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Cocaine Psychosis: Recognize the Signs (& What to Do)

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As one of the most addictive substances in existence, cocaine has an almost unparalleled ability to ruin your health, especially physically. This notorious stimulant, often regarded as a drug for the rich, spikes your blood pressure, causes malnourishment, and can induce death, even after the first use.

Cocaine can also scramble your brains and cause you to experience psychosis symptoms like severe paranoia and hallucinations.

The effects of cocaine psychosis almost wrecked the life of one woman, who chronicled her harrowing experience for Toronto Life magazine. A hallucination she had nearly killed her.

“One day, a dealer I was seeing told me to go out on the balcony of my condo, that a plane was coming to save me from this hell I was living. I gingerly made my way to the balcony and slid open the door, wanting to make him happy,” she wrote.

“I stepped into the cool night air and tried to climb over the railing. As I started my descent, he screamed, and rushed outside and grabbed me: he’d told me no such thing. I had hallucinated the conversation.”

Cocaine psychosis may not kill you in and of itself, but it can compel you to engage in behavior or perform acts that can result in death. Read on to learn about this form of psychosis and what to do.

WHAT IS COCAINE PSYCHOSIS AND ITS EFFECTS?

Cocaine-induced psychosis, a subset of substance/medication-induced psychotic disorder, is marked by hallucinations and/or delusions due to the direct effects of a drug or withdrawal from it in the absence of delirium, according to the Merck Manual.

In other words, cocaine psychosis is a mind overdose that occurs in individuals who have a history of abusing cocaine and crack, which is a freebase form of cocaine.

The symptoms of substance-induced psychosis, particularly that of cocaine, are temporary. While cocaine psychosis typically occurs with long-term use, it is not unusual for users of crack.

Medical News Today reports that psychosis encompasses a cluster of symptoms, which include:

  • Hallucinations: hearing, seeing, or feeling things that are not real
  • Delusions: having false beliefs, especially those rooted in fears or suspicions of things that are not real
  • Disorganization: in the mind, speech, or through behavior
  • Disordered thinking: where users jump between unrelated topics and make strange connections between thoughts
  • Catatonia: an inability to move normally; immobility and stupor
  • Difficulty concentrating: Struggling or being unable to focus

THE SIGNS OF COCAINE USE

Cocaine use boosts levels of dopamine, a brain chemical responsible for pleasure and reward. Cocaine causes a substantial buildup of dopamine in the brain’s reward region, strongly reinforcing drug-taking behaviors.

Users typically snort cocaine through the nose or rub it into their teeth and gums. Some people have also been known to dissolve the powder and inject it into their bloodstream.

When processed into crack-cocaine, it is smoked and inhaled into the lungs. Nevertheless, when people use cocaine, in regular or crack form, they usually binge, meaning they use it repeatedly within a short period.

There are physical, psychological, and behavioral signs people will exhibit when they abuse cocaine.

The following effects and behaviors could serve as warning signs:

  • Red, bloodshot eyes
  • A runny nose or frequent sniffing
  • A change in eating or sleeping patterns
  • A change in groups of friends
  • A change in behavior
  • Frequently needing money to buy cocaine.
  • Acting withdrawn, depressed, tired, or careless about personal appearance

According to MedicineNet, those symptoms and signs of cocaine abuse and addiction can include the following:

  • Repeated cocaine use that interferes with meeting work, school, or home responsibilities
  • Recurring cocaine use in circumstances and situations that can be hazardous
  • Continuingly using cocaine despite ongoing or repeated work, school, social, or interpersonal problems that arise due to the effects of the drug
  • Displaying tolerance where you experience significantly diminished effects from cocaine or the need to substantially increase your dose to achieve the same high or other desired outcomes
  • Showing signs or symptoms of withdrawal or taking it or a closely related substance to avoid developing withdrawal symptoms
  • Consuming more copious amounts of cocaine or using it for longer than planned
  • Experiencing a persistent desire to take cocaine or making unsuccessful attempts to decrease or manage your use
  • Spending substantial amounts of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of cocaine
  • Reducing or stopping your engagement in significant social, recreational, work, or school activities because of cocaine

COCAINE LONG-TERM EFFECTS AND OVERDOSE

Certainly, cocaine psychosis brings with it a multitude of harmful symptoms. In addition to those symptoms, cocaine can also produce many ruinous long-term health effects.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the long-term effects of cocaine include:

  • Snorting: loss of smell, frequent runny nose, nosebleeds, and swallowing problems
  • Smoking: cough, asthma, respiratory problems, and a higher susceptibility to pneumonia and other infections
  • Consuming by mouth: severe bowel decay or intestinal ischemia from reduced blood flow
  • Needle injection: an increased risk for contracting HIV, hepatitis C, and other bloodborne diseases and skin or soft tissue infections, scarring, or collapsed veins

Because cocaine impairs judgment, it can compel people to engage in risky behaviors where they can contract sexually transmitted infections like HIV and hepatitis. Other effects include malnourishment and movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

What’s more, cocaine raises blood pressure and increases your heartbeat. Such action can lead cocaine users to suffer a heart attack or stroke, which can be fatal.

Cocaine Overdose

Cocaine overdose can include these physical and psychological symptoms, according to WebMD:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Hallucinations
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Confusion, seizures, tremors
  • Panic
  • Paranoia
  • Increased sweating, body temperature, or heart rate
  • Anxiety
  • Delirium

WHAT TO DO ABOUT COCAINE PSYCHOSIS AND ADDICTION

Cocaine is highly addictive. Attempting to quit, especially in the throes of psychosis, is not only futile, but it is also dangerous, leaving you susceptible to overdose and death.

Cocaine addiction and the psychosis it induces requires a nuanced, multilevel treatment response that only a professional recovery program can offer.

For the treatment of stimulant addictions, professional treatment starts with medical detox, which provides 24-hour managed care for a week.

During this span, the cocaine is removed from your system and its withdrawal symptoms, which include agitation, depressed mood, fatigue, and other conditions, are medically addressed and alleviated.

People who exhibit cocaine psychosis could also benefit from dual diagnosis treatment, where substance abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders are addressed.

Another option is residential treatment, a placement that is recommended in cases that involve severe cocaine use. In a residential program, you will have access to services that are recommended for cocaine addiction. These include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), contingency management (CM), and motivational interviewing (MI).

What’s more, residential treatment will provide residence in a therapeutic community, which is safe, structured, and optimal for your complete recovery.

Outpatient treatment also allows you access to evidence-based services but on a part-time basis. The benefit of outpatient programs is that you can receive therapy and care while living independently.

Because cocaine is highly addictive and leads many to relapse, ongoing support through a recovery community like 12-step or SMART Recovery® (Self-Management and Recovery Training) is available. A program of this sort can provide long-term support for you to achieve lasting recovery.

Sources

Aguilar, M. (2013, June 17). What Is Cocaine Psychosis? from https://gizmodo.com/what-is-cocaine-psychosis-5913998

Dryden-Edwards, R. (n.d.). Cocaine and Crack Abuse Symptoms, Signs & Effects. from https://www.medicinenet.com/cocaine_and_crack_abuse/article.htm

Fiorillo, C., & Shapton, D. (2018, October 09). My decade-long coke addiction, and how I got sober. from https://torontolife.com/city/life/carrie-fiorillo-cocaine-addiction-forest-hill/

MacGill, M. (2017, December 14). Psychosis: Causes, symptoms, and treatments. from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/248159.php

Merck Manual. (n.d.). Substance/Medication–Induced Psychotic Disorder – Psychiatric Disorders. from https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric-disorders/schizophrenia-and-related-disorders/substance-medication%E2%80%93induced-psychotic-disorder

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Cocaine. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/cocaine

WebMD. (n.d.). What are the signs of a cocaine overdose? from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/qa/what-are-the-signs-of-a-cocaine-overdose

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