What is cocaine?
Cocaine is an illegal drug that belongs to the class of stimulants, together with other drugs such as amphetamine, dextroamphetamine, methamphetamine, methylphenidate, methylphenidate, phendimetrazine and pemoline (Platt, 2000). Cocaine is used especially for its capacity to increase, even if for a short time span, one’s efficiency and functionality. The law prohibits the use of this drug due to its potential for abuse which is, often-times, deadly.
However, during the last century, cocaine was not always seen as a dangerous drug and the use of cocaine was even socially tolerated or medically encouraged. For example, Freud referred to cocaine in terms of an analgesic, antidepressant or as a cure for morphine addiction, and used it himself in order to get relief from migraine or depression. One hundred years later, cocaine was still far from being considered a dangerous drug, the common belief being that it was incapable of producing any form of addiction (Gawin, 1991). However, more and more studies prove that “cocaine produces unique abuse and withdrawal patterns that differ from those of the other major abused drugs” (Gawin, 1991, p. 1580). Moreover, Gawin (1991) explains that cocaine abuse over long periods triggers neurophysiological changes in CNS and deters the individual to experience pleasure in the absence of this narcotic substance.
Administration and effects of cocaine
Cocaine is a very popular drug, the second most used in Europe after marijuana. Even if its use is legally prohibited in Europe, a report from 2008 revealed that almost 12 million people had tried cocaine at least once in their lifetime, with 87.5% of the consumers being young people, aged 15 - 34 years (The State of the Drugs Problem in Europe, 2008). Cocaine has different slang names, such as “C”, “blow”, “coke”, “flake”, “lady”, “nose candy”, “snow”, “stardust”, “La Dama Blanca”, “candy” etc. Many users combine cocaine with alcohol. Alcohol is a trigger for cocaine use (enhance relapse chances) and, mixed with cocaine, puts health at a higher risk compared to the situation when alcohol or cocaine are used separately (Platt, 2000; Farre, DeLa Torre, Gonzalez, Teran, Roset, Menoyo & Cami, 1997).
Cocaine can be administrated orally (coca leafs that are chewed together with lime or with other alkaline substances), insufflated (the most common method of ingestion, the absorption is made through nasal membranes), injected, inhaled (smoking, sometimes combined with other drugs, such as marijuana) and even anally or vaginally inserted (Platt, 2000).
Psychological effects of cocaine consumption include a feeling of high energy, restlessness, mental alertness, increased intensity of sensations and perceptions (sight, sound and touch) and an augmented capacity of performing simple tasks (both physical and intellectual ones).
Physiologically, many changes occur during cocaine intake and afterwards: constricted blood vessels, higher temperature, increased heart rate and blood pressure. In some cases, tremors as well as vertigo, muscle twitches, nausea, vomiting and nose-bleeding are possible. Cardiac arrest or seizure and respiratory arrest are often times associated with death caused by cocaine abuse.
A repeated cocaine intake leads to weight loss, loss of appetite, insomnia, burns and sores on the interior membrane of the nose, septum perforation and addiction to the substance. Psychologically, there are also long term consequences to face: tolerance (which implies using more cocaine for the same effects), dependence, addiction and withdrawal symptoms. If the person decides to give up cocaine, the psychological effects are usually more difficult to handle than the physical ones: anxiety, depression, fatigue, inability to feel pleasure or to concentrate and cravings for the drug. Serious physical symptoms specific to the withdrawal period are muscular and bone pains, tremors, chills etc. Medical help should be searched for if you or someone you know already displays such symptoms.
Recovering from cocaine addiction is a challenge for both the addict as well as for his / her family and friends. Refraining from consuming the substance requires plenty of determination and specific therapy for substance addiction. 12 steps groups can help one to give up the addiction as well as to change his / her lifestyle. Relaxation exercises could help when the withdrawal symptoms arise. Group-therapy, including psychodrama and role-playing techniques have been proven to be quite effective psychotherapeutic approaches (O'Brien, McLellan, Alterman & Childress, 1992). However, the path to recovery is sometimes paved with lots of relapses. There is no universal reason that makes people relapse, but usually difficult events from their lives are associated with getting back to the drug (Rice-Licare, Delaney-McLoughlin & Weimann, 1990). Drinking encourages the return to cocaine, by lowering the inhibition and making one give up drug abstinence as well. Therefore, having a group support and staying close to friends and family is of major importance when dealing with this challenge which seems, for many people, the biggest one they have to face in their entire life. Don’t lose hope and remember that there is always a solution for your problems. Everything starts with being brave enough to ask for help!
Farré, M., de la Torre, R., González, M.L., Terán, M.T., Roset, P.N., Menoyo, E., Camí, J. (1997). Cocaine and alcohol interactions in humans: neuroendocrine effects and cocaethylene metabolism, J Pharmacol Exp Ther., 283(1), p: 164-76.
Gawin, F.H (1991). Cocaine addiction: psychology and neurophysiology, Science, 251(5001), pp. 1580-1586, DOI: 10.1126/science.2011738
O'Brien, C.P., McLellan A.T., Alterman A., Childress A.R. (1992). Psychotherapy for cocaine dependence. Ciba Found Symp., 166:207-16, discussion 216-23.
Platt, J.J. (2000). Cocaine addiction. Theory, research and treatment. UK: Harvard University Press.
Rice-Licare, J., Delaney-McLoughlin. K. & Weimann, F. (1990). Cocaine Solutions: Help for Cocaine Abusers and Their Families, UK: Routledge