Cocaine is a powerfully addictive drug. The powdered form of cocaine can be snorted or dissolved in water and injected. “Crack” is the street name given to cocaine that has been processed to create a rock crystal, which is heated to produce vapors that are smoked. 

How Is Cocaine Abused?

Cocaine is delivered three ways: snorting, injecting and smoking. Snorting is inhaling cocaine powder through the nose, absorbed into the bloodstream through the nasal tissues. Injecting is using a needle to insert the drug directly into the bloodstream. Smoking is done via inhaling cocaine vapor or smoke into the lungs, to absorb the drug into the bloodstream. All three methods can lead to addiction and other serious health problems such as an increased risk for contracting HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. 

How Does Cocaine Affect the Brain?

Cocaine increases levels of dopamine, a brain chemical that affects pleasure and movement. Cocaine prevents dopamine from being recycled to the brain, resulting in excess that is responsible for the euphoric effects. Tolerance to the cocaine high can develop. Cocaine abusers will increase usage in an attempt to intensify and prolong the euphoria, which can also increase the risk of adverse psychological or physiological effects. 

How Does Cocaine Affect Health?

Cocaine constricts blood vessels, dilates pupils, and increases body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure. It causes headaches and stomach complications such as pain and nausea. Cocaine tends to decrease appetite, so users can become malnourished. Snorting cocaine can lead to loss of smell, increased nosebleeds, swallowing problems, hoarseness and a constant runny nose. Ingesting cocaine can cause severe bowel gangrene. Injecting cocaine can result in severe allergic reactions and increased risk for contracting HIV/AIDS or other infectious diseases. Cocaine abusers can experience severe paranoia and auditory hallucinations, and lose touch with reality. Cocaine abusers can also experience acute cardiovascular or cerebrovascular emergencies, such as a heart attack or stroke, resulting in sudden death. 

How is Cocaine Abuse Treated?

Behavioral interventions such as behavioral therapy have been effective for treating cocaine abuse and preventing relapse. Treatment needs to be tailored to the individual patient’s needs in order to maximize outcomes. This often involves a combination of treatment, social supports and other services. 

There are no FDA-approved medications for treating cocaine addiction. Several treatments are currently being researched for their safety and efficiency, including a vaccine. While medications are effective in treating addiction, combining them with intense behavioral therapy program is the most effective method to treat cocaine drug use long term.

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