Recreational Cocaine Use: Deadly and Addictive

Cocaine, a drug extracted from the leaves of the coca plant, has been around for thousands of years, since ancient Incas chewed the leaves to counteract the physical effects of living in the thin air of the Andes mountains. Cocaine is a powerful natural stimulant, and its ability to boost heart and respiratory rate makes the drug extremely dangerous, even when used recreationally.

Occasional Use of Cocaine Presents high Health Risks

It may seem like occasional use of cocaine is safe, and many people enjoy using the drug one or twice a month, or even just a few times every year. However, researchers at University of Sydney found that risk of heart attack and stroke are significantly higher, also for recreational users. Many users are not aware of the risks.

The American Heart Association reports similar findings: recreational cocaine users have harder arteries and higher blood pressure. Because the heart must work harder, there is a pronounced thickening of the left ventricle heart muscle walls.

These physical changes associated with use of cocaine often explain why otherwise healthy young people can have severe heart attacks after using cocaine.

Similarly, cocaine is sometimes the reason for strokes in otherwise healthy users under age 40. Strokes, which are probably caused by the sudden spike in blood pressure caused by cocaine, usually occur within three hours of use, and can occur much faster when cocaine is injected.

When it comes to cocaine, there is no “safe” amount, and even a first-time user may experience a heart attack or stroke. Cocaine users are urged to seek medical attention if any type of chest pain is experienced while using cocaine. Paying attention to the body’s warning signals does "pay off", no one should assume that random chest pains are "a natural effect of the drug".

Casual Cocaine Use Becomes Addictive

Casual or sporadic use of cocaine can’t create addiction – or can it? Many people decide to try cocaine once or twice, just to experiment and find out what all the fuss is about. Problems arise when the effects are initially so enjoyable that the person uses it again and again, even knowing that repeated use is not a good idea. Soon, the user is unable to stop. This is how casual use of cocaine rapidly moves from fun to addictive, and the change initially is so subtle that it hardly seems noticeable.

The explanation for how this occurs, put in simple terms, cocaine hijacks the area of the brain responsible for pleasure. These alterations in brain neurobiology and chemistry override judgement and create irresistible, overwhelming cravings for more of the drug.

Some people are able to use the drug occasionally without getting hooked, but there is no sure way to know ahead of time who will be resilient to addiction, and who won’t. Researchers aren’t completely sure why addiction affects some people and not others, but it’s clear that there are several factors, including genetics, family history, co-occurring mental illness such as anxiety or depression, personality, level of stress and age of first use of drugs or alcohol as well as the setting, where the drugs are consumed.

Addiction can also occur rapidly when people use drugs not for enjoyment, but to enhance performance, reduce stress, or to self-medicate problems such as depression, loneliness, the effects of ADHD, anxiety and trauma.

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