Cocaine is a powerful drug made from the leaves of the coca plant, native to the mountainous regions of South America. Traditionally used both medicinally and recreationally by the native people of South America, the psychoactive ingredient of the coca plant was isolated in the mid-19th century, and it was sold mostly as an analgesic, although it was touted for many other things, from teeth whitening to curing flatulence. It’s come a long way since then, having been recognized as a dangerous narcotic after decades of widespread abuse and addiction.
While it retains marginal medical usefulness as a form of topical anesthesia, cocaine is generally known to be harmful and addictive, and remains illegal. However, that doesn’t stop it from being one of the most popular illegal drugs in the United States. While recent headlines are focused more on the damage done through heroin and meth, cocaine remains a drug of choice for many, and breaking the habit is far from easy. Thankfully, it’s possible to get real help for cocaine addiction nowadays.
The key is to ask for help. Drug addiction treatments today are safe and effective and can bring patients the path to lasting sobriety that they need. But it all starts with a willingness to commit to the program and accept help.
The Power of Cocaine
Although not as addictive as methamphetamine or heroin, cocaine is still a dangerously addictive drug, capable of leading to a substance dependence despite limited exposure. In fact, brain analysis shows that an individual’s first hit primes them for the next.
As with other drugs, the rate at which addiction occurs depends on individual factors, including gender, genetics, and mental/emotional state. Someone in a delicate and stressful situation is more likely to cling to the drug, and a person with a family history of addition has a greater chance of developing a dependence.
The reason we’re susceptible to cocaine, of all things, is because its chemical structure is adept at triggering the release of dopamine in mammalian brains. Like other drugs, cocaine starts in the bloodstream and makes its way to the brain. There, it interacts with our brain’s cells, increasing the amount of dopamine in the brain by turning off our natural dopamine recycling/reuptake, thus leading to an overabundance of the neurotransmitter in our brains.
This leads to an incredible feeling of euphoria. But it also leads to a depressive crash, and due to the unnatural amounts of dopamine in the brain, the brain’s first reaction is to mount its defenses and adapt to the sensation.
This adaptation occurs differently for everyone, but whoever adapts faster typically develops dependence faster. This is because as the brain gets used to the effects of cocaine, it becomes better at metabolizing the drug, causing us to take more of it to counteract the tolerance. Eventually, quitting altogether leads to withdrawal symptoms due to the sudden lack of “regular” dopamine levels.
The symptoms of prolonged cocaine use include:
- Respiratory issues
- Bowel decay (from oral use)
- Rapid weight loss
- Tremors and twitches
- Reduced cognitive abilities (risk assessment and rationality)
- Increased risk of infections in the lung
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Increased risk of stroke
The most significant thing about cocaine is that the brain remembers the effects of the drug, even years after quitting. While stopping cocaine use does a lot to reverse the damage cocaine can do to the brain – from destroying brain cells to reconfiguring our sense of pleasure and happiness – a relapse can land you right back in the middle of it all with just a few bumps.
Maintaining long-term sobriety is the only way to avoid the negative effects of cocaine. Thankfully, that’s what treatment is for.
What Cocaine Addiction Treatment Looks Like
Like other addiction treatments, cocaine addiction treatment centers on the use of behavioral therapy and community-based programs. The key is to help individuals find other ways to cope with their problems and live a fulfilling and meaningful life without reasons to crave cocaine, while helping them find their place in society.
The two more popular forms of talk therapy currently used to treat addiction are cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy. Both address the relationship between thoughts, emotions, and actions, helping people identify useful and harmful thoughts, correct themselves, and apply their better thinking in their behavior. It’s complex and takes time but has proven to be very effective.
Other forms of therapy that might help include hypnotherapy and activity-based therapies, like sports therapy and music therapy.
Nothing currently available has been approved for the treatment of a cocaine addiction, but there is research currently ongoing testing the efficacy of existing drugs in the treatment of addiction. Buprenorphine, for example, known for blocking the effects of opioids, may have a similar effect for cocaine, helping someone quit and kick into withdrawal. Other drugs, like modafinil and disulfiram would show promise too.
Like other addiction treatment programs, a program designed around cocaine addiction will do its best to help prepare people for the challenges they’ll face while sober. There’s a stark contrast between sobriety and life while addicted, and it can be very difficult to get used to.
A good option for many coming from residential and outpatient programs is to try out a sober living home. For those who started their treatment at sober living communities, it’s not a bad plan to stay there for longer or to return if needed. While treatment is meant to help deal with early recovery, sober living homes are designed to help tenants learn how to live a normal life without drugs. Tenants at sober living communities must abide by a curfew, participate in group events, take on chores to help the community, and make a commitment to either school or work. The lives at sober living homes are built on responsibility, accountability to one another, and a sense of social cohesion by working together towards a better life.
All of this is done in a completely drug-free environment, and tenants are encouraged to continue that practice once they leave to live their own lives. Without commitments, responsibilities, hobbies and a support network of fellow former addicts, many struggle to continue staying clean after their first treatment period. Relapses are common, because no one is perfectly prepared for life after rehab. But a sober living community gives you the chance to further build up your life while avoiding the temptations you know could be all around you.
Your chances at staying clean are up to you, ultimately. After rehab, your life is in your own hands and what you do is your responsibility. But it’s important to remember that it’s normal to make mistakes, and hiccups are to be expected sometimes. Don’t let these mistakes end your recovery – keep going.