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Are you worried about your Cocaine use, or concerned for a loved one?

This page will help you to recognise the signs, symptoms and behaviours associated with Cocaine use and abuse, understand its effects, and find help.

What is Cocaine?

cocaineCocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug, derived from the leaves of the coca plant which grows in South America. Cocaine usually comes in the form of a white crystalline powder or off-white, chunky material. Cocaine is commonly snorted through the nose where it is absorbed into the bloodstream through the nasal tissue.

Another form of Cocaine is “Crack”.

Crack is the street name given to Cocaine that has been processed from Cocaine hydrochloride to a ready-to-use form for smoking, which appears in the form of off-white nuggets with jagged edges referred to as ‘rocks’. The term “crack” refers to the crackling sound heard when the mixture is heated.

Cocaine is a Class A drug, which carries the penalty of 7 years in prison and an unlimited fine. For supplying Cocaine, the penalty can be a life sentence in prison and an unlimited fine. Crack cocaine is also a Class A drug.

Street names for Cocaine: Big C, Blow, C, Candy cane, Charlie, Coke, Lady, Nose candy, Pearl, Percy, Powder, Snow, Sugar, Toot

Street names for Crack cocaine: Base, Cookie, Crack, Freebase, Pebbles, Rocks, Stones, Wash

How can you tell if someone is using Cocaine?

The effects of Cocaine use are almost instant, so sudden changes in behaviour are common, but a Cocaine user will display physical and psychological effects such as –

    Physical effects

  • Energetic, even hyperactive
  • Grinding of teeth
  • More sensitive to sight sound, and touch
  • Talkative
  • Jaw clenching
  • Dilated pupils
  • A high temperature
  • Increased breathing
  • Increased heart rate
    Psychological effects

  • Euphoria
  • Mentally alert
  • Excited
  • Confidence
  • Aggression
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety

What are the signs that Cocaine use has become an addiction?

There are a range of worsening symptoms and behaviours that characterise the shift from Cocaine use to Cocaine addiction, which usually marks the point at which a user’s life has become ‘unmanageable’.

Their life revolves around Cocaine, thinking about it, working out how to get hold of it, taking it, recovering from it and continuing to use it despite the fact that it is hurting them and the people around them.

    The major signs include -

  • Neglect of family relationships and responsibilities
  • Neglect of personal hygiene
  • Neglect of friendships or a sudden change of friends and social activity
  • Taking time off and performing poorly at work
  • Permanent stuffy and runny nose, swelling and bleeding of the mucous membrane and over time its disintegration and the collapse of the nasal septum
  • Restlessness, irritability, anxiety and mood swings, panic attacks and confusion
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting

What are the health risks of Cocaine use or Cocaine addiction?

The effects of Cocaine use can cause severe and sudden health problems which primarily affect the cardiovascular system, but can also cause respiratory problems. The main effect is increased blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature, and constriction of the arteries which decreases blood supply to the heart, which can lead to -

  • Convulsions
  • Asthma and lung disease
  • Strokes
  • Heart attacks

Long term use and abuse can also lead to serious mental health conditions including –

  • Depression
  • Delusions and hallucinations
  • Acute paranoia and psychosis

Why do people who use Cocaine become addicted?

cocaineThe effects of Cocaine use are immediate and extremely pleasurable.

Cocaine use produces intense feelings of euphoria, well-being, power and ability, although these sensations are often mixed with anxiety and restlessness.

However, its effects are also short lived and as they wear off euphoria is replaced by intense depression and the user will crash, becoming exhausted and often sleeping for long periods.

Cocaine is a very addictive drug. Having tried it many people very quickly find it difficult to control their use. The urge to continue using is very strong, the memory of the euphoria can trigger tremendous craving and relapse even after long periods of abstinence.

Although the physical withdrawal symptoms are not as severe as some other drugs, Cocaine creates a very powerful psychological dependence which can be a significant barrier for many people who want to stop.

Its short lived and addictive nature tends to encourage repeat use which builds up a tolerance, which fails to deliver the same high, creating an upward spiral of increased use and increased doses, or bingeing, a pattern of use that substantially increases the risk of a fatal episode.

Although Cocaine is a highly addictive substance, Crack cocaine is considered to be substantially more addictive as the drug is far more potent and is smoked.

Smoking allows the Cocaine to reach the brain more quickly than other routes of administration, and habitual Cocaine use will develop even more rapidly if the substance is smoked rather than snorted. Smoking Crack cocaine brings an intense and immediate high, compared with snorting which takes up to 30 minutes for the user to feel the effects.

Users quickly develop a tolerance to Crack cocaine, needing more of the substance to achieve the desired effects. Since the high from Crack cocaine is so short-lived, users commonly smoke it repeatedly in order to sustain the high.

This can lead to an even faster onset of addiction. Also, because Crack cocaine works on the brain’s dopamine ‘reward pathways’ system, withdrawal symptoms occur when the drug’s effects wear off. These symptoms can include depression, irritability, extreme fatigue, anxiety, an intense craving for the drug, and sometimes even psychosis. Users will often keep using Crack cocaine simply to avoid the negative effects of withdrawal.

How do you tackle Cocaine addiction?

crack cocaineThe first and most important step for anyone with a Cocaine addiction is recognising and accepting that there is a problem, and making the choice to cut down or stop.

Across the UK, there are services available that offer free, confidential advice e.g. Talk to Frank, who will be able to provide confidential advice and make a referral to a professional organisation that can provide treatment and recovery.

Heavy Cocaine users may require treatment in a residential rehab centre and in some cases separate treatment for psychological problems. Rehabs provide medically supervised detox to flush out harmful toxins, and specialist drugs counselling.

Treatment for Cocaine addiction differs from Heroin in that there are no prescribed substitute drugs, although some treatments may use drugs to calm down the system making it more comfortable to come off.

The best results for most people come from counselling and psychotherapy underpinned by social support provided by self-help groups.

Psychotherapy techniques help people to understand drug abuse and develop strategies to recognise their addiction triggers and how to cope with their addictive urges or anxiety.

Mutual aid or self-help groups operate meetings usually based on the 12 steps abstinence model, where users can share their experiences and inspiration. These support groups not only help people to come off, but to stay off Cocaine.

Intervention offers an alternative approach that involves family and friends in a united show of care and concern for the addict, facilitated by a professional that aims to interrupt the chaos and pain caused by addiction, while avoiding an angry confrontation.

What support is there for families and friends of Cocaine users?

”Drug use affects the whole family, not just the user. When there’s a drug user in the family, whether it is a child or parent, everyone suffers and it can be so crippling that family members suffer as much as the user.

For those living close to a dependent drug user, trying to find help can be frustrating. It often seems that support is geared towards the user, when families struggle through problems too.

Fortunately there are support groups for family members too.

There are a number of groups whose sole focus is the support of family members and friends who have been affected by substance abuse and help address these issues.

One organisation that can help specifically with families and friends of drug users is Families Anonymous, who provide support to anyone whose life is, or has been, affected by someone else’s drug use.”

Finding help

The Inexcess Support Directory lists more than 1600 service providers throughout the UK and is divided by region to help support and advise people how to find help in their own area. Click here to visit the Support Directory.

Inexcess videos dealing with Cocaine addiction