Cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug that is processed from the leaves of the coca plant, which is native to Central and South America. Cocaine is considered a Schedule I controlled substance by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. According to the American College of Medical Toxicology, cocaine still has some medicinal uses in the United States, such as being used as a local numbing agent that is applied topically for certain types of nasal and oral surgeries; however, it has been replaced in most instances by other types of medications.
Cocaine is one of the most common and popular drugs of abuse in the United States. It is commonly snorted, smoked, or injected, and it produces very short-term effects, such as euphoria, talkativeness, and high levels of energy.
It also has dangerous physical side effects, such as increases in heart rate, blood pressure, and the increased potential for heart attack or stroke.
Who Is a Target for Cocaine Abuse?
There is a long list of risk factors for the development of a substance use disorder (drug abuse or addiction). A risk factor is some particular quality or situation that increases the probability that an individual will develop some type of a disorder or illness. Risk factors are not determining factors; that is, just having a risk factor does not mean that you will develop the condition or disorder, but that your probability of developing a specific disorder or condition is increased. If one has more than one risk factor, these may combine in ways to increase risk far beyond their additive effects.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and numerous other sources, risk factors for developing a substance use disorder, such as a cocaine use disorder, include:
- Family history: Having a close relative, such as a first-degree relative (parent or sibling), with a substance use disorder or substance abuse issue will increase the risk that a person will develop a substance use disorder. Family history is most commonly equated with some type of a genetic predisposition; however, it can also include learned behaviors from close relatives.
- Sex: A person’s sex – male or female – is also a risk factor for the development of a substance use disorder, such as a cocaine use disorder. Men are far more likely than women to develop cocaine use disorders. This is a perfect example of the difference between a risk factor in the cause. Being male does not cause you to develop a substance use disorder; it just raises the risk that you may develop a substance use disorder.
- Mental health history: Having a diagnosis of a mental health disorder, such as depression, ADHD, or another psychological/psychiatric disorder, increases the risk that one will also develop a cocaine use disorder.
- Isolation or loneliness: Feeling alone or isolated is a risk factor for the development of substance use disorders. This includes not having strong familial support. Young people who do not feel that they have strong bonds with their siblings and parents, or other close relatives, are at a higher risk to develop substance use disorders.
- Peer group: Spending time with others who use drugs increases the likelihood of abusing drugs.
- Age at first substance use: The data indicates that individuals who begin consuming substances or smoking tobacco early in life, such as in childhood or adolescence, have a higher probability of developing substance use disorders.
- Stress: Stress is a general term to describe a number of situations where there is a personal reaction to a specific situation or set of situations. The reaction includes both physical and psychological effects. Potential stressors include loss of a parent, abuse, peer pressure, pressure from parents, and even positive events, such as getting married, buying a home and so forth. The important factor about stress is the amount of perceived stress in an individual experiences. Individuals who experience dramatic stressful events or consistently high stress are at a greater risk for developing substance use disorders.
- A person’s choice of substances: Some substances, such as heroin or cocaine, can result in the development of a substance use disorder very rapidly, whereas others require a lengthier period of development. The type of substance and the manner in which it is used can increase the risk for the development of a substance use disorder.
- Other demographic factors: Other demographic variables, such as social economic status (Typically being in a lower social economic status group increases the risk for cocaine use), drug availability, and living in areas with high rates of drug use or high rates of crime increase the risk to develop a cocaine use disorder.
- Individual differences: Differences in physiological and psychological makeup can contribute to the development of a substance use disorder. For instance, people who need to take higher doses of substances like alcohol or cocaine to achieve effects than most people achieve at much lower doses have a higher risk of eventually developing a substance use disorder.
Signs and Symptoms of a Cocaine Use Disorder
The American Psychiatric Association lists formal symptoms of substance use disorders, such as a cocaine use disorder. Obvious behaviors, such as the individual using more cocaine or using cocaine longer than originally intended, using cocaine in hazardous situations, financial issues as a result of cocaine use, etc., are also part of the symptomatic criteria for a substance use disorder.
There also other signs and symptoms that may indicate that an individual is suffering from issues with using or abusing cocaine. These include:
- Sudden bursts of enthusiasm accompanied with extremely talkative periods
- Hurried speech
- Periods of disinhibition, hyperactivity, and extreme feelings of wellbeing or elation
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in focus or concentration that include an inability to stay on one topic
- Increased periods of agitation and irritability
- Increased symptoms one would normally associate with a cold or allergies, such as running nose
- The appearance of nosebleeds and/or redness around the nose
- Signs of involuntary muscle movements
- Increased periods of suspiciousness that may even include hallucinations
Cocaine is a highly addictive substance; however, it does not carry the severe physical addiction and physical dependence that drugs like alcohol and heroin do. Nonetheless, individuals who stop using cocaine will often experience periods of extreme depression and apathy that may increase the risk for self-harm due to accidents or as a result of suicidal ideations. In addition, because of the severe psychological and emotional symptoms that are associated with discontinuing the use of cocaine, individuals are often very prone to relapse in the early stages of recovery. Thus, it is extremely important for individuals attempting to quit use of cocaine to seek professional assistance.
A number of treatment options for cocaine use disorders are available. These can include all, or any combination, of the following:
- Medically assisted treatment for the detoxification process
- Inpatient or residential treatment for individuals with severe cocaine use disorders or for those with living situations that are dangerous or that make sobriety difficult
- Extensive and ongoing outpatient treatment
- Different therapeutic approaches that include individual treatment, group treatment, or combination of both
- Family therapy to assist individuals who have issues within the family that contributed to their substance use disorder or for family members who also have substance use disorders
- Participation in social support groups
- The development of a long-term aftercare strategy