What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine is an extremely addictive stimulant that is often abused; coke is currently the most commonly abused stimulant in the US. Cocaine is the drug most often involved in ER visits.

While cocaine is not a newer drug, it is considered the high class type of recreational drugs.

Cocaine abuse can lead to major physiological and psychological consequences. Even more devastating than the negative effects of cocaine on the abuser are the effects to their families, and communities.

Many cases of child abuse and domestic violence are related to the aggressive violence often associated with cocaine abuse.

Cocaine usage falls on a spectrum - coke usage varies from occasional to compulsive usage to binge usage.

Cocaine dealers often mix cocaine with other inert substances such as talcum powder, cornstarch, sugar, or the dealers mix it with other drugs, like procaine (an anesthetic) or amphetamine.

A speedball is a combination of cocaine and heroin.

What Are The Two Forms Of Cocaine?

There are two forms of cocaine most commonly abused:

1) The powdered form of cocaine hydrochloride is a white crystalline powder derived from the leaves of the coca plant "Erythoxlon coca." Cocaine may be snorted up the nose or dissolved in water and injected.

2) A water-insoluble cocaine base (freebase), that has been processed with ammonia or sodium bicarbonate. This form is then heated to remove the hydrochloride to produce a form of cocaine that can be smoked.

What Are Other Names For Cocaine?

Cocaine may be referred to as:

  • Coke
  • Snow
  • Flake
  • Blow
  • "C"
  • Gold Dust
  • Cadillac of drugs
  • Yuppie Stimulant
  • Toot
  • Nose candy

What Is Crack?

Crack cocaine is a form of cocaine that's been processed from cocaine hydrochloride to form a crystal rock that, when heated, produces vapors that are smoked. Crack refers to the crackling noise that the crystal creates while it is heated. Crack generally looks like off-white chips, rocks or chunks.

The US experienced a crack epidemic in the early 1980's. The popularity of crack cocaine was due to three things:

  1. Crack was cheap
  2. The effects of crack are both quick-acting and intense.
  3. Crack is easy to smoke

Because of the rapid high and the affordability of crack cocaine, it became popular to the indigent and young.

How Common Is Cocaine Abuse?

14% of adults in the US have tried cocaine; one in every forty adults has tried it within the last year. The biggest abusers of cocaine are men, ages 18-25 - 8% of men in that age bracket have admitted to having used cocaine in the past year.

What Causes Cocaine Addiction?

As with other types of addiction, there is no one cause responsible for an addiction to cocaine. It's generally assumed that addiction is a result of genetics and environmental risk factors.

Those who come from families where abuse is common are at greater risk to become substance abusers, however, not everyone who comes from a family where addiction is common becomes an addict.

What Are The Ways Cocaine Is Abused?

There are three primary and different ways in which people abuse cocaine: injection, snorting, and smoking.

Snorting Cocaine (intranasal cocaine usage) is done by inhaling the powered cocaine through the nose, the nasal tissues allow for quick absorption of the powder into the blood stream, causing an intense high. This high will last up to 30 minutes.

Injecting Cocaine (intravenous cocaine usage) is a method of re-hydrating cocaine, then injecting the drug into a big vein. This causes a more immediate high, but using dirty needles can lead to contraction of diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis. This high will last up to 10 minutes.

Smoking Cocaine (inhalation cocaine usage) is the process of inhaling cocaine - by vapor or by smoking it - which allows for the same type of immediate high as injecting cocaine. This type of high will last up to ten minutes.

Each method of cocaine abuse may lead to addiction in addition to other serious and life-threatening consequences.

How Long Do The Effects Of Cocaine Last?

The duration as well as the intensity of the effects of cocaine depend largely upon the route of administration. The faster cocaine is absorbed, the more intense the high. Smoking or Injecting cocaine produces a much faster and stronger high, yet, the faster the absorption, the shorter the duration of the high.

This means, that to sustain the high, someone who abuses cocaine must use more cocaine to remain high. This is why some people who abuse cocaine go on "coke binges" in which many higher and higher doses are taken in a short period of time.

Cocaine On The Brain:

Cocaine is a stimulant that works on the nervous system, that, while used, increases levels of dopamine (the pleasure neurotransmitter) in the brain. Neurons, the cells in the brain, use dopamine as a means of communication.

In a normal brain, dopamine is released by a neuron in the brain as a result of a pleasurable signal (like smelling coffee), then recycled back into the cell that released it. In this way, the signal between neurons is shut off.

Cocaine, however, works by preventing the recycling of dopamine back into the neuron. This, in turns, causes excessive amounts of dopamine to build up, which amplifies the messages to and from the receiving neuron. This disrupts the normal routes of communication within the brain.

This excess dopamine circulating through the brain leads to the euphoric feelings associated with cocaine.

Cocaine, with long-term and repeated use, can create long-term changes within the reward center of the brain as well as other areas of the brain - this can lead to addiction.

What Does Cocaine Use Feel Like?

The immediate effects of cocaine wear off within thirty minutes and the experience of a cocaine abuser depends upon the route of administration, the effects of the added ingredients and the purity of the cocaine. The emotional state of the user is also a factor in the effects of cocaine.

People who have used or abused cocaine describe the euphoria caused by coke as:

  • Feeling supreme; untouchable
  • A very great, amazing mood
  • Increased alertness
  • Increased energy
  • A great sense of humor
  • Decreased pain sensations
  • Good humor
  • Laughing
  • Dilated pupils

Along with this high, the following are other feelings that often accompany that high:

  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Vomiting
  • Hallucinations (cocaine bugs, snow lights, sounds, voices and smells)
  • Irritability
  • Tremors
  • Teeth grinding 
  • Emotional instability
  • Aggression
  • Violence
  • Twitching

What Is Cocaine Tolerance?

Cocaine Tolerance - requiring more and more cocaine to achieve the same levels of euphoria - develops with repeated cocaine use. Repeated cocaine use also causes the cocaine abuser to develop a tolerance to the cocaine high - the pleasure associated with cocaine high is decreased over time. This is why many people who abuse cocaine to take more cocaine more often to try and intensify or regain the initial euphoria of the first cocaine high. With increased cocaine use, though, the risks to health and mental health are increased.

What Health Problems Does Cocaine Cause?

As with all substances of abuse, cocaine use and abuse can cause a number of health-related problems.

Cocaine, as an appetite depressant, can cause the abuser to become malnourished and underweight.

Cocaine use causes the blood vessels of the body to constrict, as well as tachycardia (rapid heart rate), an increased body temperature, and higher blood pressure. For a cocaine abuser who has heart problems or hypertension, the use of cocaine can exacerbate these issues, causing problems from seizures to heart attacks, to sudden death.

All who abuse cocaine may experience cerbrovascular complications, such as stroke, or cardiovascular emergencies, such as cardiac arrest.

Cocaine binges can lead to severe paranoia - occasionally psychosis - and can experience a state in which they lose track of reality and begin to hallucinate.

Other problems with cocaine use and abuse are related to the route of administration.

Snorting Cocaine can lead to a decreased (or lost) sense of smell. It can also cause increasing amounts of nose bleeds, difficulty swallowing, a chronically runny nose, and hoarseness.

Ingesting Cocaine can lead to gangrene of the bowel, as a result of reduced blood flow to the bowel.

Injecting Cocaine (intravenous usage of cocaine) can bring about some of the more serious consequences of IV drug usage, such as contracting blood-borne illnesses like HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis.

What Is Cocaethylene?

The usage of more than one drug at a time - called polydrug use - is common among people who abuse substances. When more than one psychoactive drug is used together, like alcohol and cocaine, the dangers of each drug is multiplied.

This is because the usage of two or more psychoactive drugs in the body causes the body to perform a highly intricate chemical experiment within this body.

It has been discovered that the liver combines both cocaine and alcohol to form a third substance, called Cocaethylne, which intensifies the euphoria associated with cocaine use.

However, Cocathylene has been associated with a greater risk of sudden death than the usage of cocaine - or alcohol - by itself.

What Are The Symptoms Of Cocaine Withdrawal?

If a cocaine user uses cocaine for an extended length of time, his or her body will become dependent upon cocaine to function. When someone who is dependent (or addicted) to cocaine suddenly stops cocaine use it leads to withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant, but rarely life threatening and withdrawal generally lasts up to two weeks.

Cocaine withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • A deep depression
  • Aches and pains
  • Anxiety
  • Exhaustion
  • Inability to concentrate
  • An inability to feel pleasure
  • Strong cravings for cocaine
  • Tremors
  • Chills
  • Suicidal thoughts

How Is Cocaine Addiction Treated?

There are currently no FDA-approved medications to treat cocaine addiction, although research is being done to develop medications to diminish the cravings a cocaine addict feels. Other medications are being developed to counteract the specific cocaine-related situations that trigger a cocaine relapse.

Currently, the most effective treatment for cocaine addiction and prevention of relapse is cognitive-behavioral therapy. As is the case with all addictions, treatment must be tailored to each person. Treatment for addiction often involves a combination of treatment, social support, and other services, such as a support group.

Read more about substance abuse recovery.

What Are The Consequences Of Cocaine Usage?

There are a huge number of consequences associated with cocaine use and abuse. Some of the consequences of cocaine abuse include:

What Are The Effects Of Maternal Cocaine Usage?

Some women who are addicted to cocaine do not stop using cocaine once they become pregnant. It's hard to ascertain the full amount of damage that maternal cocaine usage can cause the developing fetus. There are a number of problems associated with maternal cocaine usage. 

Read more about addicted newborns.

These include:

  • Premature delivery
  • Lowered birth weight
  • Smaller head size
  • Shorter infants
  • Potential infection of HIV through dirty needles

Related Resource Pages on Band Back Together:

HIV/AIDS

Hepatitis

Addiction

Substance Abuse

Recovery

Addicted Newborns

Additional Cocaine Addiction Resources:

Cocaine Anonymous - is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from their addiction.

Cocaine Abuse - article from eMedicine that discusses Cocaine abuse, addiction, signs of cocaine abuse, and treatment for cocaine addiction.

National Institute on Drug Abuse: US government site that discusses cocaine and other substances of abuse.