Cocaine’s best-known form is a white, flaky powder, which users snort – inhaling the drug allows it to be absorbed into the bloodstream via the nasal passages. It can also be injected, smoked in crystalized form, rubbed into the gums and swallowed. Cocaine still plays a legitimate role in medicine as an anesthetic for some surgeries.
The effects of cocaine are the chief reason it’s been an enduring recreational drug for over a century – cocaine makes its users feel very good very quickly. However, cocaine’s also very addictive; many users begin to experience a compulsion to use cocaine in a short period of time after their first dose. Additionally, long-term abuse of cocaine can damage users physically and mentally – whether it’s from lung damage from smoking crack or a damaged nasal septum from snorting, cocaine eventually takes a toll on every user.
Since it’s a party drug – and somewhat expensive – it can be easy to forget that cocaine’s harmful. Someone who only takes cocaine during parties is still playing a risky game with addiction. Additionally, many of the same risks of party drugs apply to cocaine – the drug is often cut with other drugs and substances like starch and sugar, making cocaine use even riskier.
Symptoms of Cocaine Abuse
- Constant runny nose
- Bloodshot eyes
- Dilated pupils
- Sudden emotional changes
Red Flags of Cocaine Addiction
- Signs of white powder on a person’s nose, lips or belongings
- Needle marks for intravenous users
- Signs of drug paraphernalia and use – these can differ depending on how a user takes cocaine
- Unnaturally happy or aggressive behavior
- Frequent trips to the bathroom or someplace away from others for short periods of time
Cocaine Inside the Body
Cocaine works by affecting the brain’s reward system. Many behaviors – including drug use – trigger the brain to release the neurotransmitter dopamine. Normally, dopamine is removed from the system and recycled for further use. Cocaine interferes with this system, causing dopamine to stay in the system for far longer than it should, creating the euphoric effects which drive use of the drug.
Long-term cocaine use fundamentally rewires the brain. Essentially, the natural behaviors which normally cause dopamine release aren’t strong enough to compete with cocaine. At the same time, cocaine makes areas of the brain which govern stress become much more sensitive. This combination results in users becoming irritable and depressed when they’re not taking the drug. It’s why some addicts will neglect work, friendships and even food in pursuit of cocaine.
Tolerance increases health risks, too. Like most drugs, prolonged use of cocaine will result in the user requiring more and more of the drug to feel the same euphoric effects, creating a danger of overdose. Cocaine can also create sensitization in some users, meaning they become much more susceptible to cocaine’s more toxic side effects – seizures, anxiety and even hallucinations.
Finally, because cocaine is often used a party drug, many users tend to binge on it, taking high doses in short periods of time. This can cause users to become irritable, anxious and in extreme cases, to lose touch with reality.