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Cocaine Addiction – Effects, Symptoms and Treatment

By August 21, 2018 February 5th, 2021 No Comments
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Cocaine is a dangerous and highly addictive stimulant. Cocaine addiction can have an extremely damaging effect on the heart, brain and other vital organs.

The manner in which the drug works often leads to a “binge and crash” pattern of use. This pattern can quickly lead to addiction. Cocaine use alters the brain, making it extremely difficult for addicts to achieve recovery without long-term, expert support.

How Cocaine Works

Cocaine use makes people feel “energetic, talkative, alert and euphoric.” It makes the user feel “more aware of their senses” and reduces feelings of hunger and the need to sleep.” It can make a user feel extremely agitated and restless, as it is a strong stimulant. However, as the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health point out, some users find it calming, and find that it increases feelings of self-control and confidence. A user can quickly come to depend on these effects, leading to an addiction.

The way in which cocaine effects the user also makes it extremely addictive. It’s impact sets in shortly after ingestion, creating an intense but relatively short-lasting response. This often leads users to continue ingesting the drug over prolonged periods. Cocaine users often develop a “binge and crash” pattern because of this, making them highly susceptible to sustained use and, ultimately, addiction.

Effects of Cocaine on Human Body and Mind

Users can ingest cocaine nasally, inject it, or smoke it as the form of the drug referred to as crack. The drug is highly addictive in any form. Ingesting it causes a user to feel a strong sense of exhilaration. Users often feel extremely alert, confident, energetic and euphoric. These effects generally last for around two hours. They are usuually followed by a “come down,” which can leave the user feeling depressed, anxious, agitated or, in some cases, paranoid. Users will often continue to ingest cocaine in order to sustain the initial effects and delay the come down. This pattern of sustained use can lead to addiction. As Healthline note, “Addiction to cocaine can develop quickly, even after trying it only a few times.” They also note that a cocaine addiction can be physical, “meaning your body craves the drug,” or mental, “meaning you strongly desire the drug’s effects.”

Symptoms of Cocaine Use

After its initial, energizing effect, cocaine will often leave a user feeling agitated, anxious or depressed. They may lack energy and appetite, making it difficult to complete necessary activities. Sustained use can create severe problems with mood swings, anxiety and paranoia. In some cases it can lead to psychosis. Long-term cocaine use can lead to heart disease, heart attack, respiratory failure, strokes, seizures and gastrointestinal problems.

A person addicted to cocaine may neglect important aspects of their lives because of their addiction. They may use it in situations where it is particularly dangerous, such as while driving. They may also become isolated from others in their lives because of their drug use. This weakens their support network and therefore feeds into the addiction. Over time, a user’s tolerance will generally increase. This means that they will require more of the drug to achieve the desired effect. This in turn will increase the impact of the drug in their lives.

Long Term Cocaine Addiction Effects

Cocaine can also make lasting alterations to a user’s brain chemistry, making it very difficult to stop using. It increases the flow of dopamine in the brain when the user ingests it. This causes changes in the brain’s “reward system.” Once the association with this response has been forged, it is difficult to overcome. As CAMH note, “Craving and psychiatric symptoms may continue even after drug use stops.” This makes the withdrawal and recovery process complicated. Most people who have become addicted to cocaine will require professional support to achieve lasting recovery.

Risks of Cocaine Use

As well as the potential for addiction, using cocaine carries many risks. The drug can have a very damaging impact on the heart. As CAMH describe, “Cocaine causes the blood vessels to thicken and constrict, reducing the flow of oxygen to the heart,” while it also “causes the heart muscle to work harder, which can lead to heart attack or stroke, even in healthy people.” They note that “A person can overdose on even a small amount of cocaine,” and that “Overdose can cause seizures and heart failure.”

Internal Organ Damage from Cocaine Abuse

The drug can also damage the muscles of the heart. As stated on, “Cocaine may cause damage by inducing cell death in the muscles of the heart (cardiomyopathy). Intravenous cocaine use can lead to inflammation of the inner tissues of the organ (endocarditis).” These conditions can lead directly to heart attacks and fatal cardiac arrhythmias. Cocaine may also cause inflammation of the heart and rupture of the aorta, the major artery leading from the heart. These risks increase with sustained use, making cocaine a serious threat to cardiovascular health.

Cocaine Effects on the Brain

Cocaine can also have severe effects on the brain. The damage to the heart can ultimately lead to brain damage “resulting from interruptions in the blood supply available to the brain.” Damage can occur even from ‘recreational’ or short-term use: “Even users who regard their use as ‘recreational’ may be at risk of neurological changes that affect their lives. ‘Recreational’ use is associated with the decreased ability to regulate and control behaviour leading to reduced abilities to control movements, react to environmental stimuli and carry out daily activities.” This means that someone who considers their cocaine use to be casual may still incur severe, lasting damage that will effect their daily life in various ways. Long-term use has been proven to negatively effect “cognitive performance, attention, and decision-making abilities.” Cocaine use also increases blood pressure, which may cause weakened blood vessels in the brain to burst.

It can also adversely effect other vital bodily functions. The drug can effect the kidneys as it can cause “inflammation of important microstructures within this organ.” When mixed with alcohol, cocaine also induces the liver to produce cocaethylene, “a powerful compound that increases the risk of sudden death beyond the risk of using cocaine alone.” Injecting cocaine also carries the danger of blood infection from needle use.

Treatment for Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine addiction requires evidence-based treatment that addresses the underlying causes of the condition and provides methods to deal with them. As Healthline write, “Cocaine addiction is a complex disease, with physical, mental, social, environmental, and familial factors. There are a variety of treatment methods for cocaine addiction that address all these components.” An effective treatment program will usually incorporate several methods. Trafalgar uses individual therapy, group counselling, and cognitive behavioural therapy, among other techniques, to provide expert treatment. These methods help the client understand the causes and consequences of their addiction. They can help them develop strategies and mechanisms to deal with them and achieve lasting recovery.

A Damaging Cycle

Substance addiction traps a person in a cycle which is extremely difficult to break without professional support. As Project Know note, “It is important to understand that people who attempt to do this alone may have significantly higher relapse rates than people that choose formal cocaine addiction treatment programs.” They recommend taking time to identify programs that have “licensed treatment providers, offer withdrawal management, and have long-term aftercare programs built into the overall program.” They also capture the ongoing nature of the recovery process: “It is important to remember that just going through rehab does not automatically result in a successful recovery process. People in recovery from cocaine abuse or addiction need to follow up with targeted therapy that addresses the root causes of their substance abuse, teaches them new living skills, and prepares them to confront potential issues in the road that can result in relapse.”

Evidence-based methods such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and a long-term commitment to aftercare can help a person to maintain their recovery long after their initial treatment. It is important to identify a treatment provider that will fulfill this long-term commitment to its clients. As Science Daily note, “Individuals who are addicted to cocaine have altered neural, behavioural and physiological responses to stress,” meaning that they must develop effective methods for dealing with stressors and avoiding relapse.

Concurrent Disorders and Cocaine Addiction

When seeking treatment for cocaine addiction, it is essential to ensure that your service provider can offer holistic, evidence-based methods. Cocaine addiction can often occur alongside other substance use or mental health disorders. As Project Know state, “People with co-occurring psychological and medical conditions should have these treated alongside their substance use disorder.” This allows a person to deal with the underlying causes of all relevant conditions, rather than address an addiction in isolation.

As well as concurrent disorders, environmental and social factors influence a person’s drug use. Good treatment will identify and address these issues. Trafalgar’s substance abuse treatment team digs deeper than many drug rehab centres into the underlying causes and conditions of the entire addictive disease process, focusing on treating the client as a whole. As a result, our clinical team often identify concurrent mental health issues that, left unaddressed, often cause relapse. Our cocaine rehabilitation program helps clients overcome their addiction and move towards healthy, sober living.

Behavioural Therapy

Behavioural therapy techniques have proven highly effective in treating people for cocaine addiction. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a particularly effective approach. It focuses on a person’s patterns of thought and behaviour and how they influence their addiction. With professional support, a person can use train themselves to resist and ultimately move beyond their desire to use cocaine. The method helps people to “develop critical skills that support long-term abstinence- including the ability to recognize the situations in which they are most likely to use cocaine, avoid these situations, and cope more effectively with a range of problems associated with drug use.” Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can be used effectively alongside other treatment methods. CBT is a crucial aspect of Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres’ evidence-based programs.

Withdrawal & Relapse for Cocaine Addiction

As CAMH state, “The memory of cocaine euphoria is powerful, and brings a strong risk of relapse to drug use.” Science Daily also note that “Cocaine addiction is often characterized by cycles of recovery and relapse” with relapse often caused by “stress and negative emotions, often caused by withdrawal itself.” Withdrawal from cocaine use is a difficult process, often involving intense discomfort and physical and mental cravings that make it difficult for a person to focus on anything else. Healthline note that “Even when withdrawal symptoms have subsided, sudden cravings are common.”

Treatment techniques such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy help people to deal with these cravings. Relapse is often a part of the recovery process, which many cocaine users will experience. As Project Know suggest, “lapses and relapses should be viewed as an opportunity to learn and improve.” With commitment and dedicated professional support, a person can eventually overcome addiction and achieve lasting recovery.

Aftercare for Cocaine Addiction

Aftercare is a crucial aspect of sustained recovery from cocaine addiction. Someone who has successfully come through treatment and maintained a sober lifestyle over a long period of time is still vulnerable to relapse without continued support. As explain, “Research indicates that people who are committed to abstinence, engage in self-help behaviors, and believe that they have the ability to refrain from using cocaine (self-efficacy) are more likely to abstain. Aftercare serves to reinforce these traits and address problems that may increase vulnerability to relapse, including depression and declining self-efficacy.”

Trafalagar’s Aftercare and ContinUcare programs ensure that our clients are provided with ongoing support after their initial treatment. Aftercare functions through group counselling sessions specific to certain issues, providing long-term peer support and preventing a person from becoming isolated. It is available to Trafalgar clients on an ongoing basis after finishing their initial treatment. It is a crucial aspect of our commitment to our clients.

ContinUcare keeps clients in touch with our clinical team through sets of questions that will be provided periodically, allowing the client to monitor their own progress and helping our clinical staff to identify any potential issues. These programs provide Trafalgar alumni with access to long-term supports that reduce the likelihood of relapse. They also provide reassurance for the client and those close to them that any problems that arise will be addressed. This means that a client can rely on Trafalgar’s support as they continue their journey of recovery.

Recovery from cocaine addiction is a challenging process, but with commitment and dedicated, professional support, it is fully achievable.

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres

We offer residential and outpatient rehab treatment programs for addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders.

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