Drug Awareness Month: Cocaine Abuse

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Cocaine is a powerfully addictive drug made from the leaves of the coca plant, which is native to South America. It produces short-term euphoria, energy, and talkativeness, in addition to potentially dangerous physical effects like raising the heart rate and blood pressure.

The drug is used in two ways: the powder is snorted (inhaled through the nose), where it is absorbed through the nasal tissue, or dissolved in water and injected into the bloodstream. Acute tolerance develops quickly. This along with the drug’s strong reinforcement properties, makes it highly addictive.

Signs of cocaine intoxication

In low doses, it produces feelings of well being and elation, soon followed by anxiety depression and paranoia. In high doses, it produces rapid respiration, loss of co-ordination, anxiety, paranoia, onset of tremors, nausea, and convulsive seizures.

Withdrawal symptoms include sleep and eating disorders, depression, anxiety, craving for the drug, impulsive and compulsive behavior, malnutrition.

Effects of chronic abuse

  • Mind and behavior: Delusions, sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety disorders, paranoia, violent behavior, alert perceptions of reality which can lead to aggressive or homicidal behavior; violent psychotic disorders which could last days or weeks after the drug has been stopped.
  • Heart and blood: Rapid or irregular heartbeat, hypertension, constricted blood vessels and arteries. In large doses, it may cause ruptured blood vessels which can lead to death by heart attack or cardiac failure.
  • Brain: Constricted blood vessels and decrease blood flow to some brain areas can lead to tissue damage, stroke, hemorrhage, and permanent brain damage.
  • Nose: Injury to the nasal passages from snorting.
  • Lungs: Lung abnormalities and edema (excess watery fluid). Respiratory depression which can cause death.
  • Liver: Danger of liver failure, high incidence of hepatitis in intravenous users due to unsterile/shared needles.
  • Kidneys: Damage, failure.
  • Gastrointestinal system: Abnormal difficulties which may require surgery; damage tract.
  • Bones and muscles: Rhabdomyolysis (potentially fatal disease destroying skeletal muscle).
  • Sexual organs: Sexual dysfunction is common in heavy users.
  • Fetus: Risk of disease transmitted by unsterile or shared needles (hepatitis AIDS); risk of chronic heart and connective tissue diseases; risk of severe weight loss and malnutrition due to decrease appetite.

Click here to read more from the National Council on Drug Abuse.