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Cocaine has been around for thousands of years. It is made from the leaves of the wild- growing South American coca plant. Indigenous people of the Amazon Rainforest and the Andes Mountains used to chew on the coca leaves to obtain the energy! (Cocaine, 2018). In 1884, Sigmund Freud published an article entitled “Über Coca” (About Coke) which promoted the “benefits” of cocaine, calling it a “magical” substance. Coke’s popularity blew up in 1886 when John Pemberton put coca leaves as an ingredient in his new soft drink, Coca-Cola giving it euphoric and energizing effects. Around the 1970’s cocaine became the drug of choice in Hollywood and in the late 70’s drug traffickers from Colombia began smuggling coke into the U.S. Then in 2008 “cocaine had become the second most trafficked illegal drug in the world” (The History of Cocaine, n.d.).
Cocaine falls under the class of drugs labeled as central nervous system stimulants. Along with cocaine other well-known drugs such as amphetamines (Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse) are also considered to be CNS stimulants. Cocaine is sometimes referred to as crack-cocaine. This is because a person can take cocaine, boil it down with other substances and turn it into a rock formation called crack. Crack is a more inexpensive form of cocaine. (Varcarolis, 2017, p. 307). While sometimes the names are used interchangeably, the main difference between crack and cocaine is how they are ingested, how long their high takes to hit, and how long the high last. Cocaine comes in a white powder form and is snorted up the nasal cavity. Crack comes in clear, opaque, or yellow rock formations that can be melted and injected or put into a glass pipe and smoked. (How to Identify Crack Cocaine: Look, Feel and Smell, 2018).
It is easy to see why Crack-cocaine has been recognized as one of the more addictive illicit drugs on Earth. (Cocaine, 2018). Cocaine’s high takes about three minutes to affect a person after snorted and the high last on an average range of fifteen to thirty minutes. When crack is injected it takes four to six seconds yes, seconds for the high to kick in. When smoked it takes about thirty seconds to get high and the average high from crack last anywhere from five to seven minutes. The high is euphoric to the user and with it only lasting five to thirty minutes, it leaves the user begging for more. This is when the addiction begins. (Varcarolis, 2017, p. 307).
Addiction and Age of Onset
According to Varcarolis (2017), “addiction is defined as a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive drug-seeking behavior motivated by cravings, despite harmful consequences, and by long-lasting changes in the brain” (p. 296). Many people struggle with addiction and can be addicted to various things other than drugs. Alcohol, sex, gambling, shopping, video games, plastic surgery and risky behavior are all examples of some forms of addiction. It is a constant struggle for the person addicted, for the person’s family, and for the person’s friends. It’s hard when abusers overdose and even harder when they constantly relapse. Addiction knows no boundaries, it can take over someone’s life regardless of who they are but, of course, there are always certain factors that can influence whether or not a person becomes addicted to cocaine.
Socio-economic, demographics, risky sex behavior (paid sex), & previous history of crack cocaine use are all risk factors for cocaine addiction. Other factors that can contribute to substance abuse include: “lack of tolerance for frustration and pain, lack of impulse control, lack of success in life, lack of affectionate and meaningful relationships, low self-esteem, lack of self-regard, and strong propensity for risk-taking behaviors” (Varcarolis, 2017. p. 300). There is however no clear evidence of gender affecting cocaine addictions rates. (Yur’yey, 2016). Whites have a higher abuse history than the Black or Hispanic race (Cocaine History and Statistics, 2017). The highest abuse rates have been reported in The Americas, Western Europe, and Australia. These areas strictly correlate with the high price of cocaine. According to Maclaren (2017), “The US is the world’s leading consumer of cocaine, buying over $28 billion of the drug per year”. Cocaine became popular in the America 70’s and it was only used by those of wealth and those who were in the higher classes of society (famous people, politicians, etc.). To see a middle class or lower-class person buying and using cocaine off the street was uncommon. (MacLaren, 2017). Soon it was discovered that white powder cocaine could be turned into rock formations called crack. Turning cocaine into crack doubles the supply and the demand. Crack’s street value is cheaper than cocaine making it more easily accessible for people of all economic groups. On the plus side “the rate of cocaine use among high school seniors has fallen over the last 15 years and stood at 2.6% in 2014” (MacLaren, 2017).
While people abuse cocaine for the euphoria, the energy, and for heightened self-confidence it is important to make the negative side effects of the drug known (Cocaine History and Statistics, 2017). Most people do not consider the side effects when using drugs, especially if the abuser is a young adult who might not know much about drugs. When using the drug lots of unwanted side effects can occur depending on how much of the drug was used to get high. Cocaine causes dopamine levels in the brain to rise. With increased dopamine can come the harsher side effects like psychosis and even depression. Along with the euphoria and energy some other side effects of being high on cocaine are tachycardia, dilated pupils, elevated blood pressure, nausea and vomiting, insomnia, impaired judgement, and increased wakefulness (Varcarolis, 2017, p. 307). Long term effects of cocaine are more detrimental than some would think. Long term users develop a tolerance, just like alcoholics, and require more and more cocaine to get high. Some of the other long-term effects can include heart problems like cardiac arrhythmias, nosebleeds (from the constant snorting of the substance), holes in the septum, a constant runny nose, and a sore throat from the nasal drip that occurs when snorting cocaine. (What are the long-term effects of cocaine use? 2016).
Major psychosocial affects can occur in a person who regularly abuses cocaine. Some of the “severe manifestations of cocaine use consist of; a state resembling paranoid schizophrenia, paranoia with delusions, psychosis, visual, auditory, and tactile hallucinations, severe to panic levels of anxiety, and a potential for violence” (Varcarolis, 2017 p. 307). Delusions are false, fixed beliefs and ideas that have no basis of origin. There is no factual content behind a delusion. (Varcarolis, 2017, p. 244). Hallucinations involve the sensory part of the brain. Visual – sight, auditory – hearing, and tactile – feeling. With hallucinations there is no external stimuli that causes them and when they occur they are very real to the person experiencing them. Hallucinations are “vivid and clear with the full force and impact of normal perceptions” (Varcarolis, 2017, p. 249). Psychosis is when delusions and hallucinations are affecting a person’s ability to recognize the difference between reality and hallucinations or delusions. The person experiencing psychosis is totally unable to do so. (Varcarolis, 2017, p. 244).
Withdrawal and Overdose Effects
According to Varcarolis, withdrawal symptoms of cocaine include: “fatigue, depression, agitation, apathy, anxiety, sleepiness, disorientation, lethargy, and craving the drug” (2017, p. 307). What’s noticeable here is that the withdrawal side effects are almost the complete opposite of the intoxication side effects. Of course, when a person experiences fatigue or depression they are going to crave energy and euphoria. This is what contributes to the relapse rates in addicts. No one wants to experience these negative feelings even if they aren’t addicted to drugs or recovering from addiction. It is important for addicts to have a strong support system to encourage their recovery and help prevent relapse. Some medications made available to addicts going through withdrawal include: antidepressants like desipramine, and dopamine agonists like bromocriptine (Varcarolis, 2017. p. 307). Other non-medical treatments include: distraction therapy, rehab facilities that don’t use medication, guided imagery, and meditation. All of these forms of treatment help keep the patient preoccupied and distracted from their cravings and their addiction.
Overdose is a serious side effect that can happen easily with cocaine use. The high of cocaine wears off in anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, this leaves the user looking for more and more in short periods of time. The more cocaine ingested the more likely an overdose will occur. Symptoms of an overdose include: respiratory distress, hyperpyrexia (body temperature 104 or over), convulsions, stroke, coma, myocardial infarction, death (Varcarolis, 2017, p. 307). Symptoms like stroke and coma can lead to even more health deficits down the road. Stroke can lead to lifelong brain damage and so can a coma. Some of the possible treatments for overdose include; antipsychotics, ambient cooling (keeping cool water on the skin, placing cold towels on the patient or keeping the patient cool with a fan in their face) for hyperpyrexia, and diazepam to control convulsions. (Varcarolis, 2017, p. 307).
According to Yur’yey “current data suggest that the key factors in substance use disorder are related to socioeconomic factors rather than race” (2016). Fortunately, the rates of cocaine addiction have decreased all over the world. This is mainly due to the fact that police have cracked down on illicit drug use and on the people who sell illicit drugs. Also, the price of cocaine has gone back up leading users to find cheaper means of getting high such as methamphetamines. (Cocaine History and Statics, 2017). Addiction is a problem that is difficult to treat. Even though there are medications to help with the symptoms of withdrawal and overdose there is no guarantee that the abuser will not relapse and start using again. Since the incidence of cocaine abuse has decreased there are not many recent studies about treatment options. There have been some tests conducted about a cocaine vaccine. The idea is that “the vaccine stimulates the immune system to create cocaine-specific antibodies that bind to cocaine, preventing it from getting into the brain” (How is cocaine addiction treated? 2016).
Another form of treatment currently being researched is behavioral therapy. The type of behavioral therapy providing the most promise currently is called contingency management. This type of behavioral therapy offers prizes to the participants when they abstain from cocaine. The participants must take a urine-test and the urine-test must come back with negative results for all drugs and substances. Each time a participant provides a clear urine-test they are awarded points, or chips which then can be turned in for the prizes. It has been shown through research that “contingency management benefits diverse populations of cocaine users” (How is cocaine addiction treated? 2016). It was also shown through research that some participants who also experienced mental problems like depression and aggression showed a reduction in these symptoms when they chose to go through contingency management. (How is cocaine addiction treated? 2016).
Prevention is easier said than done. All drug users are using for different reasons. Their addiction is a very personal. It is specific to each individual who uses. No one person’s addiction, or reason for addiction is the same. It is important that young adults are aware of the dangers of cocaine and other substances. Addiction needs to be a topic that people are not afraid to talk about it. The youth needs to be educated on what these drugs look like, what they do to a person’s body, and how to avoid them. Young people need to be reassured that saying no is okay even if it isn’t the cool thing to do. The most important thing for parents to do is to keep the drinking and drug abuse around their children to a minimum. Even if the parents are addicted it is important for them to not promote this type of behavior. Doing so increases the risk of children becoming addicted to substances. (Preventing Cocaine Abuse, 2018).
In conclusion, cocaine addiction is detrimental to the body and mind. Addiction consumes the abuser. It controls the abuser’s ability to have good relationships, maintain jobs, maintain good personal hygiene, and keep up a well-balanced nutrition for themselves. Cocaine can lead to many other life-long problems such as heart disease, holes in the nasal septum, delusions, and hallucinations. It is important for abusers to have strong support systems when going through rehab to prevent relapse. It is also important that the deadly side effects of this drug get taught at a young age so children know what to avoid while growing up. (Preventing Cocaine Abuse, 2018).
- Cocaine History and Statistics. (2017, October 26). Retrieved from https://drugabuse.com/library/cocaine-history-and-statistics/
- H. E. (2017). Cocaine. Retrieved November 8, 2018, from https://www.history.com/topics/crime/history-of-cocaine
- How to Identify Crack Cocaine: Look, Feel, and Smell. (2018). Retrieved from https://americanaddictioncenters.org/crack-addiction/what-it-looks-like/
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). How is cocaine addiction treated? Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-treatments-are-effective-cocaine-abusers
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). What are the long-term effects of cocaine use? Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-are-long-term-effects-cocaine-use
- Preventing Cocaine Abuse. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.narconon.org/drug-abuse/cocaine/preventing.html
- The History of Cocaine – Where Does Cocaine Come from? – Drug-Free World. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/cocaine/a-short-history.html
- Varcarolis, E.M., (2017) Essentials of Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing (3nd ed.) St. Louis,
- MO: Mosby/Elsevier.
- Yur’yev, A., & Akerele, E. (2016). Socio-demographic Characteristics of Individuals with History of Crack Cocaine Use in the US General Population. Community Mental Health Journal (Vol. 52, pp. 1043–1046). https://doi-org.proxy.longwood.edu/10.1007/s10597-015-9860-x
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