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The Effects of Cocaine Abuse

effects of cocaine abuseCocaine was once seen as a man’s drug. The burst of energy that cocaine delivers was seen as vital to the success of men who had to juggle demanding careers, needy romantic partners and disobedient children. Men don’t have a monopoly on life stresses, however, and cocaine also seems to be an effective drug for women. In a study of the issue, published in STASH, researchers found that when women were given the opportunity to use cocaine, they did so at rates comparable to men. Women weren’t offered the drug as often as men were, as once again, the drug is seen as suitable only for men, but the drug seemed to have a deep impact on the women who managed to obtain it.

Once these women did start taking cocaine, they tended to use the drug more often each day than men did, and they were more likely to meet the criteria for a diagnosis of dependence, when compared to men. Cocaine and women seem to be a deadly combination resulting in addictions that form quickly and put down deep roots.

Women who are addicted like this might take staggeringly high dosages of cocaine.

Their bodies adjust to the effects of the drugs, so smaller doses seem to have no impact at all. Some women even take cocaine in binges, piling one dose on top of another in rapid succession. Battling the body’s ability to adapt like this can have a devastating impact on a woman’s health and well-being, as cocaine is a deeply damaging drug.

Methods of Use

Cocaine is one of the most versatile drugs of abuse on the market today. Users can snort, swallow, smoke or inject the various forms of cocaine that they buy, and feel a slightly different response with each different method they use. Unfortunately, each method of using cocaine is associated with some form of bodily damage, meaning that there is no safe way to take cocaine. Each time the substance enters the body, it leaves damage in its wake.

Those who snort cocaine subject the delicate tissues of the nose and sinuses to a powerful substance that can restrict blood flow almost on contact. With repeated usage, the tissues exposed to cocaine can become so starved for blood that they might begin to slough off and die. These users might develop nosebleeds or an inability to smell. They might even develop holes in the cartilage that holds the nose in place.

cocaine usePeople who ingest cocaine might have similar tissue death, although their painful symptoms are centered in the stomach and bowels. These people might experience blood in their bowel movements, or they might even vomit blood. They might also lose weight, as their damaged tissues can’t pull the calories and nutrients out of the foods the people eat.

Some people who ingest cocaine develop infections such as gangrene deep within their bodies, as the reduced blood flow doesn’t allow the body to mount a serious defense against an infection.

People who inject cocaine are at great risk for developing blood-borne infections, such as hepatitis B and C or HIV/AIDS. Statistics released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse suggest that by the time people have been injecting drugs for five years, their chances of being infected by hepatitis C stand at 50 to 80 percent. Some of this risk comes from sharing needles, as a tiny speck of blood that’s not visible to the naked eye could harbor hundreds or even thousands of infection spores. But those who inject cocaine also tend to experience such an intense rush from the drug that they’re capable of doing things they might not do when sober, and this might include engaging in risky sex. These behaviors can also be responsible for a blood-borne infection.

Diseases like this can often be effectively treated with medications and other therapies, but in general, the earlier the issue is caught, the better. People with addictions might lead such chaotic lives that they allow the infections to rage on without treatment for extended periods of time, until the diseases become difficult to treat.

Heart Damage

People who take cocaine often report that their hearts beat quite quickly as the drugs take hold, providing them with a physical “rush” that’s similar to the feelings they’d experience if they finished a marathon or rode their bikes for miles on a spring day. This rapidly beating heart can sustain damage in the process, and some people have died during their cocaine binges due to heart damage. A study of the issue, published in the New England Journal of Medicinemakes the link between heart damage and cocaine use quite clear, as researchers found that heart issues due to cocaine use were not related to:

  • The method used to take cocaine
  • An underlying heart condition
  • Previous or concurrent seizures
  • Massive doses of the drug

The researchers suggest that cocaine is just toxic to the heart, and people don’t need to do anything special or have anything unique about them in order to experience a terrifying episode. They just need to take some form of cocaine.

Damage to the Mind

Cocaine has also been proven to be toxic to the brain’s tissues. People who take large amounts of cocaine have brain cells that respond differently to standard stimuli, such as pleasure or memory. The brain would normally respond to stimuli like this with a burst of chemicals, signaling that something wonderful was happening. A cocaine-altered brain might only respond to cocaine with pleasure chemicals, meaning that people who abuse cocaine might seem depressed or anxious without the drug, even when they’re exposed to people, places or things they once found pleasurable.

cocaine addiction

People who abuse cocaine for long periods of time can develop a host of mental illnesses due to the damage caused by the drug. In a study of the issue in the American Journal of Medicine, researchers linked cocaine abuse to:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Paranoia
  • Suicidal thoughts

Some of these traits might be associated with the dip in pleasure receptors, but others seem to be associated with a separate level of damage, perhaps relating to the brain’s communication center.┬áPortions of the brain that regulate behavior tend to be damaged during cocaine addiction, and segments of the brain related to rational thought also seem to shrink. People with damage like this might see a blurring between fantasy and reality, and feel unable to control their urges.

Cocaine can also impact the brain’s basic processing functions, according to a study in the journal Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, making it harder for addicted people to learn new concepts and remember important topics.

The higher the dose of cocaine taken, the researchers suggest, the more damage is done. It’s unclear how many of these issues might be permanent in nature, and how many might resolve if people are provided with the proper kinds of therapy at the proper time. It’s certain, however, that people who use cocaine should stop doing so, in order to prevent further damage from taking place.

Additional Addictions

addicted womanPeople who take cocaine often use the drug in deliberate poly-drug patterns of abuse, mixing in alcohol to provide sedation during the extreme highs the drug can bring, and adding in heroin to augment the sensation of pleasure and prolong the sensations the user feels. Mixing drugs in this way can be incredibly dangerous, as addiction tends to follow upon the heels of this practice quite suddenly. Poly-drug addictions like this also tend to be more complicated to treat, as experts need to tailor the treatments they use to address all of the substances the person has been taking.

Some people who abuse cocaine may develop poly-drug addictions even when they thought they were only taking cocaine. In 2009, experts in England reported that cocaine dealers were cutting their cocaine with powerful painkillers, in order to convince their buyers that the cocaine they were about to take was somehow stronger than any other cocaine they’d ever taken in the past.

Painkiller drugs can be remarkably difficult to stop using, causing physical pain when people try to stop. People who abuse cocaine might be at an increased risk of developing addictions like this, due to the unscrupulous actions of their dealers.

Let Us Help

It’s true that cocaine addiction can have a devastating impact on physical and mental health, but there’s no reason to assume that all of these consequences are automatically in store for all people who abuse the drug. With therapy and ongoing support, people who are addicted to cocaine can learn how to keep their addictions under control, and they can help their bodies to heal.

At The Orchid, we provide women with a variety of supplemental treatments that are designed to help them heal on a physical and emotional level, while we provide top-notch care for their addictions. Our massage therapy program, spiritual guidance program and yoga classes can all provide meaningful help for women who come to us for addiction care. Please contact us to find out more about how these treatments might fit into your cocaine healing program.

Further Reading