The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) revealed that in 2020 at least 5.2 million Americans aged 12 and older were reported to have used cocaine at some point. When an individual engages in cocaine use, a detoxification process is necessary. Of this same number, at least 1.3 million people have been confirmed as having a cocaine use disorder.
These staggering figures underline the massive number of people addicted to cocaine in the US. As such, it is no surprise that many cocaine users also suffer from the many adverse effects of the substance, such as coke bloat.
How Is Coke Bloat Connected to Cocaine Use?
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One of the most prominent signs of a person using cocaine heavily is a drastic loss in weight. This is due to the steadily increasing loss of appetite caused by chronic use of cocaine.
This weight loss, however, also makes another trait suffered by chronic cocaine users even more prominent, which is the condition known as coke bloat. This is the bloating or facial puffiness seen in most chronic cocaine users and is most apparent in the cheeks or under the chin. The bloated face tends to stand out compared to the rest of the body due to the drastic weight loss suffered by cocaine users.
Medical professionals believe there are a number of possible reasons why chronic cocaine users suffer from coke bloat, including:
A substance abuse disorder is almost always a sure trigger for potential complications. One of the most common complications brought about by chronic use of substances is a hormonal imbalance caused by the introduction of chemicals from the substances abused.
Behavioral changes in people who suffer from a substance abuse disorder are rather common, and this is usually brought about by chemical changes in the brain. Just as antidepressants alter the chemicals in the brain to suppress depression, cocaine, alcohol, and other illicit substances also instigate changes in the chemical makeup of the body.
Constricted Blood Vessels
It is believed that the blood vessels of chronic cocaine users constrict over time. This constriction then causes lymphatic fluid to build up in the narrowed blood vessels, resulting in the swelling or puffing up of the surrounding area. In the case of cocaine users, the most prominent constriction appears in the face.
Fluid retention is a common cause of bloating or swelling in many parts of the body. This is believed to be the same when cocaine causes the narrowing of the blood vessels.
Impurities in Cocaine Used
Using other substances to “cut” cocaine is also believed to be a potential cause for the bloating or swelling experienced by cocaine users. Cocaine sellers are known to add other substances to cocaine to “cut” it, or add to the quantity of the sold cocaine so that more could be sold and the supply could be stretched out further, ensuring more sales.
In many cases, people could react to the substances that are added to the cocaine, reacting to it in a manner similar to an allergic reaction. One known substance used to “cut” cocaine is Levamisole, which is a deworming medication used on animals in veterinary clinics. When used on humans, Levamisole induces swelling of the parotid gland in front of the ears. This swelling gives a pronounced puffy appearance to the face.
Why Do People Still Use Cocaine in Spite of Bloating?
Bloating is really the least of the concerns of people who have a heavy cocaine dependency. Just like any other substance addiction, when the user is fully immersed in chronic use, no amount of detrimental effect would be enough to make them stop using the substance.
This is mainly because of a number of factors that prevent the user from fully appreciating the gravity of the situation they are in relevant to their substance abuse.
Addiction is called a substance abuse disorder mainly because it is exactly that — a disorder. As such, it changes the way a person behaves and thinks. The person could have varying degrees of control over how they act and feel while suffering from a substance abuse disorder or none at all.
The chemicals that affect the brain when one takes substances could change how a person would perceive the most basic of things, such as trying to discern between right and wrong, harmful and harmless, and so forth. In the case of cocaine, this substance is a potent stimulant that affects the central nervous system directly. This is why people who use cocaine feel unnaturally energetic and immensely confident.
They also feel a brief wave of euphoria as the effects kick in further. As the person continues to use cocaine, however, the adverse effects become more pronounced, including the person’s ability to think and decide clearly. This is why even though they become vaguely aware that the substance is already doing more harm than good, they will continue to use it.
Many who used cocaine claim that the euphoric sensation derived from it is the strongest they have ever felt. However, this claim could be completely subjected as interviews with people with substance abuse disorders will claim that whatever substance they use produces the best “high” they have ever felt.
In the case of cocaine, most users will tend to look at the effects of coke bloat as merely superficial and cosmetic, as they are in a state where nothing other than getting high on cocaine really matters to them. The euphoric sensation derived from cocaine, however, tends to grow shorter in duration the longer a person takes cocaine, which leads the, to binge on cocaine further. This vicious cycle practically guarantees that effects like coke bloat will not really bother them much.
Fear of Withdrawal
Anyone who has ever experienced the withdrawal symptoms that come out during detox will say that it is the most agonizing thing they have ever felt in their life. This alone is already enough reason for people to continue using whatever substance they are using and disregard relatively minor things such as coke bloat.
The irony of withdrawal symptoms is that many substance abusers could be completely out of their minds due to the length of time they have been using substances, but they are still well aware of how horrible the withdrawal could be. This fear often prevents them from considering the consequences of their substance abuse, let alone stopping the use of it.
How to Get Rid of Coke Bloat?
If you are an individual in recovery from cocaine addiction and you’re struggling with coke bloat, there are a few methods you can try to relieve the discomfort. You can apply hydrocortisone to relieve the swelling and use a derma roller on the face to target the bloated skin. Lastly, applying a cooling mask, or compress, or going into a cold shower can soothe any inflammation you might feel.
What Other Adverse Effects Come With Cocaine Addiction?
Truth be told, while coke bloat might be indicative of a more serious complication arising from cocaine use, there are many other adverse conditions that people need to be more worried about that also come with chronic cocaine use.
- Increased risk of overdose
- HIV infection (for those who take cocaine intravenously and share needles)
- Hepatitis B infection (for those who take cocaine intravenously and share needles)
- Hepatitis C infection (for those who take cocaine intravenously and share needles)
- Mood disorders
- High risk of cardiovascular disease
- Susceptibility to respiratory illness
- Gastrointestinal disease
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Increased risk of Poly-drug abuse
- Loss of appetite
- Drastic weight loss
- Disruption of sleep patterns
- Varying degrees of memory loss
- Severely compromised reaction time
- Short attention span
- Shrinking brain size
- Chronic nosebleeds
- Pulmonary issues
- Chemically-induced psychosis
The main danger of cocaine is that it severely disrupts the functions of the central nervous system. In some cases, the disruption has led to severe and permanent damage. The damage could even affect the parts of the brain that are associated with autonomic functions. On top of that, the damage done to the central nervous system is progressive, making everything worse over time.
How Is Cocaine Addiction Treated?
In many cases, however, medication-assisted treatment is prescribed for those with a severe cocaine addiction, as these people find it next to impossible to stop using the substance. Even for those who do manage to stop, the withdrawal symptoms could be so severe that they could not manage to continue with the medical detox. In extreme cases, stopping the usage of cocaine induces complications that become life-threatening as the body of the patient goes into shock.
Once the patient is able to safely negotiate medical detox and withdrawal symptoms safely, a therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation and suggest what particular type of therapy might be best suited for the patient during rehabilitation.
Let Free By The Sea Help You Cast Your Addiction Away
There is still a bright and healthy future awaiting you, regardless of whatever dependency you might have that is weighing you down. You do, however, need to work with us in getting your life back on track.
Each moment of work you put in is a step closer to your recovery, and every day you solidify your determination toward sobriety ensures a better and healthier life for you free of any dependencies. Call us now.
Dr. Richard Crabbe joined our team in 2019 as our psychiatrist and medical director. He attended the University of Ghana Medical School where he became a Medical Doctor in 1977. From 1978 through 1984, he was a medical officer in the Ghana Navy and provided a variety of services from general medicine to surgeries. He received his Certificate in General Psychology from the American Board of Psychology and Neurology in 2002.