What is it? Cocaine is also known as coke, snow, blow, or (in smokeable form) crack. The drug can be snorted, smoked, or injected. Cocaine is perhaps the best known of the class of drugs and medicines known as stimulants. And it does just that; it revs up the central nervous system. It can rev things up out of control (heart palpitations, heart attack, panic attack, respiratory distress) in that one never really knows the strength of a particular batch of an unregulated drug. In order to avoid unpleasant withdrawal effects, users tend to increase the amount and frequency of use quickly. This makes cocaine rapidly addictive.
It is often noted in treatment programs that the damage done to people who use cocaine and methamphetamines in a few months matches what takes years to do with most other drugs.
How does it affect the body?
Cocaine hyper-stimulates the brain. It speed things up: increases heart, pulse and blood pressure rates as well as breathing, thinking and stimulation of the senses. It is usually accompanied by loss of appetite and insomnia (people don’t feel the need to eat or sleep). In too large a dose or over time, the user can experience hallucinations, paranoia, agitation, panic attacks, convulsions and death from cardiac arrest.
Risks of cocaine use:
- Can bring on heart attacks, seizures, or stroke
- Can cause very uncomfortable panic or paranoid reactions
- Increase in fear/ flight / fight/ freeze responses
- Rebound depression lasting days
- Increased interpersonal reactivity(fighting with friends and family)
- Accidents and disorientation due to hallucinations
- High abuse-addictive potential
- Obsession about the drug at the expense of basic self care
- Arrest and incarceration, because cocaine and its varied forms (crack) are illegal in the U. S.
- As with most drugs, using cocaine in combination with alcohol is particularly dangerous.
- Intravenous use of cocaine carries with it risks for HIV and hepatitis.
- Snorting cocaine can damage the nasal passages and diminish sense of smell.
- Longer-term health risks include depression, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, lung problems, heart problems, sleep problems, and brain disorders.
How to recognize if someone has a problem
Some, but not necessarily all, of the following:
- Manic like behaviors
- Not sleeping, not eating, or not bothering with personal hygiene for days at a time
- Sudden onset with panic or paranoid like thinking
- Dramatic weight loss
- Unexplained absences or follow-through with agreements or schedules and other signs of addictive behavior
How to cut back on misuse
Unfortunately, trying to "cut back" usually just leads to returning to misuse at a higher level. In general, people wanting to stop should inform those they trust about their use of these substances to get their understanding and support as they try to stop. Connecting with someone in recovery from cocaine or other drug dependencies is invaluable. Narcotics Anonymous offers good resources for this.
Withdrawal can bring on a period of apathy (not caring and boredom with everything), excessive sleeping, depressiveness, disorientation and irritability. If these are difficult to manage or individuals find themselves returning to using cocaine or alcohol or other drugs, they should consult with an addiction counselor specialist and get support from Narcotics Anonymous. Another good resource is the National Cocaine Hotline, available at 1-800-COCAINE.