While America has been battling the opioid crisis, cocaine has been making a comeback. It is now the number two killer among illicit drugs, with fatal overdose deaths increasing by roughly 18 percent each year. Drug-enforcement officials believe it is due to the increase in availability. According to the most recent data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 5.9 million Americans used cocaine within the last year. And because of how cocaine alters the brain, anyone who tries the drug is at risk of becoming addicted.
Recognizing the signs of cocaine addiction is not always easy. These are some red flags to look out for.
Signs of Cocaine Use
The euphoric effects of cocaine start almost immediately after consumption and typically last about an hour. Some side effects will be immediate, while others are a result of prolonged use.
- Jaw clenching
- Muscle twitches
- Tremors or shakiness
- Increased body temperature
- Weight loss
- Mood swings
- Social isolation
- Risky behaviors
- Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- Deterioration in hygiene habits
- Financial difficulties
Because the high that cocaine provides lasts a relatively short time, individuals are likely to use several doses to maintain their high. Taking cocaine in large quantities can lead to unpredictable and often violent behavior. Do not ignore the changes in your loved one’s personality or behavior, as they could be a sign of a serious issue.
Identifying Drug Paraphernalia
While discovering white powder buildup, syringes, or glass pipes are evident indications of cocaine use, other drug paraphernalia can often be made up of everyday items hiding in plain sight. Some of these items, such as a small mirror or cash, are things that everyone has — whether they use drugs or not. So, use your best judgement. Take into consideration where you found the suspicious item. Dollar bills in a wallet are normal. Rolled up dollar bills in a drawer aren’t. Know that if something seems off, it most likely is.
- Dollar bills
- Hollow pens
- Snuff bullets
- Small mirrors
- Lockets and bulky rings
- Small, re-sealable plastic bags
- Razor blades
- Plastic cards
Side Effects of Long-Term Cocaine Use
Long term cocaine use takes a toll on the individual’s physical, mental, and emotional health. Symptoms of prolonged use include:
- Loss of smell
- Trouble swallowing
- Tooth decay
- Loss of appetite
- Sexual dysfunction
- Severe depression
- Delirium or psychosis
- Liver and kidney damage
- Lung damage
- Heart disease
- Rare autoimmune diseases
- Permanent damage to blood vessels
Signs of Cocaine Withdrawal
While withdrawing from cocaine is typically not life-threatening, the withdrawal process can be very painful, taxing, and dangerous. The onset of withdrawal can vary depending on how much and how often the user consumes the drug. For long-term users, cocaine withdrawal often occurs in three stages.
The First 24 Hours
Within 24 hours of using, individuals will experience a crash. Symptoms include:
- Excessive sleepiness
The First Week
Within a week of the individual’s last use, they will begin experiencing acute withdrawal symptoms. Due to the severity of the symptoms experienced, detoxing under medical supervision is advised. The symptoms listed below can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks.
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mood swings
- Severe depression
- Severe cravings
- Suicidal thoughts
In long-term users, post-acute symptoms can be felt several months after their last use. Symptoms include low mood and cravings.
What a Cocaine Overdose Looks Like
Because of cocaine’s short-lived euphoric state, many users begin to use more frequently or take higher doses, placing themselves at risk for overdosing. To intensify the high, others mix cocaine with alcohol or heroin. These combinations can often be fatal. In recent years, fentanyl — a powerful synthetic opioid — has also played a role in the increased number of cocaine overdoses. This is due to users unknowingly taking cocaine laced with fentanyl when they have not built up a tolerance for opioids. Recognizing an overdose and getting immediate medical attention can be the difference between life and death. These are some common overdose signs to look out for:
- Chest pain
- High body temperature
- Rapid heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing
- Extreme anxiety and confusion
If you suspect that your loved one is experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately. While waiting for help to arrive, try to keep the individual’s body temperature at a normal level by applying a cold compress. If they are having a seizure, move any object away from them and place them on their side to keep their airway clear. Do not hold them down. If you know that the individual has also taken opioids, administer Narcan, a medication designed to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
How to Help Someone Addicted to Cocaine
While you can see the physical, mental, and emotional changes in your loved one, they may be in denial of just how much impact their cocaine use is having on their life. Understand that convincing your loved one to get help can be challenging and will most likely not happen overnight. However, it is critical that you tell them that you are aware of their cocaine use and that you will be there to help them every step of the way. It is also important that you educate yourself on the disease of addiction, and treatments available. And of course, don’t forget that your loved one’s addiction impacts you as well. While helping them heal is important, so is your well-being. Support groups such as Nar-Anon can be great resources during this time.