Understanding Cocaine Addiction

It is estimated that almost 2 million people in the United States use cocaine at least once every month. The reason cocaine is so attractive at first is because it produces a sense of extreme joy by causing the brain to release higher amounts of chemicals such as dopamine. However, it quickly becomes dangerously addictive because when a binge is stopped, a crash will follow almost immediately.

Cocaine is a stimulant, which means it causes the heart to beat faster and blood vessels to constrict. This can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes. Cocaine can cause the heart to beat so fast that it will just spontaneously stop—and the most dangerous part about it is this could happen at any time, whether it is the first time a person has used the drug or the hundredth.

People who are addicted to cocaine will suffer many psychological, social, and emotional consequences. This drug is especially deadly since it doesn’t take long at all to become addicted.

Cocaine Addiction Symptoms

Addiction is defined as a desire for more of something, despite negative consequences. There are many recognized signs and symptoms for someone who is addicted to cocaine. They tend to resemble conditions such as amphetamine psychosis and schizophrenia, with symptoms including aggression, severe paranoia, and hallucinations. These hallucinations are usually tactile, with users often experiencing the feeling of insects crawling under their skin. This is where the expression “coke bugs” comes from.

During a crash, strong cravings for more cocaine are usually accompanied by fatigue, lack of pleasure, anxiety, irritability, sleepiness, and agitation. The only way to temporarily relieve these symptoms is to take another "hit" of cocaine. It is because of these intense side effects that addiction happens so quickly with this drug.

Cocaine Withdrawal

Withdrawal from cocaine is different than most addictive drugs. Cocaine withdrawal doesn’t include any visible physical symptoms, such as the shaking or vomiting that accompany  heroin or alcohol withdrawal. However, the levels of cravings, irritability, and depression are typically worse than the withdrawal symptoms that accompany other drug addictions. The primary symptoms of cocaine withdrawal usually include:

  • Fatigue
  • Increased appetite
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • General feeling of malaise
  • Depression
  • Slowing of activity
  • Vivid and/or unpleasant dreams

These symptoms can last for months for people who used cocaine heavily or for a long period of time. For some people, withdrawal is so unbearable that it can also cause suicidal thoughts.

Cocaine Addiction Treatments

Withdrawal from chronic substance abuse can be very dangerous, since there is always a risk for suicide or overdose in relapse. As with any addiction, withdrawal symptoms will eventually fade and disappear over time. It is common for people to turn to other drugs such as alcohol, sedatives, or anti-anxiety medications in order to relieve their withdrawal symptoms. However, this is not a good idea, since then the addiction will merely shift from one substance to another.

Many people who become addicted to cocaine end up having an underlying mental disorder as well, such as depression or attention-deficit disorder. If these conditions are diagnosed and treated, the individual’s risk for relapse will be greatly reduced.

There are also many support groups to help people who are trying to recover from a cocaine addiction, such as Cocaine Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. These 12-step programs can be very helpful and encouraging.