Although cocaine was once considered “harmless”, it is both a highly potent and addictive drug. Though some people use the drug infrequently on an occasional night out, many develop a physical and psychological dependence on the drug that results in withdrawal symptoms should they attempt to abruptly stop taking the substance. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, there are approximately 1.9 million cocaine users in America.
Signs of Cocaine Use
Cocaine is a stimulant drug, meaning that people who take this drug often seem as though they’re moving much faster than they normally would. They might:
- Talk quickly
- Run instead of walk
- Jump from one topic to the next
In addition to these behavioral changes, people who abuse cocaine might also display physical changes, such as very tiny pupils and increased sweating. These changes come about due to cocaine’s impact on the body’s vital systems, and according to an article in Psychology Today, these changes can grow to be so significant that people who take in cocaine can experience a heart attack while under the influence. It’s a dramatic symptom to be sure, and it could indicate that a cocaine habit has grown from small and ignorable to huge and life-threatening.
People can take the powdered form of cocaine by inhaling it through the nasal passages. Since this causes blood vessels to contract, the skin in the nose can begin to crack, peel and die. As a result, people who have a long-term habit may develop bloody noses, or they may complain of an inability to smell.
Some people who abuse cocaine habitually do such long-term damage that they experience strokes up to a day after their drug abuse, according to the American Heart Association. A young person with no other risk factors who endures a stroke might very well be abusing cocaine, and a conversation should most definitely take place in order to rule that problem out.
Coke can also cause the brain’s pleasure systems to work overtime, producing huge amounts of chemicals without taking time to rest. In time, people who abuse this drug may become deficient in these pleasure chemicals, and they may seem depressed, anxious and restless much of the time.
How Widespread Is Cocaine Abuse and Addiction?
Of the drug-related deaths that occur in the United States each year, cocaine ranks among the top contributing substances along with heroin and painkillers. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimated that of the 22.6 million people ages 12 and over who use illicit drugs approximately 1.5 million of them use cocaine. While the statistics are lower than in the years previous (an estimated 1.2 million users in 2001), cocaine is still an urgent problem.
Why Is Cocaine Such a Big Deal?
Cocaine is a Schedule II drug with a high risk of addiction. Evidence of the psychological and physiological effects of cocaine surfaced around the mid-1980s coinciding with the rise of cocaine use prevalent in the 1970s and 1980s. It is frequently linked to neurological, cardiovascular and respiratory issues. The narcotic interferes with brain functions, causing problems with the absorption of dopamine, the chemical related to pleasure, in the brain.
Drug overdoses have steadily risen in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control. In 2007, over 27,000 accidental drug overdoses were reported with cocaine among the top culprits. Frequent cocaine use alone, without dependency, is linked to many complications, such as:
- Disturbances in heart rate and rhythm
- Respiratory failure
- Chest pain
- Loss of sense of smell
- Bowel gangrene
- Heart disease
Length of Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms
For most people, physical cocaine withdrawal symptoms will begin around the time that they would have taken their next dose – that is, a few hours after the last dose. Symptoms usually peak within the first 24 hours after cessation of use and continue for a few days depending upon the patient.
Psychological withdrawal symptoms can last for weeks and even months in some cases. Many find these more significant than the physical issues associated with cocaine detox.
Withdrawal symptoms may include any combination of the following issues:
- Suicidal thoughts or tendencies
- Altered eating habits
- Cravings for cocaine
- Lesser activity and focus
- Intense dreams and/or nightmares
- Altered sleep habits
Not everyone will experience all of these issues or experience them at the same intensity level. However, it is important to note that if suicidal thoughts or tendencies are present, immediate medical attention is necessary.
Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Abuse
When someone freebases cocaine regularly for a long period of time, there are a number of risks that are likely to become reality. These include:
- Extreme changes in the brain, especially a decrease in dopamine
- Higher tolerance for the drug
- Extreme cravings for the substance
- Increased sensitivity to the anxiety, panic, and paranoia caused by the drug
- Panic attacks
- Full-blown psychosis
According to a study published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases, there is evidence to support the fact that freebasing cocaine can lead to several lung function and respiratory disorders. These may include:
- Acute respiratory symptoms (e.g., chest pain, coughing, black sputum)
- Blockage to airflow in the large airways
- Abnormalities in lung function (e.g., impaired diffusing capability of the lung)
- Life-threatening acute lung injury
Thus, in addition to the other effects, those who freebase cocaine risk experiencing extreme respiratory ailments as well due to their chosen method of ingestion.
According to a study published in the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, Therapy, and Toxicology, the cardiovascular effects of cocaine include:
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Increased myocardial demand for oxygen
- Decreased coronary blood flow
When decreased coronary blood flow occurs when the myocardial demand for oxygen is increased, the result can be a number of deadly issues, including cardiac arrhythmias, pulmonary edema, myocardial infarction and other medical emergencies.
Habitual snorting will inevitably wreak havoc on the nasal passages and may include the following repercussions:
- Chronically runny nose
- Inflammation of nasal passages
- Nose bleeds
- Temporary or permanent loss of smell
- Irreversible Damage
Similar to other addictive behaviors, snorting cocaine a single time is not the norm. Instead, individuals tend to either combine cocaine with other drugs or snort repeatedly and over a long duration of time. For the habitual user, the damage it causes to the nasal passages far exceeds the simplicity of a runny nose. Instead, the chronic snorting of cocaine eventually decreases blood supply in the body. Although the loss of blood supply may lead to the more severe complications of the cardiovascular system, the nose itself initially suffers. The loss of blood supply damages the septum, the small bone between the nasal passages. The initial damage to the septum may cause a small hole to appear between an individual’s nasal passages. While this preliminary damage may cause discomfort, it is not yet irreversible.