The National Survey on Drug Use and Health for 2006 reported that over thirty-five million Americans had admitted to using cocaine at least once, and over eight and a half million Americans had admitted to using crack at least once. The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s 2006 Monitoring the Future Study, indicated that eight and a half percent of twelfth graders reported using the drug at least once in their lives. The Drug Abuse Warning Network reported that nearly half a million emergency department visits in 2005 involved the use of cocaine, the most frequently mentioned illegal drug reported in all ER visits.
Cocaine use became highly popularized during the 1970’s in America, but this dangerous stimulant has far older origins. In fact, it is predicted that over five thousand years ago the ancient Incas would chew leaves from the coca plant to increase their heart rate and breathing to cope with thin mountain air. Albert Niemann, a German chemist, first extracted cocaine from coca leaves in 1859, and cocaine became popular in the medical community in the 1880’s. Sigmund Freud, who used the drug himself, promoted what he felt were the benefits of cocaine in an 1884 article. Freud discussed the “magical” properties of the drug, while at the same time noting that it led to physical and moral decadence. He also stated that he felt a toxic dose of cocaine was very high, and there was no lethal dose of cocaine, but in fact, one of his patients died after taking a high dose that Freud had prescribed.
In 1886 the drug became more widely used when John Pemberton decided to include coca leaves in the Coca-Cola soft drink. Of course the euphoric and energizing qualities of coca leaves made Coca-Cola’s popularity soar, consumers essentially becoming addicted to the soft drink and craving more. As the dangers became more publicly known, the public forced the Coca-Cola company to remove cocaine from the soft drink in 1903.
Due to various cocaine and opium-containing elixirs that were used between 1850 and the early 1900’s, snorting the stimulant had become highly popular by 1905. Less than five years later, hospitals and medical literature had begun to report the nasal damage caused by this method. The United States reported five thousand cocaine-related deaths in 1912, and by 1922 the government had officially banned the drug. Needless to say, the drug continued in illegal use over the subsequent five decades, and in the 1970’s re-emerged as a fashionable “new” drug in use by entertainers and business professionals. It was commonly understood that cocaine provided energy to help people stay up for stretches of time, and therefore was underplayed as a dangerous and addictive illicit drug. Some universities reported that the percentage of students who tried cocaine increased tenfold in the decade between 1970 and 1980. Colombian drug traffickers jumped onto the surging trend, and by the late 1970’s they had set up an elaborate network to smuggle cocaine into the United States.
Many people felt that cocaine was a “rich man’s drug” simply because it was expensive to maintain a steady habit. However, by the late 1980’s cocaine had earned the reputation of our nation’s most dangerous and addictive drug and was no longer considered the drug of choice for the wealthy. Poverty, crime, and death caused by cocaine use had become a major problem by the end of the 1980’s, and unfortunately, this hasn’t improved much in the subsequent three decades.
It is estimated that Colombian drug cartels exported to the United States, Europe and Asia between five hundred and eight hundred tons of cocaine per year in the early 1990’s. Law enforcement agencies successfully dismantled many of the larger cartels in the mid-1990’s, but many smaller groups were formed and are still in existence. It is estimated that roughly three hundred organizations still work in Colombia today to produce and export illegal drugs. In 2008, cocaine was recognized as the second most trafficked illicit drug in the entire world.
Cocaine Use and Effects
Originally intended for use as a painkilling stimulant, cocaine exists in either powder or crystal form. The powder is most often snorted and absorbed through the nasal tissues into the bloodstream, though it can also be rubbed into the gums or simply swallowed. Crystal cocaine, often called crack cocaine, is most often smoked and is more dangerous than powdered cocaine because of a higher potency and the rapidity with which it enters the bloodstream once smoked.
Once cocaine reaches the user’s brain, it stimulates receptors in the brain to encourage dopamine release by neurons. Normally, dopamine is released in response to potential rewards and then recycled back into the cell. Cocaine prevents dopamine from being recycled which causes an excessive amount of dopamine to build up and healthy brain communication to be disrupted. It is the flood of dopamine into the brain that is responsible for the euphoric high that users experience. Additionally, cocaine quickly creates psychological dependence in the body, second only to methamphetamine addiction.
The body soon tolerates cocaine, and the individual is forced to take higher and more frequent doses to achieve the same desired effect. Some people combine their cocaine use with other dangerous drugs or alcohol to achieve higher or more satisfying highs. However, poly-drug use is extremely hazardous, and the combination of cocaine with other drugs, like heroin in what is known as a “speedball”, can prove fatal after even one use.
Some of the common side effects of cocaine use include:
- Decreased appetite
- Increased heart rate
- Muscle spasms
- Hallucination of bugs burrowing into the skin
- Respiratory failure (which can lead to death)
- Cerebral hemorrhage
- Heart attack
- Heart, kidney, brain and lung damage
- Destruction of nasal tissues
- Severe tooth decay
- Sexual problems
Cocaine withdrawals can likewise be highly dangerous, many individuals becoming so severely depressed that they will do almost anything to obtain more cocaine, including committing murder, or anything to achieve freedom from cocaine, including committing suicide.
Cocaine Use by Expectant Women
Some drug addicts defend their drug use by stating that it only affects self and is therefore no one’s business but their own. However, drug use rarely only affects the user alone, as can be easily seen with cocaine use in expectant women.
Babies who are born to cocaine-abusing women are born as cocaine addicts. Such infants suffer from a wide range of physical problems, including premature birth, low birth weight, stunted growth, birth defects and damages in the brain and nervous system. Cocaine-addicted infants with low birth weights are twenty times more likely to die in their first month of life than babies of healthy weight. These babies also suffer from an increased risk of lifelong disabilities, including physical and mental damage.
Treatment for Cocaine Addiction
While it may be an arduous journey, cocaine addiction can be successfully treated and recovered from. The most critical components to successful cocaine rehabilitation include:
Cocaine detoxification is often painful, but it is very necessary since eliminating residual cocaine toxins from the body is the only way to free the individual from constant cravings. A proper detoxification program can help the individual mitigate difficult withdrawal symptoms, including cravings, anger, paranoia, fatigue, depression, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain and insomnia. Cocaine detoxification should always be performed under the supervision of trained medical professionals.
Residential treatment helps provide the individual with a safe, drug-free environment for the duration of their treatment program. Some residential treatment facilities and programs include individual and group counseling, drug education, life skills courses, referrals to community resources and more.
It is often recommended that residential treatment for cocaine addiction is followed by outpatient treatment to ensure the individual continues to receive necessary treatment and counseling as they reintegrate into society.
Whether provided by the rehabilitation facility itself or by a community-based self-help group, aftercare is vital to ensuring that the individual receives support and encouragement as they encounter difficulties and challenges in life.
Cocaine has long been a problem for Americans, but with the facts were known and rehabilitation treatment available, cocaine addiction can be prevented or resolved so that individuals can live healthy, drug-free lives.
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