Cocaine is a powerful stimulant (or “upper”) that affects the central nervous system. Like many other dangerous drugs, it has had and continues to have legitimate medical uses, such as appetite suppression and anesthesia. However, in addition to being highly addictive, it is also more dangerous than many other stimulants (such as amphetamines), as it may lead to sudden cardiac death.
Use & Abuse of Cocaine
Cocaine is derived from the South American coca plant, which has been used as an herbal medication for centuries in indigenous societies. The psychoactive chemical that would eventually become the street drug “coke” was first isolated in the 19th century, after which it became a popular anesthetic. However, by the early 1900s it was becoming more and more clear that cocaine was highly addictive, and use of it was prohibited except for a few medical conditions.
Except for marijuana, cocaine is believed to be the most used illicit drug in the United States. It was especially popular among the young, mostly white middle and upper classes during the “disco era” of the 1970s and 80s. One study reports that almost half of high school graduates in 1979 had used cocaine at least once. Today, coke is still a frequently abused drug, used by peoples of all social classes and wealth. Its exorbitant price does deter people from becoming addicted. Rather, they resort to crime, prostitution, and all of the horrible things that addicts are forced to do.
The Effects of Using Cocaine
Coke is often snorted, but it can also be injected or smoked (in crack or freebase form). Depending on how it is consumed, short and long-term effects may include:
- Chronic rhinorrhea (runny nose)
- Tooth decay (due to teeth grinding)
- Heart failure
- Increased risk of strokes
- Insomnia & sleep disturbances
- Soar throat
- Chest pains
The most well-known side effect of chronic coke use is addiction. Like other central nervous system stimulants, it destabilizes the user’s brain chemistry by releasing dopamine (mood, sleep and appetite), oxytocin (pleasure and pain relief) and adrenaline (energy). These chemicals are overabundant when a user is high, but they are withdrawn when a user is not on cocaine. This creates a powerful incentive to keep using, regardless of any consequences or unwanted side-effects.
If you think your loved one may be addicted to cocaine, it is important to know that they will need medical treatment in order to stop. Recognizing a problem is the first step toward solving it, and you can recognize cocaine addiction by the following signs:
- Lack of sleep
- Increased energy
- Manic or grandiose behavior
- Unusually happy and talkative
- Runny nose (from snorting cocaine)
- Track marks (from injecting cocaine)
- Dramatic mood swings