Cocaine is a member of the stimulant family of drugs. Its popularity in past decades, namely the ’80s and ’90s, lead to an epidemic of addiction that many still struggle with today.

What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a drug that is manufactured from the leaf of the coca plant. It has been produced and used for over 100 years, while the leaves themselves, by some estimates, have been ingested for their stimulating effects for thousands of years. Cocaine is extracted from coca bushes that are grown mostly in Bolivia and Peru. There are two compounds that come from this extraction: hydrochloride salt and freebase. It is the hydrochloride salt part of the extraction that is most widely used by addicts, as this is the white powder that is taken intranasally (snorted) or intravenously (injected). The freebase portion of cocaine is smokable; it cannot be snorted.

While there are legitimate medical uses for cocaine, they are rare. Before the dangers of the drug were known, it was more widely used as an ingredient in various tinctures and tonics, but now it is reserved for use as a local anesthetic during medical procedures of the throat, eyes, and ears. The vast majority of cocaine use is as a street drug, purchased illegally from dealers and used to get high.

The method by which cocaine gets a user high has to do with the regions of the brain that produce feelings of pleasure. Scientists found that an area within the brain, known as the ventral tegmental area, is flooded with dopamine when stimulated with substances like cocaine. This makes a person feel pleasure. Over time, the brain’s wiring is affected by continued use, inhibiting the user’s ability to produce dopamine on their own. This is a primary factor in addiction.

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Street Names for Cocaine

Street names for drugs are ever-evolving, with new terms popping up all the time. Slang terms for coke tend to center around its appearance or primary method of delivery. Some of the most common are coke, bump, powder, dust, flake, big C, and snow.

Who Is a Typical Cocaine User?

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, it is estimated that there are 3.6 million chronic cocaine users in the United States. In the 1980s, cocaine use peaked at 5.7 million, based on data from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, or NHSDA. Cocaine use spans all age groups and cultural backgrounds but tends to be more common in men than in women. It also tends to have a higher occurrence in African American and Hispanic communities.

While the incidence of cocaine usage is lower than in previous decades, it is still quite a problem. There were over 420,000 users treated in emergency rooms for cocaine-related illnesses in 2009.

Symptoms of Cocaine Use

Symptoms of cocaine use can be easily observed. One of the most obvious signs is a white powder around the nostrils after a person leaves the room and then returns. The user may also sniff excessively, rub their nose continually, or even have a nosebleed. If the user is injecting the drug rather than snorting it, there will be track marks somewhere on the body, usually in the crook of the arms or the veins of the neck.

Mood changes are dramatic with cocaine use. An individual high on cocaine will display excitement and may seem “wired.” High energy levels and lack of concentration are noted. Irritability and agitation are common. Decreased appetite is another symptom of cocaine use, as are dilated pupils.

Risks of Cocaine Use

Addiction is one of the biggest risks of cocaine use. Continued use of this drug creates both a physical and psychological dependency. The brain is rewired in unhealthy ways. Physical risks also apply, with overdose being the most serious. An overdose of cocaine can cause a heart attack, stroke, or seizures, all of which could end in death or long-term disability.

Continual cocaine use can lead to depression, anxiety, and insomnia. It also wreaks havoc on the heart and the blood vessels in the body. Since cocaine increases heart rate and constricts blood vessels, the longer a person uses cocaine the more likely they are to have an enlarged heart or damage to the heart and vessels that can lead to very serious cardiac problems.

Getting Help with Cocaine Addiction

It is important to get professional help for cocaine addiction. A stay in a rehabilitation center or drug abuse treatment facility is recommended for the best possible outcome. The addict will receive therapy to help with underlying causes of addiction and, when necessary, medications to help with the process of withdrawal.

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