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When a loved one is struggling with addiction, your world transforms into a twisted house of horrors, where everything is unfamiliar and nothing is as it seems. You may find yourself doubting what you see in front of you, and convincing yourself that you see things that aren’t there. It’s a heartbreaking reality that addiction can make you doubt your instincts, which can make it hard for you to understand what’s happening with your loved one--and to offer them help. However, there are some classic red flags to look out for when you think a loved one might be using drugs. For example, what are the signs that a loved one may be addicted to cocaine? 

Signs of Cocaine Use

Cocaine is a stimulant made from the leaves of the coca plant, which is native to South America. A white powder, it can be consumed by snorting it through the nose, smoking it, rubbing the powder on the gums, dissolving the powder and injecting it, or applying it to the mucous membranes anywhere else on the body. No matter the application method, the result is the same: Cocaine floods the brain with abnormal levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter or “chemical messenger” that helps the body feel pleasure. That is what creates the feeling of being “high.”

This high is extreme but short-term. For that reason, if your loved one is using cocaine you may notice extreme mood swings: from overwhelming happiness and energy to depression and irritability. 

As the brain grows accustomed to the abnormal levels of dopamine, the individual craves more and more cocaine in order to feel “normal,” and to reach the levels of their original high. That means that over time, the mood swings and behavioral issues associated with cocaine may become more and more extreme--and noticeable.

Cocaine Addiction & Behavior Changes

Substance abuse in general and cocaine use in particular can cause abnormalities in the brain that have a noticeable effect on an individual’s behavior. With drug use, changes can be observed in the frontal lobe of the brain, which is the operations center for impulse control and behavior. At the same time, there also are changes in the temporal lobe, which is where memory is processed. This explains why people using drugs often have issues with impulsivity, and often are in denial when it comes to their memories of drug use.

What other specific behavior changes are associated with cocaine use? As previously mentioned, people using cocaine can experience increased irritability due to the drastic swings in brain chemistry that the drug causes. In particular, cocaine use elevates levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), which can cause anxiety, paranoia, and further irritability. Sometimes, this even creates paranoiac behavior or hallucinations. The insomnia often associated with cocaine use certainly doesn’t help any of these issues. 

At the same time, the changes to the brain lobes can cause other noticeable changes in behavior. For example, you might notice that your loved one has difficulty solving problems or making decisions. Overall, their thinking might just seem “slower.” When they do make a decision, it’s often with poor judgment that can cause serious repercussions in their life and yours.

Finally, one of the most classic signs of cocaine use is weight loss and decreased appetite. Cocaine is an appetite suppressant that disrupts normal eating patterns, while also causing heightened energy levels that increase a user’s caloric burn.

Help for A Loved One’s Cocaine Addiction

Identifying the signs of cocaine addiction in your loved one is the first step to helping them find recovery. If you believe a loved one is abusing cocaine, there is help available. Or, if you’re not sure what’s happening to your loved one and suspect that cocaine is at the root of their behavior, call our team for a no-pressure conversation. We can help you get clarity on what’s happening, and figure out any next steps.

For more information on helping your loved one recover from their addiction, click here.

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