Drugs like cocaine have reputation for being extremely addictive but still many people will want to try them “just once.” It’s easy to wonder, “Just how addictive is cocaine (really)?”
How Addictive is Cocaine?
Cocaine is a very addictive substance that can place a user at risk for a number of health issues and other dangers. Regardless, people begin using cocaine (including crack) every day. It is not uncommon for someone who tries it once to progress to regular, problematic use. In fact, in 2013, there were 1.5 million cocaine users 12 years old or older in the United States, according to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA).
It’s tough to dispute the fact that cocaine is highly addictive, but the question remains: Can you really get addicted to cocaine after trying it one time? The Center for Substance Abuse Research is clear on this point. The organization states that, in the case of crack cocaine, the user can become addicted after first use. Of course, this will not be true for every person using crack and less likely for people using cocaine in its powder form.
What Happens the First Time Trying Cocaine?
When first used, cocaine produces a number of effects that impact the physical and psychological health of the user. Cocaine is a stimulant substance that affects the brain immediately after use. In its powder state, cocaine is regularly abused by snorting through the nose.
Others will mix it with water and inject the liquid or rub the substance on their gums. Cocaine (including crack) can also be smoked – either alone or in combination with other drugs like tobacco or marijuana.
In some cases (albeit rare), first-time use can result in heart attacks or seizures and may even be fatal.
When a person uses cocaine for the first time, they will likely feel the following effects almost immediately:
- Pleasure and feelings of intense wellbeing.
- Increased talkativeness.
- Decreased appetite.
- Decreased sleeping behavior.
- Sense of feeling more mentally alert.
- Heightened sexual arousal.
Often, because it entails a novel experience for the brain, the first time using cocaine will be the most intense. Tolerance builds almost immediately and subsequent episodes of drug use will elicit relatively decreased levels of pleasure.
While cocaine use produces a high, it affects people differently. Increasingly large doses raise your risk of experiencing a range of adverse consequences. Using cocaine, you are at risk of:
- Erratic or even violent behavior.
- Rapid heart rate.
- Hypertension (raised blood pressure).
- Heart attacks.
Factors influencing the intensity and duration of effects include:
- Route of administration – e.g., needle routes, nasal insufflation, etc.
- Presence of other drugs in the body.
- Level of cocaine tolerance.
While using cocaine once or even on occasion does not necessarily mean you’ll become addicted, any use puts you in harm’s way physically and psychologically and raises your risk of becoming dependent on the drug at some point.
Why Do People Use Cocaine?
NIDA reports that drug use is often fueled by one or more of the following reasons:
- Feeling the high. Cocaine, in all of its forms, is known to produce a quick high that is appealing to many, especially in party situations.
- Self-medication. People that are experiencing unwanted symptoms related to physical or mental health issues like pain, depression, or anxiety might use cocaine as a way to modify their thoughts, feelings, or behaviors.
- Enhancing performance. Some users believe that the stimulating quality of cocaine will boost their abilities at work or school or in athletic endeavors.
- Pressure to fit in. Adolescents are impressionable and more likely to engage in risky behaviors to conform to peers, experiment, and separate themselves from their parents.
What does Cocaine Do to Your Brain?
Several brain systems have evolved to reinforce a number of activities that promote survival and/or result in pleasurable sensations. Examples of these activities include eating and sexual activity. Natural, healthy rewards trigger a release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which makes you feel good.
The brain responds to cocaine initially in the same way that it would to a healthy life-propagating activity – with an accompanying release of dopamine. However, cocaine next blocks a process known as reuptake, leaving the released dopamine sitting in the synapse. The resulting excessive dopamine activity results in heightened neural stimulation and causes a “high.”
As cocaine use continues over time, the brain adapts to its persistent presence and doesn’t respond as intensely with successive use. This phenomenon is known as tolerance and helps explain why the first cocaine high is usually the most intense and why attempts to recreate it are generally less successful. Many drug users will take larger or more potent doses as time goes on to feel similar effects. This ramping up of cocaine use behavior over time is one main contributor to the development of addiction.
The adaptation of the brain can also lead to trouble responding appropriately to even healthy rewards, resulting in a diminished ability to feel pleasure in anything but cocaine use – a problem that further propels addiction and adds to the risk of relapse in recovering users.
Why Is It Dangerous?
As cocaine begins to trigger addiction, its devastating impact is often felt across a number of dimensions. Addiction can result in:
- Strained relationships, e.g., divorce.
- Loss of employment.
- Previously enjoyed activities and priorities taking a backseat to drug use.
- Financial hardships.
- Getting into trouble with the law.
Aside from the list of negative life changes that the majority of people in active addiction experience, cocaine use may result in a laundry list of negative health consequences:
- Changes in mood – including irritability and agitation.
- Mental health changes – depressive episodes, anxiety, panic, etc.
- Psychotic symptoms – including delusional thought and hallucinations.
- Anosmia, or loss of sense of smell.
- Sexual dysfunction.
- Significant weight loss.
- Heightened cardiovascular risks – hypertension, heart attack, stroke, etc.
- Increased prevalence of communicable disease as a potential consequence of risky sexual behaviors and/or needle sharing.
Can you Overdose from Cocaine use?
Another concern is the risk of overdose from cocaine, which is usually expressed as a severe cardiac event.
How Do You Get Addicted to Cocaine?
Aside from the rewarding feelings that cocaine triggers in the brain, addiction is impacted by the following factors:
- Childhood experiences.
- Past trauma.
- Existence of appropriate social relationships.
- Previous drug use.
- Availability of and access to drugs.
- Socioeconomic status.
How Long Does it Take to Get Addicted to Cocaine?
Depending on the interaction of these factors, it could be a few hours or even a few years to get addicted to cocaine. Each person’s path from one line of coke to addiction, tolerance, and dependence is unique to them.
As cocaine abuse continues and tolerance sets in, more of the drug will be needed, which can quickly lead to eventual cocaine dependence. Cocaine-dependent individuals feel as if they need the drug to maintain a sense of normalcy and will both feel and function terribly without it. In fact, cocaine dependency almost guarantees some form of acute cocaine withdrawal at the point that the user hasn’t used the drug for a while. To varying degrees, tolerance, physical dependence and withdrawal avoidance all contribute to the development of addiction, which is characterized by the compulsive desire to use a substance even when it’s causing negative consequences to your life and health.
What to Do If You’re Considering Trying Cocaine
Are you considering using cocaine? Answer these questions before you do.
- What do I have to lose?
- What do I hope to gain?
- Am I weighing my long-term goals against my short-term goals?
Any time you’re considering using drugs, it’s important to really think about why you’re doing it. Are you trying to solve another problem by using? Drug use may help you suppress or ignore a problem, but it won’t make it go away.
Consider what you are really risking when you begin using an addictive substance – your initial problem will still be there, and you’ll risk compounding it with a number of other harmful effects of addiction. Finally, you’ll put your own life in danger – remember, first-time cocaine use can lead to fatal cardiac events and seizures.
If you are compelled to take cocaine but you know it’s not worth the risk, reach out for support – from a friend or family member, a therapist, or a support group. If you have any questions about how to find help for addiction, call 1-888-744-0069 today.