Opioids have dominated the national headlines regarding substance abuse. They are responsible for setting off the worst drug epidemic in American history. Opioid overdoses reportedly kill more than 130 people every day. Plus, 47,600 have died from overdoses in 2017. In terms of sheer lethality, not many substances come close to the havoc heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil, OxyContin have wrought.

Cocaine had its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, but it has taken a back seat to opioids. Still, the use of this stimulant remains rampant. What’s more, people who use cocaine are more likely to engage in polysubstance abuse; that is, they are likely to take it with other substances like alcohol, heroin, or fentanyl. When cocaine is used with other substances, the risk of permanent damage and death rises.

The harm it does to the body is just as ruinous as the kind inflicted by opioids.

Another factor to consider is that people who abuse cocaine can develop depression.

Therefore, cocaine rehab requires highly specialized treatment. The most effective recovery programs feature behavioral therapy and dual diagnosis, where the addiction and mental health disorders are treated concurrently.

Read on to learn more about cocaine’s devastating effects and unique treatment options.

How Cocaine Impacts the Body

Regarded as the “caviar of street drugs,” cocaine is associated with prestige and glamour. Plus, no other drug has been immortalized in film and television quite like it. Cocaine, in its powder form, is typically snorted. Some people rub it into their gums or dissolve the powder in a liquid to inject it.

The substance is derived from the coca plant found in South America. As a central nervous system stimulant, it binds to the dopamine transporter. This causes a surge of the chemical in the brain’s pleasure center. As a result, users experience a high that is described as intense yet brief. Because the brain’s reward pathway is so profoundly impacted, a user gains the incentive to binge cocaine to sustain that euphoria. This manifests in them repeatedly snorting lines or “bumps” of the drug.

Cocaine that is processed to form a rock crystal, which is later heated and smoked, is known as crack. In this form, it also yields an intense sensation that fades quickly.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies cocaine as a Schedule II substance, meaning it carries a high potential for abuse and addiction and carries very little medical value.

Believe it or not, cocaine has medical utility as a numbing agent for the mouth, nose, and throat before certain medical procedures.

Still, the majority of people use it for recreational purposes, which can inflict significant damage to the cardiovascular system, central nervous system, and respiratory system. Also, its use often leads to death.

When Addiction is Present

Cocaine addiction can occur rather quickly. When addiction occurs, the substance of choice can become the center of someone’s life, influencing the majority of the decisions they make. Like other drug addictions, someone who is hooked on cocaine will exhibit behaviors that are compulsive and surprising.

Cocaine addiction signs include:

  • High levels of excitability
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Risky behavior or irrational thought process
  • Extremely talkative
  • Increased energy
  • Noticeable changes in sleep patterns
  • Dilated pupils
  • Significant weight loss
  • Paraphernalia such as spoons, razor blades, plastic baggies, rolled bills, needles
  • White residue on certain objects

Another reliable measure of addiction lies in the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the principal authority for psychiatric diagnoses.

The DSM-5 states that if someone displays two of the following symptoms over a 12-month period, addiction may be present:

  • Taking more of the drug than intended and for a longer time than intended
  • A persistent desire to stop taking drugs or repeated unsuccessful attempts to quit taking drugs
  • A lot of time spent trying to get drugs, abuse them, and/or recover from their effects
  • Intense cravings or urges for specific drugs
  • Failing to go to work or school, or to meet obligations to friends and family because of drug abuse
  • Ongoing drug abuse despite the physical, mental, emotional, or social problems associated with the abuse
  • Giving up hobbies or activities to abuse drugs
  • Ongoing abuse of drugs in inappropriate situations, such as using them in the morning before work, driving while intoxicated, or abusing drugs around children
  • Experiencing physical or psychological problems due to substance abuse but continuing to abuse drugs anyway
  • Physical tolerance, meaning the body needs more of the drug to experience the initial level of intoxication
  • Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when trying to quit the drug

Dangerous Effects of Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine itself can produce a multitude of complications. However, the method of ingestion can also produce its own complications.

When someone snorts cocaine, they can get nosebleeds and other chronic sinus problems. They can also experience a loss of smell and risk incurring a perforated nasal cavity, which can cause it to collapse.

Heavy and long-term cocaine use can impact heart rate and blood pressure, potentially leading to heart attack and stroke.

If that is not enough, regular cocaine use also causes physiological and psychological effects such as:

  • Confusion
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Permanent damage to the brain
  • An increased risk of seizures
  • Intense “post-high” depression
  • Suicide ideation
  • Psychosis
  • Delusions
  • Extreme paranoia
  • Unstable moods and aggression

And it can produce life-threatening overdose symptoms such as convulsions, dangerously elevated blood pressure, extremely high body temperature, psychosis, and irregular, erratic heart rate.

Best Treatment Option for Cocaine Addiction

The disastrous effects of cocaine addiction require a professional recovery program that provides a comprehensive set of services, from detoxification and medical monitoring to therapy and counseling. Plus, this treatment program has to address the entire person — mind, body, and soul.

Medical detox is the first phase of professional treatment. At this stage, the cocaine and other toxins are flushed from the system. In a detox program, a medical staff provides around-the-clock supervision and treats any withdrawal symptoms that occur.

Comprehensive treatment is offered through a residential treatment program, partial-hospitalization, or intensive outpatient. In residential treatment, you will live at the facility where you receive treatment. With partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient, you will still be able to access comprehensive therapy and counseling, but you will have more freedom and flexibility with your schedule.

All of these options feature cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a treatment modality proven to effectively address cocaine addictions.

[CBT] helps patients develop critical skills that support long-term abstinence—including the ability to recognize the situations in which they are most likely to use cocaine, avoid these situations, and cope more effectively with a range of problems associated with drug use, states the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

If you have developed depression or another mental health issue from cocaine use, you can access dual-diagnosis treatment, which is tailored to treat co-occurring disorders.

After treatment, a clinical team can connect you to an alumni program that provides support and relapse prevention. An alumni program can provide services that can help you resume everyday life. Those services include:

  • Find housing and other transition services
  • Locate employment opportunities
  • Complete job applications
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