Title: Cocaine: Waking Up to a Nightmare
Author: Christina Dye
Publisher: Do It Now Foundation
Publication Date: February 2011
Catalog Number: 102

..Snow Job

Tim was like
a lot of people.

He carried a
full classload in his senior year in college, paid his own tuition
and expenses working part-time at an electronics store near campus,
and planned on getting his master’s degree after he graduated.

He had his share
of friends and more than his share of music, including a classic
blues collection — both CD’s and rare original vinyl releases.

And like a lot
of people, Tim used cocaine.

At first, it
was pretty casual. He snorted a few lines at parties with friends.
It made him feel good — turned-on, revved-up, in control.

And with no obvious,
major-league side effects (other than sniffles and a next-day
emotional sag), it seemed harmless enough. Too bad it didn’t
stay that way.

Because before
he knew it, music wasn’t the only thing Tim was doing to
excess. By mid-semester, he was tooting every day, then every
few hours.

He said it helped
him focus when he studied. But that was before he’d missed so
many classes that he dropped out for the semester. He had
to, he told himself, either that or he’d completely trash
his grade-point average.

He told his parents
that he’d gotten behind at school because of his job. When he
got fired there, he told his friends that his manager was a jerk
from Day One.

When his money
ran out, he started dealing “on the side,” he’d tell
both friends and clients, without bothering to explain what he
now considered his main calling.

He still didn’t
think cocaine was a major-league problem. It made him feel alive,
like things were happening.

What he couldn’t
admit was that cocaine was the only thing in his life that was

Welcome to
the majors, kid.


Tim is just one
in a long list of otherwise-cool people whose lives have been
turned upside-down by cocaine in recent years.

There are a lot
more like him. In fact, right now, there are easily a few hundred
thousand others in this country alone almost exactly like

Just consider
some recent numbers:

  • An estimated
    36.6 million Americans have tried cocaine and 1.6 million are
    regular users.
  • Cocaine landed
    422,896 users in hospital emergency rooms during 2009 alone.
  • Coke is pricier
    and less potent than it’s been in years. According to the U.S.
    Drug Enforcement Administration, in 2008 U.S. street cocaine
    averaged 46 percent purity, with prices above $180 per gram.

Crack has only
compounded the problem, creating a whole new level of risk and
a whole new set of risk-takers.

That’s why we’ve
put together this pamphlet.

Because too many
people like Tim have found out the hard way that what they thought
they knew about cocaine turned out to be only half the story.
The other side is like waking up inside a nightmare.

..Bangs and Bucks

Chemically, cocaine
is a dual-acting, two-in-one drug: an anesthetic that numbs whatever
body tissue it touches and a stimulant that lights a fire in
the brain.

In its powder
form, cocaine is usually inhaled, or snorted. At low doses, it
blocks appetite and boosts alertness and self-confidence. Effects
fade within an hour.

Since its effects
last such a short time (and because coke is so pricey), some
users try to get maximum bang for their cocaine buck by injecting
it, which causes an intense rush of euphoria — and a longer
list of potential problems.

Still, for maximum
firepower, the biggest gun in cocaine’s arsenal — or, at least,
the one that gets fired most and does the most damage — is a
pipe loaded with crack or freebase.

Both crack and
freebase are smokable forms of cocaine, and each delivers the
same intense kick as injection, without the trouble and taboo
of needles. But the similarities don’t end there.

When it’s smoked,
cocaine enters the bloodstream almost instantly, since it’s absorbed
via the lungs in vaporized form. That means that crack and
freebase squeeze the entire coke high into the smallest possible
unit of time.

Drug effects
kick in within a couple of heartbeats, but fade fast — within
3-5 minutes. What burns on after the cocaine burns up is a restless
desire for more, which increases the risk of repeat use and addiction.

When the crack-freebase
phenomenon exploded nationwide in the ’80s, it did more than
blow the cocaine problem out of proportion. It also blew giant
holes in the old notion that cocaine is a risk-free “recreational”

And the reason
it did is because it isn’t.

..Body Talk

What cocaine
is instead is a dose of white-hot adrenaline aimed at
all body systems. And when it hits, it leaves a mark.

Physical signs
of use include increased heart rate, blood pressure, and body

In purely biological
terms, the result might seem more like pressure than pleasure,
with the same racing heartbeat and nervous sweats that can come
before a job interview or a chance meeting with a traffic cop.

But when coke
is doing the driving, jangled nerves and an erratic heartbeat
aren’t just a case of “nerves.”

They’re part
of a complex biological reaction to cocaine, and they’re only the
tip of an iceberg of effects that the drug can set in motion.

Below the surface,
the iceberg is often huge, and can trigger problems that really
are titanic.

Here are three
of the major ones:

  • Heart attack. Cocaine can disrupt normal heart beat,
    even causing heart attack and sudden death in otherwise healthy
  • Stroke. Surges in blood pressure can weaken or
    rupture blood vessels in the brain. Coma or death can result.
  • Overdose. A cocaine overdose can be dangerous and
    deadly, since it’s easy to lose track of dosage — and hard to
    resist doing too much.

In addition,
smoke from crack or freebase irritates lung tissues, and can
cause coughing and chronic pain in the lungs and throat.

If cocaine’s
short-term risks seem bad enough, heavy or long-term use only
compounds the dangers.

Insomnia, weight
loss, and malnutrition are common among heavy users — and take
a heavy toll on health.

Even though most
serious risks are tied to long-term, heavy use, fatal reactions
have been linked to even small amounts of the drug.

That’s one reason
the new line on cocaine is that a little can go a long way —
further, in fact, than thousands of coke casualties ever meant
to go.


Most hard-core
cocaine users don’t want to stop. Ever. That’s not news. What
is news is why.

In the brain,
cocaine acts directly on the electrochemical circuits that regulate
arousal and pleasure, by increasing the supply and firing action
of key neurotransmitters, especially dopamine and acetylcholine,
which figure into both processes.

In a way, cocaine
is like a lightning bolt in the brain — except everything it
strikes wants to stay struck. That’s because the psychological
payoff it provides is so powerful that users are drawn to it
again and again.

From there, it’s
only a small step to binges that last for days and end only when
supplies run out — or someone’s body quits.

Researchers think
that heavy use may also alter neural pathways in the brain. These
effects seem to be reversible, but resuming even limited use
can trigger a renewal of coke-related compulsivity.

For a variety
of reasons (including cost), most users don’t become dependent.
Still, even occasional users may show some of the signs of dependency,
including anxiety, irritability, and depression.

On the other
hand, lots of others do become seriously dependent.

Symptoms of full-blown
dependence can range all the way from gotta-have-it cravings
to compulsive and ritualistic behavior, hallucinations, and paranoia.

But regardless
of the form dependency takes, cocaine usually ends up taking
more than it gives — unless you consider problems a gift.

It spreads lots
of those around.

..Bottom Lines

Cocaine didn’t
turn into the problem it is on good looks and high price alone.
It’s also one of the most addictive chemicals ever discovered.

In fact, researchers
report that laboratory rats will even withstand repeated electric
shocks if the shocks are followed often enough by big enough
doses of cocaine.

That’s the bad
news. Here’s the good news: We aren’t rats.

One difference
lies in our ability to make conscious choices about who we are
and how we live our lives. On the other hand (or paw, depending),
that’s an ability you can lose fast, once you choose to use cocaine.

The fact is that
cocaine isn’t a big problem for some people.
But for others, it’s a walking, talking
nightmare of dependency and need and loss of control over thoughts
and actions — except those thoughts and actions directed at
getting and using more cocaine.

Sound serious?
It is. But it’s not hopeless.

You can quit
if you want to. And you can choose not to let it become a problem
in the first place.

Because the bottom
line on cocaine is that it can turn on you as easily as it turns
you on. And the only way to keep out of danger is to keep out
of its way.

..Sidebar | How
to Get Off Cocaine

The line that
separates low- and high-risk cocaine use can be fuzzy. Use that
may seem manageable one week can zoom out of control the next,
and a take-it-or-leave-it indulgence can suddenly become a ticket
to personal disaster.

Still, it is
possible to stop — no matter how long you’ve been using or how
impossible it seems. Recognizing early signs of a problem can
reduce your risk — or start you on the road to recovery. Factors
to consider:

  • Do you smoke
    or inject cocaine?
  • Do you use cocaine
    in the morning or at regular intervals to get through the day?
  • Do you spend
    a lot of time thinking about or talking about cocaine?
  • Are you spending
    more on cocaine than you can afford?
  • Do you have
    problems at work or with your family or friends related to coke

If you answered
yes to two or more questions, you already have a problem.

That’s the bad
news. The good news is that there’s still time to do something
about it. Cocaine Anonymous chapters are usually listed in the
white pages of the phone book.

Or you can call
the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s free hotline (1-800-662-HELP)
for referral to a treatment program in your area.

But do it now.
And keep on doing it until it gets done — and stays that way.

This is one in a series of publications
on drugs, behavior, and health by Do It Now Foundation.
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