Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

Recognizing Cocaine Abuse in Teens & How to Find Help

Teen Cocaine Abuse: How Cocaine Effects Your Teen and How To Find Help

Cocaine is a controlled substance that’s been considered illegal for recreational use for decades. Even so, it’s a drug that’s remarkably easy for most users to find.

Cocaine is a versatile drug that can be snorted, ingested, injected and even smoked. It’s easy to see why teens might like a drug like this, as they could use it in so many different ways, but the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that cocaine use among teens is declining, with past-year usage rates dropping to levels not seen since the early 1990s. This is great news, but there are still teens who continue to abuse this drug, and teens who do choose cocaine could be doing significant damage that could lead to additional drug use later in life.

Easy to Find

Cocaine is a controlled substance that’s been considered illegal for recreational use for decades. Even so, it’s a drug that’s remarkably easy for most users to find. Where dealers were once forced to find buyers by standing on street corners and hollering about their wares, modern buyers and sellers might communicate through text messages and email notes, finding one another easily and remaining remarkably anonymous throughout the transaction. Tech-savvy teens may find this appealing, as they might worry about detection if they attempted to buy the drug on the street.

In April of 2013, Slate published a story on the cocaine trade that might also help to explain the appeal of cocaine for teens. Since the mid-1980s, the price of cocaine has dropped by 80 percent, the article reports, as dealers have come up with more sophisticated production and distribution methods. The products they make remain relatively pure, but dealers no longer need to spend on violence protection or risky transport, as they steps they’ve taken through the years make it even easier to move the products they sell. Lower prices and higher quality, as well as a reduced risk of violent interactions during drug deals, could make the drug seem safer to teens, and they might be more likely to give the substance a try.

Cocaine and the Brain

Experts suggest that cocaine is one of the most addictive substances available on the market today, and a study in the journal Clinical Pediatrics suggests that adolescents transition from experimentation to weekly use in less than three months. The powerful changes cocaine can exert within the brain are likely responsible for this amazing speed of addiction onset.

Cocaine is designed to seek out cells that process a neurotransmitter known as dopamine. Within the brain, dopamine is released when something pleasurable takes place. The dopamine works as a bookmark, reminding the brain that this particular occasion was a happy one and it should be repeated as soon as possible. Normally, low levels of this chemical are released and cleanup chemicals recycle the excess. Cocaine turns this process on its head, causing cells to release huge levels of dopamine and then ensuring that the chemical is not recycled. A person on cocaine is overwhelmed with this pleasurable signal, feeling sensations that might not be available via any other method.

During adolescence, the brain is engaged in a significant amount of growth and rewiring. New connections between the hemispheres are forming, and old cells are broken down and recycled. It’s a dangerous time to abuse cocaine, according to a study in Neurotoxicology and Teratology, as the dopamine surge could cause permanent changes in the way the brain processes that neurotransmitter in the future. In studies with rats, researchers have found that pleasurable acts cause more advanced surges of dopamine in rats that have been exposed to cocaine, meaning that their brains are permanently rewired in response to this chemical. This could mean than teens who abuse cocaine could be more prone to cocaine addiction in later life, but they could also develop addictions to other drugs that use dopamine, including:

  • Methamphetamine
  • Prescription painkillers
  • Heroin
  • Methadone

Cocaine and the Body

Cocaine can cause the heart to beat incredibly quickly and incredibly hard, and in the long-term, this can cause thickening of the tissues in and around the heart, and this could lead to heart attacks or even heart failure.

Cocaine is also a blood vessel constrictor, and exposing tissues to cocaine can starve them of the blood they need in order to survive. Teens who snort cocaine can kill off tissues within the nose, and they may develop an inability to detect odors. Some teens even develop holes within the cartilage that supports the nose, and they can see their profiles change over time. Those who ingest cocaine can kill tissues in the digestive tract, leading to gangrene. People who smoke cocaine can also develop lung, throat and mouth sores.

What to Do

The cost of cocaine may be declining, but it’s still not free and teens who are addicted to the substance may need to take vast quantities of the drug in order to feel the sensations they crave.

Teens who need to buy cocaine may fill their need for money by:

    • Asking their parents for loans
    • Selling their possessions
    • Stealing from family members
    • Stealing from businesses or strangers

If these teens are approached by law enforcement, they may be forced to enter treatment programs or lose their freedom. Parents can help by placing their teens in treatment now, before they’re forced to choose between a life of crime and therapeutic assistance. In a treatment program for addiction, these teens will develop the life skills they’ll need to conquer their addictions, and they’ll have support while their bodies learn to transition away from cocaine. It’s important to reiterate that cocaine abuse early in life might predispose a teen to addictions later on. By providing the teen with comprehensive help now, parents may help their teens to avoid addiction issues that may strike them as they age.

If so, we can help. Muir Wood is a treatment facility designed to help adolescent boys deal with substance abuse and addiction. We can help your son detox from drugs, we can provide counseling programs to help him learn how to control cravings, and we can link him with support groups that can help him as he transitions to home life. We hope you’ll contact us to find out more about how we can help.

Teen Crack Cocaine Abuse

Parents have hundreds of concerns when raising a teenage son – peer pressure, sports, school grades, and issues with other kids.But one of the more troubling and worrisome issues facing parents is that of teen crack cocaine abuse. No longer the purview of impoverished inner-city neighborhoods, the cheaper, infinitely more addictive and infinitely more deadly form of cocaine is a threat to curious and depressed young men who are searching for answers to their questions and problems.

It’s imperative that parents know as much as they can about crack cocaine, in order to recognize problems and be a source of information and help to their teenage sons. Armed with this knowledge, parents can get a head start on dealing with teen crack cocaine abuse.

What Is Crack Cocaine?

There are many illicit and contraband substances out there, but one of the most infamous and notorious is crack cocaine. So named because of the cracking sound that emanates when crystallized cocaine is heated, crack is the strongest form of cocaine, almost double the potency – and risk – of regular (powdered) cocaine.

Unlike cocaine that is injected intravenously or snorted, crack is smoked. The drug reaches the brain quicker, producing an intensely euphoric high that lasts about 15 minutes. Once the high dissipates, the user feels depressed, compelling them to seek out another hit. Compared to powdered cocaine, which has an average high that could last up to half an hour, crack offers a comparatively shorter immediate effect. However, the high from crack is significantly more powerful than that offered by powdered cocaine.

Furthermore, crack cocaine makes the brain release excessive amounts of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with rewards and pleasurable sensations, such as consuming a good meal or having sex. Normally, dopamine is reabsorbed by the nerve cells in the brain, but crack prevents this reabsorption, making the pleasurable feelings linger. Thus, the user connects the sensation of the crack high with similar sensations provided by harmless and beneficial activities.

Another reason crack is considered the most addictive form of cocaine is that each hit of the drug results in diminishing highs, prompting the user to take more and more of the drug to try and recapture the effects of that first hit.

Where Did Crack Cocaine Come From?

Traditionally, cocaine was known as the rich person’s drug. It was associated with models, rock stars and actors, the only people who could afford cocaine’s high manufacturing costs. The popularity of the drug in the 1970s resulted in supply exceeding demand and prices plummeting. Dealers in the Caribbean and Central and South America were forced to provide a comparable alternative.

Crack cocaine emerged in the 1980s as a form of cocaine that was easy to produce. Using simple household items like baking soda, a spoon, a cigarette lighter and ammonia, this new strain of cocaine could be sold in smaller, more affordable quantities, and sold to a larger market of users. People living below the poverty line could purchase a few rocks of cocaine for a handful of dollars, and dealers were content to sell crack cocaine cheaply, knowing the drug is so addictive that users will desperately come back for more.

Such was the effect of introducing crack cocaine to the American market that hospitalizations for crack-related emergencies increased by 110 percent from 1985 to 1986.

How Is It Abused?

Signs and Effects of Abuse

The effects of crack cocaine can be split into two categories: short-term and long-term. After a user takes a hit of crack, they will feel an incredible sense of exhilaration for about 10 or 15 minutes. When this subsides, they will crave another hit of crack, but they will also feel the following:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Dilated pupils
  • Hyperactive behavior
  • Lack of appetite
  • Aggressive, anxious and paranoid behavior
  • Despair
  • Intense craving for another hit
  • Sudden death

Any negative side effects are countered by the powerfully strong need to experience the sensation of a hit again, with some users believing that the side effects will be negated by a good hit. Note that crack cocaine is so strong a form of cocaine that instant addiction and fatality are possible, even in the short-term.

Repeated inhalation of crack cocaine will result in more grave effects:

  • Extreme depression
  • Irritability
  • Psychosis
  • Inability to sleep, or lack of interest in sleeping
  • Hallucinations, such as the sensation of insects crawling on, or even under, the skin
  • Heart disease arising from thickening and constriction of blood vessels to the heart
  • Stroke
  • Respiratory issues
  • Seizures
  • Infertility
  • Increased likelihood to participate in risky and dangerous behavior, such as unprotected sexual encounters or instigating violence
  • Death

The above effects of crack use can also serve as a warning sign to parents and other loved ones who may notice a marked change in the user’s behavior concurrent with the symptoms listed.

The disruption of sleeping patterns (including being awake for up to 72 straight hours), coupled with inhalation of crack vapors, can lead to what the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration calls “full-blown paranoid psychosis,” where the user eventually “loses touch with reality.”

Teenagers and Crack Cocaine

With so much information readily available about the dangers of abusing crack, more and more teens today are cautious about exposing themselves to drugs. The University of Michigan reported that crack fell under a category of illicit drugs that fewer and fewer students said they used. National samples of up to 50,000 students across grades 8, 10 and 12 show the following percentages of students who report using crack:

    • 1.0 percent of 8th graders
    • 1.0 percent of 10th graders
    • 1.4 percent of 12th graders

Encouraging as that is, there are still many teens who struggle with the temptation to use crack. In 2012, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration calculated that there were well over a half-million children under the age of 12 who had tried their first hit of crack in the preceding 12 months, averaging to about 1,800 new crack users every day.

The sheer addictiveness of the drug can appeal to teenagers who are struggling with peer pressure, parental expectations, grades, dating, and any number of adolescent and maturation issues. For teenage boys, the stress to prove their manliness, or their courage and their bravery, could lead them to taking their first hit. Coupled with the relatively low price of a few cocaine rocks and the ease with which crack can be smoked, the danger of teen crack cocaine abuse is very real.

Treating a Crack Cocaine Addiction

treating crack cocaine addictionCrack cocaine fundamentally alters a user’s brain chemistry and physiology, so treating an addiction is a long process. It will, however, save the person’s life and may serve to educate others about the harm of crack, and that there is a way out of the nightmare.

Generally speaking, there are two components to treating a teen’s crack cocaine addiction:

      • Abstinence
      • Relapse prevention

Abstinence effectively rewires the user’s body, putting the addict through withdrawal as he mentally breaks his dependence on crack cocaine. Paradoxically, some of those symptoms are similar to what a user experiences when he was using crack – anxiety, depression, fatigue and mood swings, sometimes lasting for days on end. A treatment facility like Muir Wood will provide complete supervision and medication to reduce the trauma of this stage of treatment, and gradually wean the former user off his craving for crack cocaine.

Relapse prevention involves removing the addict from an environment where he may be presented with temptations to use crack again.

This could mean being housed in a sober community, a group home where on-staff counselors offer support, monitoring and guidance as the ex-user continues to break any, and all, associations with the lifestyle that led him to his first crack hit. Muir Wood offers many different therapy programs – one-on-one, group, family, and even nature walks and horseback riding – to help young men find stability, peace, and a way forward in their new lives.

Getting past teen crack cocaine abuse is a difficult process, but it can literally mean the difference between life and death. Muir Wood is a place where young men – and their families – will receive the healing and therapy they urgently need to repair the damage done to their lives and the lives of the people around them. All it takes is one single phone call; contact us today to start the journey.

Further Reading