What Is Cocaine?
Cocaine is a stimulant drug obtained from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America, and one of the most infamous drugs because of the harm to society it is associated with. It is highly addictive, to the extent that it can modify brain function and structure if used regularly. It is a common substance in recreational drug use, as it induces an intense feeling of euphoria.
Cocaine is classified as a Schedule II drug, because of its high potential for abuse, but it can also be used legally by doctors for legitimate medical purposes, such as local anesthesia.
Cocaine is commonly abused in one of three main forms:
- Cocaine powder: a fine, white powder that is snorted, swallowed, or dissolved in water and injected.
- Freebase cocaine: solid crystals which are made by dissolving cocaine in water and ammonia. The addition of this alkaloid eliminates the hydrochloric acid content, leaving a crystallized rock of cocaine described as 'purified'. Freebase cocaine is then 'freebased', meaning smoked.
- Crack cocaine is in the form of opaque brown or whitish rocks, a mixture of powder cocaine, baking soda and water, which is boiled until solids form. Crack cocaine is smoked.
Cocaine Overdose Symptoms
Causes and Risk Factors in Cocaine Overdose
Simply put, cocaine overdose occurs when a person has taken more cocaine than their body can process. Cocaine toxicity occurs when the drug reaches toxic levels in their system, which can be fatal. There is no safe use of cocaine. A first-time user can overdose on cocaine because their body is not used to it, while habitual users risk overdose because their level of acquired tolerance can easily lead them to take too much cocaine.
How cocaine is taken also affects the risk of overdose - when smoked as crack cocaine or injected, the cocaine high is much more rapid and intense - potentially dangerously so. The drug itself is not the only threat to a person's life. If cocaine is cut with other substances like corn starch or talcum powder, these may cause blood clots that can be fatal. It is also sometimes adulterated with other drugs like amphetamines or even heroin, an extremely dangerous combination, and so is taking cocaine with alcohol.
Physical Symptoms of a Cocaine Overdose
In 2019, cocaine overdose deaths accounted for 1 in 5 overdose fatalities, and a total of 16,000 Americans died from cocaine overdoses. To a bystander, the signs of a cocaine overdose may not be identifiable at once, since many of them are similar to the effects of cocaine use in general. There are nevertheless recognizable physical signs and psychological symptoms that act as alarm bells indicating that the person requires medical attention. A person may experience or complain of:
- severe nausea and vomiting
- extreme dehydration
- chest pain
- irregular breathing or respiratory depression
- tremors or seizures
And in serious cases:
- kidney failure, lung failure
- cardiac arrest
- cerebral bleeding
- coma or even death.
If the person presents even the slightest signs of organ failure, you should call 911 for immediate medical attention. This could possibly save the person's life and even prevent long-term damage, particularly in the case of a heart attack or stroke.
Psychological Signs of a Cocaine Overdose
Cocaine toxicity affects not only a person's body. The drug also greatly perturbs their emotions and impairs their cognition. Common symptoms of too much cocaine can cause:
- extreme anxiety
- intense paranoia and hallucinations
Heavy cocaine use, high doses or habitual cocaine abuse can cause what is known as 'cocaine psychosis'. In addition to the above symptoms, unusual thoughts and out-of-character behavior occur. This effect of drug abuse may disappear within a few days, but may also persist for some weeks.
Cocaine Use Disorder
Generally speaking, a cocaine overdose doesn't happen out of the blue. It is often the result of an existing substance use disorder or an ongoing cocaine addiction. Cocaine use disorder is one of the most common substance use disorders - alongside other illegal drug use such as opioid abuse or alcohol addiction. As mentioned above, cocaine's potential for abuse is very high, and a single use of crack cocaine is enough to lead potentially to cocaine addiction.
Frequent use of cocaine or other drugs can lead to rapid psychological dependence. Cocaine use does produce a number of initially pleasurable effects, without which the drug would hold no appeal for any user. These include:
- a strong sense of happiness and well-being
- increased confidence
- becoming talkative
- feeling alert and mentally sharp
- feeling physically strong and energetic
- increased sex drive
However, these pleasant feelings are generally accompanied, or swiftly followed, by other, more numerous, negative effects, such as:
- headaches, dizziness
- dry mouth, reduced appetite
- increased body temperature and blood pressure, higher heart rate, and quicker breathing
- irritability and agitation
- anxiety, paranoia
- unpredictable, possibly violent, behavior.
Cocaine addiction can easily develop into a broader substance use disorder. As a person's tolerance to cocaine grows (meaning a given dose has less and less of an effect on them, so they need increasing amounts of the drug), it is not unusual for them to start mixing cocaine with other drugs. If they abuse alcohol also, their problem is compounded. Higher tolerance also puts them at risk of severe withdrawal symptoms, due to their body becoming used to larger amounts of cocaine, which can cause cocaine toxicity.
Cocaine addiction can rarely be overcome without a combination of medical treatment, rehabilitation, and therapy. Without some kind of addiction treatment, the risk of overdose will pose a recurrent threat to the person suffering from it, every time they indulge in cocaine use.
Physical Effects of Continued Cocaine Abuse
Cocaine overdose symptoms indicate that a person's body is in crisis mode, and a single overdose may not just have life threatening consequences, but could also cause long-term damage to the body. Even without the extreme effects of overdose, the physical effects of a sustained cocaine habit are detrimental and well-known. Damage can occur to the nervous system, the inner organs, the brain, and other parts of the body. Common complaints include:
- damage to nasal membranes, frequent nose bloods, loss of sense of smell
- loss of the sense of taste, difficulties swallowing
- heart problems and higher blood pressure, which put a strain on the cardiovascular system
- damage to the gastrointestinal tract, decreased blood flow to the bowels
- damage to the lungs, and increased risk of respiratory problems.
The potential weakening of the heart is particularly worrisome since heart attacks are a leading cause of death among cocaine abusers. All cocaine users put themselves at risk of one as long as their drug use continues.
Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms and Cocaine Detox
The more a cocaine user develops a dependency on the drug, the more likely they are to experience withdrawal symptoms. These appear when the body is suddenly deprived of the substance it has become accustomed to, or when use of a drug is discontinued abruptly. Cocaine overdose in particular produces uniquely intense withdrawal symptoms. The process during which the body rids itself of the cocaine ingested is known as cocaine detox.
Unlike overdose symptoms, cocaine withdrawal can be less outwardly apparent than the physical symptoms of withdrawal from many other drugs or alcohol. A person may experience:
- frequent restlessness and agitation that affect their behavior
- depressed, gloomy moods
- general fatigue or lethargy
- greater appetite
- vivid, unsettling dreams.
Withdrawal symptoms following cocaine addiction can last for up to several months, in particular recurrent, intense cravings for cocaine, and depressing thoughts. Addiction treatment can help people navigate this difficult time, while they continue to recover from their substance abuse.
Addiction Treatment and the Treatment Process
Addiction treatment is recommended for any substance abuse issues, but an event of the magnitude of a cocaine overdose definitely indicates action needs to be taken. It is estimated that around 5 million Americans currently use cocaine, with the biggest group of users being males aged 18 to 25. Cocaine addiction clearly also plays a big part in cocaine overdose deaths, which have increased every year since 2013.
For severe drug abuse, which cocaine use can easily become, addiction treatment often involves a stay in a rehabilitation center or clinic specializing in recovery from substance abuse and addiction. The treatment process also involves behavioral therapies such as CBT, building a support network for sustained abstinence, and creating a lifestyle and plan supportive to long-term recovery.
Any use of cocaine can quickly start to interfere with the good things in your life, but a cocaine overdose could potentially end it. While prevention is better than a cure, it's never too late to reach out for help, and at Cornerstone Treatment we meet you right where you're at, without judgment or opinion. We have over 40 years experience helping people change their lives, and we want what you want - for you to get well and find freedom from drug abuse. We are just a phone call away, so contact us, and take the first step.