There are many dangerous street drugs, but one of the first that come to the minds of many is cocaine. Although there has been some debate as to whether or not cocaine is actually addictive, current research does, in fact, show that individuals can become physiologically dependent on this stimulant drug. Since cocaine continues to be a problem today, it’s important for us to be knowledgeable about what cocaine is, why it’s addictive, and what Malvern Institute can do to help individuals who have become addicted to cocaine. So let’s dive right in.
What is Cocaine?
While heroin and painkillers are opioids and alcohol is a depressant, cocaine is what’s referred to as a stimulant. Acting prominently on the body’s central nervous system, cocaine has the effect of amplifying or speeding up many functions and processes throughout the body. For instance, the drug notably raises one’s heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature, which can be extremely dangerous when the drug is taken in large amounts. However, cocaine use is typically characterized by binging with individuals using cocaine typically take large quantities intermittently over a very, very short period of time.
In terms of its composition, cocaine is a purified extract from the coca plant and is most often found in the form of white or yellow-tinted powder that can range from exceptionally fine to granulated and chunky to somewhat flakey and similar to the scales of a fish. Cocaine is most often administered by insufflating, or nasally snorting, since the drug is known to pass rapidly through the mucus membrane in the sinus cavity and into the bloodstream. Alternately, cocaine can be injected in a similar way as heroin or prepared for smoking in its freebase form — known as “crack” cocaine due to the sound the drug makes when heat is applied — using processes that often involve baking soda or other adulterants.
The way that cocaine affects neurochemicals and neurotransmitters in the brain is somewhat different than other drugs. Rather than triggering an increase in the production of chemicals — particularly dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine — cocaine inhibits the reuptake of such chemicals in the brain, preventing them from being reabsorbed and, therefore, causing a spike in levels of such substances. The functions of the brain’s various neurochemicals number in the hundreds or thousands, but includes such things as communicating with the heart and lungs to ensure their functioning. However, the more well-known function of these substances pertains to areas of the brain referred to as the reward and pleasure pathways.
Why Cocaine is so Addictive
Cocaine is defined as a powerful and highly addictive stimulant that acts on the brain and central nervous system and is derived from coca leaves. While cocaine may seem like a relatively new drug, coca leaves (from which cocaine is made) have been chewed and ingested for thousands of years, making cocaine one of the oldest known drugs in the world. In its purified and powdered form that’s technically called cocaine hydrochloride, cocaine abuse has become much more widespread for the past century.
However, cocaine comes in another form besides powdered, and that’s its freebase form. Between these two forms, individuals can insufflate (snort), smoke, or inject the substance in order to experience its intoxicating effects, although it can occasionally be consumed orally as well. One of the reasons that cocaine is so addictive is because it has very strong and rapid effects that begin only moments after an individual has ingested the substance. After consuming cocaine, an individual experiences a spike in a particular neurochemical called dopamine, which is associated with feelings of pleasure.
The use of cocaine causes dopamine to be highly active in regions of the brain that are part of the brain’s reward pathway, which serves to reinforce the cocaine use as it’s perceived by the user as a behavior that is pleasurable or even euphoric. Although cocaine produces a very intense spike in dopamine, an individual’s dopamine levels quickly and dramatically decline as the effects of the cocaine begin to wane after as little as a half hour, causing the individual to experience strong cravings for more cocaine in order to replenish his or her depleted dopamine supply. With repeated use of cocaine over time, an individual’s brain will produce less and less dopamine and other neurochemicals naturally, relying on an individual’s cocaine use in order to maintain adequate levels. In short, this is what is happening in the brain when a person suffers from cocaine addiction.
Overcoming Cocaine Addiction at Malvern Institute
As a stimulant, cocaine and its derivative forms speed up the body and its internal processes to a potentially dangerous level. When an individual who has become dependent on cocaine detoxes, he or she experiences a very distinct type of withdrawal, particularly when compared to the withdrawal symptoms that people addicted to heroin and prescription painkillers experience. Perhaps the most common symptoms of cocaine withdrawal include agitation and intense mood swings, restlessness, fatigue, lack of energy and motivation, feelings of general discomfort, extremely vivid dreams and nightmares, sluggish or lethargic activity, and a partial return of appetite. These may not sound particularly unpleasant or dangerous, but it’s experiencing them all at once that makes them overwhelming. Fortunately, no individual needs to deal with untreated cocaine withdrawal.
At Malvern Institute, patients can benefit from a variety high-quality treatments in unique and highly customizable programs. What makes cocaine addiction recovery at Malvern so effective is our unique model of rehabilitation, which we call the Malvern Model of Care. The Malvern Model is a graduated form of treatment in which a patient begins with detoxification before proceeding through induction, inpatient care, and outpatient treatment. Upon completion of the program, we invite individuals to participate in our alumni and aftercare programs, which allows us to be a continuous resource as our program graduates progress to more advanced stages of recovery.
If you would like to learn more about cocaine addiction treatment at Malvern Institute, or if you have any other questions we can answer, please call us anytime at 610.MALVERN (610.625.8376).