Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug that is made from leaves of the coca plant, which is found in South America. It drastically alters the release of dopamine in the brain, leading to a rush of energy. Cocaine is a class A drug in the UK, with possession liable to cause up to seven years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.
Cocaine looks like a fine, white powder which is often mixed with visually similar substances like talcum powder or flour to increase profits for illegal dealers. It may be ‘cut’ in this way with more dangerous substances also, such as fentanyl.
Cocaine is commonly ingested by snorting through the nose. It is also possible to ingest cocaine by rubbing it on your gums. Another common method of using cocaine is to dissolve the powder and use a needle to inject it directly into the bloodstream; this is sometimes done in combination with heroin, the combination of which is referred to as a ‘speedball’. This is an exceptionally dangerous way to consume cocaine.
Symptoms of cocaine use include a sudden, intense flush of energy. It does this by increasing levels of the chemical messenger called dopamine in the brain, which is related to movement and reward.
In everyday life, dopamine is distributed in the brain in response to actions such as exercise or sex. When this happens, the dopamine that is released is effectively recycled. Cocaine stops this from happening, leading to a rapid build-up of dopamine which disrupts the natural communication between nerve cells.
This flood of dopamine causes the rush that users are familiar with and can reinforce drug-taking behaviour. As the brain naturally adjusts to the presence of excess dopamine, a tolerance to the substance quickly builds up. With repeated use, cocaine users become less sensitive to the substance and require more frequent and larger doses to obtain the high they used to – and to avoid difficult withdrawal symptoms.
There are significant mental and physical health risks to cocaine use. It significantly increases heart rate and can lead to heart attacks and liver damage, particularly if it is used alongside alcohol as is often the case, as the release of the chemical cocaethylene upon using both substances further increases the tendency of a person to engage in compulsive behaviour.
Cocaine use can also damage the body and nose and is dangerous if used during pregnancy, as it may lead to premature labour, miscarriage and low birth weight. Injecting cocaine, also known as doing ‘crack’, can permanently damage veins and lead to the development of infection such as HIV, hepatitis B and C and gangrene and ulcers due to needle use.
If you or a loved one are struggling with cocaine addiction we can help. You can call the Help Me Stop Team free today to discuss our treatment options.