Unfortunately, cocaine addiction in the United States holds behind it a dark and destructive past. From the initial onset of the cocaine epidemic of the 1980’s, American’s nationwide bared witness to a cultural shift in the attitudes and relationships the country, and every individual in it, had behind mind altering drugs. Thankfully, both reported and consumed use has largely plummeted across, not only in the United States, but much of the rest of the world.
While the numbers behind the reported production and distribution of cocaine remains fairly low, paradoxically, use of it remains substantially high across the country, with reported admissions in treatment centers around the country. This is not to say it poses a problem like it did in the 1980s’, but rather that if not kept under a close eye, due to the potency of the drug itself, it has the ability to make a comeback onto the American scene.
To thoroughly understand why cocaine has the power that it has, one has to fundamentally understand cocaine itself, its effects on the body and mind, and what long term effects it leaves behind on its users.
What Is Cocaine?
Cocaine was first introduced in the early to mid 1980’s, a hectic time with the growing influence and prominent use of cocaine around the country; most notably behind the closed doors of the rich and famous, where cocaine use was being so commonly reported, that baseball teams were being federally investigated for widespread use. One instance is the Pittsburgh MLB Cocaine scandal of the early 1980’s, where a federal investigation on the Pittsburgh Pirates opened the doors to wide spread, nationwide cocaine abuse rings and its prominence in American culture. The Pittsburgh scandal remains one of the MLB’s largest and most embarrassing incidents to date.
Around this same time period, cocaine was fast becoming part of the American cultural and this created thriving business endeavors for the cartels and gangs in control of distributing the illegal substances. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), it was the cocaine market that created the rebellious and violent factions in control of many different south and central American countries today. One of the biggest gangs around the world, MS-13, was created as a paramilitary group directly sponsored by the large number of cocaine sales in the United States.
Competition between drug factions, while growing increasingly violent, never seemed to curb the cropping up of secondary dealers or causing the overall price of cocaine to fluctuate dramatically. In this strange and tumultuous atmosphere, came the creation of crack cocaine, a cheaper and monumentally stronger alternative to regular cocaine. Cocaine is typically consumed in powdered form, where the users either snort or orally ingest the drug, which creates a semi-delayed high. However, with the creation of a crystallized and rock form of cocaine, users were now able to directly smoke the drug, which lead to longer lasting and stronger highs than one would typically receive by the “simpler” powdered form. In fact, crack actually got its name from the sound it makes when under a small fire, like that of a lighter.
Not only was crack a monumentally stronger form of cocaine, it was also enormously cheaper, which lead to soaring addiction rates and higher demand for the drug. While the precise reason behind the boom of crack cocaine is often debated, the main culprit has been mostly understood to be its cheap cost of creation.
What Does Cocaine Do?
To understand just how powerful smoking crack is, relative to snorting it as is done in the case of cocaine, take an inhaler for example. People with asthma usually have an inhaler to help them combat asthma, and through the use of the inhaler, we can see how in a matter of seconds, the medication gets absorbed into the lungs and directly into the bloodstream. In that same sense, it is similar to the act of smoking crack. Studies conducted on the drug have found that while snorting cocaine takes anywhere around ten to twelve minutes to enter and run within the bloodstream, smoking crack takes only about 8 seconds.
However, once absorbed by the bloodstream and into the brain, the chemical makeup of both crack and cocaine are essentially the same. Reports of those who have used the drugs, exhibit symptoms of hyper-awareness and excess energy. In the brain itself, cocaine immediately acts on the “Ventral Tegmental Area”, or VTA, an area that controls the release of the chemical dopamine, which is also the chemical responsible for our feelings of pleasure and euphoria.
Once the large amounts of dopamine are released and begin passing between brain cells, they then begin binding to dopamine receptors, which initially trigger those feeling of euphoria. Typically, after some time the dopamine is released it is then transported back into the VTA; however, in the case of cocaine, it alters this process by not allowing the dopamine to return, leaving it continuously activating the dopamine receptors. Because cocaine stops the natural process of releasing and transferring and over stimulating the receptors, the users then often exhibit the peak of the high, or extreme feelings of euphoria.
Because cocaine avoids the reabsorption of dopamine, once the high is over it leads its users into feelings of extreme lows, due to a lack of the chemical dopamine. Thus low levels of dopamine reached after the high dissipates creates a dependence. Users will then feel the urge to seek that high again, simply because their brain is running low on naturally released dopamine chemicals.
The Bottom Line
Once the high of crack cocaine dissipates, users then dependent on the drug will often begin to feel the initial onset of the withdrawal process. During the withdrawal process, remnants of cocaine in the system begin to affect the user both physically and mentally. Users undergoing withdrawal often report feelings of impending doom, insomnia, nightmares, increased irritability, restlessness and paranoia. However, in more severe case, some users have been reported to suffer through delusional parasitosis.
Delusional parasitosis is the feeling of having ants or bugs crawling around the skin. This delusion can often become so severe that in more extreme case users have doused themselves in fire to rid themselves of an infestation that only occurs in their own mind. However, the most severe side effect reported is a cocaine induced heart attack, which according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), has occurred nearly 5,000 times yearly averaged out over the last 15 years.
It is vitally important to understand that addiction to cocaine is a disease of the mind, that corrupts an individual to a point that often times, the addiction itself is beyond their control. Due to the nature of cocaine and addiction, for one to succeed in substance abuse treatment success lies on the prospect of seeking help in the first place.
This guest post by Ocean Breeze really resonates with me as Cocaine was my second drug of choice, behind alcohol of course - but its such an insidious drug, I'm so grateful I was able to put it down when I put down the booze; thanks Ocean Breeze for sharing!