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Teen Cocaine Use

Cocaine is a notorious and highly addictive stimulant. Use of the drug should not be ignored, and you should seek help for your teen right away if they are abusing or addicted to cocaine.

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15 min read

Why Is Cocaine Dangerous?

Cocaine has found a way into the lives of many teens — no matter how they do in school. Studies have shown that 35% of teens failing school have used cocaine at least once and 13% have used the drug more than 40 times. Teens scoring A’s on their report cards aren’t immune to the reaches of the drug: 1.5% of them have reported using cocaine at least once.

Using cocaine releases a high supply of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that gives a user feelings of pleasure. Over time, teen cocaine abuse leads to a weakening of the brain’s natural stimulation of dopamine, leaving the user unable to find normal and natural pleasure without help of the drug.

man holding bag of cocaine

The effects of a cocaine high lead to strong crashes, leaving users craving more immediately. The high exhilarates and the crash depresses. So in a night of using coke, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, users often become voracious and wind up bingeing dangerously — over half a million ER visits in the U.S. were related to cocaine in 2011.

There are other dangers to keep in mind. A large quantity — over 70% — of the cocaine seized in the United States has been found to be adulterated with levamisole, a veterinary drug that has devastating side effects.

Using cocaine laced with levamisole can lead to:

  • Agranulocytosis, a condition in which the bone marrow is prevented from producing white blood cells, leaving the immune system severely weakened
  • Lesions and dark patches of dying flesh on the body
  • Severe infections that are fatal in 10% of those affected

On top of that, research has shown that — despite all the world’s best efforts — the global supply of illicit drugs has only increased over the last two decades. Despite its street price dropping over 80% over this time, cocaine’s potency has increased by 11%.

The fact that cocaine is cheaper and stronger than ever is a major reason why you need to be concerned about your teen. Teen cocaine use is especially prevalent. Studies have shown that by the time they’re in 8th grade, 1.6% of teens will have used cocaine in their lifetime. By the time they get to 12th grade, that percentage more than doubles to 4.0%.

Where Would My Teen Get Cocaine?

Cocaine is readily available to teens; they could get it from their friends, pick up some on the street or even buy it in their own high schools. Studies have shown that 25% of high school students have been offered drugs by somebody in their schools at one time or another. The same study shows that rates of adolescent drug dealing is similar across races and that males were far more likely than females to deal drugs at all.

High school isn’t the only place where your teen could access cocaine. Sometimes, it could be right under your nose. In the digital age, drug purchases can now be planned and carried out through clicks on a phone or tweets to friends. Law enforcement is quickly catching on, however, and efforts are constantly ramped up to better monitor and deter drug trafficking among adolescents.

Why Would My Teen Use Cocaine?

Cocaine use can begin out of sheer curiosity. Often, however, cocaine is used simultaneously with other “softer” drugs and is even linked with teen alcohol abuse — making the transition to the harder drug easier.

Pleasure

Cocaine use greatly impacts the brain’s production of dopamine, which is what causes sensations of pleasure. It’s the free release of this neurotransmitter that sends a cocaine user’s pleasure centers into sensory overload. The sensations are short-lived however and the crash is hard.

Studies have shown that cocaine dependence may be linked to the user’s subconscious attempt to not just get high, but to also maintain the excitable neurotransmitters at balanced levels inside the brain. In other words, there’s an internal ebb and flow that a habitual cocaine user is inherently aware of. When the dopamine levels drop, it can drive their cravings for the next high just to seek out the balance in their brains.

Peer Pressure

Cocaine is popular among teens because of the intense euphoric episodes the use of the drug elicits. It’s when drug-using peers pressure your teen into experiencing the high with them that things begin to get hazy. Studies show that 55% of teens admit that peer pressure is what influences them to start using drugs. In adolescence, opinions of peers and the pressure to fit in drive teens to conform — often in spite of the consequences.

alcohol cocaine dollar bill on table

Stress

Studies show that 25% of children experience at least one potentially traumatic event before they turn 16. By the time they’re 17, 13% have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder. Furthermore, studies seem to confirm a correlation between young people managing traumatic experiences and teen cocaine use as a coping mechanism.

Where there’s hurt, there’s often desperation. And so, the high from drugs like cocaine can be viewed as an escape from pain. Cocaine’s effects on the brain — especially seen in the free release of dopamine — make it the drug of choice for some teens who need a quick and riveting suspension of reality.

However, the dangers of drug use are only amplified by the fact that the drug’s effects can actually impair the user’s ability to cope with trauma in the long run.

Influence from TV and Social Media

Drug references and casual use of even hard drugs like cocaine are prevalent in the entertainment industry. References abound from song lyrics to Chappelle’s Show skits, often minimizing or making light of the damaging potential of cocaine use.

Social media in particular has only heightened the exposure of drugs and other substances with young people. Studies show that almost 75% of 12- to 17-year-olds admit to seeing photos on social networks of peers partying with alcohol and drugs. Teens seeing these pictures were found to be more likely to have used those substances themselves.

man doing lines of cocaine

What Are the Effects of Cocaine Use?

The health risks of cocaine use are countless and severe. Because of its addictive nature, users are often at risk for overdose to keep up with a need to find the next cocaine high. An overdose occurs when a user’s metabolism is unable to detoxify the drug quick enough to mitigate potential side effects. Overdoses aren’t always fatal, but they can be. In 2013, nearly 5,000 overdose deaths in the United States were from cocaine. In general, males are three times more likely to succumb to a cocaine overdose than females.

How the Body Is Affected

Cocaine has a profound and deleterious impact on the heart. Even a single use of the drug can cause spikes in blood pressure and heart rate. Over the long-term, this habitual and sudden intensifying of heart rate can cause the tissues in and around the heart to grow thicker. This can lead to heart attacks or cardiac arrest.

Cocaine use also starves the body’s tissues of blood. Without the blood flow, the tissues end up dying. So, some teens who are unable to sense smell also have a history of snorting cocaine, the prolonged use of which destroys the tissues and cartilages in their noses. Similarly, teens who regularly ingest cocaine can kill tissues and lining in their digestive tract. And teens who smoke cocaine run the risk of developing sores on their lungs, throats and mouths.

Cocaine abuse has also been shown to have long-term effects on a teen’s developing reproductive system. Long-term use has been linked to problems during pregnancy, including neonatal neurobehavioral abnormalities, higher incidences in abortions, premature labor, and congenital malformations. Nursing is also affected because cocaine travels freely through the milk.

In short, prolonged use of the drug presents a slew of dangers to your teen. These can include:

  • Lost sense of smell
  • Problems with swallowing
  • Chronically inflamed or runny nose
  • Higher blood pressure and faster heartbeat
  • Increased risk of heart attack or stroke
  • Complications during pregnancy and nursing
  • High-risk sexual behavior
  • Increased risk of STDs and other diseases

How the Brain Is Affected

Cocaine use has staggering consequences on the brain. During adolescence, when the brain is still developing to its fullest capabilities, cocaine use — and drug use in general — can stifle the brain’s growth trajectory.

The biggest reason for this is what the drug does to the brain’s stimulation of dopamine production. While typically the body’s way of rewarding through pleasure, cocaine hacks into dopamine production to artificially trigger and extend the sensation of reward. Over time, this creates a tolerance — a need for a higher dose of cocaine to achieve the same high. A cocaine-using teen’s brain eventually loses its ability to produce dopamine under natural circumstances, leaving the user craving more of the drug to reach that high.

What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine is an extremely aggressive psychoactive drug that impacts the brain. Specifically, it’s a stimulant — an “upper” that temporarily excites the brain and increases the body’s nervous activity. The scientific name for the drug is benzoylmethylecgonine; street names for cocaine include coke, rock, nose candy, sneeze and blow. Nowadays, cocaine is often referred to as booger sugar and yayo — the latter an intentional misspelling of the Spanish word “llello”, which is slang for cocaine.

The cocaine alkaloid is a chemical compound derived from the coca plant, which is primarily cultivated in South America. It’s isolated and purified to take on two different forms:

  • Powder – cocaine in this form is fine and white and can be mixed or “cut” with a variety of different drugs and substances
  • Crack – cocaine is diluted in water and mixed with ammonia to form a paste, which is then heated to form rock crystals that can be smoked

It was in the 1900s when the euphoric effects of cocaine really began to be leveraged — especially in manufactured drinks. In 1863, a Parisian chemist named Angelo Mariani got the ball rolling when he realized that combining alcohol and cocaine in the bloodstream could lead to heightened pleasure. The euphoria was sensationalized as “a most wonderful invigorator of sexual organs.” The wild success of Mariani’s coca/wine concoction eventually inspired the 1886 development of a coca-infused soft drink by an Atlanta physician named John Pemberton. He branded it as Coca-Cola. The rest, as they say, is history.

Even though cocaine was removed from Coca-Cola’s recipe by 1903 and had been rendered illegal in the United States by 1911, irreparable damage had already been done. The ubiquity of the drug and its popularity among many different social circles factored into what became a rise in recreational use of the drug at the turn of the century.

Currently, cocaine is defined by the United States Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule II drug, meaning that it satisfies 3 conditions:

  • It has a high potential for abuse.
  • It has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions.
  • Abuse of the drug may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.

How Is Cocaine Used?

Cocaine can be administered in a variety of different ways, and some methods are incredible discreet.

The fastest high a user can have is through smoking crack cocaine or from injecting themselves with dissolved powder cocaine. In both case, the drug rapidly travels from the blood to the brain, heightening the intensity of the high.

spoonful of cocaine on floor

A slightly slower method is intranasal administration. This is when powder cocaine is snorted or inhaled through the nostrils to be absorbed into the user’s bloodstream. Powder cocaine can also be rubbed onto mucous tissues quite discreetly. This last method lags slightly behind the others with regards to time and efficacy, but it’s the one method that hides evidence the best. A simple reach into their pocket for their supply and a swipe at their gums can give your teen the fix they need — even if you’re sitting right there with them.

Is Cocaine Addictive?

Absolutely. Cocaine is among the most addictive substances out there — as are other Schedule II drugs. According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science, 17% of people who try cocaine become dependent on the drug. For comparison, it’s more than the number of people who become dependent on alcohol (15%) and less the number of people who become dependent on heroin (23%). In 2008, nearly 1.4 million Americans qualified as cocaine-dependent.

A cocaine dependence develops when the neurons adapt to a user’s habitual drug use and exposure, eventually only performing its proper functions if the drug is administered. Whenever the drug is withdrawn, the user can suffer debilitating physiological side effects, including depression, psychosis and paranoia. While not all users eventually become addicted to cocaine, the precursors for substance use disorder are there — especially since your teen’s experimentation could possibly have already rewired their developing brain.

Signs of Cocaine Use

The most obvious signs of drug abuse to look out for are cocaine paraphernalia you may run into — and they can vary, depending on how the drug is administered. Paraphernalia can include re-sealable plastic bags, dog tags, watches, mirrors and razor blades.

Physical and Emotional Signs

Cocaine use by a teen can often be identified by clear and sudden changes to their bodies and their temperament. Small doses can send the user into a quick, fleeting state of euphoria, the effects of which can wear off in a matter of minutes. Larger doses, understandably, have longer-lasting effects on the user.

Immediate signs of cocaine use can include one or more of the following:

  • Increased heart rate and breathing
  • Heightened sensitivity to sight, sound and touch
  • Extreme talkativeness
  • Increased energy
  • Increased mental acuity

Signs of a cocaine addiction — once the drug use has become habitual and crippling — can include one or more of the following:

  • Weight loss, due to constant lack of appetite
  • Strange, unpredictable and violent behavior
  • Panic attacks or losing touch with reality
  • Constant restlessness
  • Nosebleeds
  • Dilated pupils
  • Persistent sickness
  • Emotional detachment from friends and family

You may also notice the physical evidence of cocaine use on your son or daughter. Cocaine is a white powder, and users often leave behind residue on clothes, furniture or tabletops. It can occasionally be seen on the face, as well, left behind from being snorted. It typically gets sold in tiny plastic baggies, which may be left behind in haste — for you to discover later. Track marks and injection marks may be visible on teens that inject regularly.

Stealing Money

Cocaine habits are expensive and teens become resourceful when it comes to footing the bill on their fix. If you can’t explain money that’s lost or missing, it may be best to check in with your teen about it. Cocaine users often steal money when their cravings push them to desperation and they will often lie about it when confronted.

Cocaine Withdrawal

Withdrawal occurs when regular dosage of a drug is abruptly dropped or the drug is suddenly removed from the user’s routine. In the case of cocaine withdrawal, the symptoms can run the gamut from minor to extreme. In many cases, how heavily the drug was being used can impact how severe the withdrawal symptoms are and how long they last. Typical cocaine withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, fatigue, irritability, depression and painfully intense cravings.

When trying to kick the drug habit by themselves, about 50–90% of cocaine addicts will relapse. In most of these cases, qualified addiction counselors can help them prevent relapse.

man in hoodie sick on floor

Does Your Teen Need Cocaine Rehab?

If your child is battling a cocaine addiction, teen drug rehab may be able to help. It’s here your child may be able to undero a supervised drug detox, attend therapy and strengthen their willpower to avoid using in the future. With the help of rehab professionals, together you can break the hold and get your teen on the road to recovery.

Your child’s path to recovery starts with you. When looking at rehab facilities, it’s important to consider location, affordability and if the treatment plans also address co-occurring mental disorders. Speak to your doctor for advice on rehab that may work for your family’s unique needs.

TeenRehabCenter.org is available as a resource, as well. Call now to speak to our recovery advisors who are ready to answer your questions about treatment and insurance options.

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