Cocaine and Crack Abuse

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Cocaine and crack abuse facts

  • Cocaine, also called coke, nose candy, snow, blow, or toot, is a substance that is derived from the coca plant. Crack cocaine, also called rock cocaine, refers to cocaine when it is in solid form.
  • Approximately 25 million people in the U.S. use cocaine at least once in their lifetime.
  • Cocaine intoxication tends to cause intense euphoria and pleasure, highly intensifying every pleasure. Then the person tends to become hyperactive and excessively alert.
  • Once the high associated with cocaine wears off, the individual often becomes agitated, irritable, and uncomfortable.
  • Cocaine intoxication tends to dramatically increase the release of the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.
  • Cocaine abuse and addiction have no single cause but are rather the result of a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors.
  • Withdrawal symptoms and signs for cocaine include irritability, suppressed appetite, problems with sleep, and craving the substance.
  • Symptoms of cocaine abuse include recurrent use of the drug that results in legal problems, occurs in potentially dangerous situations, interferes with important obligations, or results in social or relationship problems.
  • Symptoms of cocaine dependence include tolerance, withdrawal, using a lot of the drug or for a long period of time, a persistent desire to use it, unsuccessful efforts to stop using cocaine, neglecting other aspects of life because of the drug use, and spending inordinate amounts of time or energy getting, using, or recovering from the effects of the substance.
  • Individuals who are addicted to cocaine are at increased risk for risky sexual behaviors and their consequences, as well as increased risk of suicide, homicide, domestic violence, other forms of violence.
  • Medical risks of cocaine abuse, particularly when in crack form, include tearing of the major artery in the body (aortic dissection) or stroke associated with extremely high blood pressure. It is also a risk factor for heart attack.
  • For children exposed to cocaine prenatally, the problems it can cause have been found as early as infancy.
  • Since there is no one test that definitively indicates that someone has cocaine abuse or addiction, health care professionals diagnose these disorders by gathering comprehensive medical, family, and mental health information, as well as securing a physical examination and lab tests to assess the sufferer's medical state.
  • Treatment services for cocaine abuse and addiction remain largely unutilized by most sufferers of these conditions.
  • The primary goals of recovery are abstinence, relapse prevention, and rehabilitation.
  • During the initial stage of abstinence, an individual who suffers from cocaine or other chemical dependency may need detoxification to help avoid or lessen the effects of withdrawal.
  • Often, much more challenging and time consuming than recovery from the physical aspects of cocaine addiction is psychological addiction.
  • The treatment of dual diagnosis seems to be more effective when treatment of the individual's mental illness is integrated with the treatment of the individual's chemical dependency.
  • Recovery from cocaine abuse is usually characterized by episodes of remission and relapse.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/20/2014

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Cocaine and Crack: Effects on the Body

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use?

Cocaine is a powerfully addictive drug. Thus, it is unlikely that an individual will be able to reliably predict or control the extent to which he or she will continue to want or use the drug. And, if addiction takes hold, the risk for relapse is high even following long periods of abstinence. Recent studies have shown that during periods of abstinence, the memory of the cocaine experience or exposure to cues associated with drug use can trigger tremendous craving and relapse to drug use.

With repeated exposure to cocaine, the brain starts to adapt, and the reward pathway becomes less sensitive to natural reinforcers and to the drug itself. Tolerance may develop?this means that higher doses and/or more frequent use of cocaine is needed to register the same level of pleasure experienced during initial use. At the same time, users can also become more sensitive (sensitization) to cocaine's anxiety-producing, convulsant, and other toxic effects.

Users take cocaine in "binges," during which the cocaine is used repeatedly and at increasingly higher doses. This can lead to increased irritability, restlessness, panic attacks, and paranoia?even a full-blown psychosis, in which the individual loses touch with reality and experiences auditory hallucinations. With increasing dosages or frequency of use, the risk of adverse psychological or physiological effects increases.

Different routes of cocaine administration can produce different adverse effects. Regularly snorting cocaine, for example, can lead to loss of sense of smell; nosebleeds; problems with swallowing; hoarseness; and an overall irritation of the nasal septum, which could result in a chronically inflamed, runny nose. Ingested cocaine can cause severe bowel gangrene, due to reduced blood flow. Persons who inject cocaine have puncture marks called "tracks," most commonly in their forearms, and may experience allergic reactions, either to the drug or to some additive in street cocaine, which in severe cases can result in death. Many chronic cocaine users lose their appetite and experience significant weight loss and malnourishment.