Cocaine is a highly addictive drug. It works in the same way as heroin and nicotine by tapping into the brain's natural reward (dopamine) pathways. The drug binds itself to the proteins in the brain that are responsible for transporting the dopamine. As a result, the dopamine builds up in the synapse to create a "high." You experience pleasure every time you take it and a distinct lack of pleasure once it wears off, thus reinforcing the compulsion to take more.
Part of the reason that cocaine is so attractive to users is that it provides an instant sense of euphoria, sometimes in just a few seconds. Cocaine is a captivating drug that makes you feel confident, talkative, alert, which is quite a draw for those who find it difficult to feel that way normally. The effects of the drug don't last very long, though, which means that users may be tempted to continue using it to keep the high going or to avoid the crash that comes after using it.
But, as the drug wears off, those feelings are quickly replaced with the depression, anxiety and irritability of the come-down. A person who is coming down after having used cocaine may experience a lack of energy. He or she may sleep for long periods of time after coming down off the drug as well.
Some people who try cocaine become addicted to it relatively quickly. Once a person has developed an addiction to cocaine, it can be difficult to overcome. Over time, a person with a cocaine addiction could find their feelings have flat lined and the only way they can feel anything resembling pleasure is to use the drug.
Another problem for people who become addicted to coke is that they develop a tolerance for the drug. Over time, they need to use larger amounts to get the same pleasurable effect they experienced when they first started taking it. The increased tolerance for using coke can lead to an overdose.
Who Are Cocaine Addicts?
The facts about who a "typical" cocaine addict is may surprise you. The majority of people who become addicted to cocaine are gainfully employed and have full-time jobs. In response to a survey conducted by Narcotics Anonymous, over 40 percent of cocaine addicts admitted that they have supplied the drug to co-workers.
Signs of Coke Addiction
When coke becomes central to your thoughts and emotions, or when you start planning your evenings around the drug, then you're entering the danger zone of addiction. A person who feels like they need to use cocaine to function or who just wants to be able to feel good has probably crossed the line into coke addiction.
Other signs that you are addicted are when you start missing work or when you’re spending more time with friends and family to get more coke. Selling personal items so that you can keep buying the drug is also a red flag. Once you have reached the point where you are stealing to support the cocaine habit, there is definitely an addiction issue at play here.
See our cocaine rehab section for information on organizations which can advise you if you are worried about your drug use.
In the worst-case scenario, you may end up with cocaine psychosis - a none-too-nice state of craving, insomnia, paranoia, restlessness, mood swings, lack of sexual appetite and weight loss. Some people in the throes of a psychotic episode become violent.
The symptoms of this condition can appear similar to those of paranoid schizophrenia. Sigmund Freud described cocaine psychosis in 1884, when he observed that a patient who had been given cocaine for several weeks described seeing white snakes and hearing voices.
The cause of cocaine psychosis appears to be dopamine levels in the user's brain. Using the drug repeatedly causes the dopamine levels to rise artificially, which can lead to the symptoms of cocaine psychosis in some people.
Coke users who snort the drug regularly over several years and those who smoke it are more likely to develop cocaine psychosis than more casual users. Some anti-drug organizations will list cocaine psychosis as the inevitable side-effect of casual use. It's not. You have to work to get there, but it's easy not to notice how close you're getting.