Cocaine abuse was once a nationwide drug epidemic back in the early 1980’s. Large shipments of cocaine were being smuggled into the U.S. from South America and quickly became a party drug. It also started a movement to address addiction in the U.S. with programs like D.A.R.E and “Just Say No."
Lawmakers created stiff criminal penalties to answer the rising problem of cocaine abuse and addiction to other substances. Also, the society impact of the 80's cocaine abuse can still be felt today, but is not nearly as publicized due to the emergence of deadly opioids like heroin and fentanyl. Cocaine addiction is still very widespread in the United States and has grown again in the last several years. In fact, cocaine abuse has figured prominently in the 2019 increase in drug overdose deaths.
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How Are Crack and Cocaine Different?
Cocaine is a stimulant drug made from the coca plant that’s native to South America. The plant has been used by Peruvians for thousands of years as an energy supplement. However, when the psychoactive chemical is isolated, it is much more potent than its plant.
Cocaine is sold and used as a powder to inhale. At the same time, cocaine is highly addictive because of its effect on the reward center of the brain. As it creates immediate euphoria and energy, the brain learns the perceived rewarding effects and leads to impulses to use more with increased frequency.
As a freebase, cocaine is called crack. Crack has a lower melting point than powder-form cocaine and can be smoked. Smoking crack offers a more intense high that comes on quickly but wears off quickly. This effect often causes crack users to use more rapidly to continually achieve the intense euphoria.
During a crack spree, each high is weaker than the last but the user may continually seek the rush of the first hit. Because of this, many people point to crack as being more addictive than powder form cocaine. It is the same drug in different forms, administered in different ways. With protracted use, both crack and powder cocaine can be extremely addictive. However, the quick and powerful effects of crack can cause users to become dependent on it more quickly.
How Does Cocaine Abuse Affect the Brain and the Body?
When cocaine enters the bloodstream, dopamine levels spike in brain circuits that regulate pleasure. In general, dopamine is released by neurons in response to potential rewards. It is then recycled back into the cells that release it.
With regular cocaine use, there is no recycling of dopamine and thus unequal amounts build up. The dopamine signal is overstated and there are interruptions in normal brain functioning. Repeated use can change the brain’s reward system as well as other brain systems. These disruptions can lead to addictive behaviors.
Damaging Effects of Cocaine Abuse Include:
- Blood vessel constriction
- Dilated pupils
- Increase in body temperature
- Elevated blood pressure
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Decreased hunger
- Heart palpitations
In the most severe cases, those who use cocaine have a greater risk for suffering heart attacks or strokes. If cocaine is injected intravenously, there is a risk for contracting HIV, hepatitis, and other illnesses. When inhaled, it can lead to a loss in the sense of smell, nosebleeds, and difficulties in swallowing. If cocaine is eaten, it can lead to serious bowel issues.