Cocaine Dependence

Cocaine dependence is described as continued and increased use of cocaine to assist with daily functioning, despite the negative effects it may be producing in one's life. A person with cocaine dependence builds up a tolerance and frequently experiences withdrawal symptoms. These combined can perpetuate the habit, as more cocaine is needed to produce the desired feelings, and continued usage may alleviate painful or uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal. A dependence on cocaine can disrupt physical health, mental health, family, work and relationships.

Symptoms of Cocaine Dependence

Cocaine dependence induces two different types of symptoms. During usage a person experiences a 'high' and may feel a sense of euphoria coupled with elevated self-esteem, increased alertness, elevated energy, loss of appetite and heightened sexual arousal. The body is also affected as blood pressure may increase, blood vessels may constrict and the heart rate is elevated. Commonly, a person may experience panic attacks and increased anxiety or a temporary loss of reality, also called psychosis. Vomiting, weak muscles, confusion, seizures, chills and chest pain can occur immediately after use. As time and usage of cocaine progresses, more long-term affects may be felt. Symptoms of cocaine dependence may be several of the following:

  • Frequent use of cocaine to sustain normal daily functioning
  • Increased time spent using, acquiring and recovering from the effects of cocaine
  • Loss of jobs or relationships
  • Depression
  • Lack of motivation
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Elevated anxiety and panic attacks
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Hypervigilance
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis
  • Symptoms of withdrawal, such as feelings of insects under the skin, restlessness, nightmares, irritability and fatigue

Causes of Cocaine Dependence

There is some evidence of a gene that may be passed down the family tree which causes increased susceptibility to developing cocaine dependence. This may mean that a child who grows up in an environment which includes cocaine use may have an increased risk of abusing the drug, since not only may he or she inherit the gene, but conditioning also plays a big role in development of the dependence. Associations in the brain are made between the use of cocaine and particular situations. This is particularly important for a patient who is attempting recovery from cocaine dependence. He or she may feel very strong urges to continue use based upon certain locations, people and circumstances.

Diagnosis of Cocaine Dependence

There are many disorders that relate to drug use and cocaine, in particular. To meet the criteria of cocaine dependence, one must regularly experience withdrawal symptoms directly related to the use of cocaine. Tolerance build-up requires an increased need for the drug, which then leads to more frequent periods of withdrawal. A trained professional may order blood or urine tests to check for traces of the drug. It's also likely that the patient and friends or family members will be interviewed regarding the patient's behavior. Answers to particular questions, overall observance of behavior and results of lab tests can help to determine if cocaine dependence is an issue.

Treatment for Cocaine Dependence

There are many forms of cocaine dependence, and the success rates will vary by individual and circumstances. Not everyone will require a long-term treatment program, but cocaine addictions are difficult to break when compared with other harmful substances. There are several forms of treatment, and patients may be advised to take advantage of all programs which may be of benefit. Currently there is no medication which has been proven to assist with cravings or alleviate withdrawal symptoms, though medication may be recommended for symptoms of other cocaine-related disorders. Following is a brief list of treatment options for cocaine dependence:

  • Inpatient treatment – Especially in cases where a patient has developed related disorders, such as severe psychosis or schizophrenia, a long-term inpatient treatment center can help to monitor withdrawals, offer counseling and provide a supportive community for 6 to 12 months time.
  • Psychotherapy – There are many varieties of counseling, the most successful of which may be cognitive-behavioral therapy. This type of therapy helps the patient to become aware of triggering factors that may increase the need for cocaine use. Once a patient has awareness, he or she can then learn to divert attention or avoid relapse of the behavior in question.
  • Self-help – Support groups or communities can offer advice specific to this disorder, plus mutual and moral support from other people suffering similar symptoms and circumstances.
  • Alternative therapies – Alternative and natural options that may help a person to overcome cocaine dependence are acupuncture, meditation, relaxation techniques, visualization exercises or alternative therapy, such as art therapy or music therapy.