Cocaine Addiction Treatment in Massachusetts
When it comes to substance misuse or substance use disorders, cocaine is one of those drugs that comes up time and time again in popular culture and even our personal lives. When you watch popular movies or listen to popular music, it’s nearly impossible to avoid references to cocaine.
The stimulant drug cocaine has invaded and influenced American culture in a uniquely destructive way. When we consider the scope of the impact cocaine has had on our culture, it should be no surprise that the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has reported over 15% of Americans over the age of 18 have tried cocaine at least once.
While it’s important to realize the majority of these people will not develop an addiction to cocaine, it does help to accurately portray the widespread influence and availability of the drug in the United States. In fact, in 2014, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 913,000 Americans met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria for dependence on or misuse of cocaine during that 12-month period.
The drug’s availability remains prevalent and dangerous in Massachusetts as well. In fact, the Department of Public Health found that 46% of people who lost their life to opioid overdose in 2020 also had cocaine in their system.
An important step in fully understanding the issue of cocaine addiction is understanding what cocaine is, how it affects the brain, and how addiction can occur.
What Is Cocaine?
The Brief History
Cocaine is a member of the stimulant category of drugs, and it has a high potential for addiction. Cocaine is processed from the leaves of the coca plant, a common plant that is native to South America. The history of its consumption dates back thousands of years, when ancient South American civilizations would chew on the leaves of the coca plant for its stimulant effects.
In the late 1800s, chemists figured out how to process the coca leaves into cocaine hydrochloride, the chemical compound that we’re familiar with to this day. Cocaine was initially developed as a “cure-all” tonic, treating everything from headaches to tooth pain.
Before better, synthetic medicines were created, doctors would give clients cocaine as an anesthetic or pain blocker because of its local numbing effect. It didn’t take long for people to realize cocaine’s dangerous potential for addiction.
Cocaine as a Modern Street Drug
Cocaine in the modern age is referred to by many different names, also known as street names. Some of the common street names for cocaine include:
The drug can also be distributed in many different forms as well. The most commonly found form of cocaine, and the one usually portrayed in popular culture, is a fine, white powder. However, through a simple chemical process involving baking soda, powdered cocaine can be converted to solid rock crystals.
This form of processed cocaine is known as crack cocaine, rock, or simply crack. The name “crack” refers to the crackling sound the drug makes as it is heated up and smoked.
Powdered cocaine is most commonly snorted. When snorted, the drug works its way into the bloodstream through the sensitive blood vessels of the inner nose and nasal cavity. Powdered cocaine can also be rubbed into the gums to achieve the same, but less intense, effect.
Street dealers often mix powdered cocaine with other non-drug substances in a process known as “cutting.” Dealers do this to increase the volume or potency of their product, and they use substances such as baking soda, talcum powder, corn starch, and sometimes other stimulants such as amphetamines.
In cases of more extreme cocaine consumption, the powder is dissolved into a solution, heated, filtered through cotton, and injected directly into the veins. Intravenous (or IV) cocaine consumption is particularly dangerous as it is the method of ingestion that most often leads to overdose and death.
How Does Cocaine Affect the Brain?
Like any drug that creates a “high” feeling, cocaine works by significantly affecting the chemistry of the brain. As humans, all of our thoughts, emotions, and actions are influenced by electrical and chemical reactions in the brain.
This means there are specific chemicals that are directly tied to certain behaviors, thoughts, and emotions. These chemicals are known as “neurotransmitters” and act as chemical messengers in the brain. These messengers tell you to think certain things, feel certain emotions, and behave in certain ways.
Cocaine directly affects the neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for feelings related to pleasure, happiness, and motivation. The brain’s natural process of releasing dopamine can be thought of as its “reward system.”
When you do something that inspires pleasure or happiness, the brain’s reward system releases dopamine, making you feel good. When a person ingests cocaine, the drug hijacks the brain’s natural reward system and forces it to produce dopamine at an unnatural rate. An excess of dopamine in the brain causes intense feelings of happiness, alertness, and high energy.
The effects of cocaine can also temporarily override the desire for sleep and food, which can lead to long-term complications from lack of sleep and malnutrition. Some people report the drug helps them perform simple intellectual and physical tasks more quickly, while others report the opposite effect.
Over time, the brain and body begin to adjust to this newfound source of dopamine and stop producing the chemical on their own. Once this happens, the person will find it very difficult to feel pleasure or happiness without having cocaine in their system. This is the basis for cocaine addiction and physical dependence.
The Short-Term Effects of Cocaine
The amount of time the effects of the drug will last is directly related to the method of consumption. The quicker the drug is absorbed into the bloodstream, the more intense the resulting high will be. This also shortens the duration of the drug’s effects.
Snorting cocaine results in a relatively slow onset of its effects, but those effects can last anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes from a single dose. In contrast, when cocaine is smoked, the effects are felt almost immediately but only last for about 5 to 10 minutes.
Cocaine has some intense short-term effects on the brain and body. When under the influence of cocaine, people will have an increased body temperature and sweating, constricted blood vessels, dilated pupils, an elevated heart rate, and increased blood pressure.
Consuming large amounts of cocaine will lead to some very significant and dangerous behavioral side effects. Someone under the influence of a very high dose may exhibit violent, unpredictable, or bizarre behaviors. Others report feelings of anxiety, panic, paranoia (fear), irritability, restlessness, and insomnia (inability to sleep). Other effects may also include tremors, vertigo (dizziness), and uncontrollable muscle twitches or tics.
Short-Term Health Dangers of Cocaine
Even at low doses, cocaine has the potential to bring about some very severe medical complications. Most of these complications come in the form of cardiovascular issues, such as disturbances in heart rhythm or heart attack, as well as neurological issues, including headaches, strokes, seizures, and comas. It can also cause gastrointestinal issues such as abdominal pain and nausea.
There have even been cases of sudden death occurring after a single dose of cocaine or shortly thereafter. The majority of cocaine-related deaths are due to seizures or heart attacks.
The risks of serious complications are increased significantly when cocaine is consumed along with other intoxicants in what is known as “polysubstance use.”
The majority of overdose deaths that involve cocaine occur when the person is also under the influence of another substance at the same time. People who consume cocaine often also consume alcohol to combat any uncomfortable come-down effects of the drug.
The use of these two drugs together forms a compound in the liver called cocaethylene, which builds up and can have severe effects on the heart.
Another very popular drug combination is when cocaine is ingested along with heroin or other opioid drugs in a drug cocktail known as a “speedball.” Speedballs are particularly dangerous because the stimulant effects of cocaine are offset by the sedative effects of heroin.
This can lead to the person accidentally taking a fatal amount of heroin, causing overdose and death. Once the effects of cocaine wear off, the person’s breathing may slow or stop completely, causing death.
Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Addiction
Habitual cocaine consumption causes the reward system of the brain to become less sensitive to natural reward reinforcement. In other words, over time, the brain has trouble releasing chemicals that are responsible for feelings of joy and pleasure on its own, without the help of cocaine.
At the same time, the pathways in the brain that are responsible for feelings of anxiety and stress are becoming more and more sensitive. This leads to increased discontent and displeasure when not taking the drug, one of the most common symptoms of cocaine withdrawal.
As with many drugs, the person taking cocaine starts to develop a tolerance to it after extended periods of habitual consumption. This means they will have to take the substance more often, and in larger amounts, to achieve the same desired effects they felt when they first started taking cocaine.
While this tolerance is building, the sensitization to cocaine is increasing, meaning it takes less of the substance to produce some of the negative effects such as paranoia, convulsions, anxiety, and even full-blown psychosis (insanity).
Cocaine also causes significant damage to the systems and organs of the body. People who regularly consume cocaine are at a very high risk of cardiovascular issues due to the toxicity of the drug.
Intense chest pains that may feel like a heart attack are very common, as is an increased risk of stroke. Specifically, cocaine causes inflammation of the heart muscles, leading to the decline of the ability of the heart to contract or pump. The weakening of the muscles in the heart is a condition known as cardiomyopathy.
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This stress that cocaine causes on the circulatory system can also damage the linings of veins and arteries of the brain, leading to permanent chronic headaches. In many cases, the stress on blood vessels in the brain can lead to clotting and a greatly increased risk of stroke and aneurysm.
Treatment for Cocaine Addiction at Vertava Health – Massachusetts
At Vertava Health Massachusetts, we offer a variety of cocaine addiction treatment options to help people seeking sobriety find long-lasting recovery. Because everyone is different, we use individualized treatment plans and a variety of cocaine addiction treatment methods to help people find the best care for their needs.
Often the first step of cocaine recovery treatment is detoxing from the drug. The length of time it takes to detox from cocaine may vary based on several things, such as how severe the addiction is, the person’s medical history, and whether or not they’re taking other substances.
Because a person who takes cocaine will often take other drugs or alcohol, this polysubstance use may lead to complications during the cocaine detox process. In these instances, medical detox may be the safest way to quit. This program involves supervision from trained staff members including medical personnel.
The staff will also do what they can to ease withdrawal symptoms to make the cocaine detox process as safe and as comfortable as possible. Often, this includes giving our clients certain medications that help relieve some of the most uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Because not everyone may need this, our team will help you determine if this is the right treatment option for you.
Our Massachusetts cocaine addiction treatment center also offers residential drug treatment where clients live on-site and participate in a regular schedule of group and individual programs. The client’s individualized treatment plan will include both evidence-based treatment methods as well as services designed to enhance the recovery experience.
This program allows clients to focus on their recovery in a safe and relaxing environment, and our comprehensive approach to cocaine addiction treatment helps clients address the root causes of their condition as well as build a foundation for lasting recovery.
For those clients who may not need such an in-depth cocaine treatment program or are looking for continued support in their recovery journey, our intensive outpatient program in Pittsfield is a good option. This program allows clients to get support and care while having more freedom and flexibility to attend to work and family duties.
You Can Conquer Cocaine Addiction, and Vertava Health Is Here to Help
At Vertava Health Massachusetts, we understand recovery from cocaine addiction is difficult, but we’re here to help. Our dedicated and compassionate staff is available to help people find the right treatment program for them so they can be well on their way to lasting recovery.
Contact us today at (844) 906-0978 to learn more or to get started.