Can I Become Physically Dependent on Cocaine?

The use of coca leaves as a psychoactive substance dates back thousands of years, but abuse of the chemical form known as cocaine hydrochloride started about a century ago. Originally used for purported medicinal benefits, cocaine proved to be highly addictive and created a drug epidemic in the 1980s. Cocaine is typically snorted as a crystalline powder or smoked in a rock-like freebase form, while some users intravenously inject a cocaine-heroin mix. Addiction is a neurobiological disease that affects reward structures in the brain and produces compulsive behavior, and ongoing use of certain drugs can lead to physical dependence. Cocaine, which is a water-soluble substance that quickly dissipates from the system, does not create intense physical dependence on the same level as opiates and alcohol. However, regular cocaine use does impact the central nervous system and interfere with natural bodily functions.

Cocaine physically affects the user in several ways, including the following:

  • Cocaine use has a significant impact on the brain’s ventral tegmental area (VTA) whose nerve fibers extend to the nucleus accumbens, an area associated with reward.
  • Neurons normally release the neurotransmitter dopamine which binds to receptors on neighboring neurons and sends a signal before being removed from the neural synapse. Cocaine interrupts this process by binding to the dopamine transporter that typically removes the neurotransmitter.
  • Dopamine accumulates in the synapse and amplifies its signal to receiving neurons.
  • Cocaine also affects the body’s serotonin and noradrenaline systems.

The accumulation of dopamine desensitizes the reward pathway to the neurotransmitter and the drug itself. When this occurs, individuals need larger cocaine amounts to achieve the same effects, and refraining from use causes withdrawal symptoms. Likewise, this dependence makes users more sensitive to the drug’s anxiety- and convulsion-producing side effects.

Cocaine Dependence Rehabilitation

Per the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 13% of all drug treatment admissions in 2007 involved cocaine. Though a measure of physical dependence can occur, cocaine differs from opiates, alcohol and certain other substances in that its withdrawal typically does not include physical symptoms like vomiting, nausea and the shakes. However, patients typically experience a crash that may involve fatigue, anxiety, irritability, sleepiness and extreme drug cravings. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) website MedlinePlus adds that cravings, irritability and depression symptoms associated with cocaine withdrawal often rival or exceed that of other drug dependencies and can last for months.

Professional rehabilitation is the most effective way to treat cocaine addiction and dependence. Several potential services may be used to address the physical aspects of the drug abuse, including the following:

  • Supervised cocaine detoxification in a comfortable environment.
  • Holistic options that help minimize withdrawal symptoms and discomforts.
  • Medical evaluations and tests to check for physical health concerns.

Addiction treatment for cocaine typically involves more psychological therapies, which can include the following:

  • Behavioral therapies that target negative thought patterns and beliefs related to conduct.
  • Group and individual counseling to improve coping skills like anger and stress management.
  • Motivational therapies that help foster personal reasons for overcoming addiction.
  • Relapse prevention strategies for identifying and responding to cocaine use cravings.

Many cocaine addicts also suffer from co-occurring mental health disorders, for which most rehabilitation centers provide integrated screenings and treatment.

If you or someone you care about has a cocaine abuse problem, let us help. Our admissions coordinators can take your call 24 hours a day to discuss warning signs, make recommendations and discuss treatment options. We can also check your health insurance policy and explain its rehabilitation benefits. Our helpline is toll-free so please call now.

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