Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug that’s known for its horrible effects on the mind and body. The thought of someone you love crouched over a line of white powder and snorting something that could potentially kill them is unsettling, to say the least, especially if you’re the parent of a teenager. These images inspire many sleepless nights, and the very real concern for many of us is whether we would even notice if our friend, brother, or child had developed a cocaine problem. Let’s examine some of the common signs of cocaine addiction and abuse, so you know what to look out for and when to get a loved one help.
Why Is Cocaine Addictive?
Before we get into the symptoms of cocaine addiction, we need to understand why this drug is addictive and what it does to the body. Also known as coke and crack, cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant, meaning it excites nerve activity in the brain and spinal cord. Cocaine has an extremely high potential for abuse and addiction, impacting the user’s heart, brain, and mental health.
Cocaine is an illegal street drug that’s created by purifying extract from the leaves of the coca plant, formally known as the Erythroxylum coca bush. Different processes make two main forms of cocaine: powdered cocaine, known as “blow” or “coke,” and crystalline cocaine, called crack cocaine or “rock.” While the former can be smoked, snorted, or diluted into water to be injected, crack cocaine is more commonly free-based or smoked.
Cocaine is addictive due to its impact on the reward system of the brain, particularly by activating the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain whenever we do something pleasurable. Normally, the brain will reabsorb dopamine that’s released and use it again in the future.
However, cocaine blocks the reabsorption of dopamine, allowing the chemical to flood in between nerve cells. This excess dopamine is what causes a euphoric high in users. Not only do the pleasurable symptoms of a cocaine high contribute to further drug use, but the physical changes in brain chemistry also contribute to drug-taking behavior.
The longer a person uses cocaine, the more their brain will struggle to release and control dopamine levels on its own. Eventually, the individual will rely on the drug to experience joy and euphoria. Long-term cocaine use can therefore lead to tolerance, physical dependence that’s marked by withdrawal symptoms, and a cocaine use disorder.
Cocaine Addiction Signs and Symptoms
Various genetic, physical, environmental, and psychological factors can contribute to cocaine addiction. For instance, individuals with a family history of cocaine addiction are more likely to develop one themselves. Individuals who were born with a chemical imbalance – particularly one involving dopamine – are more likely to seek out drugs like cocaine. Others who work in high-stake environments, such as Wall Street, are more likely to use cocaine both because of its accessibility and its ability to increase energy.
Even so, anyone can develop an addiction to cocaine. Therefore, if you suspect that a loved one may be using this drug, look out for these common signs of cocaine addiction.
One of the easiest cocaine addiction symptoms to recognize is dilated (enlarged) pupils. Our pupils dilate normally in response to changes in the light and other biological factors, specifically the stimulation of serotonin levels. Cocaine raises serotonin in our bodies and therefore triggers the dilation of pupils. Of course, it isn’t the only drug that has this effect, but it’s a good indicator that some kind of drug use is in effect.
Cocaine is best known for its powerful stimulation of the central nervous system, which causes extreme restlessness and fidgeting as the whole body is primed for agitated movement and energy. A cocaine user will experience surges of energy with racing thoughts and signs of agitation. Think caffeine in overdrive. Bouncing legs and other nervous motions are common signs of cocaine use and other stimulants.
Along the same lines as restlessness, the body will respond to cocaine and other stimulants with random muscle twitches and sudden impulsive movements. A cocaine user is often boiling over with energy until the high is over, and their emotions and energy levels plummet to a steady baseline of flat emotions and lethargic sloth.
Since the central nervous system and energy levels are on a roller coaster ride with cocaine, a user will appear to have wild mood swings from one extreme high to an extreme low. They can switch from really excited to suddenly angry and irritable. Other emotional cues include acute paranoia and displays of arrogant superiority or narcissism.
Mood swings are also common symptoms of cocaine withdrawal. These emotional changes are the result of a sudden lack of dopamine stimulation, causing the individual to experience low moods, irritability, and more.
Withdrawal From Loved Ones
It’s common for drug users, in general, to withdraw from their friends and families as their addictions worsen. They may be more focused on obtaining and using the substance rather than spending time with their loved ones. In addition to withdrawing, cocaine addicts may also start hanging out with people who use cocaine, as well.
Changes in Behavior
A person’s character may also change when they develop a drug habit. They can go from calm, quiet, and reliable to over-energized, high-strung, irritable, and neglectful. As the addiction worsens, a cocaine addict’s priorities may also shift, putting cocaine at the number one spot on their list of responsibilities. Even the most dedicated of partners or parents can succumb to the effects of cocaine.
A more obvious indication of cocaine use is the presence of paraphernalia and materials commonly used in snorting cocaine. Cocaine paraphernalia refers to tools and materials used to ingest cocaine. These include razor blades (used to scrape the powder into a line), rolled-up dollar bills or other paper (used for snorting), miniature spoons, needles, syringes, and bottle caps. A white powdery residue can be the remains of cocaine. These things found in pockets, backpacks, or the person’s room or home are major indicators of a cocaine habit.
How to Beat Cocaine Addiction
As dangerous as cocaine abuse is, recognizing the signs of cocaine addiction brings you one step closer to getting yourself or a loved one help. Fortunately, there are some amazing treatment options in the medical world these days, and our Pompano Beach treatment center proudly offers a whole range of these programs for treating cocaine addiction.
Our facility offers cocaine addiction treatment that utilizes individual and group therapy programs to aid in both physical and psychological recovery. Our facility also offers mental health treatment in Florida, which can further contribute to the recovery process.