Cocaine Abuse in the US

Cocaine is a Schedule II stimulant drug. This means that it has a very high potential for abuse and addiction, but it can be used by doctors for legitimate reasons. It can be used orally, snorted, injected, or smoked. When used, cocaine stimulates the release of dopamine within the brain and produces sensations of euphoria, increased energy and mental alertness, and hypersensitivity.

National Statistics

The effects of cocaine are felt almost immediately after it is used, but they may only last for a few minutes to a few hours depending. Over the years, there has been a relatively stable use of cocaine in the United States.

  • In 2015, there were around 1.5 million reported regular users (12 years and older). This number is probably higher now and does not include individuals who did not report their use. 
  • Studies in 2014 saw about 913,000 Americans with cocaine abuse disorders. 
  • There were 504,000 ER visits in 2011 that were due to cocaine use. 
  • 40% of drug abuse-related ER cases involve cocaine abuse.
  • In 2019, there were 15,883 cocaine overdose deaths.

Symptoms of Cocaine Use

Individuals who use cocaine will feel an increase in energy and sensitivity to sight, touch, and sound. They may also feel restless, paranoid, or irritable. Other signs of cocaine abuse are:

  • Dilated pupils
  • High body temperature and blood pressure
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Loss of appetite
  • Erratic behavior
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Lack of personal hygiene or taking care of oneself
  • Lying or increased secrecy
  • Partaking in risky behavior
  • Mood swings
  • Loss of interest in things they once enjoyed
  • Increasing financial problems
Symptoms of Cocaine Abuse

Cocaine Overdose

People can, and do, overdose on cocaine, especially if it is laced with another drug such as an opioid. There is also potential for individuals to overdose if they are drinking while using cocaine. It is often used as a party drug to minimize the depressant effects of alcohol, but this can cause someone to drink too much or use too much cocaine. 

A cocaine overdose may look involve chest pain, trouble breathing, nausea or vomiting, confusion, seizures, panic, and intense paranoia. If someone is overdosing on cocaine, it is extremely critical that 911 be called immediately. 

Recovery is Possible

The following stories show real people who have gone through cocaine addiction, detox and withdrawal and have made it out on the other side successfully. 

Consequences of Cocaine Abuse

There are very serious consequences of cocaine use because of the way that it stimulates both the brain and the body. Not only is this substance typically laced or cut with other, potentially harmful substances, but it can cause permanent damage to both the brain and the body when used in excess for extended periods of time. Some of those long-term consequences are:

  • Heart attack
  • Overdose
  • Stroke
  • Loss of grey matter in the brain
  • Respiratory complications
  • Hepatitis
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Seizure
  • Cerebral hemorrhage

Withdrawal from cocaine is primarily going to cause psychological side effects:

  • Depression
  • Anhedonia
  • Fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Cravings
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Restlessness or irritability

Treatment for Cocaine Abuse

Treating cocaine addiction means treating all underlying conditions as well and ensuring that cravings do not cause a relapse. 

Medications like Naltrexone may be used to help individuals control cravings and other withdrawal symptoms. There are various other medications that can be used to help reduce the discomfort of most other symptoms. Those medications might be:

  • Tiagabine
  • Disulfiram
  • Propranolol
  • Baclofen
Medication Therapy for Cocaine Abuse

Other techniques that are used to treat cocaine abuse disorders are evidence-based therapies, group therapies, and holistic treatments. Ideal plans address abuse from all angles, which means targeting the individual as a whole.

  • Evidence-based therapies such as CBT or motivational enhancement give clients the chance to discuss their treatment needs with an individual clinician. Not only are most of these done one-on-one, but they work to reframe negative thoughts and emotions in a positive way so as to enhance change towards sobriety.
  • Group therapies are extremely beneficial for people who may feel very isolated or alone in their recovery journey. It can help to be surrounded by individuals who understand exactly what it is you are experiencing. Forming relationships and making connections with others in recovery is a key feature of most programs, whether inpatient or outpatient. 
  • Holistic therapies such as acupuncture of adventure therapy connect the link between in-house treatments and real-world experiences. They can help clients develop positive habits and coping mechanisms as well as provide practice when it comes to applying those in real-life situations.
Holistic Therapy for Cocaine Abuse

National Heroin Resources

  • Cocaine Anonymous: This is the national website for all meeting times and locations of CA meetings.
  • Cocaine Anonymous Online: For those who feel more comfortable with online meetings, this website provides information and resources.
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