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Cocaine Abuse Symptoms

What Is Cocaine?

The DEA classifies cocaine as a Schedule II drug because of its potential for abuse and addictive properties. It acts as a powerful stimulant of the central nervous system and reward pathway in the brain by raising dopamine levels in the user. Cocaine users will feel increased energy, activeness, and alertness. People who abuse cocaine will display physical and behavioral symptoms.

Cocaine exists in two primary forms: powdered cocaine, often referred to as “blow” or “coke,” and a solid, rock form, crack cocaine, known as “crack” or “rock” on the streets. Powdered cocaine is most easily taken by snorting but can also be dissolved in water, whereas crack is smoked. Since cocaine is so addictive, using either may lead to drug addiction.

Effects of a Cocaine High

Cocaine creates exacerbated feelings of euphoria and well-being. It makes a person feel sharp and alert. They may become highly talkative, with significantly boosted confidence and courage. This experience, also known as cocaine intoxication, is why people take the drug.

The pleasurable cocaine-induced experience is usually intense but brief, one contributing factor to how addictive it is (the intensity is enjoyable, but its brevity means the user needs more cocaine quickly). How long it takes for cocaine to kick in, the duration and intensity of the high, and how quickly the effects wear off depending on various factors. One of these is how it is taken: smoking cocaine or injecting it will work faster and more powerfully than snorting it, but the drug acts rapidly in all cases. Cocaine intoxication generally wears off after 30 minutes to two hours.

However, the racing pulse, increased body temperature, and interference with brain chemistry caused each time cocaine is used mean the drug places considerable strain on the body and mind.

Signs and Symptoms Someone Is On Cocaine

While the user will experience the sensations and feelings described above, anyone around them may notice mixed signals – on the one hand, the person may seem positively upbeat, buzzing with energy, brimming with self-confidence, and highly friendly; on the other, they may become suddenly restless and irritable, sensitive to loud noises or touch, and their gaze may reveal dilated pupils.

Early Signs and Symptoms Someone Is Abusing Cocaine

What starts as an experiment with the drug, or occasional social use of cocaine, are risky behaviors that can quickly lead to a cocaine abuse habit. Since tolerance to cocaine is acquired rapidly, a person can soon need more and more often to achieve the same euphoric effects. One of the first warning signs a person is abusing cocaine is a marked change in behavior. The person may display mood swings, erratic sleep patterns, loss of focus on work or studies, commitment to responsibilities, neglect of personal hygiene, distraction, and depression. In short, they are not their usual self, be it their state of mind or their actions.

Aside from these behavioral symptoms, physically, a person may display suppressed appetite and loss of weight, a runny nose and nosebleeds, and bloodshot eyes.

When these signs of cocaine use are present, even if the person has not reached the stage of addiction proper, the risks to their health and possible actual damage are already considerable. If a person is able, perhaps with the help of friends or family members, to recognize their drug use as drug abuse, they are in an excellent space to seek treatment and avoid a descent into worse substance abuse problems.

Cocaine Addiction

Statistics from just before the Covid pandemic showed an increase in emergency room visits in the US for non-fatal cocaine overdoses across all age groups. Continued use of cocaine, or other drugs, despite harmful consequences, is generally an indicator a person is in active addiction. Ideally, a person will understand that this describes their condition from things like the cocaine withdrawal and drug cravings they will experience. Sadly, many people are unwilling or unable to recognize the symptoms of cocaine addiction and are therefore unlikely to seek the addiction treatment that could help them.

Effects of Cocaine Addiction

Those in the inner circle of a person in active cocaine addiction will notice a whole range of effects and may become concerned for the person’s mental health. The signs of cocaine addiction are both physical and mental.

Although not all the following physical symptoms will be outwardly apparent, they all point to cocaine addiction:

  • Unusually high energy, restlessness, difficulty sleeping.
  • High blood pressure, increased or irregular heart rate, perspiration.
  • The effects of damage to the nasal tissues: runny nose and nosebleeds.
  • Using cocaine in ever-increasing quantities to compensate for acquired tolerance leads to frequent blackouts.

Psychologically, there may be:

  • Noticeable mood changes from one extreme to another: euphoria, surges in confidence, and enthusiasm, but also agitation, irritability, and restlessness.
  • Emotional states that could point to mental illness: include depression and psychosis.
  • Impairment of mental and cognitive abilities, such as concentration, decision-making, and performing duties.
  • Taking cocaine to self-medicate for any of the above, stress or pressure.

Long-term Effects of Cocaine Addiction

In the longer term, cocaine addiction adversely affects all areas of the user’s life – physical and mental health, work, livelihood and finances, social life, relationships, family dynamics, etc.

They will be at increased risk of:

  • Damage to the heart and liver, permanent damage to the brain
  • Redundancy, unemployment, financial difficulties
  • The trouble with legal authorities, social isolation
  • Co-occurring disorders (when a mental health condition and a substance abuse condition are diagnosed as being present simultaneously), suicidal tendencies
  • Overdose, stroke, heart attack, and death.

Causes and Risk Factors of Cocaine Addiction

Any addiction is generally the result of many diverse causes. Understanding cocaine addiction usually requires looking at the broader picture of a person’s life, circumstances, and history.

A more immediate cause can be risky behavior, such as dabbling in drugs occasionally or for recreational use. A casual drug habit like this can activate new reward mechanisms in the brain, creating a stronger desire and a need for drugs, especially heroin and cocaine. A few categories of risk factors are listed below:

  • Environmental: individuals in highly demanding and competitive environments, for their work, studies, sports training, and so on, are at risk of developing an addiction through using cocaine to perform better, work or study longer, or be sleepless. Also, unsurprisingly, people surrounded by, or often in contact with, users of cocaine or other drugs risk being more easily introduced to the drug through cocaine exposure.
  • Physiology: in particular brain chemistry, people have a greater or lesser capacity to experience well-being through pleasurable activities. They may seek drugs to compensate or find that cocaine has a potent effect on them.
  • Family; this applies to genetics – inherited genes may predispose a person to cocaine addiction – and the home, since a parent or sibling in active addiction may pass their habit on to other family members.
  • Psychological: some people may use cocaine either to reinforce a feeling (confidence, for example) or to avoid one (such as depression). They may also have a preexisting mental health condition making them more vulnerable to the temptation of drugs or impairing their judgment around acting and behaving in their best interests.
  • History: particularly medical, someone who has previously suffered from a substance use disorder, or had mental health concerns, may fall more easily under the sway of cocaine use and addiction.

Treatment Centers and Recovery

Whether you snort it, smoke it, or inject it, cocaine is such a powerful drug and so addictive that some would argue any illegal use of it constitutes abuse. Any cocaine addiction always starts with a single line of coke, with one first contact. Any self-respecting treatment center will take cocaine addiction very seriously. At Empowered Recovery Center, we want you to get well and live the life that is your birthright – complete and creative energy, a life of purpose. Whether you or a loved one is currently struggling, we are here to guide and support you along a path countless others have successfully trodden before – the way to freedom.

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