When it comes to addictive substances like cocaine, people often talk about physical and psychological addictions, but as Psychology Today explains, it is not necessarily helpful to separate the two. Typically physical addiction refers to the withdrawal symptoms experienced when your body has become dependent on a substance, while psychological addiction refers to the changes that occur in a cocaine addicts‘ brain. However, as the effects on your body and mind are usually both present when you become addicted, habit forming substances are both physically and psychologically addictive. To understand addiction to cocaine it is important to consider both elements, as this helps you to gain a better appreciation of what leads to addictive habits and why your body reacts in the way that it does when you develop a drug habit. With this knowledge it may dissuade you from trying out coke or crack, but if you are already in its grip, knowing that it is possible to successfully overcome an addictive habit can encourage you to seek treatment for cocaine withdrawal and rehabilitation. Alternatively, if a family member or friend is struggling with a cocaine habit, understanding how difficult it is for them to escape its hold will allow you to offer them better support and help them on the road to recovery.
Another misconception is that tolerance, dependency and addiction are the same issue. While coke or crack use can lead to all three situations, not all cocaine users develop these problems and you can develop tolerance or dependency without becoming a cocaine addict. As the World Health Organization discusses, tolerance to a drug refers to a reduction in its effects that occurs with ongoing use, which can refer to both the intended effects and side effects of a given drug. Meanwhile, physical dependence is when your body adapts to the presence of the drug, so when use is ceased or the dose is suddenly reduced this leads to cocaine withdrawal symptoms. This dependence doesn’t mean that you are addicted, though compulsive use of the addictive substance may follow. While tolerance and dependency reflect physical changes in your body, addiction relates to a change in your behavior. Once addicted you crave cocaine due to its mood altering effects and you seek out opportunities to get your hands on the drug at whatever cost.
Signs of Cocaine Addiction
Before considering the symptoms of addiction to coke or crack, it is important to understand the mechanism through which cocaine addiction develops. Cocaine is classed as a stimulant, which acts on the central nervous system (comprising your brain and spinal cord). Its action boosts levels of dopamine in your brain, which explains its effects, as dopamine regulates feelings of pleasure. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse explains, dopamine is usually released by nerve cells in response to possible rewards, such as food, but it doesn’t remain active for long, as the signaling molecule is taken back up by the cells that released it, stopping the communication in the reward system. However, cocaine stops the usual recycling of dopamine, causing large amounts to buildup in the junction between your nerve cells. This increases the signal received from dopamine, altering normal brain function and leading to the high associated with cocaine use. When cocaine is used repeatedly, long-term changes take place in the reward systems in your brain, which can lead to addiction.
Some of the cocaine addiction symptoms that you may experience are:
- The need to take increasing doses of cocaine to achieve the same high that you initially received. Taking larger quantities increases your risk of an overdose.
- Losing control of your cocaine habit, so you feel unable to cut back your use or give up this substance you have become reliant upon.
- Losing interest in everything that was once important to you, as getting high on cocaine becomes your number one priority.
- Continuing to take cocaine despite harmful consequences. This may include an overdose, physical or mental health issues, job loss or legal problems.
- Withdrawal symptoms when you don’t get your fix of coke or crack. Even if you want to quit your habit, you need to continue taking cocaine to function normally and prevent these unwanted effects.
Coke and Crack Withdrawal Symptoms
As already mentioned, being dependent on cocaine does not mean that you have an addiction, but it is usual for a coke or crack addict to experience signs of withdrawal if they go any time without the substance they are reliant on. These withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant and can deter addicts from giving up this habit forming substance. However, taking part in a supervised cocaine withdrawal can alleviate these feelings and help you fully detox before commencing a rehab program.
While it is usual to get cocaine withdrawal symptoms during a come down from cocaine, according to Virginia Commonwealth University, those associated with a binge or chronic use are more severe and complex. Within 30 minutes of binging on stimulants, your energy levels will crash and you will feel depressed, which is followed by feelings of anxiety and paranoia. It is also usual to crave cocaine, though over time this is replaced by cravings for sleep, which may last for several days. When you wake briefly from sleep you will likely feel excessively hungry, often referred to as “the munchies.” After this stage you may feel generally unwell, anxious and may struggle with your memory and concentration. At this time some addicts in withdrawal may feel suicidal. Cravings for cocaine resume and may encourage you to take up your habit again. However, even if you stay strong, you may still experience yearnings for coke or crack months or years later. The duration and severity of cocaine withdrawal symptoms depends on the doses, frequency and duration of your previous consumption, though if you have a history of mental illness this can also worsen your experience.
Unlike a detox from alcohol or opiates, denying your body its source of cocaine will not lead to significant disruption of processes within your body. This means that you do not need to take another drug to allow your body to adapt as you withdraw. However, if you need help to cope with the psychological symptoms, medications are available. You may find though that if you have been using cocaine to self-medicate depression, your depressed mood lasts longer than a week, which may be a sign that you require an antidepressant, which your physician can arrange
How to Stop Smoking Crack
With an addiction to crack, or alternatively to coke, you may reach the point where you want to quit your habit, but as you will find out it is difficult to achieve this on your own. While your family and friends may put pressure on you to give up your destructive behavior, you need to want to get clean yourself to successfully achieve abstinence. There are various factors that may motivate you to seek cocaine treatment, which may range from getting back on track with your studies and succeeding in your career to rebuilding your relationships and leaving your brush with the law behind you. However, whatever personal reasons you have for addressing your crack or coke habit, it is helpful to also remember that you will safeguard your health by getting clean from cocaine. While there are limited physical symptoms with cocaine withdrawal, if you keep up your dangerous habits this will place your health at risk. As the University of California Santa Cruz points out, it is worth bearing in mind that cocaine abuse can trigger the following health issues:
- Palpitations, a heart attack and even heart failure
- A blood clot or bleed on your brain, seizures or infections that target your brain
- The buildup of fluid in your lungs, worsening of pre-existing lung diseases and respiratory failure
- HIV, hepatitis and an infection of your heart valves if you inject crack cocaine
- Sexually transmitted diseases if you take part in risky sexual activities when under the influence
- In pregnancy it increases the risk of miscarriage, pre-term labor and infants with a low birth weight
- Mental health problems including psychosis and major depression
Cocaine Addiction Treatment
Although addressing an addiction to crack or coke isn’t easy, there are proven interventions that are available for both inpatients and outpatients. Behavioral interventions are vital for any form of addiction, but as there are not currently any medications approved by the FDA to treat coke or crack addiction, this applies even more so in this case. As Harvard Medical School discusses, these behavioral strategies help addicts to overcome their habit by learning how to resist cravings and rebuild their life. Among the psychological treatments available are cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational incentives, as well as group-based interventions.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, known as CBT for short, can effectively reduce the risk of a relapse into cocaine abuse. It works by helping cocaine addicted persons to abstain from drug taking and stay abstinent in the longer term. CBT uses the principle that learning plays a role in abusing cocaine and developing an addiction, but these same processes can be used to help people kick their habit and avoid relapse. It does so by helping users to recognize the times when they are most likely to take cocaine, avoid these where appropriate and cope better with a range of problems linked to drug abuse. Another advantage of CBT is that it is compatible with other therapies you may receive during crack or coke rehab.
Alternatively, motivational incentives (MI), also referred to as contingency management, is another therapy that can help you achieve positive outcomes during treatment for cocaine addiction. This approach is especially helpful for allowing you to initially achieve abstinence and then stay in a rehab program. Treatment centers that use MI adopt a voucher or prize scheme to reward you for cocaine abstinence, so when you test drug-free you earn points redeemable against activities like gym membership, tickets to the movies or a restaurant voucher. In practice there is evidence that this is a successful way to treat crack and coke addiction in outpatient programs.
Where staying at home is not a suitable option during cocaine addiction treatment, residential programs or therapeutic communities are a valuable option. This may entail a stay of as long as six or twelve months, allowing you to not only access intensive talking therapies, but also other services that can help you reintegrate into your community, such as vocational rehab.
After completing the most appropriate therapy program for your circumstances, a recovery group in the community can help you stay sober. For instance, Cocaine Anonymous uses the 12 step program. These community groups offer you peer support and also the chance to share your experience of common issues, allowing you all to learn and benefit from each other.
In the future drug-based interventions may play a more active role in treating a cocaine habit and may help to boost the effectiveness of talking therapies even further. Currently several drugs used to manage other conditions show promise, such as topiramate used to treat epilepsy and a drug already used to treat alcoholism known as disulfiram. However, researchers are also using their greater knowledge of how cocaine use impacts on the brain to develop new medications. There is also interest in the possibility of a vaccine that prevents cocaine entering your brain to reduce your risk of relapsing. Although these novel treatments are a way off, enrolling on an evidence-based cocaine recovery program now gives you a fighting chance of beating your habit for good.
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