Cocaine abuse has been a part of drug culture of North America for decades and its continued prevalence is an indication of the strong psychological and physical addictive quality of this substance derived from the coca leaf. Referred to as “coke”, “Charlie” and “nose candy” (among many other street names) this potent stimulant has developed into one of the most abused and destructive illicit drugs available today. Its use produces an increase in the amount of dopamine in the synapse which invokes sensations of euphoria that leads to increased levels of energy that give the user delusional self-confidence. The short-term duration of the effects explain the patterned habits of users who tend to require additional intake of the drug at frequent intervals (every half hour or so depending the means of the intake). The widespread appeal of cocaine within the “party” circuit relates to the high energy induced and the diminishment for the need of sleep. The intensity of the “high” masks the great dangers that are more regularly being observed as more research is being conducted.
Cocaine leads to a compulsive behaviour pattern that drives the abuser to irrational flights of fancy in the pursuit of maintaining the euphoric state. Scientific studies involving mice demonstrate these compulsions. When given the choice between having access to food/water or cocaine, mice have chosen to ingest the cocaine to the point whereby they are at risk of starvation. This speaks to the intense lure of the chemical components (benzoylecgonine, ecgonine, etc.) of the drug. The complex biological manipulation involving the levels of dopamine in the body drive the cocaine user to find quicker and more proficient means of getting the cocaine into their system so as to increase the intensity of the “high”. The most common means of ingestion is through the “snorting “of the drug but once users fall further into addiction they will often commence intravenous use as well as “smoking” the drug through the freebasing process (crack cocaine). The longer the cocaine abuse continues the more the body builds up a natural “immunity” to the effects and the more the user seeks greater, more intense doses. This is a common pattern among cocaine addicts and the external effects manifest in dramatic mood shifts, weight loss and other forms of manic behaviour. Particular dangers arise with intravenous users as the instantaneous impact has been known to cause heart attacks and allergic reactions (not to mention the inherent danger of any intravenous abuse). Those who ‘snort” excessive amounts of cocaine develop serious nasal disorders that include the loss of smell, constant inflammation of the nose and even septum damage that can often require surgery to repair.
A common aspect of cocaine abuse involves binging whereby the user will embark on a sustained pattern of continual use. The physical dangers when this pattern of abuse is engaged are numerous. Increased heart rates, high blood pressure, constricted blood vessels etc. place a severe strain on the body. This is coupled with the psychological dangers that involve the usual experience of depression once the effects of the cocaine wear off. This is one of the key reasons for the intense pattern of excessive use – the user, once the depression sets in, ingests the cocaine again believing that that is the only way to combat the depression. This is a common vicious pattern that, if unchecked, can quickly lead to major addiction.
One of the most common medical complications and dangers involves cardiovascular problems. Cocaine use produces chaotic heart rhythms and affects the respiratory system that can lead to respiratory failure. The different means of administration induce a plethora of particular medical problems that combine to put the user at risk for a number of physically detrimental situations including seizures and possible strokes. The cocaine user is often unaware of these risks since he or she is most often experiencing the euphoric effects of the drug, which masks the self-perceptive capabilities of the user. The highly agitated behaviour will be noticeable to all those people who witness the abuse but will remain hidden from the abuser. This, in turn, stifles the ability of the user to recognize the danger signs and to continue the administration of the cocaine. The intense mood disorders and depression drive the cocaine addict deeper into the darkness of the addiction whereby the continued “need” to inhibit the re-absorption of dopamine becomes the primary function and desire of the individual. Consciously or unconsciously, the cocaine user/addict will become obsessed with the need to infuse his or her body with the drug on a regular basis – either through periodical use throughout the day or through intense binge use should the social environment he or she finds themselves in be accommodating. The vicious cycle that is particular to cocaine use/abuse often leads the cocaine user on a path of sustained use that consumes all aspects of his/her daily life and develops into full blown cocaine addiction before the user even realizes that they no longer have control over their lives.