Content Reviewed by Cameron Bolish, M.Ed., CEO of PaRC

In the United States, in 2020, nearly 5.2 million people aged 12 or older used cocaine within a 12-month period. Around 1.3 million people in the same year struggled with cocaine use disorder. Although many people may perceive cocaine to affect only a tiny proportion of the United States population, the number of cocaine users grows yearly.

As there is no inherently safe way to use cocaine, it is crucial to understand what cocaine is, the dangers associated with cocaine use and the most effective treatment options available for those who struggle with repeated or chronic use of the drug.

Basic Cocaine Facts

Cocaine is made from the leaves of the coca plant, native to South America. As a drug, cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant that has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries as a local anesthetic. Despite the recreational use of cocaine remaining illegal, many people continue to partake in its use.

Cocaine vs. Crack Cocaine

Many news sources and educational platforms neglect to recognize the overlap between powder cocaine and crack cocaine. Although these substances are administered differently and look different to the naked eye, they are chemically identical. In other words, there are no pharmacological differences between these forms.

Powder cocaine is snorted, which means it typically takes longer to take effect when compared to crack cocaine, which is injected or smoked.

Effects of Cocaine on the Mind and Body

In general, alcohol and other drugs interfere with how neurons communicate in the brain. Every drug does this differently. For example, cocaine amplifies the amount of the neurotransmitter dopamine within the brain. Dopamine is connected to brain circuits related to pleasure, reward and motor control.

Cocaine prevents dopamine from being naturally recycled, which causes the build-up and surplus of available dopamine in the brain. The flood of dopamine is what reinforces substance-seeking and substance-using behaviors. With repeated use of cocaine, the brain becomes desensitized to the drug, leading to a build-up in tolerance and increased withdrawal symptoms.

Short-Term Effects

Short-term effects of cocaine occur within seconds to minutes of cocaine administration. They can last a few minutes to upwards of an hour. These effects include:

  • Extreme alertness and perceived uplift
  • Hypersensitivity to sight, sound and touch
  • Irritability
  • Increased paranoia which may involve extreme or unreasonable distrust of others
  • Bizarre or unpredictable behavior associated with the consumption of large quantities

Long-Term Effects

Long-term effects of cocaine may range in intensity and duration, depending on the method of use. Some examples are as follows:

  • When snorted: long-term health effects may include nosebleeds, loss of smell, frequent runny nose
  • When smoked: chronic cough, asthma, respiratory distress, higher risk of infections
  • When injected: higher risk of contracting HIV and other bloodborne diseases, soft tissue infections, scarred or collapsed veins

Other Effects

Regardless of the route of administration, however, other long-term effects of cocaine use may include:

  • Malnourishment, as cocaine decreases appetite
  • Movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease
  • Chronic irritability and restlessness
  • Severe paranoia with additional visual and auditory hallucinations
  • Increased risk of developing substance use disorder

The Dangers of Cocaine Use

If the short-term and long-term dangers of cocaine are not enough to deter someone from using cocaine, there are other dangers to consider when contemplating using.

Like nearly all illicit street drugs, cocaine is often cut with other substances as it is cheaper for street dealers. To increase profit, street dealers mix cocaine with cornstarch, powders or other stimulant drugs to increase the drug’s volume and potency. Although this decreases the purity of the cocaine, it also increases the risk of cocaine being cut with more harmful substances, such as the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

Fentanyl is not only a dangerous additive as it increases addictive potential, but it is also dangerous because fentanyl can be fatal in even the smallest of amounts. With the increasing number of overdose accidents and deaths every year, it is essential to shed light on the potential of overdosing on cocaine. Most individuals that pass from an overdose had no intention of doing so and instead passed away unknowingly from consuming tampered cocaine.

Treatment Options for Cocaine Use

Treatment for cocaine use and addiction can take on several approaches, mainly within the range of behavioral therapies. Behavioral interventions are often the most effective treatment option for those struggling with drug problems. These interventions work to alter thought and behavior patterns. Some popular therapeutic approaches may include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Dialectical behavior therapy
  • Contingency management
  • Therapeutic communities
  • Co-occurring treatment for mental health disorders

Prevention and Recovery Center (PaRC) is an alcohol and drug addiction treatment facility that understands the challenges of recovering from stimulant use. We offer several different treatment options to help make your recovery as comfortable and manageable as possible. We have programs available for teens ages 13 and older as well as young adult and adult programs. We will create a comprehensive treatment plan for you no matter what you are struggling with. Call (713) 939-7272 today.