Cocaine is the second most popular illegal recreational drug in the United States, second only to marijuana. Unlike marijuana, however, cocaine is powerfully addictive. Cocaine affects the brain and nervous system immediately upon ingestion. Its popularity is due to the intense sense of elation and euphoria that it can cause. Its addictive qualities are due to the fact that at fifteen minutes to an hour, a cocaine high doesn’t last as long as that derived from other recreational drugs, so its users follow up the initial hit with more and more. The danger of becoming addicted increases exponentially as regular use increases. There are currently over a million regular users of cocaine in the United States. (Definitive statistics are difficult to measure, but most sources give an estimate of 1.5 million or even more.)
Cocaine is derived from the coca leaf, which is found in the jungles of South America, and has been chewed by the indigenous people there for more than a thousand years. The coca leaf has nutritional value, but also an obvious narcotic effect. In the mid-nineteenth century, European chemists learned how to isolate cocaine from the coca leaf, and how to use it for medicinal purposes. Cocaine was used for a time as a topical anesthetic in eye surgery, and it still does retain some limited usage in medical procedures, although those now center around the field of nasal surgery.
Cocaine soon found its niche as a recreational element, although at first it wasn’t known to be addictive and so it was heavily marketed. Wine treated with coca leaves had a brief bout of popularity, and no less an authority than Sigmund Freud touted its advantages over alcohol. As rumored, cocaine was indeed a small part of the initial recipe for Coca-Cola, although the company quickly ceased using coca leaves with any trace of cocaine. (Notice that the name stuck, though.) It wasn’t until the early years of the twentieth century that cocaine was recognized as the destructive influence that it is. However, cocaine was not outlawed or prosecuted until the early 1970s.
In the 1980s, the introduction of crack cocaine (the ‘rock’ form of cocaine that is smoked with the use of pipes) became an epidemic which devastated the inner cities of America. At the same time, cocaine in its ‘sniffable’ powder form was notably popular in upper-class circles. Cocaine has always been a drug with a diverse demographic. After a period of reduced notoriety, cocaine hit another spike in popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It remains a popular party drug to this day.
Again, the problem is that the party can quickly become a habit. Cocaine withdrawal is particularly harsh, as it leads to feelings of depression, anxiety, and craving. The most common solution to these symptoms is a return to using. Regular cocaine use invariably leads to feelings of paranoia, inconsistent mood, irritability, fatigue, and intense itching. Cocaine use can also lead to delusions, psychosis, brain damage and cardiovascular damage, particularly in individuals who are already prone to such maladies. The potential of fatal overdose is ever-prevalent.
Realistically, the best way to avoid addiction to cocaine, and its other inherent risks, is to avoid cocaine entirely. However, for those who are addicted the facts about cocaine addiction can be discouraging. For some, even using one time can start up an addiction that is tough to beat. Luckily, there is help available, and programs designed specifically for those addicted to this drug.