How addictive is cocaine compared with other drugs?
All mood-altering drugs are addictive to anyone who has an addictive nature. Cocaine is highly addictive. So are some individuals. The combination of an addictive drug and a highly addictive person is deadly. Focussing solely on the drug sends healthcare and education professionals and law enforcement authorities down the wrong route.
To identify adults with an addictive nature, we need to look at five specific risk factors that are common:
- Coming from an addictive family.
- Having wild mood swings for no apparent reason.
- Being easily upset, frustrated and bored.
- Being determined to control everything and everybody through being highly manipulative.
- Having repeated difficulties in relationships of one kind or another.
Even so, these people may be charming and highly successful professionally and socially. They tend to be imaginative and creative and are super-charged with energy. Eventually their wheels come off when they become dependent on addictive substances and processes but not before they have been wildly adventurous.
The genetic pool of potential addicts is probably only one in six of the total population. But they often breed with other people – compulsive helpers – who also come from addictive families. So the relatively small genetic pool ticks over. Society benefits from their imagination and enterprise but also suffers from the effects of their compulsive behaviour. In time that leads to big trouble.
When individuals express concern that their own problematic behaviour might be addictive in origin, my questionnaires – on this website on all aspects of addictive behaviour – should settle the matter. Here’s the one on recreational drugs, including cocaine:
‘Recreational’ (street) drugs
- Do I particularly enjoy getting a really strong effect from recreational drugs?
- Do I have a sense of increased tension and excitement when I know that I have the opportunity to get some drugs?
- Have others expressed repeated serious concern about some aspects of my drug use?
- Do I find that getting high tends to result in my going on to take more drugs?
- Do I tend to use drugs as both a comfort and strength?
- Do I often find that I use all the drugs in my possession even though I intended to spread them out over several occasions?
- Do I tend to make sure that I have drugs, or the money for drugs, before concentrating on other things?
- Do I get irritable and impatient if my supply of drugs is delayed for ten minutes for no good reason?
- Do I tend to use more drugs if I have got more?
- Do I use drugs before going out if I feel there might not be the opportunity to use them later?
Any four positive answers indicates the need for further assessment.
Assessing someone else’s behaviour for the possibility of addiction is more challenging. Many people – perhaps all of us – can do stupid things at times. But addicts tend to do them more frequently and therefore pile up more damaging consequences. Observing the recurrent crises in their lives is the most accurate way of seeing an addict behind the bluff and bombast.
But, first of all, it helps to understand a bit about cocaine itself.
When snorted or inhaled, cocaine enters the blood stream via the nasal tissues. Injecting cocaine puts it directly into the blood stream. Mixing it with water and baking soda or ammonia causes it to crackle when heated. Smoking ‘crack’, as it is then called, leads to a shorter but more intense high. It is sold in small ‘rocks’ the size of raisins. The effect of smoking crack is immediate, the same as when cocaine is injected, but the ‘high’ lasts for only five minutes.
Crack has a powerful stimulating effect on the nervous system by raising the level of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. Cocaine blocks the re-uptake process of dopamine that enables it to be recirculated. So it stays around and gives an artificial dramatic high in place of natural pleasures that have to be earned.
Physical ‘tolerance’ of the drug occurs through repeated use. An increased dose is required to get the same effect as before. Loss of behavioural control, obsessive thinking and altered priorities come as the result of continued use.
The younger people are when they start to use cocaine, the bigger the problems in store. Adolescents often take drugs in order to conform with the behaviour of their peers and break away from their parents. Individuation is a necessary process but it doesn’t have to be done this way.
The brain initially responds to cocaine in the same way as to any pleasurable sensation. But then it rapidly adapts to the new level of perceived pleasure. It needs a greater stimulus for the same effect. The euphoric feelings don’t last. The talkativeness often does. So does the poor decision-making, diminished attention span and confused thinking. The collapse of previous inhibitions results in addicts doing things that make no sense – even to them. But memories of previous highs still drive them on. This pleasurable feedback loop means that recurrent relapse is likely.
People born with temperament problems may be drawn to use cocaine. It counters shyness but at the price of foolhardiness. A quick high appeals to many people, particularly in party situations. But eventually cocaine takes over the whole of the addict’s life. Restlessness, nervousness, depression and severe mood swings are common symptoms. But the addict shrugs all this off in an attempt to recapture the initial dramatically profound high.
Cocaine is the addict’s ultimate sweetheart. It stimulates the brain immediately after use. This new experience for the brain leads to heightened sexual arousal. Trying to recapture that feeling makes cocaine particularly addictive. But it’s a false lover. It takes much more than it gives. Eventually money problems, damaged relationships and physical symptoms illustrate the personal price behind the high financial price and superficial glamour of initial use. A Binge/Crash cycle is a dreadful experience.
Addicts often combine cocaine with other drugs in order to pick and mix the effects. Alcohol, benzodiazepines, amphetamines, opiates and cannabis are frequent partners in self-inflicted damage.
Addiction affects motivation. The body’s natural reward systems become corrupted. Previous pleasures no longer satisfy. Cocaine dominates all other concepts of happiness and fulfilment. It becomes the only ‘real’ friend. As the addiction takes hold, there is a constant sense of ‘needing’ the drug.
Other addictions offer occur at the same time. Co-existing mental problems are common. Cocaine gives feelings of invincibility. The mind and body take the consequence of that tragically false belief. It is also frequently used for self-medication for physical or emotional discomfort. It modifies thoughts, feelings and behaviour. It enhances performance. It’s magic! But at a fearful price. Addicts often say they intend to quit. But they fail. The addiction wins every time until the individuals are utterly defeated and washed up.
Psychological withdrawal symptoms are worse than physical symptoms, which hardly exist at all in the early phases of drug use. This used to lead people – doctors included – to believe that cocaine is not addictive. How wrong they were!
The important lesson from this observation is that only those of us who are addicts of one kind or another ourselves know what addiction really is. And we know what needs to be done about it in order to achieve long-term abstinence, peace of mind and mutually rewarding relationships.
There may be a genetic predisposition in the size of the basal ganglia in the brain. Future addicts have this feature even before they take cocaine and other substances and processes of addiction. But, with persistent use of cocaine, family and social influences, social pressures, exposure to stressful circumstances, emotional or physical trauma and susceptibility to impulsive behaviour all make the situation appear hopeless.
But it isn’t. I’m an addict and I haven’t used anything addictive in over 30 years. There are lots of people like me. We enjoy each other’s company in ways we never dreamed of in the bad old days.
If you want what we’ve got you need to do what we do. We tried all sorts of other ways but they didn’t work until we were given what we call ‘the gift of desperation’. That turned us round and gave us the rewards we have now.
If you want to know how to get them – for yourself or for a family member or friend – please call me on 07540281820 and I’ll be glad to listen and maybe suggest some things that could be helpful.