Cocaine Addiction Symptoms and Signs

Cocaine addiction was once considered a dangerous and growing problem in the United States. There is some evidence that this might be changing.

For example, according to the Monitoring the Future Survey, there has been a significant decline in the 30-day prevalence of use of powdered cocaine among students in grades 8 through 12. If these trends continue, it’s quite possible that powdered cocaine will become less and less of a concern to officials, as fewer teens will become hooked on the substance and grow up into cocaine-addicted adults.

While the number of teens who abuse cocaine might be dropping, and the number of adults who abuse cocaine might be dropping as well, the fact remains that people still do experiment with cocaine from time to time. Some of these people develop addictions as a result of this experimentation. Someone you know and love might be addicted, or the person might even be you. This article will help you to define and identify the signs and symptoms of cocaine addiction.

Understanding Cravings

People who have addictions often have to deal with strong urges, or cravings, to take the drugs again. If you’ve never struggled with an addiction in your own life, it can be hard for you to understand how strong a craving really is. In fact, you might be tempted to compare drug cravings to food cravings you might feel from time to time. The truth is that cravings for cocaine can be incredibly powerful, and they can be nearly impossible to ignore. For example, a study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that people addicted to cocaine tended to “want” the drug more than they “liked” the drug. While under the influence, these users even reported preferring the drug to food, while they might prefer food over drugs while sober. These aren’t cravings people can simply get over or ignore without help. They are powerful urges that could drive a person to use again, regardless of whether or not that use is even pleasurable.

How Cocaine Works

How Cocaine WorksIn the past, researchers believed that cocaine operated on the dopamine system of the brain. This so-called “addiction pathway” is responsible for addictions to heroin and prescription drugs, and it might also play a role in addictions to behaviors like gambling. When the brain is exposed to high levels of dopamine, from the drugs or from the pleasure repetitive behaviors provide, the person feels a surge of euphoria that is hard to forget. Over time, the brain wants to feel that experience more often, and the cravings begin and become hard to ignore.

While there is some evidence to suggest that cocaine also works on the dopamine system, researchers also believe that the drug works on other portions of the brain as well, making the addiction both stronger and harder to overcome. For example, researchers writing in the Journal of Pharmacology found that the stress hormone corticosterone lowers the brain’s resistance to the intoxicating feelings of cocaine. Therefore, when people are stressed, cocaine seems more relaxing and more powerful. This could cause cravings to be even stronger and more intense.

Cocaine also tends to cause deterioration in the portions of the brain that regulate decision-making and self-control. These are exactly the parts of the brain that need to be functioning at full capacity when an addict is facing the temptation to use cocaine, yet these portions of the brain might be silenced due to damage caused by drugs. Instead, the brain might call out for drugs instead.

It might be easy to believe that these changes only develop after years and years of abuse. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case.

Some people develop a persistent addiction to cocaine from the very first time they use the drug. This damage serves to lock the addiction in place, and it can be incredibly hard for you to spot your own addiction due to this damage. You might need other people to point the addiction out to you, and even then, you might have trouble accepting the fact that you do have a problem.

Under the Influence

Since cocaine users may not be able to identify their own addiction concerns, it may be up to the family and friends of that person to look for signs of cocaine use and abuse. Since cocaine is so very addictive, signs of use should prompt a talk. You might be able to stop cocaine dabbling from turning into cocaine addiction. According to the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, people under the influence of cocaine tend to:

  • Develop pupils that are so dilated they look black
  • Lick their lips frequently
  • Seem restless and unable to sit still
  • Display no interest in food or sleep
  • Talk endlessly, but the conversation may skip from topic to topic
  • Seem irritable or argumentative

From Use to Addiction

Cocaine use to addictionAddiction is commonly defined as compulsive use of a drug, no matter the consequences. If you’re addicted to cocaine, you simply cannot stop using the drug, no matter how much you might like to do so. It can be hard to even think about developing an addiction like this, but it does happen. You might be addicted to cocaine if you:

  • Spend rent money or grocery money on cocaine
  • Skip work or school in order to use cocaine
  • Choose your friends based on their cocaine use
  • Refuse to discuss how much cocaine you take
  • Wish you could stop using cocaine, but find you’re unable to stop

Since cocaine tends to move through the body quite quickly, there may be no blood tests your doctor can use to diagnose your cocaine addiction. But, if you take very high doses of cocaine back to back in a binge episode, you may end up in the emergency room due to a cocaine-related episode of psychosis. According to an article produced by Medscape, these episodes are quite common, with 20 percent of cocaine users reporting visual hallucinations or tactile hallucinations. You might feel as though bugs are crawling on your skin, for example, or you might become convinced that people are trying to hurt or kill you. Episodes like this are considered part of the addiction process, as they indicate that you’re taking extremely high doses of the drug as a result of becoming acclimated to low doses of the drug. If you experience an episode like this, you might be required to enter a treatment program for cocaine addiction, whether or not you believe you have such an addiction.

Clues Left Behind

While some people with cocaine addictions are adept at hiding the evidence of their use, your loved one may leave telltale signs behind that point to addiction. Such signs include:

  • Small spoons
  • Razor blades
  • Mirrors
  • Powdery residue
  • Glass, metal or plastic straws

Physical Changes

If you’re able to deny the effect that cocaine has on your thoughts and habits, it might be a little harder to overlook the effects the drug has on your health. You might experience:

  • Difficulty remembering names and faces
  • A growing feeling of depression that doesn’t abate even when you use cocaine
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Hoarse voice or runny nose if you snort cocaine
  • Significant weight loss

Some people who abuse cocaine find that they seem to catch colds or other infectious illnesses more frequently than they did before they started using cocaine. According to researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, cocaine can suppress the immune system, meaning that the body has lowered defenses while you’re under the influence. While colds and the flu might be minor ailments you’ll quickly get over, you could also catch more serious conditions such as HIV or hepatitis. Frequent illnesses, or even chronic illnesses, could be a direct result of cocaine use.

If you notice these symptoms, or your family has noticed these symptoms yet you still don’t feel as though you can quit using cocaine, it might be best to admit that addiction is to blame. Continuing to use in the face of mounting evidence that such use dangerous is a hallmark of addiction and it shouldn’t be overlooked. If you’d like to get help for your cocaine addiction, contact us today. We can connect you to a program that can help.

Why Treatment Helps

Reading about cocaine addiction, and perhaps identifying cocaine addiction in yourself, can be terrifying. There is a silver lining, however. With medications and therapy, you can learn to control your addiction and leave compulsive drug use behind. Perhaps this story from a former user will inspire you. “I used cocaine for years, and I always maintained that I wasn’t addicted and I could stop whenever I wanted to stop. When I finally gave up lying to myself like that, and I actually entered treatment, I learned that I had no control over my cocaine use. It controlled me. Through therapy and a lot of help from my friends in my support group, I learned why I used, and I learned what I could do instead of using. It’s hard work, and I still have to struggle with cravings every day, but I’ve been sober for a year now. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”