Cocaine Abuse

Thirty million Americans have used cocaine; every day, 5,000-10,000 more try it for the first time.  Often called the champagne of drugs, cocaine is life in the fast lane.  Most users begin by snorting and go on to injecting or free-basing.  Despite their own reports that they suffer from health problems due to cocaine use, well over half say the major factor limiting their use is the cost of the drug.  Less than 10% of them let mental or physical problems stop their cocaine use.

The rate of cocaine addiction in this country is alarming:  it took 50 years for the number of American alcoholics to reach 10 million, but only four to produce 4 million cocaine addicts.

What is cocaine?  Cocaine is a naturally occurring stimulant extracted from the leaves of the South American coca plant.  It over stimulates the central nervous system, producing an artificial euphoria.  Its effect on the pleasure centers of the brain creates every good feeling imaginable:  the thrill of sex, satiety of a great meal, pride of accomplishment — all in one glorious burst.  It makes users feel powerful, optimistic, confident and energetic, while masking feelings of insecurity, anxiety, fear and dissatisfaction.

The more cocaine you use, the more you want, because at the same time that cocaine produces good feelings artificially, it also prevent the brain from producing the natural chemicals that cause pleasure.  The brain becomes resistant to the effects of cocaine and needs increasing amounts of it to avoid depression.  This process is so subtle that the user is often well on the road to dependency before realizing that a problem exists.

Cocaine’s physiological effects are disastrous.  Using it raises pulse and blood pressure, and constricts coronary arteries, reducing the supply of oxygen into the heart.  When smoked, cocaine injures the lungs, produces microscopic tears in the heart muscle  and represses enzymes crucial to heart functioning.  The consequences can include convulsions, stroke, heart attacks and death.

Even a first snort can reveal unknown allergic reactions to the drug, or aggravate hidden heart defects, leading to sudden death.

Cocaine dependency can occur instantaneously after freebasing or using crack.  Symptoms of dependency include depression, insomnia, sexual difference, sinus irritation and the inability to socialize.  Steady use leads to physical addiction and psychological obsession with the drug.

What’s it like to be addicted? In one study of cocaine users…

  • 83% couldn’t turn the drug down when it available;
  • 80% became depressed and lethargic if they stopped using cocaine;
  • 67% said they were unable to stop using for even 1 month;
  • 71% said the drug was more important to them than food;
    • for 50%, it won out over sex;
    • for 64%, it replaced friends;
    • for 72%, it was more important than family activities;
  • 45% of the respondents had stolen money from employers, family or friends to buy cocaine;
  • 56% had used up to at least half of their savings;
  • 42% had wipes out all of their monetary assets;
  • 17% had actually lost their jobs because of cocaine abuse;
  • 26% had been divorced or lost a relationship because of cocaine.

Treating cocaine dependency is difficult.  While a drug called bromocriptine helps diminish cravings for cocaine, only one-third of all initial attempts to break the addiction succeed; 15% of these relapse.

Purging the drug from the body takes only about two weeks, but conquering the psychological urge to use again requires 18-24 months of intensive counseling.

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