Cocaine: A Highly Dangerous Stimulant

Each year, 5.6 million people in the United States alone use cocaine, a drug that disrupts normal brain functioning and creates highly detrimental physical damage.

Cocaine is a highly-addictive member of the stimulant drug class. The drug, generally available in powder form, forces the release of chemicals in the brain, called neurotransmitters, that create feelings of greater energy, higher mood, and increased confidence. Since cocaine works by mimicking processes that usually happen naturally, the brain and it’s organic system of neurotransmitters are greatly impacted by cocaine’s use.

As one person uses cocaine more often, short-term and long-term effects are inevitable. Just like repeated alcohol use leads to headaches, dehydration, nausea, insomnia, and liver damage (among other physical and mental complications), repeated cocaine use also leads to several damaging, and even fatal, effects and ramifications.

When alcohol, heroin, or prescription pill use has caused adverse life consequences, and use continues, there is a major problem that needs to be stopped. The same is true for cocaine. Formal treatment is needed to break the cycle of use before addiction occurs and permanent injury or impairment has occurred.

To understand the progression of cocaine use, it is important to have some information about the drug’s history, statistics on its use, how the drug is used, and how the drug works on the human body and brain.

While experts in the field, who follow trends on various drug abuse, find that cocaine use reaches epidemic proportions every few generations, the drug is used fairly consistently throughout much of the United States.

The first cocaine epidemic is cited at the end of the nineteenth century. The drug was new, derived from the coca shrub, and was thought to be effective in treating various physical ailments. In 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde while taking cocaine to treat tuberculosis.

The next periods of high cocaine use came in the 1920s and 1930s, and then again in the late 1970s and 1980s. While still being used, cocaine did not again become a major, epidemic, cultural problem until the 2000s, but high use has not declined since. Cocaine is one of the most highly-abused drugs in the United States today.

In the United States alone, an estimated 5.6 million people use cocaine each year. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that between 40% and 50% of the world’s cocaine is consumed in the U.S.

With the majority of the drug’s import being from Mexico, citizens of the United States use an estimated 150 metric tons of cocaine each year. Somewhere around $36 billion is spent on the drug each year, with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) estimating that each cocaine user spends around $186 a week.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that 44.4% of all Americans, 12 year of age and older, have used cocaine at least once, and around 13.5% of all high school students have at least tried cocaine before graduation. With a total U.S. population of 313.9 million, over 139 million people have at least tried this highly-addictive, stimulant substance.

Cocaine can be used in various ways to achieve the chemically induced euphoria and the overall increase in energy. When first discovered in various regions of South America, leaves from the coca shrub were chewed during social and religious ceremonies and gathering. The sensation was thought to have great benefits: decreasing hunger, increasing endurance, and fighting off fatigue. When chewed, the effects of cocaine are felt within three to five minutes, and when made into a juice and swallowed, take effect in 15 to 30 minutes.

The most common way to use cocaine is the method of crushing up and snorting the white powder. This route, emerging in the early 1900s, creates quicker effects: just three to five minutes to reach the brain. The drug constricts the capillaries, leading to swollen nasal passages and runny nose when use stops.

Cocaine can also be injected. This route of administration creates an intense rush with effects felt in 30 seconds, but then creating an equally intense crash after the high. The process is similar when the drug is smoked, in the form of crack cocaine, in a method called freebasing. The drug reaches the brain within 10 seconds, and also leads to a dramatic crash after its high. Each of these routes of administration lead to extreme binge patterns of cocaine or crack cocaine use.

With all routes of administration, as the crash begins, a craving for cocaine and the desire to stop the crash, leads to further cocaine use.

The high experienced during cocaine use is a process of borrowed energy. The brain’s neurotransmitters, or naturally occurring chemicals, are altered by cocaine’s chemical composition. Epinephrine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine are all affected by cocaine use.

Epinephrine is the neurotransmitter that regulates physical energy and norepinephrine regulates feelings of confidence, motivation, and wellbeing. These two chemicals are naturally released during exercise, fear, confrontation or a fight, and sex when the nervous system senses a need. The body then reabsorbs the chemicals for later use.

Serotonin regulates mood through depression, anxiety, sleep control, self-esteem, aggression, and sexual activity. Dopamine controls pleasure via what’s called the reward/reinforcement pathway in the brain.

Cocaine disrupts the normal functioning of all of these neurotransmitters by forcing the release of each chemical without a true physical or mental need. The drug further affects the system by blocking the brain’s reabsorption process. The user experiences the effects of cocaine for longer because of this blockage, but the brain then needs to recalibrate, which takes time. When cocaine use continues, the brain is unable to replenish the supply of neurotransmitters needed to feel energized, happy, confident, motivated, or to handle fear or pleasure appropriately.

The Effects of Cocaine

The perceived benefits of a drug like cocaine may appear to outweigh the inevitable damage, so without proper understanding of what is happening to the body and brain, cocaine use can become regular, and the pattern can become that of abuse, and then onto addiction.

When chewed, swallowed, snorted, injected, or smoked, cocaine creates physical and mental effects almost immediately, after a single use. Although short lived, these effects cause internal damage, and possible cardiac arrest, seizure, respiratory arrest, and even death. For some users, instant death occurs when an individual’s chemistry has an instantly negative reaction to cocaine.

The following are the short-term effects of cocaine use:

  • Mental alertness
  • Dilated pupils
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased body temperature
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased energy levels
  • Exposure to high-risk sexual activity
  • Hepatitis and HIV (when IV users share needles)

The effects that feel good to a cocaine user contribute to the high likelihood of repeated use, binge patterns of use, and the progression to cocaine abuse and addiction.

When a person with very little confidence uses cocaine and feels a higher sense of self-esteem, cocaine use becomes more frequent. When a person with little motivation and energy to perform at work and then nurture a family finds the ability to handle all aspects of his or her life with the addition of cocaine, use increases. When a person, who was overweight now finds it easier to eat less and to exercise more with an increased sense of energy, cocaine use persists.

For each of these people, the progressive nature of addiction is dangerous. The perceived benefits of a drug like cocaine may appear to outweigh the inevitable damage, so without proper understanding of what is happening to the body and brain, cocaine use can become regular, and the pattern can become that of abuse, and then onto addiction.

Cocaine has a majorly detrimental impact on the body and brain. The use of this mind-altering drug can only persist for so long until the short-term effects become long-term, often permanent and irreversible, impairments.

The long-term effects of repeated cocaine abuse are:

  • Irritability and agitation
  • An inability to regulate mood (mood swings, long periods of depression or anxiety when cocaine is not used)
  • Restlessness
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Cardiovascular damage and failure
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure)
  • Lethargy
  • Low blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle tremors
  • Memory lapse
  • Mental confusion
  • Physical violence and homicidal ideations
  • Miscarriage, placental separation, or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) when cocaine is used while pregnant
  • Psychosis

This list of long-term effects shows the impact that cocaine has on the physical, mental, emotional, and psychological health of its users. This drug can impair a person’s ability to function properly in every area of life: professionally, financially, socially, relationally (with friends and family members), and emotionally to regulate his or her own feeling states. Consequences at home, at work, with finances, relationships, and overall health, make cocaine a dangerous and extremely damaging drug.

Recovery Now TV for Help

By calling Recovery Now TV at 800-281-4731, you can start a new substance-free life of recovery for yourself or for someone you love.

When cocaine use becomes regular, to any extent, a person needs intervention and formal treatment to break the cycle of use that leads to abuse and addiction. The addictive qualities of cocaine, based on the perceived happiness, confidence, and pleasurable rewards it creates, takes a user down a distorted and problematic path. What seems like casual use in an effort to feel better and to have a good time rarely stays that way.

To break your cycle of cocaine use, or that of someone you love, contact the team at Recovery Now TV. With numerous resources for every aspect of cocaine abuse and addiction, you or your loved one can choose to live differently.

Call Recovery Now TV at 800-281-4731 to find out how to start changing the life of a cocaine abuser, and to begin a new, substance free life of recovery.

Sources:
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA)
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
Uppers, Downers, All Arounders by Darryl S. Inaba & William E. Cohen