Cocaine Addiction Treatment Programs

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Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine 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.

Cocaine users experience immediate gratification. The high they get from a dose of cocaine happens in seconds. When high, they feel euphoric, alert, and powerful. The problem is that these feelings are short-lived. The high wears off quickly and is replaced with feelings of deep depression and lethargy. Consequently, users will take more and more cocaine to maintain the euphoric feeling. It is not uncommon for regular users to continuously take cocaine to function throughout the day.

A great amount of research has been devoted to understanding the cocaine addiction and how it produces its pleasurable effects. One mechanism is through its effects on structures deep in the brain. Scientists have discovered regions within the brain that, when stimulated, produce feelings of pleasure. One neural system that appears to be most affected by cocaine originates in a region, located deep within the brain, called the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Nerve cells originating in the VTA extend to the region of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens, one of the brain's key pleasure centers. In studies using animals, for example, all types of pleasurable stimuli, such as food, water, sex, and many drugs of abuse, cause increased activity in the nucleus accumbens.

Researchers have discovered that, when a pleasurable event is occurring, it is accompanied by a large increase in the amounts of dopamine released in the nucleus accumbens by neurons originating in the VTA. In the normal communication process, dopamine is released by a neuron into the synapse (the small gap between two neurons), where it binds with specialized proteins (called dopamine receptors) on the neighboring neuron, thereby sending a signal to that neuron. Cocaine addiction interferes with this normal communication process. For example, scientists have discovered that cocaine blocks the removal of dopamine from the synapse, resulting in an accumulation of dopamine. This buildup of dopamine causes continuous stimulation of receiving neurons, probably resulting in the euphoria commonly reported by individuals with a cocaine addiction. Because cocaine is extremely addictive, the first-time user cannot possibly predict when loss of control will occur.

Cocaine is a potent and dangerous central nervous system (CNS) stimulant, processed from the South American coca plant. In its powdered form cocaine 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. However, the onset of addiction 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.

Through continued use of cocaine the abuser will often develop a tolerance to the effects. For the brain to experience the same level of pleasure, higher doses and more frequent use of cocaine will become necessary. Individuals recovered from addiction reported that thoughts of the euphoria experienced from the use of cocaine might possibly cause a tremendous craving and relapse, even after long periods of being without the drug. Attempts to stop using cocaine can fail simply because the resulting depression can be overwhelming, causing the addict to use more cocaine in an attempt to overcome his depression. 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 an individual with a cocaine addiction sees or hears environmental stimuli that trigger the craving for cocaine. This overpowering drug addiction can cause the addict to do anything to get the drug.

Researchers have found that cocaine stimulates the brain's reward system inducing an even greater feeling of pleasure than natural functions. In turn, its influence on the reward circuit can lead a user to bypass survival activities and repeat drug use. Chronic use can lead to cocaine addiction and in some cases damage the brain and other organs. An addict will continue to use cocaine even when faced with adverse consequences.

An individual with a cocaine addiction may:

  • Become preoccupied with cocaine
  • Behave evasively or lie about activities or whereabouts
  • Borrow or steal money to buy cocaine
  • Change the circle of friends and withdraw from non-using family and friends
  • Compulsively seek cocaine and dwell on the next use of it
  • Experience personality changes, poor judgment, and loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities

Attending a drug rehab for cocaine addiction is just as effective as treatments for most other chronic medical conditions. Many people believe rehab and treatment are ineffective. In part, this is because of unrealistic expectations. These uninformed individuals equate cocaine addiction with simply using drugs and therefore expect the addiction should be cured quickly and easily. In reality, because cocaine addiction is a chronic problem for the user, the ultimate goal of long-term abstinence requires sustained effort and sometimes repeated treatment episodes.

For many people caught in the vicious cycle of cocaine use, help is not offered soon enough. Before long finances are in ruin, relationships hang by a limb, and physical health is on the edge. At this point, there may not seem to be any hope left as the addiction still rages on. We believe there is hope. Our professional staff has seen numerous recovery cases and realizes that there is a way to recovery.

Through our specialized programs in cocaine addiction help we hope to give you a new perspective on things. By offering classes and teaching invaluable addiction recovery techniques we strive to bring about creativity and instill trust as we assist in your recovery process.