What is Cocaine Use Disorder?

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What is Cocaine Use Disorder?

Cocaine use disorder (CUD) is a disorder where a person is dependent on cocaine and cannot leave it alone. No matter what the consequences, people who suffer from cocaine use disorder will continue to use it until they are stopped. Unlike alcohol, cocaine is a substance that is not seen as “socially acceptable”. Because of this, it is a little easier to become aware that someone may be suffering from cocaine use disorder.

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America. Although there are valid reasons to use it for medical purposes, such as anesthesia for some surgeries, the recreational use of cocaine is illegal.

As a street drug, cocaine looks like a fine, white, crystal powder. Street dealers often mix it with other things to increase profit. Unfortunately, cocaine is often mixed with other dangerous drugs such as amphetamine, or synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Adding these drugs to cocaine is extremely risky, as users are typically unaware of exactly what is in the drugs they are using. Because of this, an increase in overdose deaths among cocaine users has been recorded.

Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine is very dangerous because of how addictive it is. Users typically start by snorting it or rubbing it on their gums, but will quickly begin to inject it intravenously to intensify the effects. Frequent cocaine users tend to participate in binges during which they consume large amounts of cocaine repeatedly in a short period of time. Unfortunately, numerous health hazards and risks, including overdoses, are experienced as a result of cocaine use.

Cocaine and the Brain

Cocaine increases levels of the ‘feel-good’ chemical known as dopamine in the brain. In a normal brain free of drugs, dopamine recycles back into the cell that released it, shutting off the signal between nerve cells. However, cocaine prevents dopamine from being recycled, causing large amounts to build up in the space between two nerve cells, stopping their normal communication.

The resulting flood of dopamine in the brain’s reward circuit strongly reinforces drug-taking behavior. In other words, high levels of dopamine create a euphoric feeling. Therefore, cocaine users continue consuming more and more cocaine in order to chase and maintain that feeling. Unfortunately, the brain adapts to the excess dopamine, eventually becoming less sensitive to it and therefore requiring higher levels to function normally.

As a result, people increase the dosage frequency and amount in an attempt to feel the same high as they once did with less. Additionally, users will experience withdrawal symptoms and feel sick in the absence of the drug due to the brain’s learned reliance upon it.

Short-Term Effects

  • Extreme happiness and energy
  • Mental Alertness
  • Hypersensitivity to light, sound, and touch
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia and delusion- extreme and unreasonable distrust of others

Health Concerns:

  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Dilated pupils
  • Nausea
  • Raised body temperature and blood pressure
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Tremors and muscle twitches
  • Restlessness
  • Long-term effects
  • Snorting: loss of smell, nosebleeds, frequent runny nose and problems with swallowing
  • Smoking: cough, asthma, respiratory distress, and a higher risk of infections like pneumonia
  • Consuming by mouth: severe bowel decay from reduced blood flow
  • Needle injection: higher risk for contracting HIV, hepatitis C, and other bloodborne diseases, skin or soft tissue infections, as well as scarring or collapsed veins.

HIV and Hepatitis C

Even people with non-needle cocaine use place themselves at a greater risk of contracting HIV because of cocaine’s ability to impair judgment. Furthermore, studies have shown that cocaine use speeds up HIV infection. According to research, cocaine impairs immune cell function and promotes the reproduction of HIV. This research also suggests that people who use cocaine and are infected with HIV may be more susceptible to contracting other viruses, such as hepatitis C, a virus that affects the liver.

Other Health Risks

Cocaine can cause malnourishment as well, as it decreases appetite. Movement disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease are an additional concern, often taking place after years of consistent use. People report irritability and restlessness from cocaine binges. Some individuals even experience severe paranoia, hallucinations and/or delusions.

Often, cocaine use results in overdose and death. Unfortunately, this can happen at any point in a person’s using, including the very first time of use. Many people will typically mix cocaine with other substances or alcohol which increases risk of overdose and death. Using this substance can cause irregular heart rhythm, heart attacks, seizures, and strokes.

Getting Help

As with any substance use disorder, the first step in treating cocaine use disorder is admitting and accepting that you have a problem. From there, you can build a foundation of recovery action and change your life.

Cocaine Anonymous is a 12-step recovery program that uses the same literature and steps as Alcoholics Anonymous but focuses on cocaine addiction. The Cocaine Anonymous community is growing in numbers, gathering across the country and around the world, and offering cocaine addicts a safe space to work through their addiction. Chances are that seeking out support through Cocaine Anonymous or any other 12-step program may be a great starting point for you if you are ready to seek help for your addiction and make some changes in your life.

If you would prefer a higher level of care and increased support as you take your first steps towards recovery, consider enrolling in a substance use treatment center. The Kimberly Center offers treatment for people suffering from substance use disorders as well as certain co-occurring mental health disorders. We offer a variety of different treatment levels and services to choose from, depending on your unique needs and goals. If you or someone you know is suffering from a substance use disorder like cocaine use disorder, The Kimberly Center can help you recover. Start today by calling (855)-452-3683.

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