of these communities is they often have rehabilitation specialists who can help a person find job placement or access needed services, such as legal and mental health support.

Struggling With An Addiction To Cocaine? Call Us

Where Can You Find Help for Cocaine Addiction?

Rehabilitation facilities offer medical experts and rehabilitation specialists who have helped many individuals overcome an addiction to cocaine and other substances. If you or a loved ones is struggling with addiction to cocaine, you should seek treatment at a rehabilitation facility like Silvermist Recovery that has a track record in helping treat the individual, not just the addiction.