How to Help a Loved One Addicted to Cocaine
Seeing a friend or family member become trapped in a vicious cycle of cocaine abuse can leave you feeling hopeless and as if nothing can be done. But assistance is available, and there are steps you can take to help a loved one live a substance-free life.
Understanding what cocaine is and its impact on the body and mind will provide you with greater insight into what your loved one is going through. This will help you to support them on their path toward recovery.
What Is Cocaine?
Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug. It is made from the leaves of the coca plant, which is native to South America.
Pure cocaine has been abused for over a century and coca leaves have been ingested for thousands of years. The pure form was once widely used for medical purposes, but its recreational use is illegal.
Often mixed with other drugs, including amphetamine or fentanyl, or with substances like cornstarch or talcum powder, cocaine is sold on the street as a fine white powder, referred to as ‘coke’. In some cases, the powder is processed to make crystal rocks, referred to as ‘crack’.
The Effects of Drug Abuse
As with any substance abuse, the effects of cocaine abuse can be harmful to a person’s physical and mental well-being. It can also result in addiction or substance use disorders. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, around 1.3 million people in the US had a cocaine use disorder in 2020.
Cocaine produces a euphoric rush. This is a pleasurable sensation and is what keeps a user reliant on the drug. Cocaine users usually seek the energizing feeling it provides, and during this period, a person may be unable to sleep as the brain is unable to shut down. Cocaine impacts brain chemistry and causes a change in the circadian rhythm of the body, which can permanently damage someone’s sleep.
The initial euphoric rush fades quickly, however, and withdrawal symptoms follow soon after. That is why many cocaine users ‘binge’, meaning they take more and more of it over a short amount of time, to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Binging can easily lead to a fatal overdose.
A person abusing cocaine may have dilated pupils and a runny nose. They may also have nosebleeds, common among those who snort it through their nose as it can cause damage to the skin and cartilage inside. Long-term cocaine use is likely to result in the destruction of one’s nasal tissue.
Cocaine also suppresses appetite while causing a dysfunction in metabolism, which interferes with fat intake and storage. Other effects of cocaine abuse include:
- High sensitivity to sight, sound, and touch
- Extreme distrust of others (paranoia)
- Muscle twitches
- Vital organ damage
- Heart attack
- Risk of fatal overdose
Signs of Cocaine Addiction
In active cocaine addiction, the need for the drug overwhelms a person and it becomes their priority. A person will compulsively seek the drug and continue its use despite the negative consequences. When attempting to stop its use, they may experience withdrawal symptoms. They may spend their money on drugs instead of on food or clothes, and daily hygiene may become less important.
Withdrawing from sober friends or loved ones is common, and they may lie about their drug use. Those who are addicted to cocaine may believe that friends or family members will notice their drug abuse and distance themselves to keep it a secret, while they also may feel shame or a sense of guilt for it. Sudden financial problems are another sign.
An increase in risky behavior and bizarre, or even violent behaviors is common, as well as mood swings. Other signs include:
- Increased alertness
- Excited and jubilant speech
- Feeling superior to other people
- Difficulties swallowing
- Chronic runny nose
- Loss of sense of smell
Cocaine speeds up body systems and functions, so when it is suddenly removed, a significant drop in energy, focus levels, and emotion occurs, which leads to trouble concentrating, depression, irritability, and fatigue. Withdrawal symptoms and cravings for the drug start within a few hours of a person’s last dose.
Other symptoms include an increased appetite, nightmares and anxiety, and suicidal thoughts or behavior.
Ways to Help a Loved One Addicted to Cocaine
Knowing that drug addiction involves changes in the brain and is a complex disease is the first step to understanding how to help.
It is really important to take the time to learn as much as possible about cocaine addiction. By recognizing symptoms of cocaine addiction, you will be able to spot any triggers for abuse in your loved one, while also noticing when they are going through a tough time.
When someone is addicted to cocaine, they will chase the high, spending most of their time obtaining and using the drug. They may feel as though getting high is the only good thing to do, so any other activities may induce anxiety or depression. By keeping an eye out for these symptoms you help ensure the person’s safety. Recognizing these signs is especially vital when the addiction is strong enough to possibly result in an overdose.
It is also important to learn and understand treatment options. Getting your friend or family member into an addiction center may be easier if you are informed about what treatment looks like and can share treatment options and their benefits with them.
There are also community-based recovery groups, like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Cocaine Anonymous (CA), that use a 12-step program helpful in maintaining sobriety. These groups consist of participants who are non-users or recovering from addiction, and therefore provide insights and coping mechanisms, as well as emotional support.
Cease Enabling Behavior
In an effort to help someone, you may be doing things that allow them to continue their addiction without realizing it. This is called enabling, and stopping these behaviors can help someone face the consequences of their addiction, which can make them more prone to seeking treatment help or agreeing to rehabilitation.
Examples of enabling are giving a loved one money or paying their bills, making excuses for their absence or their behavior, denying their drug abuse problem, or bailing them out of bad situations that have resulted from their addiction.
Even though it may be very hard, ‘tough love’ could be very helpful in pushing someone with cocaine addiction to address it and take steps toward sobriety.
Keep Your Boundaries
It is natural to want to help a loved one suffering from addiction, so it may be easy to compromise, or over-compromise. But for both a healthy relationship and to better help someone, keeping your boundaries could be vital.
Expressing what you accept and what not, and making sure to prioritize your own needs is also helpful. As a person who is addicted to cocaine could resort to anything to sustain their addiction, learning to say no and sticking to your boundaries can serve as a means of ceasing enabling.
Struggling with addiction may also mean that someone is not aware of the impact of their actions on themselves or their loved ones. Setting boundaries and following through with the stated consequences can help a loved one to account for their actions.
Talk in Helpful Ways
It is vital not to blame the person who is using cocaine. A drug use disorder is a mental illness. This may be difficult for friends and family members who go through a lot when trying to help someone. Understand that the person is not at fault for the disease, and avoid implying or stating that they are. A person struggling with addiction deals with intense emotions daily, so shaming and criticizing is counterproductive; instead, try to be positive and helpful.
Being honest, kind, non-judgmental, and non-confrontational can provide support and a level of trust in you for a loved one whose life has been taken over by cocaine.
Encourage Healthy Living and Take Care of Yourself
Physical health promotes clarity and good mental health. A healthy dose of exercise can help a loved one as they recover. Living healthily also sets an example for someone dependent on drugs, so practicing sobriety yourself may be very helpful.
Stress from a loved one’s struggle combined with your stress may create resentment, and then it may become difficult to help a loved one when they have created hardship in your life.
As drug addiction affects a relationship in many ways, taking care of yourself is vital to take care of someone else. Ensure that your emotional and mental needs are met, by seeking individual or family therapy sessions. There are also many support groups for friends and family members of those suffering from addiction. These groups can help you cope with the stress of supporting a loved one.
Suggest an Addiction Treatment Program
While being patient and making sure to attend to your own needs, suggesting rehabilitation and addiction treatment is another step toward helping your loved one.
It could be very unhelpful to set ultimatums or attempt to force a loved one into treatment. If they are not willing or ready to become and stay sober, they are more likely to return to drugs after leaving rehab.
Expressing how their addiction affects you while providing well-researched treatment options could spark their awareness and willingness to seek help. They may become aware that you care about their well-being, and your offer of support could provide some comfort. Offering to make an appointment on their behalf, driving them to therapy sessions, offering moral support, and discussing the steps of addiction treatment can be helpful.
Cocaine Addiction Treatment
Thankfully, those suffering from addiction to cocaine can receive the necessary treatment and become sober. A cocaine addiction treatment center can help in various ways.
Even though there are no pharmacological interventions or medications approved by the FDA to treat cocaine addiction, drug rehab centers can halt a cocaine addiction. They can also manage the risks associated with short- and long-term abuse.
As the majority of people who seek treatment for cocaine addiction are likely to use more than one drug (called polydrug use) a treatment center can offer treatment for all drug abuse. Dual diagnosis programs also consider commonly co-occurring mental illnesses that come with substance use disorders. In 2020 an estimated 5.7 million people had both a mental illness and a substance use disorder in the United States. Dual diagnosis programs greatly reduce the chances of relapse as any underlying or contributing mental health factor is addressed.
The first step in recovery is usually the detox process. In the process of a medically assisted detox, all traces of cocaine are removed from the system in a controlled, supervised environment. Any withdrawal symptoms are managed and a person is monitored so that the process is done safely.
Behavioral therapies typically follow detox in cocaine addiction treatment. In therapy, the individual learns to understand the causes or triggers for using and develops coping skills through acquiring changed behaviors or healthy responses to these triggers. These therapies could include individual or cognitive behavioral therapy, or group therapy sessions. Treatment programs often offer support groups that are also available after treatment.
Another form of behavioral therapy that has shown positive results in people suffering from cocaine addiction is contingency management, also known as motivational incentives. These programs use a reward or prize-based system, whereby people earn points or chips when they abstain from drug use. For example, by accumulating urine tests that are drug-free, they can collect points and exchange them for things that encourage health, such as a free gym membership or healthy meals.
Where Can I Find a Treatment Center?
If you or someone you love is seeking support for an addiction to cocaine, Ebb Tide is here to help. Our caring and compassionate staff understand that addiction is individual, which is why we can design a treatment program tailored to your mental, physical and emotional needs.
From detox to cognitive behavioral therapy and peer support in group therapy, Ebb Tide empowers you to take back control of your life. We can provide you with the tools to sustain your recovery from abuse and addiction and lead a healthier life, starting today.