Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug that comes hand in hand with unpleasant consequences. A 2020 report discovered a 26.5% increase in cocaine overdose deaths. But why do so many people continue to take the drug despite the known adverse outcomes?
Anyone can feel the risks of cocaine. If you use the drug, you may be worried about how it will affect you. This blog post will explore cocaine use, the effects of cocaine on the body and brain, and substance abuse treatment options for you or a loved one.
What Is Cocaine?
Cocaine is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning it poses risks of abuse, dependence, and adverse health consequences. Despite this, cocaine use is on the rise, and it remains a popular street drug that is used by up to 21 million people around the world.
Created from the leaves of the coca plant, cocaine generally comes in two forms. When cocaine appears as a white powder, it can be injected, smoked, or snorted. When it appears in rock crystal form – also referred to as crack cocaine – the drug is smoked. Often, cocaine is mixed – or cut – with other substances, such as fentanyl. This increases the risk of using a product that contains other drugs.
Although each method of abuse comes with different short and long-term side effects, both cocaine and crack cocaine pose a high risk of fatal outcomes.
When taking cocaine, the effects are felt relatively quickly as the drug directly enters the bloodstream before reaching the brain. Smoking cocaine causes an intense but short high that lasts around five to 10 minutes. If a user is snorting cocaine, the high will last approximately 15 to 30 minutes.
What Cocaine Does to Your Brain
After consuming cocaine, the effects are felt in the brain immediately. Cocaine works by increasing dopamine levels, which sends signals to the brain and spinal cord that intensify feelings of pleasure, reward, desire, and happiness. Therefore, an intense increase of dopamine creates a sense of euphoria.
As cocaine slowly leaves the bloodstream, an extreme low may be experienced. This is also known as a crash, where a lack of cocaine leaves a person feeling stressed, anxious, and at risk of experiencing panic attacks. This fear of crashing and the high felt after cocaine use encourages a binge pattern.
Increased Dopamine and Risk of Cocaine Addiction
Due to its short-lasting effects, people tend to abuse cocaine regularly in one sitting. The risk of cocaine addiction is high as repeated cocaine use causes the brain to stop producing dopamine by itself. The brain then becomes used to unnatural higher levels of dopamine, which are influenced by cocaine use, resulting in a dependency on the drug.
Those who develop a dependency tend to feel depressed, anxious, or irritable without the drug and often have cravings. In response, cocaine users continue to abuse the drug to self-regulate feelings of pleasure and happiness.
When a person uses cocaine regularly, they will eventually need higher doses to feel the same initial high. At this point of cocaine addiction, withdrawal symptoms are likely to be felt, which adds to the temptation of continued use.
Mental Health and Mental State
Several studies suggest an intricate link between cocaine abuse and mental health issues. One particular study highlighted the link between psychosis, a mental illness that causes a person to lose touch with reality, and cocaine abuse. Symptoms of psychosis are similar to feelings that cocaine induces, such as anxiety, paranoia, and agitation. Psychosis also causes a person to experience hallucinations.
Many cocaine users have an incorrect belief that cocaine increases their mental clarity, but the short-term effects of cocaine falsely provide this feeling. Cocaine use gives people a false sense of self-confidence, whereby they may feel superior to those around them. As mentioned previously, some short-term effects of cocaine on the mental state include:
- Extreme happiness
- Mental alertness
- Hypersensitivity to sight, touch, sound
- Paranoia – unreasonable distrust of others
What Cocaine Does to Your Body
Cocaine use causes energy levels to quickly spike, which in turn increases:
- Blood pressure
- Heart rate
- Body temperature
The above are closely linked to anxiety, which is why many users feel anxious after consuming the drug.
Effects of Cocaine on the Heart
Cocaine has several effects on the heart. As soon as the drug is taken, it rapidly increases heart rate and induces high blood pressure. This arises due to constricted blood vessels and blood flow around the heart, putting additional pressure on the heart to pump blood. Sadly, this creates a higher risk of a heart attack as extreme stress is placed on the heart muscles, arteries, and vessels.
Studies have also found that even those who report only using cocaine occasionally are at significant risk of a heart attack. Cocaine can also cause arteries and capillaries to harden, which increases the risk of developing heart disease, which can be fatal.
If you or someone you love experiences chest pain after or during drug use, you must reach out for medical help immediately.
Effects on the Respiratory System
Smoking crack cocaine can lead to many respiratory issues as it damages the lungs – these problems are often referred to as ‘crack lungs.’ Smoking the drug can stop oxygen from going into the bloodstream, which can result in issues with breathing, such as:
- Development of asthma
- Pulmonary hypertension
- Spasms in the bronchial tubes
- Respiratory distress and failure
Effects on the Stomach and Digestive System
Cocaine’s effects on the stomach are both short and long-term as the drug often interferes with the gut’s bacteria. One short-term effect of cocaine is the feelings of nausea that it induces after use. This is usually followed by a loss of appetite, which can ultimately lead to weight loss and malnutrition.
Other stomach issues may include:
- Damage to bowel tissues
- Nausea and vomiting
- Inflamed large intestine
- Tears and ulcers in the gut lining
Drug Abuse and Risk of Overdose
As with many drugs, there is always a risk of experiencing a cocaine overdose. A cocaine overdose is triggered when there are toxic levels of the drug in specific brain areas.
Unfortunately, the number of deaths due to cocaine use has risen over the years, with a report highlighting that in 2018 there were over 14,600 deaths relating to a cocaine overdose. But death is avoidable, and with the right support, a person can overcome and recover from an overdose.
Overdoses can look different in everyone, especially if there are other drugs involved, so it is important that you call 911 if you are in an uncertain situation.
Substance Abuse Treatment at Cirque Lodge
Cocaine dependence or addiction is not only damaging to your or a loved one’s health – it has lasting impacts on your relationships with other people.
Taking the first steps towards addiction treatment is always hard, but with the right help and support, you or a loved one can begin to work towards a lasting recovery where addiction becomes a thing of the past.
At Cirque Lodge, we offer a range of effective treatment programs that focus on the individual with addiction. We also involve the family unit to enable a supported recovery. If you believe you or a loved one is experiencing a cocaine addiction, please reach out and contact us today to discuss potential treatment options.