Cocaine is an addictive stimulant, derived from the leaves of the coca plant. Historically, the drug was sometimes prepared as a medical remedy. However, it has since been identified as having various harmful medical effects, both acute and chronic, and has been identified as mentally and physiologically addictive. This amphetamine drug is nonetheless sometimes taken as an illegal recreational drug, in various forms.
Dependence or addiction to cocaine is the dependency on regular use of cocaine. Not all individuals are affected by the drug’s addictive properties. According to a US-based study of just over 1000 participants, users over the age of 11 typically had a 5-6 percent chance of becoming addicted within the first two years of cocaine use. After ten years of use, the risk of addiction increased to 15 to 16 percent.
Individuals with cocaine dependency may experience various negative side effects, including lethargy, psychosis, depression, the inability to sit still (Akathisia) and other forms of physiological damage. In some cases, dependence may lead to an increased drive for greater doses of cocaine, leading to sometimes fatal overdoses.
Cocaine High and Crash
Cocaine use can create a sense of euphoria and increased energy, sometimes compared to a heightened version of the symptoms of caffeine intake. By contrast, the withdrawal or “crash” after taking the drug includes many of the opposite conditions, including depression, anxiety and a sense of weakness. Given these intense negative effects, individuals tend to crave further use of the drug, often in increasing quantities.
In addition to this drive to increase pleasurable side effects and reduce the “crash,” cocaine users typically experience addiction symptoms due to cocaine’s “DAT-blocking effects.” This phenomenon involves the interaction of the drug with a person’s dopamine transporters. Over time, continued use of cocaine also influences the brain’s “reward centers.” Cocaine is capable of delivering extreme euphoric “highs” rapidly. Therefore, after repeated exposure, individuals find other forms of “reward” or satisfaction to be relatively unsatisfactory. As a result, regular cocaine users may experience chronic dysphoria, the scientific term for generalized dissatisfaction. Activities or personal relationships which would have previously provided satisfaction or pleasure no longer have the same effects, as the cocaine rewires the brain’s mechanisms for recognizing reward.
Cocaines Addictive Affects
Regular cocaine use may also affect the brain’s production of a particular protein known as Rac1. This protein affects the brain’s plasticity, or openness to reconfiguration. As cocaine use reduces the production of Rac1, the individual becomes increasingly affected by cocaine’s rewarding mechanism. In effect, regular use creates a “vicious circle” or feedback loop of increasing addiction.
Because of cocaine’s addictive effects, when a regular user stops taking cocaine, he or she may experience many negative withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the case, these withdrawal effects may include paranoia, itching, mood swings, irritability, fatigue, insomnia, exhaustion, depression, nausea or vomiting. Another specific symptom, which is widely reported among cocaine addicts, is the sense that bugs are crawling on the skin, known as “formication.” Popularly referred to as “coke bugs,” this sensation may last as long as months, depending on the intensity of the addiction.
Given the serious effects of cocaine addiction, many former addicts become reliant on other forms of intoxicants when attempting to quit cocaine use. Approximately 30 to 40 percent of former cocaine addicts begin using alcohol or other drugs as they give up cocaine. Some medically advised courses of quitting cocaine may also involve the use of specific medications, to ease withdrawal symptoms. Other approaches, such as 12-step programs or therapeutic methods, may also help individuals to get over cocaine addiction.
Despite cocaine’s relatively widespread use as an illegal drug, when compared with “harder” drugs such as heroin, cocaine addiction is reported by many medical authorities as coming in just behind heroin in terms of its difficulty to treat.