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Article written and designed by Cosimo Simeone, Msc, PgdDip, Bsc, Physiotherapist

Cocaine is a strong drug that comes from a chemical process made on coca leaves. For over 4,000 years, people in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia used coca leaves for medicine and to feel more awake. European explorers noticed this in the 16th century. They saw that people in South America chewed coca leaves. They thought it made them feel happier, helped their stomachs, and made them less hungry.

Coca leaves only grew in the Andes mountains in South America until the mid-1800s. People mostly used them there. In the late 1800s, American drug companies went to South America. And they wanted to find new medicines. They thought coca was a safe way to wake up and feel better.

But after about 30 years, people saw that coca was not safe at all. It was really addictive, like a strong craving for something. It could hurt your body, like your stomach, heart, and even your brain.

In the 1970s, cocaine came back. People called it the “champagne of drugs” because it was expensive and made you feel important. By the 1980s, six million Americans used it a lot.

A lot of people die cause of it. Cocaine makes your body feel excited. But It can hurt your stomach, make you very sad, and make your heart beat too fast. It can also make your brain not work well and make you feel stressed or moody.

Furthermore is important to know that it creates a physical dependency. This means that you will need cocaine like food for example. So, it’s very important to stay away from cocaine and drugs like it. It might seems fun, but it’s very dangerous.

How Addictive is Cocaine?

Addiction changes how your brain works. It happens when you use drugs a lot. Your brain’s reward system gets mixed up.

Your brain has chemicals called neurotransmitters. They help you feel happy and alert. When you use drugs, they make your brain release more of these chemicals, like serotonin and dopamine.

But here’s the thing: your brain starts relying on the drugs. It stops making enough of these chemicals by itself. So, when the drug goes away, you feel really bad. You want the drug to feel good again. This makes it hard to stop using it.

So, it’s like a circle. First, the drug makes you feel good, then your brain needs it to feel okay, and you keep using it, even if you don’t want to.

What happens if you try cocaine once?

A recent study on mice found that trying cocaine, even just once, can affect the brain’s reward system. The study looked at how different parts of the brain that control our reactions to rewards react when mice use cocaine. Although mice aren’t exactly like humans, these findings could help with future research on cocaine use, addiction, and how to treat it (1).

In rare cases, trying cocaine for the first time can lead to heart attacks or seizures, which can be fatal. When someone uses cocaine for the first time, they usually feel these effects right away:

  • Feeling really good and happy.
  • Talking a lot more.
  • Not feeling hungry.
  • Having trouble sleeping.
  • Feeling more awake and alert.
  • Feeling more interested in sex.

The first time using cocaine is usually the strongest because it’s new for the brain. After that, the pleasure tends to decrease quickly as the body gets used to it.

What about the casual use of it?

Cocaine makes your brain feel really good by releasing a lot of a happiness chemical called dopamine. But it’s risky because it can lead to addiction quickly as I have already explained above.

Besides the immediate effects, cocaine can change your brain’s structure and how it works in the long run. It messes with the part of your brain that helps you make smart choices. The more you use it, the worse it gets.

As Dr. Alan I. Leshner from the National Institute on Drug Abuse puts it, “People start using drugs now and then by choice, but over time, it can become a habit you can’t control. That’s because drugs change your brain, making you want them even more.”

Side effects on Health of The long term use:

As someone keeps using cocaine over time, their brain gets used to it. This means they need more and more of the drug to feel the same effects. It’s like building a tolerance.

When someone tries to stop using it, they might experience withdrawal symptoms like feeling sad, tired, having trouble thinking, eating more, having bad dreams, and not being able to sleep.

Long-term use can also cause other health problems, including changes in appetite, stomach issues like ulcers, and damage to the liver and kidneys. Furthermore it can cause heart acute and chronic conditions:

  • Acute hypertension and coronary spasm.
  • Aortic dissection.
  • Endocarditis.
  • Arrhythmia
  • Heart attack.
  • Cardiomyopathy.
  • Atherosclerosis.
  • Coronary artery disease.

How to treat cocaine dependency?

In 2013, nearly 6% of people admitted to drug abuse treatment were there because of cocaine use. Most of these individuals (68%) who seek help for cocaine problems also use other drugs. Those providing treatment for cocaine addiction should understand that it’s a complex disease.

It involves changes in the brain and is influenced by various social, family, and environmental factors. Therefore, treating cocaine addiction must address these factors and also consider any other mental disorders that might need additional treatment.

Medications:

There are currently no medications for treating cocaine addiction. Researchers are exploring different approaches, including drugs targeting dopamine receptors and compounds that restore brain chemical balance disrupted by cocaine. Some medications for other conditions, like disulfiram for alcoholism, show promise in reducing cocaine use (2).

Researchers are also working on a vaccine that stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies against cocaine, preventing its effects. However, its effectiveness varies. Efforts continue to improve the vaccine.

In addition, there are ongoing studies on genetically engineered enzymes to counteract cocaine overdose effects. These enzymes are being tested in animals with potential clinical trials in the future.

Mental health therapy:

Behavioral therapies are effective in treating cocaine addiction in various settings, including residential and outpatient programs.

One effective behavioral therapy is contingency management (CM), which rewards patients for abstaining from cocaine and other drugs. Patients earn points or chips through drug-free urine tests, which can be exchanged for rewards like gym memberships or movie tickets. CM is useful for achieving initial abstinence and is practical in community treatment programs.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps patients develop skills to prevent relapse by recognizing high-risk situations, avoiding them, and coping effectively. Computerized CBT (CBT4CBT) has been developed for clinic use and has shown to boost abstinence rates and treatment success.

Our mental health therapists are specialized in CBT therapy and have experience in treating drugs disorders. You can book an appointment here.

Therapeutic communities (TCs) are drug-free residences where people in recovery support each other. TCs can provide vocational rehabilitation and other services to aid reintegration into society, addressing legal, employment, and mental health needs.

Regardless of the treatment type, it’s essential to match patients with services that address their specific needs, such as vocational rehabilitation for the unemployed or couples counseling for those with marital problems. Aftercare is crucial to maintaining abstinence and can be delivered through telephone-based counseling or community-based recovery groups like Cocaine Anonymous.

Remember that you are not alone. If you, a friend or a loved one is affected by cocaine addiction, cocaine withdrawal, or cocaine overdose, dial 911 or just go to your nearest emergency centre. For any other important resources or info regarding drugs abuse please visit this page.

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