Cocaine is a potent stimulant drug. Although it is a Schedule II drug, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) because it has important medical uses in specific ear, nose, and throat surgeries, it is more famous as a substance of abuse. Both powdered cocaine and crack cocaine cause intense, energetic euphoria, which can be very addictive.
What Side Effects Are Associated with Cocaine Abuse?
Because cocaine is a potent stimulant, it can cause several effects – not just intoxication, but negative side effects. These include:
- Constricted blood vessels
- Dilated pupils
- Raised body temperature
- Stress to the cardiovascular system
- Increased energy and alertness, or hyperstimulation
- Decreased appetite
- Decreased need for sleep
- Increased sociability and decreased inhibitions
- Sudden death
People who abuse cocaine are at risk for paranoid behaviors, increasing violence toward oneself or others, and physical twitches, tremors, or spasms. Since cocaine changes how neurotransmitters are released and absorbed in the brain, abusing this drug even once can cause cravings and lead to compulsive behaviors associated with addiction.
What Are the Risks of Abusing Cocaine for a Long Time?
People who abuse cocaine for a long time may cause serious harm to their health. Long-lasting side effects from cocaine abuse include:
- Seizures or convulsions
- Heart attack or other heart disease
- Lung damage or disease
- Damage to the nasal passages from snorting
- Irritability and mood disorders
- Hallucinations, especially tactile or auditory
- Sexual dysfunction and reproductive damage
People who regularly abuse cocaine are more likely to binge, meaning they take large doses for several days. This can lead to brain damage and physical harm, as the person will generally not sleep or eat during this time. It also increases the risk of mental illness, especially mood disorders like depression or anxiety.
The drug can also reduce the flow of blood to the gastrointestinal tract, leading to stomach damage, ulcers, and internal bleeding. People who abuse stimulants, including cocaine, may rapidly lose weight and develop malnutrition. There is a risk of inflammation in the heart muscle, which can lead to a lifetime of heart problems. Mixing cocaine and alcohol increases the risk of liver damage. Brain damage includes memory problems, learning difficulties, and an increased risk for dementia.
What Are Signs of a Cocaine Overdose?
Yes, overdosing on cocaine is likely to occur among people who abuse this drug, especially during binges. Signs of a cocaine overdose include:
- Loss of awareness of surroundings
- High body temperature, or hyperthermia
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Fast, shallow breathing
If a person overdoses on cocaine, they need emergency medical treatment. Call 911 immediately.
Can Cocaine Abuse Lead to Withdrawal Symptoms?
Those who struggle with cocaine addiction need medical oversight when they want to detox because withdrawal symptoms include intense cravings for the drug, depression, and fatigue. People who try to stop abusing cocaine alone are at risk of relapsing back into substance abuse and overdosing.
- General discomfort
- Increased appetite
- Vivid, unpleasant dreams
- Slowed activity
While withdrawing from cocaine is not life-threatening, the symptoms may be very uncomfortable. By working with a physician to safely detox, physical and psychological discomfort can be minimized.
Which Treatments Work Best to Overcome Cocaine Addiction?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has a list of Principles of Effective Treatment; these include treatment that provides several forms of therapy, medication as available, social support, and long-term, evidence-based care. While there are no approved medications that can manage cocaine withdrawal yet, physicians can help people manage cocaine withdrawal using over-the-counter treatments for physical symptoms and therapy for psychological symptoms.
Rehabilitation programs should also provide specific types of therapy that have proven effective in helping people overcome cocaine abuse. These include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which helps to change behaviors through analyzing underlying causes of compulsions
- Community Reinforcement, which helps a person change behaviors by rewarding and reinforcing positive behaviors
- The Matrix Model, which combines a few kinds of therapy as the counselor acts as a coach, teacher, and “cheerleader,” analyzing current behaviors and encouraging positive changes
It is important to get help to overcome cocaine addiction, as this drug can quickly cause lasting physical harm, addiction, and death via overdose.