In the early 1990s, Chris Farley was one of the best-known faces of NBC’s Saturday Night Live. The beloved comedian had an energetic style and impeccable delivery, earning him riotous laughs from the audience. By 1997, however, fans and the press noted a significant change in his appearance and demeanor. Farley appeared sweaty, flushed, and hoarse at public appearances. He sought treatment for drug addiction numerous times before being found dead in his apartment by his younger brother. An autopsy report found that Farley died from an overdose of cocaine and heroin.
What is Cocaine? A Party Drug?
In certain social circles, cocaine is known as a recreational party drug. Users may claim to use the substance only occasionally in social situations. However, scientific research demonstrates that it is highly addictive and potentially fatal. Social users often fall prey to its addictiveness, dealing with increasing cravings and tolerance for the drug.
How Does it Affect the Brain?
The physiological effects of cocaine are well characterized. The drug is a stimulant of the central nervous system, leading to feelings of euphoria. As it reaches the brain, it causes the release of a special brain chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is typically released in response to a pleasurable stimulus, such as food being made available. It is strongly tied to reward circuitry. Cocaine prevents dopamine from being recycled in neurons, causing excessive stimulation of the brain’s reward circuits. The result of this is feelings of extreme pleasure and euphoria.
Over time, use leads to major changes in the brain’s reward system. The first time someone uses, they often experience extreme euphoria. In many cases, subsequent highs fall short of the initial experience. This causes users to take more and more of the drug to try to recapture that amazing high. The effects on the brain’s reward system lead to addiction as an individual begins to require the drug to feel good. Substance abuse treatment programs help an addicted individual break this cycle, leading to restored normal brain activity.
Side Effects of Cocaine Use
Using cocaine results in a number of undesirable side effects. Common side effects of use include high blood pressure, increased heart rate, cardiac arrhythmia, increased body temperature, significant perspiration, dilated pupils, and constricted blood vessels. Many people experience headaches, abdominal pain, nausea, and other gastrointestinal problems. Cocaine also causes appetite suppression, meaning that many people do not get enough to eat. They may lose weight or experience nutritional deficiencies.
Some side effects depend on the method of use. People who snort cocaine may have frequent nosebleeds, chronic runny nose, hoarseness, difficulties swallowing, and impaired sense of smell. Ingesting the drug orally leads to reduced blood flow to the intestines, causing numerous gastrointestinal complications. Individuals who inject it have an increased risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne illnesses.
Cocaine use also leads to a variety of mental side effects. Users may experience paranoia, irritability, restlessness, anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating, problems with thinking, and other mental problems. In severe cases, cocaine use may cause psychosis, in which the individual experiences hallucinations and loses touch with reality.
Why is Cocaine Deadly?
Cocaine use can lead to several deadly incidents. One of the most common fatal side effects of use is a heart attack. Because the drug acts as a central nervous system stimulant and affects blood flow, it may cause blood vessel blockage and other cardiovascular problems. Heart attacks and strokes are not uncommon side effects of use. In most cases, individuals undergo respiratory arrest after suffering a seizure or heart attack. Experiencing a cardiac incident can happen after just one use of cocaine or even when using small doses.
Another major cause of death related to cocaine is that users often use the drug with other substances. For example, Chris Farley and John Belushi both died after using a “speedball,” or combination of cocaine and heroin. Using the drug with alcohol causes the liver to produce a chemical called cocaethylene which increases the risk of death.
Cocaine is also dangerous because of its potential impurities. Street dealers often cut this drug with other substances to increase their yield. Pure cocaine is a white, pearly crystalline powder. Dealers often cut it with sugar, baking soda, ephedrine, meth, toxins, or local anesthetics. This leads to the drug having an off-white color or different texture. Some of the substances used to cut, such as the compound levamisole, are toxic and increase the user’s risk of death.
Let Us Help
It is a common myth that only serious, chronic cocaine users are at risk of death. However, even first-time users or those who only use the drug as recreational may suffer a fatal seizure, stroke, or heart attack. Unique biological factors, the method of use, and impurities in the drug cause serious side effects. As a result, cocaine addiction is a serious — and often fatal — medical condition that requires immediate care. If you or a loved one are struggling with a cocaine abuse problem, please contact Best Drug Rehabilitation today and we can help you find the treatment program you need.