According to scientific research published in the journal Addictive Behaviors, individuals who started using cocaine before they were 18 years old displayed differences in attention levels, working memory, and other brain functions. The research was completed on over 100 people who were abstaining from cocaine use and the impact of the substance on their cognitive processes. The individuals included in the study were all participants of cocaine addiction treatment programs.
The results revealed that people who began using cocaine during adolescence had more significant problems with cognition than those who started when they were adults. When comparing the two groups, it emerged that both sustained attention and working memory were significantly diminished in the adolescent user’s group. Sustained attention is required for completing long tasks such as filling in a questionnaire or taking an exam and working memory for remembering the details of specific actions, for example, a waiter delivering the correct food order.
A worrying fact about adolescent cocaine addiction is that they are more likely to also consume cannabis and alcohol. The study showed that this group was up to 50% more likely to abuse multiple substances than older-onset cocaine users. Due to the fact that adolescence is a key stage of brain development, young people can do significantly more damage to their mental health than a person who started using cocaine at an older age. When treating cocaine addicts who started using as teens, the same multi-disciplinary approach is used in the cocaine rehab process as for adults.
Why Teenage Users Are More Vulnerable to Developing Cocaine Addiction
The evidence suggests that adolescence is particularly vulnerable to developing substance use disorders. Their less-developed teenage brain is more susceptible to acting impulsively, taking risks and falling under the influence of peers than a more mature person. The statistics show that by the time kids finish high school; almost 70% have tried alcohol, illicit drugs like marijuana and some have abused prescription drugs.
There are significant health and safety risks to adolescent drug abuse, which are much more elevated for this younger group of drug users. Although statistics show cocaine use among teens is declining, it is still a major concern for public health in America. This is largely due to how many teens who become abuse cocaine go on to develop mental health problems such as depression and anxiety as a result.
In a 2015 report “Monitoring the Future” survey published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), it was revealed that cocaine addiction among teens is driven by how easy it is to buy it. Among those involved in the survey, 29% of 12th graders said it was relatively easy to obtain cocaine if they wanted to use it. Although this is a large percentage, it still differs drastically from the alarming 59% of teens who had easy access to cocaine in the 1989 survey, when it was reported cocaine use was at the same level as it is today.
Cocaine Use and Abuse: What to Watch For
Cocaine is a substance that has short-lived effects, lasting anything from 5 minutes to half an hour. This often means people either take repeated doses to maintain the high or use alcohol at the same time to accelerate and sustain it. Cocaine is available in either powder form or as crystals known as crack. The substance can be used in a few different ways including snorting or inhaling, injecting and smoking. The speed at which the drug takes effect depends on how it is taken, with smoking being the fast way to achieve a quick high. According to NIDA’s research, around 72% of cocaine addiction rehab center admissions are for users who smoke the substance.
Cocaine works by blocking dopamine from being processed which means that the brain is flooded with the pleasant sensations the neurotransmitter creates. The physical signs a person has taken cocaine are usually that they become very talkative or excitable and behave in an exaggerated way that’s not true to their personalities. This is often an aspect of the drug that encourages people to take more as they become larger than life and the life and soul of the party.
Other signs a person may be abusing cocaine include the following:
- Residue of white powder around the mouth and nose
- Track or needle marks from taking the substance by injection
- Burns on the hands and lips
- Drug paraphernalia in their possession such as syringes, pipes, razor blades, spoons, etc
- Changes in eating patterns and weight loss
- Increased risk-taking behaviors including driving under the influence and casual sexual encounters
- Lack of personal hygiene and concern for personal appearance
- Mood swings with sometimes aggressive and confrontational behavior
- Withdrawal from loved ones and social isolation
One of the drivers of persistent or addictive cocaine use is the intensity of the come down from the drug’s effects. The pleasurable sensations created by the drug are in stark contrast to how the individual feels when its effects have worn off. Flu-like withdrawal symptoms emerge shortly after the last time of using and the more serious they become, the more developed cocaine use disorder is in the individual.
Due to the short-lived effects of cocaine, many users binge on the drug or take multiple doses in quick succession to prolong the high. This binge behavior often leads to individuals developing physical and psychological cocaine dependence much faster than other ways of using the substance.
When a person has taken higher doses of cocaine at once, they often display aggression, hostility, and even violent behavior. Individuals who have used the substance for a prolonged period of time may develop very negative side effects including paranoia, anxiety, depression and even hallucinations.
Cocaine Addiction Treatment for Adolescents and Adults
Our understanding of addiction as a treatable illness has never been greater. Even if a person has just started to use cocaine, they can receive counseling on how to stop before develop any more complex problems. However, there is no “one size fits all” approach to cocaine addiction treatment and each person will have their own unique needs which will need to be addressed by a program at a cocaine addiction rehab center. Full evaluation and assessment is generally the first step in the admission process from which point a personalized cocaine addiction treatment program can be devised.