What is Cocaine?
Cocaine is a powerful psychoactive stimulant drug. It works by increasing levels of the natural chemical messenger dopamine in brain circuits and causes a euphoric high. This chemical controls pleasure and movement.
Usually, the brain releases dopamine as a response to potential rewards, for example the smell of fresh baking. It then recycles back into the cell that released it closing off the signal between the nerve cells.
Cocaine prevents dopamine from completing this recycling process. It causes excessive amounts to build up between nerve cells. This flood of dopamine disrupts normal brain activity and causes cocaine’s high. Research has shown that repeated use of this drug can lead to a change in the structure and function of the brain.
This drug is the most powerful stimulant of natural origins and comes from the leaves of the coca plant. Cocaine is usually produced as a white powder which can be snorted, smoked or injected.
Street Names for Cocaine
Cocaine like all drugs goes under the guise of many different names. These fluctuate depending on the region people come from and the age that they are. Each generation comes up with their own particular favourites.
- Peruvian Marching Powder
- Devil’s Dandruff
History of Cocaine
The use of cocaine began as far back as 3,000 years before the birth of Christ when the ancient Inca’s chewed the leaves of the coca plant to help combat the effects of altitude sickness. Native Peruvians also chewed the leaves during religious ceremonies.
When the Spanish invaded in 1532 they supplied the drug to their forced labour in the silver mines helping to keep them focused and biddable.
Cocaine in the modern form was first isolated by a German chemist called Albert Niemann in 1859. It was not until the 1880s that cocaine gained popularity in the medical community. During this time it was used as an active ingredient in many different tonics and was one of the original ingredients in Coca Cola. This recipe was banned in 1903.
Even Freud advocated the use of cocaine and thought it was a cure for depression and sexual impotence. The drug was also popular in Hollywood amongst the stars of silent movies and it became common to snort it in its powdered form during this period.
Cocaine was traditionally thought of as a rich man’s drug but by the late 1980s it was no longer just the drug of choice for the wealthy. By then, it had the reputation of most as one of the most addictive drugs in the world and was linked with poverty, crime and death. As of 2008, cocaine had become the second most trafficked illegal drug in the world.
The Effects of Cocaine Addiction
Cocaine targets the brain’s pleasure and reward centre releasing a large amount of dopamine resulting a short intense high making the user feeling amazing, confident and on top of the world. This feeling lasts only around 20-30 minutes.
Every addict’s path into addiction varies. This is a complex disease with many underlying layers which coupled together with trauma, abuse, depression and anxiety make it difficult to diagnose and treat without effective residential addiction treatment.
- Permanent damage to blood vessels of heart and brain
- High blood pressure, leading to heart attacks, strokes, and death
- Liver, kidney and lung damage
- Destruction of tissues in nose if snorted
- Respiratory failure if smoked
- Infectious diseases and abscesses if injected
- Severe tooth decay
- Reproductive damage and infertility (for both men and women)
- Changes in the brain chemistry – short term
- Changes in the structure and function of the brain – long term
- Neglecting personal hygiene
- Disturbed sleep
- Unhealthy eating habits/malnutrition
- Lying to yourself/denial
- Apathy /Exhaustion
- Memory loss
- Mood Swings
- Potential increase in risky behaviour
- Financial problems
- Sexual problems
- Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Lack of interest in work/school
- Lack of interest and ability in maintain relationships/friendships
- Damaged relationships with family members
- Lying to others
- Damaged self-esteem and self-worth
- Damaged relationship with self
- Lack of interest in life
- Inability to function without the drug
- Continued use despite negative consequences
The signs and symptoms of cocaine addiction get progressively worse over time and there will be no resolution until effective addiction treatment and aftercare are sought.
Withdrawal from Cocaine
Not everyone requires a medically supervised detox but for those with a physical dependency a period of detoxification must take place. This usually means that a tapered dose of medication is prescribed over a period of time.
Symptoms of cocaine withdrawal can include:
The Two Stages of Withdrawal – Acute and Post-Acute
There are two stages of withdrawal from cocaine addiction. The first stage has immediate acute symptoms and these are usually both physical and psychological. During stage two, former users experience post-acute withdrawal symptoms or PAWS.
These refer to a number of psychological symptoms which can last for weeks or months after the user has stopped taking the drug. This is one of many reasons why residential treatment is the most effective way to treat cocaine addiction.
Post-acute withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Lack of motivation
- Inability to feel pleasure
- Anger or emotional outbursts