Understanding and Treating Cocaine Addiction

What is Addiction?

Recognising that you or a loved one is stuck in a cycle of addiction can be very distressing. You may feel stuck, not knowing how to broach the topic or how to ask for help. Addiction is a disease that often gets misunderstood, with people being blamed for an irregular behaviour pattern that isn’t entirely within their control.

Addiction occurs when a substance, or a set of behaviours, interacts with the brain’s reward centre in a way that convinces the brain that this particular thing is incredibly pleasurable. With reinforcement through repetition, the brain becomes reliant on the sensation of pleasure, essentially becoming addicted in the process.

As the reward centre of the brain is receiving reward signals from elsewhere, the incentive to perform rewarding tasks drops off. An individual may become distant with the people they care about. As the addiction progresses, the individual often becomes increasingly disinterested in everyday life, often going to greater lengths just to feed their addiction.

What is cocaine?

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant derived from the South American coca plant. It comes in several different forms and can be ingested through smoking, snorting or injection. As a stimulant, cocaine is often referred to as a party drug—Typically taken to increase energy levels and stave off fatigue over a long period of time. Users may also take cocaine to increase confidence, or as an added stimulant during sex.

In Ireland, cocaine is considered a Class A substance, meaning that getting caught in possession of this drug carries the highest possible prison sentence.

How does cocaine affect the body?

As an ingestible substance, cocaine has an incredibly short half-life—It is quick to be absorbed into the bloodstream and will start to take effect very quickly. At the same time, the effects of cocaine are incredibly short-lived, with highs lasting from anywhere between 5-30 minutes.

Due to the speed at which the cocaine-high fades, it is common for users to binge the substance in order to maintain the sensation for as long as possible. As a highly addictive substance, prolonged use carries the risk of creating a psychological dependency, while also putting stress on underlying anxieties or mental health issues.

In addition to this, cocaine tolerance builds up quickly over time, meaning that greater quantities of the drug are needed to achieve the same effect. Building tolerance levels may lead to increased dosages which are accompanied by a higher risk for physiological damage.

Pure cocaine affects the body by constricting blood vessels, leading to increased blood pressure and raised body temperatures. In turn, the brain gets flooded with increased levels of dopamine, one of the chemical messengers that the body produces to signify a pleasure response.

Over time, prolonged cocaine use can lead to a greatly increased strain on the heart, with a tendency to exacerbate pre-existing health issues.

The immediate danger that comes with the long-term use of cocaine is an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and a weaker immune system. However, it is incredibly rare that a user will be able to obtain this drug in its pure form, and will often unwittingly be exposed to other toxic substances that have been used as a bulking agent.

As an illegal substance, there is no legislation in place protecting the buyer from being sold something they didn’t ask for.

How we treat cocaine addiction in the Rutland Centre

When someone comes to the Rutland Centre looking for help, we look at them as a whole person rather than as an addict. There is a great deal of social stigma surrounding addiction, which is why we believe in treating you with dignity and respect when you come to us. We believe that anyone is capable of change if they truly want it.

In treating addiction, we use a drug-free approach adapted from the Minnesota 12 step model, which is proven to be an effective way to overcome addiction. This is an integrative method which combines spirituality and self-reflection with psychology and psychotherapy in order to address all aspects of an individual’s life.

We believe that an abstinence-based recovery program provides the best chance for long term recovery. Throughout your time with the Rutland Centre, you will engage in group therapies with others in situations that are similar to your own.

With over 40 years of experience successfully treating addiction, the Rutland Centre has experienced a great amount of success. In the last 40 years we estimate that up to 10,000 people have completed our programme.

Our team is led by a Consultant Psychiatrist and is made up of experienced psychologists, psychotherapists, specialist addiction counsellors and nurses. We are confident that we have the best team on hand to help you through this trying time. We are committed to providing you with the support you need while respecting your confidentiality.

How do you know if someone you care about is addicted to cocaine?

In some cases, you will be aware when someone you care about has developed a substance addiction. However, this is not always the case: many people will indulge in secret due to the associated stigma and reluctance to address the challenges addiction brings.

If you think someone might be suffering from a cocaine addiction, try to keep an eye out for some of these physical signs:

  • Enlarged or dilated pupils
  • Nasal congestion
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Dramatic mood changes
  • Panic or paranoia
  • Fast speech
  • Restless energy
  • Muscle twitches
  • Increased heart rate
  • Abnormal heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Weakened immune system
  • Weight loss

Please bear in mind that cocaine addiction isn’t always going to be the cause of these symptoms, but in some cases a combination of these or a pattern of behaviour may be an indication. The most important thing you can offer someone that is suffering is your support and understanding.

In addition to physical signs, it is also important to be aware of behavioural indicators which can apply to cocaine and other addictions. Some of these include:

  • Frequent intoxication
  • Intentional heavy use
  • Psychological dependence - coping mechanism
  • Health Problems
  • Job problems
  • Problems with significant others
  • Problems with law or authority
  • Financial problems
  • Belligerence
  • Isolation
  • Withdrawal from social settings or friends

This list is not exhaustive and many of these factors can be indicators rather than a diagnosis.

If you feel like you are out of your depth and need more information, the best thing you can do is ask for help.

When is a person ready for treatment?

Change isn’t something that can be forced on another person—this is the first thing to bear in mind when seeking treatment for yourself or someone you love. A person has to be ready and willing to receive treatment for it to be effective in the long run. Addiction is a condition that is prevalent within our society. Fortunately, help and the support needed to deal with it are available when you need them.

When someone is caught in the cycle of addiction it can become incredibly distressing, both to the individual and the people around them. It can sometimes take a long time for that person to reach a point where they are ready to seek help for their addiction. When an individual is ready to receive help, we believe that pursuing assessment and the admission as quickly as possible is the best course of action. Because of this, we do not normally have any waiting lists in the Rutland Centre.

Taking the first steps

As with all other forms of addiction, cocaine addiction is a disease that functions through affecting the motivation and rewards systems in a person’s brain. It is important that a person recovering from a cocaine addiction is given the support they need in order to recover.

There is a great deal of stigma surrounding addiction, especially when illegal substances are involved. If you or someone you care about is suffering from a cocaine addiction it can be difficult to know how or when to help them. Overcoming the cycle of addiction is a process that takes time and can only happen when the individual is ready. However, there are supports available to you as a loved one in the meantime - at Rutland, there are several services offered by Rutland Centre and independently which can help family and friends:

Concerned Persons (“CP”) Workshops

These are organized periodically. They are open to any member of the public whose life has been affected by the drinking, drug use, gambling or compulsive behaviours of a family member or friend.

Family Mobilisation Events

These events are designed for families and friends. They have several aims:

  • education around the illness of addiction;
  • practical guidance on how to plan, undertake and follow up on an Intervention, and;
  • education on how families may have been affected by addiction and how they can cope with it.

Al Anon and Nar Anon Meetings

A highly valuable independent set of resources are the Al Anon and Nar Anon organisations. They hold meetings nationwide every day and week. You can find information on meetings in your locality, including the Rutland Centre, and on their websites.

Fellowship Meetings for family and friends are organized for people whose lives have been affected by drinking (Al Anon) or drugs (Nar Anon).

If you have any questions regarding helping yourself or a loved one break the cycle of addiction, don’t hesitate to get in touch.