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Cocaine Addiction Treatment: Rehab for Cocaine Dependence and Addiction

When talking about struggles with addiction or substance use disorders, cocaine is a drug that comes up time and time again as a topic of conversation. It’s nearly impossible to avoid references to cocaine in popular media and news because they come up on a regular basis.

Cocaine has invaded American culture in a unique and unhealthy way. When we think about the impact of cocaine on our culture, it’s no surprise the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has reported that over 15% of American adults have tried cocaine at least once.

While it’s important to keep in mind that a majority of these people will not develop a cocaine addiction, it helps to paint a clearer picture of the widespread availability of cocaine in the United States.

The New Hampshire Department of Justice has reported that in 2020, 58 people in our state lost their lives to a cocaine overdose. While this number may not seem shocking, it’s important to keep in mind that losing even one life of a community member to avoidable drug overdose is too many.

An important step in understanding the issue of cocaine addiction is understanding what cocaine is, how it affects the brain, and how addiction occurs.

What Is Cocaine?

A Brief History

Cocaine is a stimulant drug with a high potential for addiction. It’s made from the coca plant, which is native to South America. Its history of consumption traces back over thousands of years, and the leaves of the coca plant are commonly chewed for their mild stimulant effects.

In the late 19th century, chemists began to process the coca plant into cocaine hydrochloride, the chemical form that we’re familiar with today. This formulation of cocaine was at first used medically and advertised as a “cure-all” for everything from tooth pain to headaches.

Before the development of better synthetic medicines, doctors would also administer cocaine as an anesthetic or pain blocker because of its numbing effect. It wasn’t long before the highly addictive and dangerous nature of cocaine became widely known.

Cocaine as a Street Drug

Cocaine in the modern age is called by many names, often known as street names. Some of these street names include:

  • Coke
  • Snow
  • C
  • Rock
  • Blow
  • Crack
  • Powder
  • Yayo

Cocaine comes in many different forms as well. The most commonly found and portrayed form of cocaine in American pop culture is a fine, white powder. However, through a simple chemical process, powder cocaine can be converted to solid rock crystals.

This type of processed cocaine is known as crack cocaine, rock, or simply crack. The name “crack” refers to the crackling sound the substance makes as it’s heated up and smoked.

Cocaine in powder form is most commonly snorted. When snorted, the drug enters the bloodstream through the sensitive blood vessels of the inner nose. Powder cocaine can also be rubbed into the gums to achieve the same, although less intense, effect.

Street dealers often mix the powdered cocaine with other non-drug substances in a process known as “cutting.” Dealers do this to increase the volume of product, and they use substances such as cornstarch, talcum powder, baking soda, and sometimes other stimulants such as amphetamines.

In cases of more extreme cocaine consumption, the powder is dissolved into a solution, heated and filtered through cotton, and injected directly into the veins. Intravenous (or IV) cocaine consumption is particularly dangerous as it most often leads to overdose and death.

How Does Cocaine Work?

Like any other drug that creates feelings of a “high,” cocaine works by causing significant changes to brain chemistry. As humans, all of our emotions and actions are influenced by chemical and electrical reactions in the brain.

This means there are certain chemicals that are directly tied to certain thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. These chemicals are called “neurotransmitters” and act as messengers in the brain that tell you to feel certain emotions, think certain things, and behave certain ways.

The neurotransmitter that is most directly affected by cocaine is dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for thoughts and feelings related to pleasure, motivation, and happiness. This can be thought of as the brain’s “reward system.”

When you do something that inspires happiness or pleasure, the brain’s reward system releases dopamine, which makes you feel good. Cocaine hijacks this reward system and forces it to produce the chemical at an unnatural rate. An excess of dopamine in the brain can cause intense feelings of alertness and high energy.

The effects of the drug can also temporarily override the need for food and sleep, leading to long-term complications. Many people report the drug helps them perform simple intellectual and physical tasks more quickly, while others report feeling the opposite effect.

Over time, the brain and body begin to adjust to this newfound source of dopamine and stop producing the chemical on their own. Once this happens, the person will find it very difficult to feel pleasure or happiness without having cocaine in their system. This is the basis for cocaine addiction and physical dependence.

Short-Term Effects of Cocaine

How long the effects of the drug will last is directly related to the method of consumption. The quicker the drug is absorbed into the bloodstream, the more intense the resulting high. This also shortens the duration of the drug’s effects.

Snorting cocaine leads to a relatively slow onset of its effects, but they can last anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes from a single dose. In contrast, when cocaine is smoked, the effects are felt almost immediately but only for about 5 to 10 minutes.

cocaine effects

Cocaine has some intense short-term effects on the body and brain. When under the influence of cocaine, people will experience constricted blood vessels, increased body temperature and sweating, dilated pupils, elevated heart rate, and increased blood pressure.

Consuming large amounts of cocaine will lead to some very significant behavioral side effects. Someone under the influence of a very high dose may exhibit violent, unpredictable, or bizarre behaviors. Others report feelings of anxiety, panic, paranoia (fear), irritability, restlessness, and insomnia (inability to sleep). Other effects may also include tremors, vertigo (dizziness), and uncontrollable muscle twitches or tics.

Short-Term Health Dangers of Cocaine

Cocaine has the potential to bring about some very severe medical complications, even at low doses. Most of these complications come in the form of cardiovascular issues, such as disturbances in heart rhythm or heart attack, as well as neurological issues, including headaches, strokes, seizures, and comas. It can also cause gastrointestinal issues such as abdominal pain and nausea.

There have even been cases of sudden death occurring after a single dose of cocaine or shortly thereafter. The majority of cocaine-related deaths are due to cardiac arrest or seizures.

The risks of serious complications are increased significantly when cocaine is consumed along with other intoxicants in what is known as “polysubstance use.”

The majority of overdose deaths that involve cocaine occur when the person is also under the influence of another substance at the same time. People who consume cocaine often also consume alcohol in an effort to combat any uncomfortable come-down effects of the drug.

The use of these two drugs together forms a compound called cocaethylene in the liver, which builds up and can have severe effects on the heart.

Another very popular drug combination is when cocaine is ingested along with heroin or other opioid drugs in a drug cocktail known as a “speedball.” Speedballs are particularly dangerous because the stimulant effects of cocaine are offset by the sedative effects of heroin. This can lead to the person unintentionally taking a fatal amount of heroin, causing overdose and death. Once the effects of cocaine wear off, the person’s breathing may slow or stop completely, causing death.

Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Addiction

As mentioned briefly above, habitual cocaine consumption causes the reward system of the brain to become less sensitive to natural reward reinforcement. In other words, over time, the brain has trouble releasing chemicals that are responsible for feelings of joy and pleasure on its own, without the presence of cocaine.

At the same time this is occurring, the pathways in the brain that are responsible for feelings of anxiety and stress are becoming increasingly sensitive. This leads to increased discontent and displeasure when not taking the drug, one of the prominent symptoms of cocaine withdrawal.

As with many drugs, the person starts to develop a tolerance to cocaine after extended periods of consumption. This means they will have to take the substance more often, and in larger amounts, to achieve the same desired effects they felt when they first started taking cocaine.

ars cocaine

While this tolerance is building, the sensitization to cocaine is increasing, meaning it takes less of the substance to produce some of the negative effects such as paranoia, convulsions, anxiety, and even full-blown psychosis (insanity).

Cocaine also causes significant damage to the systems and organs of the body. People who regularly consume cocaine are at a very high risk of cardiovascular issues due to how toxic the drug is.

Intense chest pains that may feel like a heart attack are very common, as is an increased risk of stroke. Specifically, cocaine causes inflammation of the heart muscles, leading to the decline of the ability of the heart to contract or pump.

This stress that cocaine causes on the circulatory system can also damage the linings of veins and arteries of the brain, leading to permanent chronic headaches. In many cases, the stress on blood vessels in the brain can lead to clotting and a greatly increased risk of stroke.

At ARS, Our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) Can Help You Take Control of Your Recovery From Cocaine Addiction

Whether you’re beginning or continuing your recovery, the intensive outpatient program (IOP) here at Addiction Recovery Services (ARS) can help guide you. Trying to understand all of the definitions for which program does what can be a difficult task. Recovery is already complex and scary, so getting started with it shouldn’t be.

We know changing your entire life, way of thinking and feeling, and relationship structure is not exactly a small task. It takes some time. Here at ARS, we’re never going to use shame as a tool in your recovery. We won’t turn our backs on you.

One of our core treatment approaches is called harm reduction. Harm reduction promotes small, positive steps toward a life free of harmful substances rather than demanding complete abstinence right away. If you do relapse, you’ll just be encouraged to come right back for the next scheduled session and go over what happened. We want you to get back to recovery — we do not want to punish you.

If you continue struggling with relapse, then we can start looking for other ways to support you and reach your specific recovery goals. Like we said, the road to recovery is not always smooth, and it’s not always as short as we’d like. We’re here to help you no matter what that road looks like.

Reclaim Your Health at ARS

If you or someone you know is ready to begin recovery, let us know. ARS has many pathways to recovery, each defined by, and chosen based on, what the person in recovery needs. Give us a call at (978) 228-5853 and let’s see about starting you on the way to recovery.

FAQs:

How can someone stop cocaine addiction?

People who consume cocaine on a regular basis will start to form a powerful physical and psychological addiction. Because of this, it can be a very difficult habit to overcome on your own. It is highly recommended that anyone who is trying to overcome an addiction to cocaine do so under the supervision of a licensed addiction treatment facility.

How do I help someone with a cocaine addiction?

A cocaine habit can damage chemical pathways in the brain, and that damage can make mental clarity and decision-making difficult. People with a cocaine addiction may not even be aware they have a problem. Families can bring issues to the person’s attention through interventions, and when treatment begins, they can provide love and support to ensure the person stays in treatment.

What does cocaine addiction look like?

It isn’t always easy to determine whether a loved one is struggling with a cocaine addiction, but there are some signs to look out for. Some of these signs include extreme mood swings, financial problems, problems with the law, changes in physical appearance such as extreme weight loss, paranoia, and anxiety.

Where to find help - Local Resources

by John Iudice, ARSNH | Fosters

Evidence-based group therapy, family education
and medication management with a unique focus
on the mental health symptoms accompanying addiction.

Contact ARS

To schedule an admission interview with the intake counselors at Addiction Recovery Services, or if you have questions, feel free to call or text us at (978) 228-5853. We can also be reached via email at admissions@arsnh.com.

If you are looking to speak to someone regarding absences or tardiness to an IOP session, please call the office lines directly.

Addiction Recovery Services

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Office Phone: (603) 433-6250
Fax: (603) 433-6350

 

Telehealth support services are available throughout New Hampshire for those who are unable to physically make it to our in-person IOP. Please inquire for more information on remote support options. 

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