How Long Does it Take to Get Addicted to Coke?Anna Ciulla
Cocaine is an illicit psychostimulant derived from a native South American plant—the coca. The plant’s analgesic properties were originally used in folk medicine by indigenous tribes although they were soon discovered by western explorers, who found that topical application and oral ingestion numbed toothaches, reduced the pain and discomfort associated with sinus infections, and relieved nausea. In the late 1970’s—after decades of minor, relatively disorganized trafficking—cocaine was smuggled into the US by Columbian cartels that capitalized on its profitability and glamorized reputation among Hollywood elites. Today, the drug remains popular on the black market, single-handedly spawning an entire counterculture of crime, overdose, death, and disease.
Cocaine’s addictive potential is considered by experts to be immediate and extreme. Although pure varieties are hustled in powdered or freebase form—also known as “crack”—dealers often lace it with common household substances like flour, cornstarch, silicon, or talcum power in order to maximize profits. Increasingly, it is also mixed with synthetic street-opiates like fentanyl or amphetamines.
Recent statistics gleaned from multiple government agencies and drug authorities help illustrate cocaine’s devastating cultural impact and addictive potential. Consider the following:
- Although cocaine-related deaths temporarily declined between 2007 and 2010, they are once again on the rise, presenting a problem of overwhelming magnitude and severity.
- According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), approximately 38 million Americans ages 12 or older reported using cocaine at least once in their lifetime.
- In 2014, approximately 5,400 people died as a result of cocaine overdoses—3,900 males and 1,500 females.
- In 2014, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that 913,000 Americans met the official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) criteria for cocaine dependence or abuse.
- In 2017, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a record surge in cocaine-related deaths in 2017, with approximately 15,000 deaths the result of cocaine poisoning—a 35 percent increase over 2016.
- In recent years, Columbia’s cocaine supply has dramatically increased—the unfortunate result of a peace settlement with farmers who were offered financial incentives to stop growing the coca plant. However, in order to be considered eligible for government payments, farmers who had previously not been involved in the international coca trade began growing it. As a direct result, the price of cocaine plummeted globally while leading to increased manufacturing and recreational usage in the US.
- Statistical averages implicate cocaine in one out of every three, or approximately 40 percent, of total drug-related emergency room (ER) visits.
- Cocaine was found to be most popular among socially, psychologically, and physiologically vulnerable young adults ages 18-25.
- Approximately 50-90 percent of people addicted to cocaine relapse while attempting self-guided, at-home treatment.
PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that cocaine is an unusually addictive drug, producing a “high” within five minutes of being smoked, snorted, or intravenously injected. Typically, this euphoric state diminishes within 10 minutes of ingestion, although when the drug is snorted, it may linger for as long as 30 minutes. Regardless of the method of ingestion, cocaine works through a potent chemical mechanism. Similar to opiates, the drug artificially elevates dopamine levels located in the brain and throughout the central nervous system (CNS). This rush of dopamine, in turn, impacts the limbic system—a specific area of the brain associated with pleasure.
Once the body becomes used to the euphoria unleashed by this major neurotransmitter, it craves more of the drug in order to maintain the same effect, a process many experts refer to as a “rewarding feedback loop.” Empirical research has also implicated an intricate brain region known as the basal ganglia in the development of cocaine addiction—which can occur after singular use. In controlled studies, recent, recreational cocaine users, and long-term addicts both displayed clinically significant enlargement of the basal ganglia. These findings contradict previous claims that the dopamine-induced, pleasurable rewards associated with cocaine use were rooted only in the limbic system.
Beyond the physically addictive and psychologically intoxicating charms associated with cocaine are a number of unwanted side effects, some of which may prove fatal if not treated immediately. The following symptoms are commonly associated with cocaine addiction and abuse:
- Paranoia, irritability, and delusions
- Constricted blood vessels
- Muscle twitching
- Reduced blood flow
- Dangerous impulsivity
- Violent or uncharacteristically volatile behavior
- Increased body temperature
- Accelerated heart rate
- Elevated blood pressure
- Bowel decay
- Major risk of developing HIV or Hepatitis C
- Anosmia and difficulty swallowing
- Heart attack
- Coma and/or death
Unfortunately, cocaine is frequently sold and abused in tandem with other deadly, mind-altering substances, many of which are not properly regulated. For example, cocaine is often mixed with heroin and injected, a process users call “speed-balling.” This high-priced, potentially fatal concoction is renowned for the incomparable high it produces and hard-core street appeal.
Cocaine is also commonly mixed with benzodiazepines—a popular, highly diverted class of sedative hypnotics. Aside from increasing the likelihood of polysubstance addiction and abuse, combining cocaine and benzodiazepines such as Xanax may also cause permanent brain damage. Once neurochemistry has been artificially manipulated, and the brain subjected to a nightmarish roller coaster of structural changes, debilitating social, professional, medical, and frequently legal consequences inevitably follow. New initiates to the world of cocaine may find themselves casually enjoying recreational use, only to quickly spiral into madness and multifaceted dysfunction. At this point, the coke-addled brain has been hijacked and a return to healthy, autonomous functioning becomes extremely difficult.
Simultaneously mixing cocaine and Adderall is another popular, incredibly volatile practice. Such combination amplifies the psychostimulant effects associated with both drugs and frequently produces a dangerous cardiovascular reaction. Particularly in adolescents whose physical and psychological development is not yet fully integrated, concurrent Adderall and cocaine abuse may result in irreversible brain damage and lasting social, professional, medical, and legal consequences.
Alcohol—an inordinately abused substance—produces paradoxical stimulant and depressant effects, a fact which proves debilitating when mixed with cocaine. The volcanic unpredictability of this improper mixture may trigger a heart attack, seriously impair respiratory function, and assault the brain. Together, cocaine and alcohol form a toxic chemical called cocaethylene. Although cocaethylene produces intense euphoria, once metabolized by the liver, it may also cause the following:
- Heart disease
- Intracranial hemorrhage
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Cerebral infarction-death of blood vessels and/or brain tissue
THE NECESSITY OF PROFESSONAL TREATMENT
Cocaine addiction and withdrawal require professional medical detox and subsequent treatment. The majority of inpatient detox programs last approximately one week and feature 24/7 client monitoring in a safe and highly supportive environment. This intensive level of treatment helps facilitate a client’s gradual return to equilibrium while significantly minimizing risks. In certain cases, short-term hospitalization may also be required if complications arise, or even more intensive monitoring and comprehensive care are deemed necessary during the detox process. After successfully completing initial detox, clients commonly choose one of the following treatment options:
- Inpatient treatment—long considered the industry gold standard for cocaine addiction treatment, this live-in option provides round-the-clock client monitoring and increased security at a designated residential facility. Inpatient treatment also features comprehensive assessment and evaluation by a team of licensed medical professionals and qualified clinicians—with many reputable facilities providing ancillary benefits and services beyond the evidence-based treatment (EBT) routine.
- Outpatient treatment—although less intensive and generally cheaper than inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment offers many of the same services and benefits as inpatient treatment. For certain clients, outpatient treatment offers the singular advantage of greater flexibility based upon their personal and/or professional schedules. It is also appropriate for clients successfully transitioning from more intensive levels of care, desiring longer-term maintenance therapy, or financially limited in pursuing treatment at a premium level.
Although genetic tendencies and environmental factors make certain people more susceptible to cocaine addiction, any one, at any time, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, age, gender, or religion can end up in need of professional treatment. If you or someone you love are addicted to cocaine and in need of help, call a substance abuse professional today. Never delay seeking treatment for any reason! Abusing a drug as illicit and powerful as cocaine is analogous to playing with a loaded gun, and early intervention is critical to achieving optimal long-term treatment outcomes.
Most importantly, remember that cocaine abuse may result in overdose—and potentially death. Overdose is considered a life-threatening emergency requiring immediate response by dialing 911 or visiting your nearest hospital emergency room (ER).
For more about cocaine addiction and recovery, check out these related articles:
- “Cocaine Detox Guide”
- “Dangers of Drug Detox at Home and Quitting Cold Turkey”
- “Long-term Effects of Substance Abuse”
- “Are Women More at Risk for Cocaine Addiction?”
- Addiction Science and Clinical Practice. The Neurobiology of Cocaine Addiction. Dec, 2005
- Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine. The pathophysiology of cocaine abuse. March, 2003.
- Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC). The Cardiovascular Effects of Cocaine. July, 2017.
- Blood Journal. Cocaine and the blood-brain-barrier. October, 2011.
- American Heart Association Journals (AHA). Cardiovascular Effects of Cocaine. Dec, 2010