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What are the long-term and short-term side effects of cocaine use?

The use of cocaine or crack cocaine immediately affects the reward pathways of the brain.  This part of the brain also regulates emotions and motivation. Typically, dopamine is released where it binds to specialized proteins called dopamine receptors.  Cocaine abuse interferes with this normal communication process and acts by binding to the dopamine transporter blocking the removal of dopamine from the synapse. Primarily, the levels of dopamine accumulate, which is what causes the euphoria when you take the drug.  Prolonged cocaine use changes the way the brain functions and does introduce long-term changes. For example, cocaine use will elevate stress hormones, and the stress circuits of the brain are distinct from the reward pathway.    

The effects of cocaine use are almost immediate, especially when crack cocaine is used.  Small amounts of cocaine will make the drug user feel euphoric, energetic, talkative, and hypersensitive to sight and sound.  Cocaine use also decreases the need for food and sleep, and the duration of the euphoric effects depend upon the route of administration.  For example, snorting cocaine produces a relatively slow onset, and the high only lasts for 15 to 30 minutes. Smoking crack cocaine causes an immediate effect that only lasts five to ten minutes.  The short-term physical effects of cocaine use include constricted blood vessels, dilated pupils, increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. When large amounts of cocaine are used, it will intensify the drug users’ high but does lead to violent and aggressive behavior.  

The use of cocaine does create many medical conditions and complications.  The most frequently seen medical problems are cardiovascular effects, including disturbances in heart rhythm, seizures, and heart attack.  Neurological effects include headaches, seizures, strokes, and coma. Cocaine users have also experienced gastrointestinal problems, such as abdominal pain and nausea.  Cocaine related deaths are often the result of cardiac arrest or a severe seizure. Most cocaine users also use alcohol, which adds to the severity of the short-term effects.  The combination of cocaine and alcohol also increases the negative impacts on health. The combination of cocaine and heroin is also dangerous, and the drug user feels the stimulating effects, but then is affected by the sedating effects of the heroin.  

The long-term effects of cocaine result in the brain starting to adapt to reward pathways, becoming less sensitive to natural reinforcers.  The regular use of cocaine results in a tolerance to the effects of the drug. When this happens, larger doses of cocaine are needed to create the desired results.  At the same time, the daily use of cocaine also creates sensitization, where less cocaine is required to produce anxiety and convulsions. When this happens, the risk of cocaine overdose is increased because of the increase of toxicity within the body.  The long-term use of increases irritability, restlessness, panic attacks, paranoia, and cocaine psychosis. Cocaine also damages many of the organs in the body and reduces blood flow in the gastrointestinal tract. Most chronic cocaine users lose their appetite and experience significant weight loss and become malnourished.

Substance Abuse Treatment and Intervention for Cocaine and Crack Cocaine Addiction

The long-term effects of cocaine and crack cocaine use become worse if the addict does not receive any help. Moreover, the overdose rates increase, especially when cocaine is abused with other drugs like alcohol, pain medication, or prescription stimulants. According to the Centers for Disease Control, from 2012 to 2018, the rate of drug overdose deaths involving cocaine more than tripled. The overdose rate increased from 1.4 per 100,000 standard population in 1999 to 2.5 in 2006. From 2012 through 2018, the rate increased, on average, 27% per year to a rate of 4.5 in 2018.

The long-term and short-term implications of cocaine use are managed and treated with proper detox, rehabilitation, and aftercare support. The average cocaine or crack cocaine addict who has been abusing drugs for many years would have been through at least one rehabilitation program. The family or addict needs to find the best possible treatment options. An addiction assessment is a good place to begin, and an assessment could happen over the phone or in person. The purpose of an assessment is to determine the extent of addiction and what rehabilitation options are available to help.

The first step with treatment involves detox, and typically, conventional detox is effective in treating cocaine or crack cocaine addiction. The length of time needed for detox is usually a few days, but this is different for each person. Detoxification is essential, yet it should not be considered the only approach to rehabilitation. Following detox, the next phase of treatment involves attending inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation. Typically, an addiction assessment helps an addict and family determine what type of rehabilitation is needed. Lengthy addiction benefits from long-term rehab like a long-term inpatient treatment center. Long-term programs lasted three to six months, and many different counseling and therapy types and provided to help addicts.

Outpatient substance abuse treatment is a good option for someone that is still working and has family support. The patient attends treatment daily and does not live at the program during the course of their rehabilitation. It is also recommended to follow through with aftercare support, which could involve peer support, outpatient care, and sober living homes. Aftercare support helps a person make a smooth transition back to society, like finding a job and a place to live. When families are struggling to help their loved one, a family intervention works. The best way to organize a family intervention is by hiring a professional interventionist.

An intervention aims to help a family regain control and get their loved one into treatment. Families work with the interventionist to address enabling and co-dependency problems and develop a solid plan to help their loved one. Professional interventionists also help the family locate a treatment program and make all the necessary arrangements.


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