As a central nervous system stimulant cocaine produces profound changes in your brain and body, with its appeal being that you feel euphoric and more alert and energized when you take it. What users would consider the positive effects of cocaine are down to its impact on a chemical messenger in the brain called dopamine. As the University of Maryland College Park explains, snorting coke or smoking crack floods your brain with dopamine, whose levels are usually under fairly tight control. Dopamine’s role as a mood booster explains why you experience a high on taking cocaine, but as it is also involved in the reward pathway means that it is very easy to become addicted to cocaine. Addiction isn’t the only negative crack and coke effects though, as cocaine use can also lead to a range of side effects, which are not only unpleasant, but potentially dangerous. It isn’t just the short-term adverse effects that you need to worry about though, as a cocaine addiction can also have serious implications for your long-term health. However, even if you have suffered from the secondary effects of cocaine use and are in its grip, it is still possible to receive treatment for cocaine addiction and successfully kick your destructive habit.
Side Effects of Coke and Crack
While cocaine sends levels of dopamine in your brain soaring, particularly when you smoke or inject crack, levels don’t remain high for long. Macalester College discusses how research shows that with IV use brain dopamine levels peak within 10 minutes and have returned to normal as in little as 20 minutes. As a result the intense positive feelings that cocaine offers are short lived and during the come down period your body reacts adversely, producing unwanted effects of cocaine abuse. Not only may you have intense cravings for cocaine during this time, but you are also likely to experience anxiety, depressed mood and paranoia. Although these feelings are commonly experienced among people who have reduced levels of dopamine, among drug users they are seen when dopamine levels are normal, owing to the compensatory action your brain makes to restore dopamine back to its usual level. However, it is also likely that other mechanisms are at play to explain the severe negative emotions experienced by cocaine users following a fix.
Besides the negative coke and crack effects on your mental well-being, the drug also brings about a range of physical symptoms. Unlike the intense psychological hit that you get from cocaine, which is usually over within 30 minutes, the physical effects of cocaine abuse can last for an hour or two. The most common symptoms that you need to worry about after taking cocaine are increased temperature, pulse and blood pressure, though you are usually not aware when your blood pressure goes up, unless it increases sufficiently to cause a condition known as hypertensive crisis where you develop headaches and breathlessness. These cocaine signs arise because the drug constricts your blood vessels. The result is that your blood vessels are less able to allow excess heat to escape via your skin, pushing your temperature up. As Illinois State University points out, it is therefore possible for cocaine abuse to contribute to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Blood vessel constriction also leads to a rapid heartbeat and raised blood pressure, which not only causes chest pain, but as an article in the journal Circulation highlights, you are also at greater risk of a heart attack or stroke. Another consequence of constricted blood vessels for male cocaine users is impotence, particularly if you already have other factors that make you more susceptible to erectile dysfunction. However, unlike many other causes of impotence, the effects are short lived and you should be able to achieve an erection once the drug is out of your system.
Cocaine doesn’t just produce symptoms in the short period after using it, so you also need to worry about the longer term side effects of coke and crack abuse. If you become a repeated user you risk problems with restlessness, irritability, mood disorders, paranoia, auditory hallucinations and even psychosis. Although not everyone who uses cocaine repeatedly develops these symptoms, as it is not possible to predict who will experience them, the safest thing to do is to avoid taking the drug in the first place or seek help to get your habit under control.
Dangers of Cocaine
With ongoing use of cocaine you need to taking increasing doses to experience the high you have become accustomed to. Raising the does is dangerous in itself, as you are more likely to experience an overdose, but this also makes you more likely to suffer the other damaging health effects of cocaine. Although fatal cocaine overdoses are rare, they do occur and the amount of drug that can prove deadly varies from one person to another. As the Department of Health and Human Services highlights, symptoms of a cocaine overdose include a significant rise in body temperature, tremors, confusion, seizures and convulsions. While these signs are usually intense and over in a short time, damage to your vital organs may also occur as a result of overdosing, which may produce irreversible damage. The effects of crack cocaine and coke on your organs, whether due to a dangerous binge or from repeated use, include:
- An abnormal heart rhythm and heart failure
- Respiratory failure
- A stroke or brain hemorrhage
- Kidney failure
- Liver failure
Cocaine Addiction Signs
One of the long term effects of crack and coke abuse is potentially addiction. However, not all users become addicts, with an estimated 20% of people who abuse cocaine developing an addiction. It is not entirely clear why some people become addicted to cocaine, while others escape its hold. Some risk factors make you more susceptible to drug addiction, such as a family history of substance misuse, a personal history of mental health problems and limited social support, but research into the differences in brain activity between compulsive users and non-compulsive users is helping to shed some light on this. For instance, the National Institutes of Health reports how scientists observed the effects of cocaine in mice conditioned to receive the drug and found those mice that were better able to resist the drug had stronger inhibitory circuits in their brain, allowing them to exert more control over their intake. By activating certain nerves in the mice’s brain they showed how it was possible to decrease cocaine seeking behavior. This is relevant, as studies have previously shown that people with lower levels of equivalent receptors in the reward areas of the brain are more vulnerable to addiction. Greater knowledge will allow researchers to identify targets for treatment, offering cocaine addicts a better chance of successfully giving up their habit. However, how do you know whether or not you have a cocaine addiction?
While the signs of cocaine addiction vary, some of the most common indications that you are hooked on the drug include:
- Neglecting your responsibilities. This could relate to your family, education or employment and arises because getting a cocaine fix becomes the most important thing for you once your are addicted.
- Becoming socially isolated. Losing interest in the activities you previously enjoyed can lead to socializing less, but you may also choose to spend more time alone so that you can indulge in your habit.
- Changing your circle of friends. While some cocaine addicts become isolated, others simply switch their social group, instead spending time with other users.
- Financial problems. You may run up debts to feed your cocaine habit and you may start to sell your possessions to raise the funds you need to keep you in supply of coke or crack. Some addicts may also resort to stealing to fund their destructive behavior.
- Neglecting your appearance and health. Besides paying less attention to your hair and clothing, your personal hygiene may slip and you may lose interest in eating, leading to unintentional weight loss. You may also ignore physical and mental health problems, often connected to your habit, which can see your well-being deteriorate.
Certain outward changes in your appearance and behavior are also typically visible to your family and friends. These may include a collapsed nasal septum from snorting cocaine, dilated pupils and mood swings. They may well express their concern for your safety and welfare when they notice these signs, and encourage you to enroll in a specialist drug program to treat cocaine addiction.
Coke and Crack Withdrawal
If you have a dependency on cocaine and you quit using crack or coke, you will soon feel the effects. Although cocaine withdrawal doesn’t produce physical signs like sweating, shaking or vomiting that is associated with an alcohol or opiate detox, the cravings and other symptoms you experience are still intense and are often strong enough to encourage users to return to their habit to receive relief. Thankfully, when you take part in a supervised cocaine withdrawal program you will have access to specialists who can provide you with the support and symptom relief you need to successfully withdraw from this addictive drug.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center with coke and crack symptoms of withdrawal include:
- Craving cocaine
- Feeling agitated and restless
- Extreme tiredness
- Feeling generally unwell
- Slowing down of your movements
- Increased hunger
- Low mood and possibly thoughts of harming yourself
If you were a daily user of cocaine, you should expect cravings and mood disturbances to last for several months, though it is not possible to predict the nature of cocaine detox symptoms till you have started the process.
Although withdrawing from crack or coke is not usually life threatening, there is a risk of suicide and that you may overdose if you are tempted to seek a fix. There is also a risk that if you try to give up cocaine without specialist addiction treatment that you may simply use another substance to self-medicate, such as alcohol, sedatives or anti-anxiety pills, simply switching from one addictive substance to another. Seeking help with cocaine withdrawal allows you to access appropriate medications should you need them and also allows any underlying mental health problems to be treated. The latter is significant, as around a half of coke and crack addicts have a mental illness and if untreated this can hamper your recovery.
Following a detox from cocaine you will typically take part in a structured program of therapy, which may include cognitive behavioral therapy to help you resist the triggers to drug taking by unlearning your habits. Unlike an addiction to alcohol or heroin there are not currently medications available to reduce your risk of relapse, though scientists are working on potential treatments to help recovering cocaine addicts stay abstinent. For example, Emory University discusses how a novel drug called nepicastat shows promise for helping coke addicts avoid relapse. Recovering users are most likely to return to their old ways in times of stress, when exposed to drug-taking cues or simply down to the draw of the drugs themselves. In animal studies nepicastat appears to reduce the desire to return to cocaine in all three situations. It works by lowering levels of norepinephrine, which is not only involved in stress, but also the relapse process. In research while nepicastat didn’t reduce cocaine administering behavior in rats already taking the drug continuously, but it did reduce this behavior in rats already on a break from the addictive drug. Clinical trials are now underway for this and other drugs that show potential for helping crack addicts stay abstinent, making it easier to stay away from the lure of cocaine after withdrawal.
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