Most people in the United States are familiar with cocaine. They may have watched movies showing people snorting lines of powder, or they may see television shows depicting characters heating up rocks of cocaine to inject. Run a search on the term “cocaine addiction,” however, and readers are bound to find scores of articles containing inaccurate information.
Cocaine is distilled from the leaves of a coca plant. Unlike some other forms of drugs, such as methamphetamine, cocaine can be considered a natural substance. In addition, people who stop using cocaine suddenly do not tend to feel crushing symptoms such as seizures or vomiting, as they might if they stopped using alcohol suddenly. Since cocaine is natural and doesn’t cause physical damage during detoxification, many people claim that it is not addictive.
The numbers tell a different story. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 4.8 million Americans ages 12 and over had abused some form of cocaine during 2009. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reports that 1.4 million Americans admitted to cocaine addiction in 2008. In the same DOJ article, the agency reports that cocaine addiction accounts for 22 percent of inpatient treatment program admissions. In short, cocaine addiction is not only possible; it’s prevalent.
Coca leaves are processed into a salt form in drug labs, and those salts are then smuggled to individual dealers. Those dealers often dilute their cocaine, in order to stretch the supply. They might add simple sugars to the cocaine, or they might add other drugs such as quinine, amphetamine or LSD. Dealers can sell this powder straight to their customers, or they can combine it with baking soda and heat and form small crystals of cocaine.
Cocaine powder can be inhaled directly, allowing the drug to interact with the mucus membranes in the nose. Cocaine powder can also be mixed with alcohol or it can be injected into the veins. Cocaine crystals can also be heated up and the user can inhale the steam, or cocaine crystals can be placed into a pipe and smoked directly. Cocaine has many common street names, and these names often refer directly to the method the user employs to take the drug.
Since cocaine is diluted in laboratories by dealers, and those dealers certainly aren’t obligated to disclose what they have added, it’s very difficult for users to know the strength and purity of the drugs they are taking. It can be incredibly easy to overdose on cocaine for this reason.
People who smoke cocaine may experience:
Those who inject cocaine may experience:
Everyone who uses cocaine puts an incredible strain on the nervous system and they may experience:
These symptoms may seem frightening, but there is some good news. Treatment for cocaine addiction can work, and recovery is possible. Researchers no longer believe that an addict has to “hit bottom” before a meaningful recovery can begin. In fact, researchers now suggest that early interventions are the best option for addicts. If addicts get the help they need early in the addiction process, they may be able to stop many of the debilitating brain changes that support the addiction.
Ultimately, it can be difficult for the addicted person to truly understand that the addiction has taken control and the person is no longer fully responsible for his or her actions. The 12-step program Cocaine Anonymous suggests that people with cocaine addiction will begin to rearrange their lives in order to feed their addictions. They may spend their entire paychecks on drugs, for example, or they may use up an entire supply of drugs in one sitting and then feel terrible about the usage.
People who have an addiction to cocaine may justify their use with statements, such as “I only use on the weekends” or “I can stop anytime I want to stop.” Unfortunately, these statements are rarely true. Addiction is powerful, and it can be all-consuming. The addict may truly believe that these statements are true, due to the nature of the disease, and it might take a dramatic statement from the family to break through this wall of denial.
Approaching someone with an addiction is never easy, but allowing a cocaine addiction to continue unabated for years could also have serious consequences. Instead of staying silent, family members may need to step to the plate and conduct a formal intervention. Here, the addict is confronted with the stark reality of the addiction, and the family asks the addict to agree to a formal treatment program. An interventionist often helps to schedule and conduct the intervention. The family creates a series of letters that describe how they feel about the addiction and how it is impacting them on a daily basis. They read their letters during the intervention, and the addict is often moved to make the needed changes after hearing these expressions of support and concern.
After a successful intervention, the addict enters treatment. While there are no specific drugs made to treat cocaine addiction, doctors can provide medications to ease the heart and nervous symptoms the addict might feel as the drug leaves the body. The addict might also get needed therapies to heal the damage the drug use has done. Talk therapies might help the addict learn new habits as well.
Beating a cocaine addiction might take years of therapy and a strong sense of willpower from the addict, but it can be done. The family just needs to take the first step and schedule an intervention.