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What is the difference between crack cocaine and powder cocaine?

Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug increasing the drug users’ heart rate, blood pressure, alertness, and energy.  Cocaine is classified as a stimulant drug because it increases activity in the brain and temporarily elevates mood, alertness, and energy levels.  Crack cocaine is made from powdered cocaine becoming the crystal form of cocaine that is smoked and inhaled. Crack cocaine is the most potent form of cocaine and the most addictive.  When you smoke crack cocaine, it reaches the brain much quicker and brings a more intense and immediate high, but is short-lived. Crack cocaine users are continually using the drug, and the high only lasts for about 15 minutes.  An addiction to crack cocaine develops more quickly because of the rapid, intense effects of the drug. 

Some of the common side effects of cocaine use are the short-term feelings of euphoria, decreased appetite, paranoia, extreme sensitivity, irritability, headaches, mood changes, and an increased risk of stroke and heart attack.  Powder cocaine is a fine white powder and is often mixed with other substances like talcum powder, sugar, and cornstarch to dilute the purity. Cocaine has contributed to many overdose deaths in the United States because many of the cocaine seizures have found cocaine laced with fentanyl.  Cocaine is also mixed with amphetamines or heroin, and this is diluted and then injected. Cocaine can be injected, snorted, inhaled or swallowed, and there is no safe way for a drug user to use cocaine.

All of the methods of cocaine use leads to absorption of toxic levels, which increases the risk for cardiovascular problems, such as stroke, heart attack, and seizures.  The effects of cocaine are felt almost immediately. Even a small dose of the drug has a stimulating effect on the body. The euphoric and energetic high produced by cocaine is what makes the drug so addictive.  The drug interferes with the normal communication process in the brain. Along with this, it blocks the removal of dopamine from the synapse causing an amplified signal being sent to the receiving neurons. The amplified signal being received by the neurons is considered the euphoric effect.     

The method of which cocaine is used affects how fast the euphoria is felt.  For example, smoking crack cocaine produces an instant high and the effects are felt immediately but are short-lived.  Snorting powder cocaine produces a result within a few minutes, and the high from snorting the drug can last 15 to 30 minutes.  The faster the drug is absorbed into the bloodstream the more intense the high, but a shorter duration. Cocaine, in all its forms, is highly addictive and responsible for countless addictions throughout the United States.  Cocaine addiction requires lengthy treatment because most cocaine addicts have made more than one attempt at rehab. It is common with crack cocaine users for an addiction intervention to be done. The average cocaine user feels they can stop at any time, but crack cocaine creates an intense addiction that most users struggle to give up.

What are the dangers associated with cocaine use?

Cocaine presents the risk of addiction and overdose, and an addiction to cocaine is devastating physically, emotionally, and financially.  Like any other drug, cocaine impairs judgment and does lead to risky behavior such as unprotected sex and exchanging dirty needs through intravenous drug use.  The use of cocaine also weakens the immune system, which causes drug users to become more susceptible to HIV or hepatitis infection. There are numerous reasons why someone chooses to abuse cocaine despite the inherent danger.  There is a misconception that while using cocaine, you can perform simple intellectual and physical tasks more quickly. The average cocaine user reports the opposite of this, citing it becomes much more challenging to perform daily tasks.    

Most cocaine users have reported heightened sensitivity to sight, sound, and touch, along with a decreased appetite and a reduced need for sleep.  However, these feelings are only temporary once a cocaine user crashes. The crash point is different for each person because it is determined by the body and mind, and the cutoff point with how much of the drug it can take.  Cocaine benders can last for days or even weeks for some crack cocaine users. When a cocaine user crashes, there are intense feelings of guilt, shame, remorse, depression, anxiety, and paranoia. This is the opportune time to perform an intervention because of the emotional state the drug user is in.  Families are more likely to have success with an intervention when a cocaine user is at a low point after a drug bender.  

Cocaine is an illegal recreational drug but has had legitimate medical uses.  Cocaine has been used as a local anesthetic, it has been used during respiratory procedures, and for topical use in the form of cocaine hydrochloride.  There are many common side effects of cocaine use, and these are physical and psychological side effects. The physiological side effects include constricted blood vessels, dilated pupils, increased heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure.  Cocaine users will also experience weight loss, nausea, abdominal pain, tremors, and vertigo. Some of the psychological effects of cocaine use can include panic, aggression, irritability, anxiety, poor judgment, paranoia, depression, and even hallucinations in rare cases.     

Cocaine related deaths are a result of cardiac arrest or seizures, followed by respiratory arrest.  The prolonged and chronic use of cocaine causes havoc with the brain’s natural reward system. Eventually, cocaine users will no longer produce the initial pleasurable effects.  Regular cocaine use causes people to develop a higher tolerance, requiring more cocaine or purer cocaine. When higher and purer doses of cocaine are used, it increases the chances of an overdose.  Cocaine addiction is a devastating problem and causes enormous challenges in life socially, physically, and psychologically. An addiction to cocaine involves physical cravings for the drug and a mental desire to experience the euphoric effects of the drug.  Cocaine has a powerful addictive quality, and when crack cocaine is used, it does have the potential to cause instant drug addiction.

How can you help someone who is addicted to crack cocaine?

Helping someone who is addicted to crack cocaine is not an easy process because of the addictive nature of the drug.  Crack cocaine is powerfully addictive, and most crack cocaine users are not willing to give up the drug because of the intense euphoric effects.  Some of the signs of cocaine addiction include the presence of drug paraphernalia, such as glass pipes, needles, razor blades, and small plastic baggies, brillo pads, and baking soda.  Most crack cocaine users suffer from unplanned weight loss, extreme mood swings, and behavioral changes. It is common with any drug addiction to avoid social situations and daily responsibilities.  The drug user may have needle marks if they are an intravenous drug user, or will suffer from nose bleeds from snorting cocaine. Drug addiction causes personal changes in hygiene, financial problem, signs of withdrawal, and constant lying.  

Most people who become addicted to crack cocaine do not fully understand that a problem exists and that treatment is needed.  Most families will have to organize a professional intervention to help their loved ones. Crack cocaine interferes with the drug users’ normal thought process, which makes it challenging to recognize that change is needed.  When you have spotted and recognize the signs of addiction, it is time to confront the addict. There will be denial, placing blame on others, and or they will state they can kick the habit themselves and do not need treatment.  Crack cocaine addiction consumes the drug users emotionally and physically, and most time is spent focused on ways to get high.

Families should also take the time to educate themselves about addiction and crack cocaine.  It is essential to be patient and persistent and never enable the addict or enable his or her drug use.  Families must make it clear that they do not support the drug habit, but do support the person getting help.  Never make excuses for the addict and never offer financial support other than treatment. Families should also set boundaries and be consistent with upholding them, which will help the addict understand that drug use is not acceptable.  Professional intervention is the most successful way to help someone who is addicted to crack cocaine. Most crack cocaine users will not go to treatment willingly and will require professional intervention to convince them.

Crack cocaine creates an addiction so powerful that an addict is essentially romancing after the drug.  Every day is a constant chase to get high, especially if they are no longer financially able to pay for the addiction.  The effects of crack cocaine are short-acting but intense enough to cause a crack cocaine user always to be chasing the next high.  Staging an intervention is the best way to control the situation and show the addict that the family is serious about them getting help.  Engaging a professional interventionist will ensure this can happen successfully. Crack cocaine addiction only becomes worse, and finding the right treatment method is also crucial.  Because of the addictive nature of crack cocaine, long-term residential treatment is the better option. Most former crack addicts also went through some aftercare treatment, such as sober living homes.  The process allows more sober-time and the ability to re-build a life lost by crack cocaine.

What are the long-term and short-term side effects of cocaine use?

The use of cocaine or crack cocaine immediately affects the reward pathways of the brain.  This part of the brain also regulates emotions and motivation. Typically, dopamine is released where it binds to specialized proteins called dopamine receptors.  Cocaine abuse interferes with this normal communication process and acts by binding to the dopamine transporter blocking the removal of dopamine from the synapse. Primarily, the levels of dopamine accumulate, which is what causes the euphoria when you take the drug.  Prolonged cocaine use changes the way the brain functions and does introduce long-term changes. For example, cocaine use will elevate stress hormones, and the stress circuits of the brain are distinct from the reward pathway.    

The effects of cocaine use are almost immediate, especially when crack cocaine is used.  Small amounts of cocaine will make the drug user feel euphoric, energetic, talkative, and hypersensitive to sight and sound.  Cocaine use also decreases the need for food and sleep, and the duration of the euphoric effects depend upon the route of administration.  For example, snorting cocaine produces a relatively slow onset, and the high only lasts for 15 to 30 minutes. Smoking crack cocaine causes an immediate effect that only lasts five to ten minutes.  The short-term physical effects of cocaine use include constricted blood vessels, dilated pupils, increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. When large amounts of cocaine are used, it will intensify the drug users’ high but does lead to violent and aggressive behavior.  

The use of cocaine does create many medical conditions and complications.  The most frequently seen medical problems are cardiovascular effects, including disturbances in heart rhythm, seizures, and heart attack.  Neurological effects include headaches, seizures, strokes, and coma. Cocaine users have also experienced gastrointestinal problems, such as abdominal pain and nausea.  Cocaine related deaths are often the result of cardiac arrest or a severe seizure. Most cocaine users also use alcohol, which adds to the severity of the short-term effects.  The combination of cocaine and alcohol also increases the negative impacts on health. The combination of cocaine and heroin is also dangerous, and the drug user feels the stimulating effects, but then is affected by the sedating effects of the heroin.  

The long-term effects of cocaine result in the brain starting to adapt to reward pathways, becoming less sensitive to natural reinforcers.  The regular use of cocaine results in a tolerance to the effects of the drug. When this happens, larger doses of cocaine are needed to create the desired results.  At the same time, the daily use of cocaine also creates sensitization, where less cocaine is required to produce anxiety and convulsions. When this happens, the risk of cocaine overdose is increased because of the increase of toxicity within the body.  The long-term use of increases irritability, restlessness, panic attacks, paranoia, and cocaine psychosis. Cocaine also damages many of the organs in the body and reduces blood flow in the gastrointestinal tract. Most chronic cocaine users lose their appetite and experience significant weight loss and become malnourished.

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