In 2015, there were 1.5 million people who used cocaine monthly, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, says the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That may sound like a lot of people, and it could be a little surprising, but experts who study addiction are not at all surprised by this statistic. In fact, experts might be surprised that there aren’t more people who use cocaine regularly.
This drug, whether it’s taken in powder or crystalline form, causes immense changes in the cells of the brain. These changes can transform regular use into addictive use within the blink of an eye. People who use can get addicted quicker than they ever thought possible. They might find it hard to stop using once they start.
However, people with addictions to cocaine can and do get better. Here’s how they do it, in step-by-step format.
Step 1: They get sloppy.
In the early stages of a cocaine addiction, people might be able to keep their use hidden from the people they love. But as the addiction progresses, hiding the evidence gets a lot harder. People might leave behind cocaine paraphernalia, which could include:
- Razor blades
- Powdered residue
In later stages, people might also experience severe financial stress and strain. The Global Drug Survey reported that a gram of cocaine cost about $75 in 2015. People with an addiction might need several grams per day, and they might resort to theft or other crimes to fund the cocaine they want. According to a source in a 2016 article posted on Vice, a severe addiction to cocaine can cost upwards of $450-$1200/day.
This financial strain, coupled with cocaine paraphernalia, could get the attention of people who love and care for the person with the addiction. And that could raise their suspicions.
Step 2: They grow ill.
Cocaine delivers a big hit to the brain, but it can also hit the body in unexpected ways. The National Institute on Drug Abuse points out that cocaine complications can vary depending on the type of cocaine taken and the route people use to take drugs. The most common health problems caused by cocaine include:
- Horse voice
- Runny nose
- Weight loss
- Bowel gangrene
Some of these health problems are very serious. They could land a user in the hospital. When that happens, the family might become aware that addiction is an issue.
Step 3: They are confronted.
A family that notices cocaine-related changes can quickly become a family that is motivated to intervene and make things different. That family can bring about the necessary changes through a process called an intervention.
During an intervention, the family sits down with the person who has an addiction, and the family outlines all the changes seen and all the hopes for change in the future. The family discusses how the process of addiction works, and the family outlines how treatment can help. Some families simply prompt an addicted person to enroll in care, but others attach consequences to family members who will not enroll in care. These addicted people could lose everything unless they enroll.
An intervention ends when the addicted person agrees to enroll. The family then transports the person to a treatment program that can help.
Step 4: They go through a medical detox program.
Cocaine can cause intense and deep changes inside the brain and body, and that could make the early recovery process difficult, especially if people try to get sober without assistance. For example, in a study published in Sleep Medicine Reviews, researchers found that cocaine can have a deep impact on sleep. During addiction, people with cocaine need to sleep very little. During withdrawal, those sleep disturbances continue. When people can sleep, they often have nightmares.
A medical detox program cannot remove every single difficulty caused by withdrawal. But it can help people to feel a little calmer and more relaxed as their bodies adjust to normal functioning without the presence of cocaine. With that help, people could get sober. They could then be ready for the next step in the recovery process.
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Step 5: They enter cocaine rehab.
A medical detox program can help people with cocaine addictions to get sober. A cocaine rehab program can help people to stay sober. It is here that people with persistent addictions access a team of qualified professionals who can offer advice, help, and healing. That help could allow people to hang onto the sobriety they fought for in medical detox.
There are two main formats of cocaine rehab. One, residential, allows people to move into the rehab facility during the term of treatment. People who use these programs have access to a team of professionals around the clock, and they are housed in a completely drug-free environment as they heal. This could be a good option for people who do not have safe and sober places to recover.
The other rehab option is outpatient. People who use these programs continue to live at home, but they access addiction education through a series of appointments. Some outpatient programs offer daily help. Others offer help only a few times per week. This format could be good for people with a strong support system at home and a strong willingness to get well.
Step 6: They develop cocaine relapse prevention skills.
Cocaine is intensely powerful, and studies highlighted by Psych Central suggest that a person who has abused cocaine has a brain that is primed to call out for the drug when the person is under stress. This means people with a cocaine habit are at deep risk of relapse. A structured therapy program can help.
Relapse prevention therapy involves:
- Identifying relapse triggers
- Learning to avoid those triggers
- Coping with triggers if they cannot be avoided
- Consistently altering techniques, based on successes and failures
These skills are often taught in group therapy sessions in which people have an opportunity to learn and practice together. Most people also benefit from individual counseling.
Step 7: They develop a sober community.
Cocaine addiction can be communal. People with a habit often make close friendships with dealers, users, and buyers. This community serves to lock an addiction in place. During recovery, that community must be replaced by something healthier.
For many people, that sober community comes through participation in Cocaine Anonymous. This group holds meetings on a regular basis, allowing people with an addiction to learn more about how cocaine works and how other people have overcome an addiction. Many meetings are held in person, but the organization’s website points out that online meetings run 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. That could allow people with an addiction to get help without leaving the place in which they live.
A community like this works best when people have access to a close friend or confidant. This person could step in and offer key support on days when the addiction seems strong and/or somehow insurmountable. People may find that close friend in a meeting, or they may already have a close sober friend who could fill that role.
Step 8: They transition into the community.
During an intense treatment period for cocaine addiction, people remain somewhat apart from their communities. They may be living in the treatment facility itself, or they may be so busy with addiction appointments that they do not have time to socialize with people outside of the program. They are involved almost exclusively with the recovery community.
At some point, these people need to return to their communities. They need to go back to work, connect with their families, and otherwise try to live normal lives. But some people need a stair-step approach to that return. They cannot simply move home and start over; they need a slower approach. A sober home could help with that.
A sober home, according to Criminal Justice Studies: A Critical Journal of Crime, Law and Society, offers many benefits, including an enforced environment of sobriety, a mandate to attend 12-Step meetings, and social support for recovery. This means these homes create a perfect environment that nurtures sobriety, while allowing people to work and otherwise participate in the community. It works a little like a middle step between inpatient care and total freedom. Enrolling could be a smart move, for people who can’t quite handle a return to home all at once.
Step 9: They work on sobriety, every day.
When people feel safe and strong in sobriety, they may transition out of aftercare programs. They may no longer regularly meet with counselors, live in a sober home, or go to daily Cocaine Anonymous meetings. They may return to life.
But the risk of relapse is very real. In an online survey conducted by AA Grapevine, researchers found that 16 percent of people in recovery had relapsed once, and 33 percent of people had relapsed more than once.
Every day in recovery is a victory, but maintaining that victory means doing hard work. Sleeping well, exercising, eating right, working the program, avoiding temptation, and talking it out are all good steps to take to avoid relapse. They must be done every day.
Recovery Is Possible
A life in sobriety is truly beautiful. It is possible, too, as long as you make the decision to give up cocaine now and fight for your future. If you are addicted, make that choice. You will be glad you did.