What are the Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine Abuse?
Cocaine is a powerful and addictive drug, classified by the federal government as a high abuse, high dependency risk stimulant. Signs and symptoms of cocaine abuse vary based on the method of ingestion.
The powdered form of cocaine can be inhaled through the nose (snorted) or dissolved in water and then injected directly into a vein. It can also be injected just under the skin (known as “skin popping”), which increases the duration of the high and can also lead to infection or other medical complications. Common signs of snorting cocaine, the most popular method of ingestion, include:
- loss of the sense of smell
- difficulty swallowing
- a chronically runny nose
A form of cocaine with the street name crack is processed into a rock crystal and then smoked, most often using a pipe. Given the lower purity level and wider potential for introduction of other dangerous chemicals, long-term crack cocaine users may experience even more dramatic symptoms.
Cocaine addiction may also produce noticeable behavioral or personality changes, which are often signs of increases in the amount or frequency of use:
What are the Effects of Cocaine Dependency?
Those who suffer from cocaine abuse and addiction can experience a condition known as severe paranoia, which is a temporary state of extreme paranoid psychosis. In this state they lose touch with reality and experience auditory hallucinations (hearing sounds that are not real). Ingesting cocaine by mouth can cause ulcers in the stomach lining and the death of a large amount of tissue (gangrene) in the bowel as a result of reduced blood flow.
Regardless of the manner or frequency of use, cocaine abusers can experience heart attacks or strokes. Quite often cocaine-related deaths are a result of heart attack or seizure followed by respiratory arrest during which the user stops breathing.
Common serious health problems resulting from cocaine dependency include:
- heart problems, including heart attacks
- respiratory effects, including respiratory failure
- nervous system problems, including strokes
- digestive problems
- contracting HIV and other diseases (by Injecting cocaine using shared needles)
- serious skin infections
- severe allergic reactions
How Does Cocaine Abuse Change the User’s Brain?
Like other forms of drug addiction, cocaine dependence results from the effect the drug has on the brain that results in feelings of intense pleasure. Cocaine works as a stimulant drug by increasing the levels of the brain chemicals, especially dopamine. Under ordinary circumstances, lower amounts of dopamine are produced in response to the pleasurable activities we all experience as a natural part of our everyday lives.
Cocaine produces its euphoric effect in two ways:
- Artificially increasing the release of dopamine
- Preventing the normal re-absorption of dopamine back into the brain’s nerve cells
In all cases of habitual cocaine abuse and addiction the body builds a tolerance to the increased levels of dopamine, and progressively larger amounts of cocaine are required by the user to achieve the sensation of being high.
Commonly, cocaine abusers experience long-term changes in the brain’s reward system and in other brain systems. This can result in unusual or unpredictable behavior toward those around them. Many cocaine abusers become frustrated when their increased tolerance results in a failure to achieve the high they did from their initial exposures. They often then increase their dosage in an attempt to intensify and prolong the effect; this heightens the risk of adverse physiological or psychological effects, as well as the risk of a potentially deadly overdose. Also, using cocaine with alcohol increases the likelihood that the user will become a victim of a drug-related death.