Cocaine is a highly addictive substance and an ongoing problem in the United States. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in 2014, about 1.5 million people age 12 and over reported using the drug in the month before the survey. The highest rate of cocaine abuse occurred in young adults ages 18 to 25; an estimated 1.4 percent of surveyed individuals in this age group reported past-month cocaine use.
Not only is the substance commonly used recreationally, but many Americans are living with cocaine addiction or trying to recover from that addiction while dealing with cravings for more of the drug. It is estimated that about 913,000 Americans in 2014 met the diagnostic criteria for past-year cocaine abuse.
Those cravings can be challenging to handle. In active addiction, they can drive the individual to continue to take the drug long after adverse mental health and medical issues have set in. In sobriety, the urge to get high can trigger a cocaine binge even after detox and a period of abstinence. In both cases, a cocaine binge can be deadly.
What is a Cocaine Binge?
A cocaine binge is any use of cocaine during active recovery or repetitive use of cocaine that occurs over hours or days. For some, it can come in the form of a single evening spent doing lines or smoking crack with friends at a party. For others, it can mean days locked away in a hotel room alone or with strangers doing cocaine until they can barely function.
A cocaine binge may look different, depending on who it is, but if it happens and any of the following occur, it is time to take action:
- Emergency room admission
- Severe accident or medical emergency that may or may not involve emergency medical care
- Getting behind the wheel while under the influence
- Violence of any kind
- Remorse, guilt, or regret for any events that took place during the binge, including using cocaine in the first place
What Are The Immediate Steps to Take After a Cocaine Binge?
If at the end of a cocaine binge and in crisis, the first steps should include connecting with the best possible support systems with knowledge about the current situation and the ability to assist in creating an informed plan for moving forward.
Call a therapist
If you are working with someone to help you manage mental health issues or life’s ups and downs in general, this is the first person to talk to after a cocaine binge. It is recommended to ask for an emergency session, if not scheduled for that day, and to be completely honest when asking for guidance and support on how to proceed.
Talk to a trusted friend
If you are not seeing a therapist actively, then reaching out to a sponsor or a trusted close friend is the next step. It is recommended that you talk about what happened, what was upsetting about the cocaine binge or the circumstances immediately prior to or post, and explore possible options for change going forward.
Update the treatment plan
If you are enrolled in an outpatient drug addiction treatment plan, it is a good idea to meet with your treatment team and discuss the relapse. The more details you offer, the better able the treatment professionals will be to craft an appropriate treatment plan. This altered plan may mean increasing sessions of a type of therapy that is working, adding a new kind of treatment, or changing treatment goals.
Reconnect with treatment services
If you are transitioning into independent living in recovery, then a cocaine binge is a huge red flag that it is time to go back to basics and reconnect with treatment services that will help you rebuild. A cocaine binge or any relapse does not mean that you have lost all you have fought for, but it does reveal deficiencies that need to be addressed.
A cocaine binge that amounts to a hit or two on a pipe or a couple of bumps may not be as serious as a days’ long binge that ended in overdose. But no matter what the severity of the binge is, if it is weighing on your mind and stealing from your ability to concentrate on building a strong new life for yourself that does not include drug use of any kind, take immediate, purposeful action to get your life back on track.
What Are The Risks of a Binge?
Depending on whether or not you have co-occurring medical issues, the risks associated with a cocaine binge can vary. For example, those who are already living with a heart-related disorder or respiratory issues may be more likely to succumb to a medical emergency related to these problems when on a cocaine binge.
In general, however, some of the following can occur when too much cocaine is ingested:
- Acute myocardial infarction: An acute myocardial infarction, or heart attack, occurs when one of the three large arteries that bring oxygenated blood to the heart gets blocked. There is an increased risk of this when someone puts undue stress on the heart, increasing their heart rate artificially by using cocaine.
- Impaired cognitive function: When under the influence of cocaine, cognitive impairment is par for the course. With excessive abuse of the drug as occurs during a binge, cognitive function is further impaired, and when cocaine use is combined with alcohol use, impairment is increased significantly.
- Psychosis: Heavy cocaine intake can cause auditory or visual hallucinations, paranoia, agitation, anger, and psychosis.
- Emergency room visit: Whether due to a medical or mental health emergency or accident, cocaine contributed to about 40 percent of the 1.3 million drug-related ER visits recorded by the 2011 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN).
Does a Cocaine Binge Necessitate Addiction Treatment?
Cocaine binges necessitate a reinvigorated treatment program if the individual is already in treatment and striving to live a sober life or in any situation in which the person is ready to take steps to avoid another binge and the risks associated with it.
Studies are ongoing into how best to identify and prevent the development of cocaine addiction and then to treat it when it occurs. For example:
- A recent study explored the immune system’s role in the development of cocaine addiction as related to childhood trauma.
- To find a drug that would help to manage physical symptoms related to cocaine withdrawal, another study explored the use of anti-obesity medications to treat cocaine addiction.
- Another study sought to compare the data gathered thus far in the search for pharmacological methods for managing cocaine addiction in recovery.
Is Your Loved One in Need of Addiction Treatment?
If cocaine binges are frequent and extreme medical and mental health issues result, but your loved one appears unable to stop using cocaine, it is time to consider treatment options. It may be the case that your loved one does not recognize the need for treatment and intervention even though it is clear to all objective bystanders that their use of the drug has reached a crisis point.
Your role as a family member or close friend can play a pivotal part in helping your loved one to acknowledge that they have a problem with cocaine and that treatment is the necessary next step. One of the most effective ways to do this is to stage an addiction intervention. It is a good idea to have a formal, open, and honest conversation with your loved one in the presence of a few other people who also recognize the need for treatment and request that they go to a drug rehab program right away.
To increase the likelihood that the intervention you stage will ultimately lead to your loved one’s enrolling in addiction rehab, either immediately or at a later date, it is a good idea to prepare in advance by:
- Holding a meeting with other family members, so all are on the same page about the message and the manner in which it will most effectively be delivered
- Including a professional interventionist in the process so they may add an extra air of formality and guide the proceedings back on track if things start to veer out of control
- Enrolling your loved one in a drug rehab in advance, so they can walk out of the intervention and into the program, if they decide to go
- Making it clear how things will change going forward, whether or not they agree to go to treatment, and then following through on that promise should they initially decline the offer for help
Are you ready to help your loved one step away from the dangers of cocaine binges and a step toward a new life in recovery?