An incredibly addictive stimulant, cocaine is a substance that has been vilified by law enforcement for decades while simultaneously being glorified in the movies by the entertainment industry. Although the rate of use of this drug by the average American has dropped in recent years due to the rising popularity of drugs like marijuana, prescription drugs, and methamphetamines, there are still many addicts suffering from an addiction to cocaine in the United States. Trafficking of the drug also remains a problem worldwide.
Statistics on Cocaine Abuse in the United States
Every few years, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) releases information about the current levels of addiction in the United States for a variety of illicit substances like heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. The most recent statistics from the NIDA suggest that there are still millions of people who currently use this drug and that hundreds of thousands of people abuse this drug on a regular basis.
The statistics also showed that people aged 18 to 25 were particularly vulnerable to addiction, with the highest recorded numbers stemming from this age group. One of the interesting numbers to come out of this far-reaching survey is the fact that many young teens have started to smoke marijuana instead of cocaine. Although the dangers of marijuana existing as a “gateway drug” and leading to the future use of it are still a concern for lawmakers, medical professionals, and parents dealing with a child addicted to drugs.
Standard Methods of Cocaine Abuse
Different drugs are abused in various ways through methods like inhalation through the lungs, through intravenous needles, and even orally as is the case with some prescription drugs. The most common ways that a person will abuse it include inhalation (through the nose) or through intravenous injection. Cocaine provides an almost instantaneous effect of euphoria, and many addicts are attracted to the drug for its instant gratification.
Some cocaine users abuse the drug on a daily basis while other abusers will only take the drug a few times a month. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if someone only abuses the drug on an infrequent basis or whether they take it every day because it can cause severe and instant health problems with each usage. Addicts eventually can no longer live without the high they get from it, and this leads to long-term and unceasing addiction.
The Science Behind Cocaine Addiction
Extensive research continues on the reasons why people are so likely to become addicted to cocaine when they try it, but scientists don’t have a clear or definitive answer as far as why some people will become a mindless addict, and other people may exist as a “functioning” addict. What research has shown is that it eventually changes the way in which the brain functions and makes it almost impossible for an addict to live without the drug.
Scientifically speaking, cocaine works to interfere with brain chemistry in such a way that the brain no longer correctly produces the vital protein dopamine, which is responsible for creating the sensation of pleasure in the body. For example, the brain usually releases dopamine when a person feels happy, but it will stop the body from using that dopamine again in the future. After repeated abuse of the drug, the body no longer produces dopamine without taking cocaine or another stimulant.
Physical Impact on the Body
Like any illegal drug, cocaine changes a person’s body chemistry and creates dependence on the drug; however, it also has the potential to create an incredible number of short-term and long-term side effects upon the body. The sensations a person might feel upon an initial dose of cocaine will usually include a feeling of incredible alertness, and the world will seem “amplified” from common experiences.
These immediate physical effects are referred to as “euphoria,” and will usually last up to a half hour. Some people find that they don’t need to sleep when they abuse cocaine, and some people don’t eat and drink properly, which can lead to dehydration and weight loss. This energy and lack of eating are what allows many users to appear so thin and malnourished. They don’t realize that they need to eat.
Some of the physical signs that someone has taken cocaine include dilated pupils and an erratic or “twitchy” behavior. Internally, a person will usually experience a boost in blood pressure and a rapid heartbeat. These side effects occasionally lead to death due to the strain on the heart and a resulting cardiac arrest. Additionally, users may suffer from a stroke or seizure upon taking the drug.
Long-Term Physical Effects
The long-term effects of cocaine abuse are just as damaging, and repeated misuse of the drug will eventually lead to significant change in the body’s chemistry as the brain starts to adapt to the presence of the drug in the bloodstream. Like many addictive substances, a person will need to increase dosages and frequency of use over time to obtain the same type of euphoric effect he or she felt after the first use of the drug.
Some of the unfortunate physical side effects of cocaine include issues like nosebleeds and the eventual loss of a person’s sense of smell. The entire nasal passage will degrade over time and lead to significant problems breathing, swallowing, and talking. Also, it significantly impacts the gut, and eventual death of the intestines may occur due to the interruption of blood flow to the digestive system.
Stopping the Spread of Cocaine Abuse
Cocaine users are particularly likely to use more than one type of illicit substance, and there are many people each year who die from using the drug or go to the hospital due to a myriad number of deadly side effects. The collusion of mental disorders alongside abuse of cocaine makes treating this addiction exceptionally difficult. Unfortunately, there are no simple answers for treatment and recovery from cocaine abuse, and this often means a person may go back to abusing the drug after getting “clean” for only a short time.