Understanding the symptoms of addiction is the first key to conquering that addiction. A powerfully addictive stimulant made from the leaves of the South American coca plant, cocaine use results in short-term euphoria and a burst of energy and talkativeness, combined with a dangerous rise in heart rate and blood pressure.
Typically, cocaine in its powdered form is inhaled through the nose, where it becomes absorbed through the nasal tissue. The drug can also be dissolved in water and injected directly into the bloodstream. Crack, on the other hand, is a form of cocaine that has been processed into rock crystals, which are then smoked and absorbed into the blood stream via the lungs. Each method of taking cocaine or crack has the potential for different effects: inhaling cocaine can result in 15 to 30-minutes of intense pleasurable effects, whereas the effects of smoking the drug may last less than 10-minutes.
Cocaine addiction results when users, in order to sustain their high, continue to take the drug in a short period of time in an effort to maintain the euphoric effects. However, this binge pattern, quickly leads to an addictive state where changes in the brain begin to occur, changes that lead to a strong urge to seek more of the drug at increasingly higher doses. Essentially, cocaine increases level of the neurotransmitter dopamine, a chemical that regulates pleasure and movement in the body. Normally dopamine is released by neurons in the brain and then recycled back into the cells, ceasing signals between these neurons. Cocaine, however, prevents dopamine from being recycled and causes excessive amounts to accumulate in the junctions between neurons. The dopamine then disrupts normal communications within the brain, causing the characteristic cocaine “high.” Additionally, the drug alters the brain’s ability to maintain rational thinking, leading to periods of extreme impulsive behavior.
Because it works on the central nervous system, with repeated use of cocaine the drug constricts blood vessels and increases body temperature as well as heart rate and blood pressure. In the short term, it can cause gastrointestinal problems including pain and nausea and decrease appetite: chronic users may even become malnourished due to a lack of food intake. Additionally, regular inhaling of cocaine can lead to a loss of the sense of smell, cause repeated nosebleeds—to the point where cocaine abuse nose damage is permanent—and interfere with the ability to swallow normally, as well as reduce blood flow to vital organs such as the stomach.
The long-term effects of cocaine use include heart attacks and strokes at substantially higher rates than non-users, and many people who inject cocaine put themselves at risk for contracting HIV by sharing needles. Additionally, research shows that the continued use of cocaine leads to a wide array of reckless and risky behaviors.
The visual effects of long-term cocaine addiction are most commonly characterized by irritability, extreme restlessness and uncontrollable anxiety. Chronic abusers also experience severe paranoia—and in some cases, may have psychotic breaks—during which time they lose touch with reality and suffer from hallucinations.