What Goes Up Must Come Down By Michelle Lewis

Photo: Mark Stout
"Cocaine gave me the best high I've ever had!" Josh said. He didn't seem to fit the druggie profile, too clean-cut, so I asked, "Well are you still doing it?"

"No way!" he laughed. "The half-hour high was awesome, but the next day I bombed. I could barely move, my head felt like a ton of bricks, and I was so depressed. I figured the bigger the high, the bigger the fall, and the fall just isn't worth it." Another friend, Nick, told the same story: "I felt like a million bucks for a few minutes, but later I crashed." From them I learned the golden rule of cocaine—what goes up, must come down. Hard.

The Effects

Coke, blow, flake, candy, toot, gold dust, snow, glass, white lady . . . Cocaine, a white powder made from the coca plant, can be snorted, swallowed, injected, or smoked in crystal form (crack). Every method is dangerous in different ways, but some health hazards come standard no matter how you do it:

Symptoms similar to a bad cold
Increased blood pressure
Increased risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke
Seizures and headaches
Stomachache and nausea
Severe weight loss
Anxiety and depression
Violent, aggressive, or irrational behavior
"Cocaine psychosis"—a condition causing paranoia (thinking everyone's out to get you), confusion, depression, and hallucinations (seeing things that aren't there).

This list doesn't include the temporary effects of cocaine: the euphoric "high," increased energy and mental alertness, lasting from five to 30 minutes. Why? Because they don't last, and you have to keep taking more and more to get that high. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) warns: "A tolerance to the 'high' may develop—many addicts report that they seek but fail to achieve as much pleasure as they did from their first exposure." Even if you stick to the same small amount every time, your body could build up a resistance to cocaine's numbing and seizure-causing effects. This resistance may help explain why someone could die after taking only a small hit.

The New Stuff

Maybe you've read that list before, and maybe you know that cocaine is powerfully addictive. But did you know that cocaine actually messes with certain areas of your brain? "One involved with learning, memory and processing information . . . and one involved with pleasure seeking, emotion and reward behavior." A July 2005 study at the University of Pittsburgh found that cocaine causes "the limbic system to become overstimulated. It may explain why cocaine addicts are oriented toward pleasure rather than other goals, and have an impaired ability to make decisions." 

This "orientation toward pleasure" (meaning they have a desperate need to "feel good") helps explain why some addicts keep taking more and more and why ex-addicts slip back into addiction easier than people who have never tried cocaine. This disruption in the brain also affects your learning skills, making it harder for you to adjust to new situations. Most important, because of the way cocaine scrambles your brain, it only takes one time to suck you in.

Obviously, there is no "safe" way to do cocaine, but there may be a worse way: "candy flipping"—mixing cocaine with alcohol (and/or other drugs). Candy flipping creates an explosive cocktail of drugs inside your body, worse than each one alone. The NIDA warns: "The human liver combines cocaine and alcohol and manufactures a third substance, cocaethylene, that intensifies cocaine's euphoric effects, while potentially increasing the risk of sudden death."

The Signs

Dr. Phillip Long defines cocaine abuse (or addiction) as "a destructive pattern of cocaine use, leading to significant social, occupational, or medical impairment." In other words, if cocaine is ruining your life and you can't stop, you're probably addicted. If you or a friend has three or more of Dr. Long's warning signs, please talk to a counselor or trusted adult immediately:

1. Cocaine tolerance: either "a" or "b":
  a. Needing increased amounts of cocaine to reach a high.
  b. A markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of cocaine.
2. Cocaine withdrawal symptoms: either "a" or "b":
  a. Two (or more) of the following, developing within several hours to a few days of reduction in heavy or prolonged cocaine use: sweating or rapid pulse, increased hand tremor, sleeplessness, nausea or vomiting, physical agitation, anxiety, hallucinations, seizures.
  b. Taking cocaine to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
3. Trying unsuccessfully to cut down or control cocaine use.
4. Spending a lot of time using cocaine or recovering from hangovers.
5. Dropping out of social or recreational activities because of cocaine.
6. Continuing to use cocaine despite knowing the dangers.

The Hope

The NIDA and other independent companies are trying to help addicts with the long, painful process of recovery. For example, in an April 2006 scientific magazine "researchers present[ed] evidence that inactivating both the serotonin and dopamine transporters in the brains of mice dramatically reduces their experience of cocaine's rewarding, pleasurable effects." This and other studies hope to eventually find a medicine that, combined with therapy, helps cocaine addicts break the drug cycle. However, the best (and easiest) treatment is always prevention. Even one hit can throw you into the never-ending cycle of cocaine addiction. To avoid the nasty rehab process, avoid cocaine, period. There is no safe amount, safe method, or safe way to do cocaine.

Michelle Lewis writes from southwest Michigan. Email Michelle. Reprinted with permission. Listen Magazine, Feb. 2007,  p. 18-19. All rights reserved © 2010 AnswersForMe.org. Click here for content usage information.