The Dangers Of Injecting Cocaine Intravenously

No matter how a person abuses cocaine, it’s dangerous. An individual who injects cocaine may be at a higher risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis, heart damage and overdose.

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Injecting cocaine intravenously increases the chance of cocaine addiction and cocaine overdose. When a person injects cocaine, it causes a rush of dopamine, which is what makes a person feel high. Recurrent cocaine injection causes the brain to stop producing dopamine naturally.

Not only does injecting cocaine cocaine bring on its effects faster, but it also allows more of the substance into the system to a dangerous degree. Too much cocaine may cause an overdose, which means that the body is unable to metabolize the drug fast enough and it shuts down as a result.

Cocaine affects each person differently, and though the majority of people who abuse cocaine will not overdose, it still happens. In 2015, there were 6,784 overdose deaths that involved cocaine. Even those who do not overdose on cocaine still run a very high risk of becoming addicted to it.

What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine (benzoylmethylecgonine) is a stimulant derived from the coca plant, which is native to South America. In medicine, cocaine hydrochloride is used as a local anesthetic. Cocaine is the only naturally-occurring local anesthetic, but it has properties similar to other synthetic anesthetics.

Cocaine is a white, chalky substance that people smoke, snort, swallow or inject into their bloodstream (intravenously). Some people mix cocaine with heroin and simultaneously inject each chemical; this is known on the street as a speedball.

In 2014, there were 1.5 million people in the United States older than age 12 who used cocaine. People inject cocaine for the rapid, intense rush and numbing feeling it creates. Yet cocaine is a highly addictive substance, and injecting it is the fastest way to get the drug into the bloodstream. An individual who occasionally injects cocaine is still at a high risk of becoming addicted to it.

Cocaine may be diluted or cut with other substances such as cornstarch, flour, sugar, procaine, talcum powder, amphetamines and other non-addictive chemicals. Injecting the chemicals cocaine is cut with often leads to serious health complications.

Street names for cocaine include:

  • coke
  • blow
  • snow
  • dust
  • china white
  • powder
  • yeyo
  • candy

Cocaine is categorized as a Schedule II controlled substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. This means that, even though it has a medical purpose as an anesthetic, cocaine has a very high potential for abuse.

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Understanding Intravenous Cocaine Use

The most common route of administration for cocaine is snorting (intranasally) the drug, in which the effects are felt after 15 to 30 minutes. Oral administration of cocaine has a much slower onset than snorting, and can take up to 90 minutes to kick in. When intravenously injecting cocaine, the effects kick in almost instantly.

Intravenous cocaine use is also known as shooting up, injecting and mainlining. Cocaine is water soluble, which means that it’s absorbed into the bloodstream quickly. Injecting cocaine sends the drug directly into the bloodstream, and the effects can take hold within seconds.

When a person injects cocaine, the drug’s effects are intense but short-lived. The high from injecting cocaine can be over in less than 10 minutes. Yet as cocaine wears off, most people immediately want more, and many become trapped in a vicious cycle of using cocaine, coming down, craving more and using more.

Short-Term Effects Of Injecting Cocaine

Injecting cocaine speeds up the entire body. A person using cocaine may become excitable, talkative, happy and full of energy. Cocaine causes a rush of dopamine, the chemical responsible for transmitting signals between the brain’s neurons along the reward pathway. As cocaine wears off, a person may feel worn out, irritable and experience a crash.

The short-term effects of cocaine may include:

  • intense euphoria
  • dilated pupils
  • increased energy
  • anxiety
  • restlessness
  • irritability
  • talkativeness
  • decreased appetite
  • paranoia
  • nervousness
  • hypersensitivity to sight, sound and touch
  • increased heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature
  • heart attack
  • intense cravings
  • overdose and death

A hypodermic needle is used to inject cocaine, which leaves “track marks” at the injection site. Track marks are small, red spots at the site of injection that can easily become infected. Track marks may appear on a person’s arms, hands, legs, glutes, feet or between their toes.

“Severe medical complications can occur with cocaine use. Some of the most frequent are cardiovascular effects, including disturbances in heart rhythm and heart attacks; neurological effects, including headaches, seizures, strokes, and coma,” (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

Long-Term Effects Of Shooting Cocaine

Chronic cocaine use causes the brain to adapt to the drug’s stimulating effects, and the reward pathway becomes less sensitive to natural stimulants. Many people use cocaine in binges at an increasing rate, which can result in an increased tolerance.

Cocaine also causes the brain’s circuits involved in stress to become overly sensitive, which may cause a person to become irritable, hostile and even violent when the drug is no longer in their system. The long-term effects of cocaine include infections, weight loss, addiction and other health conditions.

Other long-term effects of injecting cocaine may include:

  • addiction
  • weight loss
  • malnourishment
  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • tetanus
  • lung abscesses
  • heart valve infections
  • inflammation of the heart muscle
  • decreased heart function
  • heart attack
  • stroke
  • cardiac arrest
  • seizures and hallucinations
  • withdrawal symptoms
  • abscesses at the injection site
  • HIV or hepatitis from sharing needles
  • aortic ruptures (breakage of largest artery in the body)
  • cellulitis (red, inflamed and painful around injection site)

The negative emotions associated with quitting cocaine are often signs of cocaine withdrawal. An individual who regularly uses cocaine is likely to build a tolerance to the drug, which means they need more of it to get the same effect.

Signs And Symptoms Of Cocaine Addiction

A cocaine use disorder (addiction) occurs when a person’s use of the drug causes significant, clinical impairment or distress. A person suffering from a cocaine addiction may start to make the drug a higher priority than food, exercise and other natural stimulating rewards. Cocaine addiction can cost a person their relationships, life savings, career and even mental health.

An individual suffering from a cocaine addiction may experiment with cocaine at first, but over time many start seeking the drug more often, in larger amounts and by different routes of administration.

Many people who abuse cocaine for extended periods of time find they need it to feel normal, and may give up activities or hobbies that they were once passionate about. It isn’t always easy to tell if someone has a problem with cocaine, but knowing the signs of an addiction may be enough to get someone into treatment.

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Cocaine Addiction Treatment

Cocaine addiction is a complex disease that has physical, environmental, biological and psychological factors. Some people even develop a co-occurring mental disorder as a result of cocaine abuse. A cocaine addiction treatment must address psychological, physical and environmental factors as they apply to each person and their drug use.

Cocaine changes the way the brain functions and operates, and it affects every person differently. An individualized treatment approach takes into consideration that each person is unique and their cocaine addiction treatment should be, too.


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