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Happiness and contentment are often described as emotions that come from deep inside the heart. In reality, these are states that come about due to chemical changes deep inside the brain. Those chemically induced feelings can be brought to life through drug abuse. Cocaine is one of the most effective pleasure-inducing drugs available to drug users.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that cocaine brings about pleasure by tapping into a part of the midbrain known as the ventral tegmental area. When this part of the brain is augmented and changed, people feel intensely happy. They feel as though the change is rewarding and worth repeating.
That is what makes cocaine so addictive. People can come to that addiction via one of the two formats of cocaine. One is a powdered form of cocaine, typically called simply cocaine. The other is a glassy, rock-like form of cocaine, typically called crack. The two share many similarities, but there are a number of differences worth noting.
The drug cocaine is a simulant that is created through a labor-intensive process that involves snipping leaves off a coca plant, boiling those leaves, extracting the chemical from the leaves, and drying the chemical into a powdered format. That powder can be snorted, injected, swallowed, or rubbed into the gums. Any format that will bring cocaine into contact with blood vessels is an effective way to take the drug.
The Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) reports that cocaine’s effects are almost immediate. The high is intense, and it lasts for about 30 minutes. Other effects can last for an hour or two and include:
It is the increased risk of impulsivity that makes cocaine so dangerous, from an addiction perspective. People who feel impulsive are unable to weigh the benefits of an action against the consequences they might face down the line. As a result, people who take cocaine and feel impulsive might take another hit mere minutes later. That secondary hit could do yet more damage to the brain.
People who take cocaine tend to binge, due to this impulsivity. The damage of a binge could lock an addiction in place. It is not at all unusual for people to develop symptoms of an addiction after just one or two cocaine hits. The drug is just that powerful.
Crack cocaine is also considered a stimulant drug, but unlike plain cocaine, it is not produced through a natural and organic process. Instead, crack cocaine is made in clandestine laboratories by people who have access to a variety of household objects, including baking soda and ammonia. These amateur chemists mix pure cocaine with these additives and boil the mixture until it solidifies into a glass-like or crystalline shape.
People who use crack put these crystals into a pipe, and they heat the substance over some kind of open flame. The crystals tend to break apart when they are heated, and the “crack” noise they make gives the drug its name. Users inhale the smoke from the heating drug.
Reported by CESAR, a crack high is immediate, and it lasts for about 15 minutes. But, unlike plain cocaine, crack’s real effects can be hard to determine. The drug is rarely considered pure, as household chemicals can change the chemical structure of pure cocaine. Some unscrupulous dealers cut cocaine with things like talcum powder, so the original addictive drug might be diluted.
Crack has been associated with deep-set cravings that hit mere minutes after the high wears off. People who take this often want a lot more of it, and the craving for drugs comes due to chemical changes deep inside the brain. These can be cravings that are difficult or impossible to ignore, as they come from inside the unconscious mind. People who are hit with these cravings might be simply compelled to act on them, and when they do, they could be on the road to addiction. That is a process that could start after the very first hit.
Making cocaine is not easy. The plants are not hardy, so they take time and energy to nurture and nourish. Pounding the leaves into a powder people can snort and sniff takes time, and a great deal of chemical support. As a result, pure cocaine comes with an incredibly high price tag. In fact, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the price of cocaine in the United States in 2010 hit $169 per gram.
This is a remarkably high price for powder, considering that people with a heavy habit might use up this entire gram in one day or even one sitting. In theory, that high price should help to drive down the number of people who are addicted. Since the drug is so expensive, this might be an addiction that is financially difficult to support.
However, it is worth repeating that cocaine is an effective manipulator of brain chemistry. People who are addicted will take the drug, regardless of how much it costs. To them, the price is not important.
Crack cocaine dealers may not be responsible for creating powdered cocaine. They may have connections in the drug world that can provide them with the raw materials they need in order to produce the substances they would like to sell to their clients. If they cut the pure drug with additives and buy their other supplies on the cheap, they can significantly reduce their production costs.
As a result, crack cocaine is significantly less expensive than powdered cocaine. It is less pure; it comes with a less valuable cultural attachment; and it is easier to make. That might explain why people on the lower socioeconomic spectrum might use crack cocaine instead of plain cocaine. They may not be able to afford powder, but they can get many of the same effects from glass.
Poverty is one of the main consequences of a powder habit. The drug is just so expensive, and people with an active addiction might need to take in a great deal of the drug on a daily basis in order to keep cravings for the drug at bay. In time, people who take cocaine may lose their homes, their possessions, and their livelihoods due to a need to buy and use more cocaine.
According to NIDA Cocaine can also cost people their health. NIDA reports that long-term health problems depend on the method of cocaine administration, and that people who snort and sniff plain cocaine can develop:
Cocaine can also come with stiff criminal consequences. FRANK reports that cocaine is a Class A drug, which means the drug is illegal to own, give away, or sell. People who are caught simply holding the drug could spend up to seven years in jail, and they could lose the ability to travel to other countries upon release from jail.
People who smoke crack cocaine can also experience health difficulties. The drug tends to constrict blood vessels, and those vessels are designed to deliver oxygen and nutrients to healthy tissues. When they are closed off, that delivery simply cannot happen, and without that delivery, those tissues can die. People who smoke may have patches of dead tissue in their mouths, throats, or lungs.
Crack is also illegal to buy, hold, or sell. Historically, the legal consequences for possession of crack have been much stiffer than those involving plain cocaine. Legislation passed in 2010 lowers that disparity to some degree, but people who are arrested with crack still face stiffer consequences than people caught with plain cocaine. US News and World Report suggests that people caught with 28 grams of crack face a mandatory minimum sentence of five years. It is the “mandatory” that is distressing. That means a judge cannot reduce that sentence. It sticks if the conviction sticks.
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Whether cocaine is sold and taken in powder or crystal form, it is still dangerous. It has the potential to ruin incomes, steal health, and decimate lives. It is not a substance that should be taken, but it is not a substance that is invincible. In fact, there are a number of therapies that can be remarkably helpful for people dealing with cocaine addictions.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, in which people with addictions are urged to examine their thought patterns and daily habits in order to reduce or eliminate cravings, can help to soothe the urge to use. Therapists who use incentives, such as a financial reward, can help to make therapy rewarding to attend.
Unfortunately, according to a study in the journal Safer Communities, researchers find that people who have failed in rehab in the past tend to avoid going to rehab again in the future. They fear stigma and judgment, so they stay away from therapies that can help.
Families can assist by reminding the person that help is always available, and that it might take multiple tries to find solid footing in sobriety. Getting clean is a process, and each relapse can help the person to learn now skills that can make the next relapse less likely. With love, support, and education, an addiction to cocaine can be overcome.