How Widespread is Cocaine Use in the US Today?

How Widespread is Cocaine Use in the US Today? America has had a long history with cocaine addiction. The nation’s first cocaine epidemic occurred in the late 1800s when there were no laws that restricted its sale and use. Cocaine was sold freely in drug stores, saloons and grocery stores. It was sold in many forms including cigarettes, cordials and crystals. Only after cocaine addiction became a widespread problem was it made illegal. Another cocaine epidemic began in the 1960s, but until then it was considered a thing of the past.

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is an addictive stimulant made from dried and powdered coca leaf extract. When abused, it produces euphoria and energy along with potentially fatal side effects such as an increased heart rate and blood pressure. Cocaine is usually abused in one of three ways:

• Snorting
The powder is inhaled and absorbed into the bloodstream via the nasal tissues. This method is the most common as the effects are almost instantaneous and the drug’s effects last for longer.

• Injection
The powder is dissolved in water and injected directly into the user’s bloodstream. The effects are seen more quickly than when the drug is snorted; however, they last for less time.

• Smoking
Cocaine is burned and the vapors inhaled which allows it to be absorbed into the bloodstream via lung tissues. This way of taking cocaine allows for the instant high seen with injection, but the effects last for less time than when it is snorted.

The Number of Cocaine Users in the US

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) the number of current cocaine users in the United States was 1.5 million in 2011. The NSDUH for 2008 reported that 359,000 of those who abused the drug abused it in its crack form. Cocaine abusers generally fell into the 18-25 age group and 1.5 percent of young adults reported using cocaine in the previous month. Of the 1.9 million users, 1.4 million met the criteria for dependence.

The Effects of Cocaine Use

The Drug Abuse Warning Network reports that in 2008, cocaine was a factor in 482,188 of the roughly 2 million emergency room visits that resulted from the misuse or abuse of drugs. In other words, cocaine was implicated in almost a quarter of drug abuse emergency room visits. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that apart from medical use, there is no safe way to use cocaine.

Cocaine’s Effects on the Brain

Research on cocaine’s effects has shown that it is focused on a part of the midbrain known as the ventral tegmental area. This is the part of the brain affected by stimuli such as food, sex and the abuse of other drugs. It is one of the areas in the brain responsible for reward. Rewards increase the amount of dopamine in the brain. Under normal circumstances, dopamine is used and then removed to be recycled for later use. Cocaine can prevent that removal which is the reason for the euphoria that cocaine abusers feel.

Treatment for Addiction to Cocaine

Cocaine abusers made up 13 percent of those who were admitted to drug abuse treatment programs in 2007. As with all types of drug addiction, the abuse of cocaine is complex. The changes in the brain and the social and familial problems that result from addiction are not easy to overcome. It is essential that the treatment of cocaine addiction be comprehensive and include strategies that encompass all aspects of the patient’s addiction.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Cocaine Addiction

CBT is a short-term method for helping cocaine abusers to recognize the situations in which they are most likely to use the drug, avoid those situations and cope with the problems that come with cocaine abuse. Cocaine abusers will unlearn the habits associated with their use of the drug and acquire healthier new habits and skills. Research has shown that the skills acquired by patients who have undergone CBT remain after the treatment has been completed.

The Drug Abuse Treatment Outcome Studies project is a research program that evaluates drug treatment for effectiveness. The information it has collected suggests that residential treatment is the most effective way to deal with cocaine addiction. One study of cocaine users had 49 percent of its participants report using the drug daily. A year after undergoing residential treatment, only 12 percent of those continued to use the drug.

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