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Am I Addicted To Cocaine?


If you use cocaine you’re not alone. As many as 18 million people worldwide have used cocaine, many of them between the ages of 18-25, but there are users in all age groups. Since its heyday in the 70’s and 80’s, cocaine has become slightly less popular. Even with a slight dip it remains one of the most widely used illicit drugs in the United States and elsewhere with as much as 14% of the US population having at least tried cocaine.


Cocaine is a powerful psychoactive stimulant. Its power is the source of its popularity and the reason it remains a very dangerous drug to use. The coca plant originates from South America  where the leaves are chewed to produce a stimulating effect, quite like a strong cup of coffee. South American people discovered this plant thousands of years ago and it is still used in its original form today. It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that cocaine was extracted out of this very same coca plant.


We identify Cocaine as an alkaloid. Alkaloids are a class of chemicals that exist in plants that have some physiological effect on the human body. There are many types of alkaloids, not all would be what we colloquially call “drugs” but many are psychoactive like cocaine – examples you may know are opium and THC. Once cocaine had been isolated, it entered our market in many different ways including over-the-counter elixirs, ointments, tonics as well as the ubiquitous white powder.  


Once cocaine usage increased in the market, its detrimental effects began to show through(which is why you don’t find it in Coca-Cola anymore). In the United States, it was regulated and became a Schedule II drug, meaning it can be prescribed by a doctor for a specific use, usually local anesthetic, but can’t be bought or possessed by the general public.


Your first exposure to cocaine was most likely at a party. It remains a very popular party drug because, as a stimulant, it gives you a burst of energy and lowers inhibitions. It seems great for a wild night out, but the chemical action of cocaine abuse on your brain is significant and potentially fatal.  Though using it might begin casually, enough cocaine can take hold of a person more quickly than many realize and addiction can easily sneak in.  If you’re reading this, you’re probably using or have used cocaine, and you’re starting to notice you’re not feeling quite right. With this article we will explore exactly how cocaine acts on your brain and give you some clear indicators to know if you are addicted to cocaine. If you are dealing with cocaine addiction, this information may arm you with the proper tools to fight back and find recovery.

How Cocaine Works

When cocaine enters your bloodstream, it travels to the reward pathways of your brain. These are areas that respond to beneficial stimuli or behaviors that have beneficial outcomes. Things like eating tasty food, drinking cool water, having sex, or lying in soft sheets would all be examples of these beneficial outcomes. Pleasant feelings are caused by chemicals called neurotransmitters that send messages between your nerves and brain cells to let you know what you’re doing is good.


The main neurotransmitter involved in this communication is dopamine. Dopamine is the feel good molecule. When it passes from brain cell to brain cell, it gives you pleasure, comfort, warmth – you get the idea – once its message is sent, it returns to the brain cell that originally sent it and is reabsorbed to be used again.


Cocaine interferes with this whole process in two significant ways: it stimulates a larger than normal release of dopamine and simultaneously blocks the reabsorption of dopamine back into its parent brain cells. This causes a massive buildup of dopamine through the reward pathways in your brain and causes the rush of euphoria that comes at the beginning of a cocaine high.


Your brain doesn’t take this lying down however. A major function of the brain is to maintain homeostasis. It tries to maintain balance in your body no matter the circumstance and if its balance is knocked off it will correct the balance depending on the situation. In the case of a cocaine high, your brain registers the overload of dopamine and other neurotransmitters and locks down its cells ability to detect them. This is when the high starts to subside and the euphoria, energy, and confidence start to crash down. After your brain corrects the imbalance, it keeps the lockdown on dopamine for a period of time, depending on how much cocaine a person has used or for how long.


This is why after your first experience you’ll need more cocaine the next time to get the same high. This is called physical tolerance and it can be especially dangerous for cocaine users. The more cocaine you use, the more your brain compensates by limiting the blocking dopamine receptors until finally, after a long period of abuse, it stops dopamine production all together. If your brain stops producing dopamine, it is essentially impossible to feel good without the stimulation of cocaine. In fact you may need cocaine just to feel normal. This is called physical dependence. Dependence and tolerance are what can trigger the development of addiction. You are chasing the positive reinforcement of the high, all the good things cocaine makes you feel, and running from the negative reinforcement of the crash, the pain you feel if you don’t have the drug.


Physical Effects

The most common way to take cocaine is by snorting it. The drug is absorbed through the mucus membrane of your nasal passageway and enters the bloodstream very quickly. A high from snorting cocaine can last 15-45 minutes before the cocaine is completely metabolized. Crack cocaine can be smoked or freebased, inhaling the vapor and smoke of this form of cocaine makes for an even faster onset of the high, a rush of euphoria and energy, but it last comparatively shorter, as little as 5-10 minutes.


The faster the effects of cocaine are felt, the faster they wear off. Regardless of how you take cocaine, the physical effects are very similar. Aside from the euphoria of the high, a lot is going on under the surface. Your veins constrict and your heart beats faster, raising your blood pressure to an unsafe level. In the presence of very high doses, this can lead to heart attacks or strokes.


Your pupils will also dilate due to the effects of cocaine. Your temperature rises and many people find they sweat profusely. The excess amount of energy will cause some people to grind their teeth or twitch and fidget. Your body is set into overdrive essentially and basic functions like hunger and fatigue are overridden. That’s why people on a cocaine binge can be at it for days without eating or sleeping. The strain this puts on the body can lead to some very dangerous side effects.


Symptoms of Cocaine Abuse


⁃                    Cardiac arrhythmia

⁃                    Seizures

⁃                    Permanent damage to the lungs

⁃                    Perforated nasal cavities

⁃                    Perforation in the stomach

⁃                    Ulcers

⁃                    Rhabdomyolysis

⁃                    Sexual dysfunction

⁃                    Skin infections and abscesses

⁃                    Death



Causes of Cocaine Addiction

So far we know that part of what causes addiction is tolerance and dependence, but the medical community agrees the disease of addiction has no one single cause. It’s a result of multiple factors. These are some of the most commonly accepted factors that cause addiction.


Is there someone in your immediate family who has struggled with addiction? If so, studies show you are at a much higher risk of developing this disease yourself.


Are you under a large amount of pressure to excel either in your work life,  school, or even at home? Outside pressure has been connected with cocaine addiction. How young were you when you first tried cocaine or other drugs? Earlier drug users also tend to develop more addiction problems later on in life.

Brain Chemistry

Are you self-medicating? Some people with disorders that affect their brain chemistry, such as chronic low dopamine levels, will try to treat themselves with drugs like cocaine to ease the symptoms and end up with a cocaine habit.


Are you suffering from any other mental health issues? Multiple studies have indicated that people most at risk of addiction are those who already suffer from a mental disorder. For instance, a person with severe depression may try to knock themselves out of a depressive phase with the stimulation and euphoria offered by cocaine.

The factors that contribute to cocaine addiction may be present individually or in combination, but many people who suffer from cocaine addiction will find some part of the above categories describes them, though that is not always the case. Every individual has a unique road to travel. There are other more immediate ways to tell if you are addicted to cocaine. One of the simplest questions you can ask is when you don’t have cocaine do you crave it? The hallmark of cocaine addiction is some level of craving – sometimes called “fiending”. These cravings can become incredibly intense and show symptoms of cocaine withdrawal (Link to: Symptoms of Cocaine Withdrawal page) , which often includes:

⁃                    Fatigue

⁃                    Nausea

⁃                    Vomiting

⁃                    Chills and shivering

⁃                    Tremors

⁃                    Anxiety

⁃                    Paranoia

⁃                    Violent mood swings

⁃                    Itching

⁃                    Formication (the feeling of bugs crawling on your skin)

Several of those symptoms are signs of advanced cocaine dependence as they are connected to severe withdrawals. I you are experiencing these symptoms of withdrawal, then there’s a very good chance you’re addicted to cocaine.


Perhaps you’re not feeling the physical symptoms that much. Perhaps you feel you have your cocaine consumption under control, but it’s in other areas where you feel the effects. Many people who deal with cocaine addiction find it effects their behavior in unexpected ways and takes a toll on their professional and social lives.


Cocaine addiction can be distracting to say the least. One of the first signs of addiction is an addict will stop upholding their obligations. They’ll begin to miss work regularly or cancel plans with friends or stop pursuing hobbies they used to enjoy. They will become reclusive if they do not have their drug because the cocaine crash sends them into a depression.


Do you take risks you thought you never would, traveling to dangerous places to find more cocaine or go to street dealers? Are your close relationships suffering? These are also warning signs of cocaine addiction 


If you’ve read this far and you feel like you are addicted to cocaine, please remember help is out is out there. There are multiple options you can pursue to get clean. It’s not easy, especially when first dealing with the stages of cocaine withdrawal. However, it is possible to return to sobriety and be free of cocaine. The first step is acknowledging you have a problem and asking for help. Seek out those closest to you and ask them to support you as you try to get clean. Remember addiction is a disease, one that can be treated.


At Luminance Recovery, we offer an Orange County Rehab center that can help you overcome your cocaine addiction. Our center allows you to get help with your cocaine addiction,face your withdrawals, and provide you with professional psychological assistance.

Whatever you choose to do, remember the first step is the most important: Make the choice to get clean and find the people in your life that will support you. Remove yourself from your old patterns and start a new chapter.


Contact Luminance Recovery today for a better future tomorrow.


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