Cocaine Addiction Facts
Cocaine abuse and addiction continues to be a problem that plagues our nation. In 1997, for example, an estimated 1.5 million Americans age 12 and older were chronic cocaine users. Although this is an improvement over the 1985 estimate of 5.7 million users, we still have a substantial distance to go in reducing the use of this addictive stimulant. Science is helping. For example, we now know more about where and how cocaine acts in the brain, including how the drug produces its pleasurable effects and why it is so addictive.
Through the use of sophisticated technology, scientists can actually see the dynamic changes that occur in the brain as an individual takes the drug. They can observe the different brain changes that occur as a person experiences the "rush," the "high," and, finally, the craving of cocaine. They can also identify parts of the brain that become active when a cocaine addict sees or hears environmental stimuli that trigger the craving for cocaine. Because these types of studies pinpoint specific brain regions, they are critical to identifying targets for developing medications to treat cocaine addiction.
One of NIDA's most important goals is to translate what scientists learn from research, in order to help the public better understand drug abuse and addiction, and to develop more effective strategies for their prevention and treatment. We hope that this compilation of scientific information on cocaine will help to inform readers about the harmful effects of cocaine abuse, and that it will assist in prevention and treatment efforts.
Cocaine, more than any other drug of abuse, has direct and immediate access to the brain's pleasure center. It causes disruption in the delicate chemistry that regulates mood, pleasure and survival drive.
Cocaine is a potent and dangerous Central Nervous System stimulant, processed from the South American Coca Plant. Cocaine works by blocking the reabsorption of dopamine in the brain (a chemical messenger that assists in normal functioning of the Central Nervous System and is associated with pleasure and movement). Cocaine in it's powdered form is sniffed or mixed with water and injected. More recently users are smoking a freebase form of the substance termed Crack (so named for the "crackling" sound produced when the mixture of cocaine and sodium bicarbonate is heated).
Whether cocaine is used by injecting, snorting or smoking the same risks are involved. Although, the onset of addiction to cocaine may be much more rapid in the smoked form. Users will experience dilated pupils, increased body temperature, constricted blood vessels, increased heart rate and blood pressure. The euphoria felt by users is due to hyperstimulation, reduced fatigue and mental clarity. Other effects of cocaine abuse include restlessness, irritability, and anxiety. In addition to user reported and scientifically backed effects of the drug, sudden death can occur in rare occurrences on the first use.
When a drug is smoked, the psychoactive effects, addiction potential and harmful consequences are greatly increased.
Cocaine is generally sold on the street as a fine, white, crystalline powder, known as "coke," "C," "snow," "flake," or "blow." Street dealers generally dilute it with such inert substances as cornstarch, talcum powder, and/or sugar, or with such active drugs as procaine (a chemically-related local anesthetic) or with such other stimulants as amphetamines.
Pure cocaine was first used in the 1880s in eye, nose, and throat surgeries as an anesthetic and for its ability to constrict blood vessels and limit bleeding. However, many of its therapeutic applications are now obsolete because of the development of safer drugs.