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Cocaine Addiction Treatment

Updated 29 August 2022 Written by Deborah QuinnClinically Reviewed by Sarah Fletcher, LPC, LAC
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Cocaine Addiction Treatment

Cocaine is the second most popular illegal recreational drug behind marijuana in the United States. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, cocaine use has plateaued in this country, with an average of 1.5 million users aged 12 and up. Despite these statistics, cocaine is still a highly addictive and dangerous substance.

Data from the 2011 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report showed that cocaine was involved in 505,224 of the nearly 1.3 million visits to emergency departments for drug misuse or abuse.

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant derived from the leaves of the coca plant, native to South America. Cocaine can be found in a variety of forms and is sometimes mixed with substances like baking soda, cornstarch, or flour to increase profits for sellers. Cocaine may look like a fine white powder or a white or off-white crystal.

Cocaine is also called:

  • Crack
  • Rock
  • Coke
  • Blow
  • Snow
  • White Girl (variations on this include names of white female celebrities)

Signs of Cocaine Use

Cocaine can be snorted, rubbed onto the gums, mixed with water and injected, or its processed form (rocks) smoked. A mixture of cocaine and heroin can also be injected, called a speedball.

  • Finding paraphernalia
  • Frequent bloody noses
  • Burns on lips or fingers from a very hot pipe

Common paraphernalia

  • Glass pipes and foil for smoking
  • Razor blades with powder residue used to make neat lines for snorting
  • Cut straws or tightly rolled paper used to snort “lines”
  • Needles used for injecting

Effects of Cocaine on the Brain

Cocaine acts on the brain’s dopamine reward circuit. In normal brain function, a pleasurable stimulus causes the brain to release dopamine, which is then recycled back into the cell that released it. However, cocaine blocks the reabsorption of dopamine, causing an excess of dopamine in the brain at one time. This is what causes cocaine’s high.

Cocaine’s high takes effect almost immediately after use, and the effects last from a few minutes to an hour depending on method of use. Users often take repeated doses of the drug in order to try to maintain the high. Taking large amounts of cocaine can lead to bizarre, unpredictable and dangerous behavior.

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Short-term Effects of Cocaine

  • Euphoria
  • Extreme energy
  • Increased mental alertness
  • Hypersensitivity to sight, sound and touch
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia
  • Sense of invincibility, grandiosity

Long-term Effects of Cocaine

  • Auditory hallucinations Brought on by cocaine-induced paranoia.
  • Irritability and depression Both in the days following cocaine use and over the longer term as the brain’s dopamine balance is impacted.
  • Compromised senses Loss of sense of smell and taste, nosebleeds, runny nose, difficulty with swallowing (from snorting).
  • Increased risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis Through injection, as well as contracting diseases through risky sexual behaviors, which users are more likely to engage in when disinhibited by the effects of cocaine.
  • Risk of movement disorders Including Parkinson’s Disease.

Risks of Cocaine Use

Potential for Cocaine Overdose

Cocaine overdose can cause problems with the heart and blood vessels, leading to heart attack, or with the central nervous system, causing stroke or seizures. Overdose can be deadly, and the risk of overdose is increased when cocaine is mixed with alcohol, heroin, or other substances, both through decreased inhibition and judgment, as well as the effect on the body of mixing “uppers” (central nervous system stimulants) and “downers” (central nervous system depressants).

Potential for Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine acts powerfully on the brain’s reward system. Like other drugs of abuse, over time the brain adapts to the increased stimulus and requires greater amounts of the substance to achieve the same high or to reduce the withdrawal symptoms, which include irritability, depression, fatigue, and insomnia. This leads to dependence or addiction.

Cocaine Abuse & Adolescents

Because adolescents’ brains are still developing into their mid-twenties, they are especially susceptible to the impact of cocaine on the brain’s reward system. Adolescent brains are in an active process of establishing neural pathways and their brains are more “plastic,” or adaptable than adult brains.

Abusing cocaine during this stage of life can create difficulties with dopamine balance throughout life.

Teens also tend to have worse impulse control, exhibit more risk-taking behaviors, and have less capacity for long-term judgment than adults. When combined with the disinhibiting and confidence-boosting effects of cocaine, this can make for dangerous decision-making.

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Online Treatment Programs

Our virtual IOP program offers the same programming that we offer in person, all online – this is ideal for those who live too far to drive to an addiction center, have transportation issues, or have health concerns that make in-person treatment challenging.

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We’re available 7 days a week to help answer any questions you may have.