Cocaine and Crack Abuse

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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Effects of Drug Abuse

Psychologically, intoxication with or withdrawal from a substance can cause everything from euphoria as with alcohol, Ecstasy, or inhalant intoxication, to paranoia with marijuana or steroid intoxication, to severe depression or suicidal thoughts with cocaine or amphetamine withdrawal. In terms of effects on the body, intoxication with a substance can cause physical effects that range from marked sleepiness and slowed breathing as with intoxication with heroin or sedative hypnotic drugs, to the rapid heart rate of cocaine intoxication, or the tremors to seizures of alcohol withdrawal.

Cocaine and crack abuse facts

  • Cocaine, also called coke, nose candy, snow, blow, or toot, is a drug that comes from the coca plant. Crack cocaine, also called rock or rock cocaine, is cocaine in solid form.
  • About 25 million people in the United States use cocaine at least once during their lifetime.
  • Symptoms of cocaine intoxication include intense euphoria and pleasure followed by the person becoming hyperactive and hyperalert.
  • Once the high associated with cocaine intoxication wears off, the individual tends to become agitated, irritable, and physically uncomfortable.
  • Cocaine intoxication often dramatically increases the release of the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.
  • Cocaine abuse and addiction is one of a number of stimulant-use disorders and has no single cause but is rather due to the combination of biological, psychological, and social factors.
  • Withdrawal symptoms and signs for cocaine include irritability, decreased appetite, sleep problems, and craving the drug.
  • Symptoms of cocaine-use disorder include recurring use of large amounts of the substance over long periods of time, craving the substance, needing more drug to achieve intoxication over time, symptoms of withdrawing from the substance, drug use that interferes with important obligations, and trouble refraining from using cocaine. People who have cocaine use disorder are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors and experience their consequences, as well as having an increased risk of suicide, homicide, domestic violence, and other forms of violence.
  • Medical risks of cocaine use disorder, particularly when in crack form, include tearing of the major artery in the body (aortic dissection) or stroke associated with very high blood pressure. It is also a risk factor for heart attack.
  • For children exposed to cocaine in utero, the difficulties it can cause have been detected as early as during infancy.
  • Since there is no one specific test that definitively determines that someone has cocaine-use disorder, health-care professionals diagnose this disorder by gathering comprehensive medical, family, and mental health information, as well as securing a physical examination and lab tests to evaluate the sufferer's medical state.
  • Treatment services for cocaine use disorder remains largely unutilized by most sufferers of this illness.
  • The major goals for recovery are abstinence, relapse prevention, and rehabilitation.
  • During the initial stage of abstinence, a person with cocaine or other substance use disorder may need detoxification to prevent or decrease the effects of withdrawal.
  • For many people with chemical dependency, much more difficult and time-consuming than recovery from the physical symptoms of cocaine-use disorder is psychological addiction.
  • The treatment of dual diagnosis (the combination of a substance-use disorder and another mental-health disorder) seems to be more effective when treatment of the individual's mental illness is coordinated with addressing the individual's chemical dependency.
  • Recovery from cocaine-use disorder usually includes episodes of remission and relapse.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/25/2016
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