About 800,000 people living in the United States are addicted to cocaine, according to research quoted in PsychCentral.
That means there are hundreds of thousands of people walking around American streets right now with a big problem that might seem difficult to solve. It might not be easy to determine who these people are and what you might need to do in order to help them. Thankfully, there are solutions out there.
Every day, researchers learn more about how cocaine addictions develop, and they come up with innovative solutions that could stamp out abuse and addiction altogether. The more families know about these issues, the better they’ll be able to step in and connect their families with the help and hope they need.
Why Is Cocaine Addictive?
Cocaine is extracted from the leaves and sap of the coca plant. Manufacturers grow these plants, harvest them, manipulate the substances, and turn them into products they can sell on the street. Those products might be powders, made for sniffing or snorting, or those products might be crystalline, made for heating and smoking.
While powdered cocaine and crystalized (or “crack”) cocaine might look different, these products all do one thing. When users take these drugs into their bodies, the drugs head right to the cells inside the brain and they trigger deep chemical responses.
Often, those triggered responses have to do with the brain chemical dopamine. This is the signal the brain uses for something pleasurable, and cocaine has the unique ability to amplify that signal. People taking cocaine often describe the sensation as a rush or a wave of pleasure that overwhelms them totally, and they often feel as though that sensation leaves too quickly. As a result, it’s not uncommon for users to take massive hits of cocaine repeatedly in a binge format. They want to hang onto the fleeting sensation, no matter the cost.
And there is a cost to pay. Research from Johns Hopkins suggests that brain cells develop new communication pathways in response to cocaine. These are cells that are amended at their very core, working differently once they’re exposed to cocaine. In time, these cells just won’t function without cocaine. It seems like something the cells need and they can’t work without them.
A person who takes cocaine can be driven to take the drug again, and all of those changes happen so deep within the brain that they’re hard to control. People may just feel urges, and they may find it difficult to ignore those urges.
Complications of Cocaine Abuse
While people who take cocaine may endure brain changes, they may also harm other parts of the body, especially the heart. Research quoted by MNT found that people who used cocaine regularly had a 30-35 percent increase in stiffening in the aorta, while the left ventricle of the heart was 18 percent thicker.
These are the sorts of changes that make a heart stiff and thick, unable to respond to big changes in demand. If a person with a heart like this tries to complete some sort of physical task, that person could have a heart attack. Typically, heart attacks like this are associated with people who are older. But these heart problems can happen to people who are quite young, if they abuse cocaine.
In addition, cocaine has a tendency to close up blood vessels. That means people who snort the drug can deprive their nasal passages of the blood they need to survive. The same could be said of people who swallow cocaine, as their digestive tissues may be starved for blood. Gangrene, infection, and cell death could all result from regular exposure to the tightening cocaine can cause.
When people who abuse cocaine choose to stop doing so, detox is the first step in the recovery process. It’s here that people take the time to allow their damaged brain cells to revert to a normal level of functioning. While a cocaine detox may not come with a number of physical signs like nausea or shaking, people in withdrawal can often feel intensely low and depressed.
Brain cells accustomed to ready access to cocaine can function inefficiently without access to the drug. Receptors are turned inward or off, and signals aren’t moving as quickly as they should. That can mean people are a little incapable of experiencing joy caused by the world around them. Instead, they may just feel numb or low.
That depression can last for months following the cessation of long-term, heavy use of cocaine, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. But people with a shorter abuse life cycle may find that they can recover just a little bit quicker from the damage the abuse can cause.
At the moment, there are no medications specifically designed to assist people with an ongoing addiction to cocaine, but that doesn’t mean there is no help available. In fact, there’s a great deal of help out there for people who want to leave a cocaine addiction behind. That help comes in therapy.
Motivational incentives, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, have the proven ability to help people to overcome a cocaine addiction. With this technique, people who abuse cocaine are given some type of reward or bonus for every act they complete that leads to recovery. Those acts might include:
- Attending a therapy session
- Providing a clean urine sample
- Going to a support group meeting
- Applying for a job
- Taking a class
- Completing addiction homework
Completing a task gives the person a little boost in a feeling of self-efficacy, and the reward can make the progress seem tangible and real. In time, people with addictions may not need rewards in order to stay enrolled in care, but during the early part of the recovery process, it can be a vital way to help people stay committed and engaged with their recovery.
Therapy sessions may also help people with cocaine addictions to identify their relapse triggers. And when it comes to cocaine, there may be no bigger trigger than a sense of stress and worry. Research in Current Psychiatry Reports suggests that people with a history of addiction can feel a big boost in a sense of loss and cravings when they’re exposed to some kind of stress. A difficult work environment, a fight with a loved one, or a snarled commute home can send them running back to cocaine, unless they have skills they can use to beat those cravings back.
Therapists might help their clients by teaching them self-soothing skills, including meditation and relaxation. Or therapists might push their clients to focus on the moments in which they feel the most stress, and then figure out what they might need to do to eliminate those sources of stress. Family therapy, for example, might ameliorate family stress, while commuting by bus might assist with commute stress. By getting creative, people might be able to avoid these issues altogether.
While therapy remains the mainstay of cocaine addiction treatment at the moment, treatment teams are always looking for new ways to help. Medications may do much of that work in the future. Research quoted by Science Daily suggests that the DNA of brain cells actually changes during cocaine use and withdrawal, which means medications that amend and tweak DNA could help people to recover with a touch fewer symptoms and risks of relapse.
Similarly, research published in the journal JAMA suggests that the medication topiramate may help to reduce cravings for cocaine, which could help people in recovery to stay sober for longer periods of time. In this study, people given medication were able to stay sober longer than were people given a fake or placebo medication.
These studies are certainly promising, and they should give families hope. After all, these studies prove that people in the research community care about how cocaine addiction develops and how it might be conquered. Families touched by addiction certainly aren’t alone, and people out there are really trying to help.
But it’s vital to remember that treatments like this are novel and new. They might one day move to the mainstream, but right now, they’re very unique and untested. Families should focus on the therapies that have been scientifically proven to assist people with cocaine addictions, rather than looking for a silver bullet. Treatments like this are safest, most efficacious, and most often covered by insurance. They’re the very best way, at the moment, to handle a cocaine addiction.
Help Is Available
At Axis, we watch over cocaine research very carefully. We’re always interested in providing our patients with the very best at the medical community has to offer, and we always want to be on the cutting edge of science. But most importantly, we provide real, proven help. Every treatment you’ll get at Axis has been proven effective by the medical community. We provide the best, proven, most effective way to handle a cocaine addiction. And we have openings right now. Please call us and we’ll tell you more about how our programs work and how you can enroll.