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Cocaine Abuse In Teens

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

February 11, 2019

Cocaine is an addictive stimulant abused by both teens and adults. Cocaine abuse can lead to heart and seizure conditions in teens, and often requires formal addiction treatment.

Although rates of teen drug use have declined in recent years, drugs like cocaine are still a problem for today’s youth. Teens are at an increased risk for drug abuse, due to their developing brains and the power of peer pressure.

Currently, in the U.S., about 4.8 percent of young people have ever used cocaine — this translates to more than 172,000 high school students.

This stimulant drug is highly addictive and can lead to dependence. Cocaine abuse can also cause heart problems and respiratory issues in young people.

What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine comes from the coca plant, mainly found in South America. Throughout history, people have chewed these leaves for their stimulating effects. Purified coca leaves result in a chemical called cocaine hydrochloride. This powder is commonly known as the street drug cocaine.

Teens that struggle with cocaine abuse may use slang terms to refer to this drug. Cocaine has several commonly used street terms, but young people may also use personal code words when talking about this drug.

On the street, cocaine is commonly called the following:

  • coke
  • blow
  • white girl
  • C
  • powder
  • snow
  • flake
  • crack (cooked cocaine)

How Many Teens Abuse Cocaine?

Cocaine abuse among teens peaked in the 1990s and has been decreasing since 2001. However, thousands of teens are still struggling with cocaine abuse.

Currently, in the U.S., more than 172,000 high school students have used cocaine. Males are more at risk for cocaine abuse than females, and white and Hispanic males have the highest instance of cocaine abuse.

Juniors and seniors in high school have higher instances of using this drug, and students that identify as lesbian, gay, and bisexual are more at risk for cocaine abuse.

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Health Risks Of Cocaine Abuse In Teens

Cocaine abuse can lead to a host of dangerous medical conditions, including heart attack, seizure, and stroke. Because young people’s bodies are still developing, they are at an increased risk for the health risks of cocaine.

Cocaine abuse in teens can cause additional health issues that include:

  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • shakiness
  • racing heart
  • sweating
  • violent behavior
  • trouble breathing
  • sleep issues
  • coma
  • death

Teens that abuse cocaine may also suffer psychological effects from the drug, as the human brain is not finished developing until about age 25. When young people abuse drugs during this formative time period, it can have lifelong effects on learning, memory, and communication.

Cocaine abuse can lead to psychological concerns in teens, including:

  • paranoia
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • addiction
  • impaired judgment
  • poor decision making

Signs And Symptoms Of Cocaine Abuse In Teens

When a young person is struggling with cocaine abuse, they may exhibit certain signs and symptoms of addiction. If you are concerned that someone you love is struggling with cocaine abuse, keep an eye out for these telltale warning signs.

Signs a teen may be struggling with cocaine abuse include:

  • agitation
  • irritability
  • runny nose
  • lack of sleep
  • change in personality
  • new group of friends
  • extreme mood swings
  • lack of interest in previous hobbies
  • missing valuables or money

Signs And Symptoms of Cocaine Overdose

As with most drugs, overdose is a known risk of abusing cocaine. Mixing cocaine with other substances, like heroin or alcohol, increases the chance of overdose.

Signs of a cocaine overdose include:

  • seizure
  • unconsciousness
  • extreme sweating
  • difficulty breathing
  • skin that appears bluish in color

Knowing the signs of a cocaine overdose could save a person’s life. If you or someone around you experiences any of these signs, call 911 immediately.

Cocaine Addiction, Withdrawal, And Detox

Cocaine causes an intense high that includes feelings of euphoria and focused attention. Because these feelings are short-lived, cocaine is associated with an immediate craving for more of the drug. This can quickly lead a person into the cycle of addiction.

When a person ingests cocaine, the substance interacts with the brain’s reward system. The brain releases dopamine and norepinephrine, which flood the body with a sense of confidence and well-being.

Due to this fleeting high, cocaine is extremely addictive. Even a single instance of cocaine use can lead a person to dependence and addiction.

When a person is dependent on cocaine, their body and mind require the drug in order to feel “normal.” Teens that abuse cocaine may develop a tolerance, where they require higher doses of the drug in order to achieve the same effects.

This established tolerance and strong craving are part of what makes cocaine abuse so dangerous for teens. If teens stop using the drug suddenly, they may suffer from withdrawal symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of cocaine withdrawal include:

  • depression
  • low energy
  • fatigue
  • poor appetite
  • nightmares
  • mental focus on the drug

Withdrawal symptoms can be painful and overwhelming. Many people that struggle to stop using cocaine on their own have benefited from a drug detoxification program.

In medical detox programs, clients are provided with medication that will ease withdrawal symptoms. A team of healthcare providers will supervise and support the individual, as they pass through the uncomfortable withdrawal stages.

Treatment For Cocaine Abuse in Teens

Thousands of teens across the U.S. suffer from cocaine abuse and addiction. Even though these rates are declining, it’s vital to learn how to promote recovery and prevent relapse in teens that suffer from cocaine abuse.

Addiction treatment is an innovative way to provide support and healing from the unique difficulties of addiction. Once a person successfully detoxes from cocaine, they are ready to pursue formal addiction treatment.

Addiction treatment centers may offer inpatient (residential) or outpatient treatment. In an inpatient program, clients live at the rehab center and engage in therapies such as individual and family counseling, creative arts therapy, and sober living skills.

Outpatient treatment centers offer similar therapies on a more flexible schedule. Partial hospitalization programs offer treatment five days per week, and intensive outpatient programs schedule treatment three days per week.

Quality addiction treatment allows young people the opportunity to examine their choices and build a strong support system. In treatment, teens engage in group activities that foster positive relationships with their treatment team and peers.

If someone you love is battling cocaine abuse, affordable solutions are available. Many private insurance companies help cover costs of addiction treatment, along with public insurances such as Medicaid.

Most states also provide insurance vouchers to those suffering from substance abuse, in order to ensure treatment is affordable.

For more information on cocaine abuse in teens, or to find the best treatment options near you, contact one of our specialists today.

Centers for Disease Control - Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance — United States, 2017

National Center for Education Statistics - Fast Facts: Back to school statistics

National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens - Cocaine

U.S National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus - Cocaine intoxication

U.S National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health - Maturation of the adolescent brain

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