Signs of Cocaine Abuse

Studies suggest that cocaine heightens the body’s sensitivity to stress. Although, the user fails to recognize that increased level of stress is occurring. When cocaine activates stress systems, the person perceives this as part of the cocaine rush because cocaine is also stimulating the areas of the brain that are involved in feeling pleasure. When cocaine’s effects wear off and the addict goes into withdrawal, the stress systems are again activated. This time, the cocaine addict perceives the activation as unpleasant because cocaine is no longer stimulating the pleasure circuits in the brain. Because cocaine switches on the stress systems both when it is active and during withdrawal, these systems rapidly become hypersensitive. A cocaine user might appear to be very stressed to those around them.

Large doses of cocaine can cause irrational behavior in users. In heavy abusers, the euphoria is often accompanied by intensified heartbeat, sweating, dilation of pupils, and a rise in body temperature. After the initial euphoria, depression, irritability, insomnia, and, in more serious instances, paranoia may result. Extreme reactions, such as delirium, hallucinations, muscle spasms, and chest pain, may appear. In a small number of people— the risk appears to be genetically determined—high levels of cocaine ingestion lead to a psychosis syndrome characterized by bizarre, paranoid agitation that frequently ends in death (Karch 1998).

Dangers of Cocaine Abuse

Research indicates that cocaine users are four times more likely to develop a coronary aneurysm than are nonusers. Although coronary aneurysms rarely burst, they could set up cocaine users for a heart attack. The reasons are unclear, but researchers suspect that cocaine weakens the artery wall by causing sharp spikes in blood pressure and damaging cells in the inner walls of the heart’s arteries (Altman 2005). Chronic users can also suffer from “cocaine bugs” a sensation similar to that of bugs crawling under the skin. In extreme cases, the sensation can become so great that the user will cut open his or her skin to get at “them.” Less extreme reactions cause the user to scratch and pick at the “bugs,” causing sores. When people mix cocaine and alcohol consumption, they are compounding the danger each drug poses and unknowingly performing a complex chemical reaction within their bodies. Researchers have found that the human liver combines cocaine and alcohol and manufactures a third substance, cocaethylene, which intensifies cocaine’s euphoric effects while possibly increasing the risk of sudden death (National Institute on Drug Abuse 2001a). The detrimental effects of heavy cocaine use—two or more grams a week—on an individual’s manual dexterity, problem-solving, and other critical skills can last for up to a month after the drug was taken last. Heavy cocaine users were outperformed by moderate users and nonusers on most tests measuring verbal memory, manual dexterity, and other cognitive skills. Although the intensity (measured in grams per week) of cocaine use was more closely associated with decreased performance than was the duration of use, all cocaine users studied experienced reduced cognitive function. Dose-related effects were seen primarily on tasks involving the prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain most responsible for attention, concentration, planning, and reasoning. The heaviest cocaine users showed slower median reaction times and poorer attention and concentration (National Institute on Drug Abuse 1999g).

Cocaine causes blood vessels to constrict and increases heart rate and blood pressure. As a result, the heart requires more oxygen-rich blood to nourish its muscle cells. In people whose coronary arteries are narrowed by atherosclerosis, reactions can range from mild angina to a fatal heart attack. Even in people with normal coronary arteries, the ingesting of cocaine has resulted in angina and heart attacks that are believed to be consequences of spasms that reduce or shut off the flow of the oxygenated blood that nourishes the heart. There is also evidence that cocaine can painlessly and permanently damage heart muscles. Several thousand people a year die as the result of sudden cardiac death induced by cocaine; the exact number is unknown because diagnosing the cause of death in such cases is challenging and the mechanism causing this fatal outcome is unknown.

Using advanced brain-scanning techniques, researchers have found that the temporary narrowing of blood vessels caused by cocaine results in a cumulative effect: More cocaine use leads to more narrowing of the arteries. This suggests that heavy cocaine users are susceptible to strokes, bleeding inside the brain, thinking and memory deficits, and other brain disorders (Bolla, Cadet, and London 1998; National Institute on Drug Abuse 1998d). The American Heart Association (1999) reports that cocaine use can lead to the development of aneurysms—ballooning-out of the wall of an artery—in heart arteries. An aneurysm in a heart artery can lead to a heart attack; an aneurysm in an artery of the brain could burst and trigger a stroke. Some aneurysms do not cause symptoms; others may cause chest pain and other coronary artery disease symptoms.

The lack of judgment, unreliability, poor foresight, difficulty making decisions, disinhibition, apathy, euphoria, and irritability exhibited by chronic cocaine abusers appear to be related to damage the drug causes to the part of the brain (the prefrontal lobe) that controls or modifies these behaviors (Bolla, Cadet, and London 1998).

Psychological dependence

The psychological dependence is usually reflected in the behavior of the user. The abuser has a mental state that is characterized by a great desire of using the drug in order to obtain the drug’s effects.

When cocaine is abused, users develop the psychological side effects the drug. These side effects usually have an impact on all the aspects of the user’s social life (affects the user’s relationship with the environment). Cocaine abusers are often blinded by the effects of this drug and generally do not admit that they have a drug addiction problem. These behavioral effects of cocaine can be observed in the user’s family relationships and workplaces.

The use of cocaine usually fuels random acts of violence. This behavior often affects the family of the user. Domestic violence can be easily observed in most of the cases. Research has shown that children (that have one or both parents addicted to cocaine) are the most affected ones. They are often exposed to the drug and subjected to parental abuse by their addicted parents.
In the workplace, cocaine is costly in terms of lost work time and inefficiency. Studies showed that cocaine addicts are generally more exposed to accidents than the nonusers and tend to endanger themselves and those around them.

The effects of this substance can also be seen in the society. The drug-related crime statistics show that cocaine use could fuel violence among drug dealers and users.

Physical dependence

Physical dependence occurs when cocaine addicts develop pathological organic needs of using the substance in order to avoid the disorders that may appear as soon as the individual stops administering the drug. This type of dependence is very common among the cocaine users.

The majority of cocaine addicts don’t really notice the effects until they run out of the substance and realize that they cannot get any more of it. When the user gets into this state, withdrawal’s signs and symptoms appear. The only way the user thinks he can get rid of this stage is by administering more cocaine. The physical dependence manifests by degenerative side effects that can be noticed after prolonged use. Most of the time, the addict tries to overcome the uncomfortable physical side effects by administering the drug again and again, making it impossible to escape from this cycle.


Recognizing a Cocaine Addiction

Recognizing this type of addiction can only be seen after the individual enters into a state of physical or psychological dependence. Both dependencies are generally generated by a chronic consumption of the drug. These dependencies often have an impact on all the aspects of the user’s life.
Recognizing a cocaine addiction can be an easy task for everyone. If a person has at least minimum knowledge about the drugs’ side effects, this problem can be easily solved.

How to recognize a cocaine addiction:

• Are there effects of chronic consumption?
• Is the user facing the effects of psychological dependence? (and consequences)
• Is the user suffering from a physiological dependence?

These three questions mentioned before are the most commonly used ones in recognizing an addiction. Once recognized, the addiction should be treated under the supervision of a specialized caregiver.

Signs of Cocaine Overdose

The term “overdose” describes the ingestion of a drug or other substance in quantities greater than are recommended, and could result in a toxic state or death.

Signs of overdose:
• Heart attack
• Increased blood pressure
• Increased heart rate
• Increased body temperature
• Stroke
• Chest pain
• Psychosis
• Delirium
• Hallucinations