Many addicts make the mistake of believing they are addicted to one drug. Alcoholics think that if they just stop drinking, everything will be fine. Opiate addicts tend to think if they can just stop taking opiates, everything will be fine. But addiction is a tricky disease. When a person becomes addicted to any substance, they increase the likelihood that they will become addicted to other substances.

One reason for this is that addicts learn to cope with normal life problems by taking a substance. When an addict enters medication-assisted treatment (MAT) like Suboxone or methadone, they no longer have their drug of choice as a way to cope with normal life problems. Medication-assisted treatment on its own only treats the biological part of addiction. The addict no longer has withdrawal symptoms but they also don’t get high. Without high, they don’t have a way to cope with their problems.

MAT, Coping Skills and Cocaine

At this point, the addict needs to learn new coping skills to deal with their problems. Most medication-assisted treatment programs offer counseling to help the addict learn new ways to cope with their problems. However, an addict new to recovery may resist new ways of coping. Normal coping skills need to be practiced on a regular basis. They don’t work as fast as a substance would. They take work on the part of the addict and awareness of when they need to be applied.

Addicts who are new to recovery may not be willing to put in the work or are resistant to counseling. They want the easy fix that drugs afforded them. They may be overwhelmed by normal everyday problems because they are not accustomed to dealing with them. They may be in denial about the need for coping skills. Most addicts who are new to recovery believe addiction is a physical problem. They believe that once they stop using their drug of choice, life will get better on its own. When it doesn’t, they become frustrated and look for other ways to cope.

This is where other drugs come into the picture. An addict on medication-assisted treatment quickly learns their drug of choice no longer works. Suboxone and methadone block the euphoric effects of opiates. The addict looks for another drug to replace opiates. Often this is a subconscious process. They don’t even realize they are replacing one drug for another. They find that they can’t cope with life and they need something to make them feel better.

Since opiates no longer work, the addict may turn to drugs like cocaine to fill the void. For the opiate addict, drugs like cocaine are nothing new. Most addicts try a number of different drugs by the time they reach medication-assisted treatment. Addiction is a gradual process that takes years to develop. For someone who has never used drugs, cocaine seems like a dangerous drug. However, over time, addicts lose their fear of taking substances. They block the dangers of these drugs from their mind.

Side Effects of Cocaine

Cocaine has many side effects on its own and when combined with powerful opioids like Suboxone or methadone, it becomes even more dangerous. Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant that increases the levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a part of the brain’s natural reward system. When the brain releases dopamine, it makes us feel good. This is where the euphoric effects of cocaine come from. However, cocaine keeps the brain from recycling dopamine back into the cells. This excess of dopamine can cause some of the serious side effects of cocaine.

What are the physical side effects of Cocaine?

  • Constricts blood vessels
  • Dilates pupils
  • Increases body temperature
  • Increases blood pressure
  • Causes headaches
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Decreased appetite (which can lead to malnutrition)

What are the psychological side effects of Cocaine use?

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Hallucinations

What are the dangers of Cocaine use?

Some of the side effects of cocaine use can lead to serious health problems. The body is not designed to function with such high levels of dopamine.  Cocaine use can cause:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Death

In addition to the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death, cocaine users are at risk for other health problems depending on how they use the drug. Intravenous (IV) cocaine users are at increased risk of HIV and Hepatitis from sharing needles. Cocaine users who snort the drug can lose their sense of smell; have chronic runny noses, hoarseness, nosebleeds, and trouble swallowing.

Cocaine Addiction Treatment Options

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America. Although health care providers can use it for valid medical purposes, such as local anesthesia for some surgeries, cocaine is an illegal drug. As a street drug, cocaine looks like a fine, white, crystal powder. Street dealers often mix it with things like cornstarch, talcum powder, or flour to increase profits. They may also mix it with other drugs such as the stimulant amphetamine.

How do people use cocaine?

People snort cocaine powder through the nose, or they rub it into their gums. Others dissolve the powder in water and inject it into the bloodstream. Some people inject a combination of cocaine and heroin, called a Speedball.
Another popular method of use is to smoke cocaine that has been processed to make a rock crystal (also called “freebase cocaine”). The crystal is heated to produce vapors that are inhaled into the lungs. This form of cocaine is called Crack, which refers to the crackling sound of the rock as it’s heated.
People who use cocaine often take it in binges—taking the drug repeatedly within a short time, at increasingly higher doses—to maintain their high.

What are the health effects of cocaine use?

Short-term health effects of cocaine include:

  • extreme happiness and energy
  • mental alertness
  • hypersensitivity to sight, sound, and touch
  • paranoia—extreme and unreasonable distrust of others

Some long-term health effects of cocaine depend on the method of use and include the following:

  • snorting: loss of sense of smell, nosebleeds, frequent runny nose, and problems with swallowing.
  • consuming by mouth: severe bowel decay from reduced blood flow.
  • needle injection: higher risk for contracting HIV, hepatitis C, and other bloodborne diseases. However, even people involved with non-needle cocaine use place themselves at a risk for HIV because cocaine impairs judgment, which can lead to risky sexual behavior with infected partners

Can a person overdose on cocaine?

Yes, a person can overdose on cocaine. An overdose occurs when the person uses too much of a drug and has a toxic reaction that results in serious, harmful symptoms or death. An overdose can be intentional or unintentional.
Death from overdose can occur on the first use of cocaine or unexpectedly thereafter. Many people who use cocaine also drink alcohol at the same time, which is particularly risky and can lead to overdose. Others mix cocaine with heroin, another dangerous—and deadly—combination.

Some of the most frequent and severe health consequences leading to overdose involve the heart and blood vessels, including irregular heart rhythm and heart attacks, and the nerves, including seizures and strokes.

How can a cocaine overdose be treated?
Because cocaine overdose often leads to a heart attack, stroke, or seizure, first responders and emergency room doctors try to treat the overdose by treating these conditions, with the intent of:

  • restoring blood flow to the heart (heart attack)
  • restoring oxygen-rich blood supply to the affected part of the brain (stroke)
  • stopping the seizure

How does cocaine use lead to addiction?

As with other drugs, repeated use of cocaine can cause long-term changes in the brain’s reward circuit and other brain systems, which may lead to addiction. The reward circuit eventually adapts to the excess dopamine brought on by the drug. As a result, people take stronger and more frequent doses to achieve the same high and feel relief from initial withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • depression
  • fatigue
  • increased appetite
  • unpleasant dreams and insomnia
  • slowed thinking

How can people get treatment for cocaine addiction?

Behavioral therapy may be used to treat cocaine addiction. Examples include:

  • cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • contingency management, or motivational incentives—providing rewards to patients who remain substance-free
  • therapeutic communities—drug-free residences in which people in recovery from substance use disorders help each other to understand and change their behaviors

While no government-approved medicines are currently available to treat cocaine addiction, researchers are testing some treatments, including:

  • disulfiram (used to treat alcoholism)
  • modafinil (used to treat narcolepsy—a disorder characterized by uncontrollable episodes of deep sleep)
  • lorcaserin (used to treat obesity)