The risks of cocaine addiction

Derived from the leaves of the South American coca plant, a white powdery substance known as cocaine has maintained its market share as one of the top abused illicit drugs in the United States. Known for its anesthetic and pain blocking qualities, cocaine falls within the class of drugs known as stimulants. Once a popular and widely used anesthetic until the early 20th century, the medical community realized how easily one can develop a cocaine addiction, resulting in opting for safer anesthetics which had recently become available (Nordqvist, 2017). Even America’s top selling soda (Coca-Cola) included 9 milligrams of cocaine per glass. Although cocaine was removed from the recipe in 1903, the U.S. staple still includes coca flavoring for its thirst-quenching follower’s enjoyment.

It’s difficult to understand how the derivative of a seemingly harmless plant can ruin the lives of countless human beings throughout the United States and Worldwide. In order to understand the danger, one needs to realize how easy it is to develop a cocaine addiction. Cocaine alters the state of a user’s brain. Let me repeat, cocaine will cause long-term changes to brain chemistry. What does this mean? Users of this drug will experience a chemical addiction (dependency) within his/her brain, making it nearly impossible to discontinue the use of this drug. In fact, cravings for the drug will be so strong, that you’ll need a stronger dose each time you use it. Couple this with the fact the “high” a user will experience will only last between 5-30 minutes (depending on the form in which the drug was taken), it’s no surprise that countless victims become addicted to cocaine before he/she can even acknowledge that he/she is suffering from a disease.

Uses and Forms of Cocaine

Cocaine is consumed in three forms. Most commonly found as a fine white powder that is inhaled through the nose. Some people will rub the powder onto their gums. Another popular method for consuming cocaine is called “freebasing”. In order to freebase cocaine, the cocaine is converted to a solid rock crystal form (crack) and smoked from a glass pipe. The last method involves dissolving the powder into a liquid form and injecting it into the bloodstream.

Many people don’t realize that street drugs are often cut with other things such as cornstarch, talcum powder or flour. This enables drug dealers to increase profits. Additionally, it’s not uncommon for dealers to mix in other drugs such amphetamines, synthetic opioids and fentanyl (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2018). Sadly, many people are unaware that the cocaine they purchase may contain additional substances, substantially raising the end users’ chances of an overdose. Popular street names for cocaine include:

  • Coke
  • Blow
  • Snow
  • Crack
  • Rock

So, what’s the allure of cocaine and why do as many as 1,800 Americans experiment with cocaine for the first time each day when most are aware of its dangers? To keep it simple, it’s because of the “high” it gives its users. Cocaine has a very powerful stimulating effect on the body’s central nervous system (CNS). By raising the levels of dopamine, a chemical messenger in your body, into the parts of the brain that control feelings of pleasure. Remember the fact that cocaine alters the brain’s chemistry? In a normal brain, neurons release dopamine in response to a pleasurable stimulus – like a first kiss. Once dopamine passes the positive message along, it returns inside the neuron. Cocaine stops dopamine from getting back into the neuron. As a result, dopamine accumulates and continues to send a pleasurable message to the brain (Nordqvist, 2017). The extra dopamine gives a cocaine user a feeling of euphoria, alertness and extra energy. This effect will last about 15-30 min. and only 5-10 min. if the drug was smoked or injected. For a user to gain the same level of “happiness”, the user will need to continuously increase the amount of cocaine, ultimately increasing the user’s tolerance with each time he/she uses the drug. Before the user is able to realize that there is a problem, it’s often too late, and the user has a physical addiction to cocaine.

Nordqvist, C. (2017, May 15) Everything you need to know about cocaine. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/234239.php
National Institute on Drug Abuse (2018, July) What is cocaine? Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/cocaine