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Cocaine and Its Effects on Society and Individuals

Drug abuse is one of the most critical modern social issues. Recreational drugs are used worldwide, and while some of them are free to use, for example, alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine, several major ones, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin, are banned. The severity of effects from illicit drugs is too high and rapidly creates long-lasting physical, mental, and social issues for abusers. However, the global problem that drugs create is not explicitly about personal health, it is about the destruction of social structures, such as family and friendship, for a short narcotic effect.

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Cocaine is one of the recreational drugs with the highest severity of symptoms and the potential for addiction development. Kudlacek et al. (2017) describe cocaine as “a naturally occurring and illicitly used psychostimulant drug, which exerts its activity at monoaminergic neurotransmitter transporters” (p. 76). In modern society, people who use illicit drugs are often portrayed as antisocial elements with a tendency for violence. However, first and foremost, cocaine addiction is a health issue that stems from the chemical effects of the drug. This essay discusses the effects cocaine has on its user and society, as well as reviews the article “Depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and quality of life in users of cocaine/crack in outpatient treatment” by Paiva et al.

Cocaine is one of the most widespread and dangerous illicit recreational drugs. As defined by Kudlacek et al. (2017), “cocaine is an alkaloid which is synthesized by and stored in the leaves of Erythroxylum coca to fend off insects and herbivores” (p. 77). Its properties have been known in ancient times, where cocaine was used for various purposes, although mostly in religious rituals and as a sedative. In 1880, the sedative and psychoactive effects of cocaine were recognized by Western medicine, thanks to Sigmund Freud and Karl Koller (Kudlacek et al., 2017). The re-discovered qualities of cocaine as an anesthetic forever changed the way medicine looked at opiates.

Cocaine, when it enters an organism, makes significant changes in one’s brain through neurotransmitters. Kudlacek et al. (2017) state that “the main target for cocaine in the central nervous system are transporters for the neurotransmitters: dopamine (DA), norepinephrine (NE), and serotonin (5HT)” (p. 78). What makes it challenging to combat this addiction is how cocaine rewires the reward circuitry by reducing the plasticity of neurons, this process forces a subject to have an intense, almost irresistible craving for this drug (Wolf, 2016). Neurons in NAc, PFC, and CeA regions of the brain adapt to cocaine influence and become more receptive (Wolf, 2016). An in-depth study by Marina Wolf (2016) has shown that “the ability of cocaine cues to activate regions of the human brain […] is associated with addiction severity and risk of relapse.” However, the issues that are caused by the effect of this drug on a human’s brain afflict many other organs.

Cocaine has adverse effects on both the physical and mental health of its user, especially in long-term addicts. Cocaine causes problems with the cardiovascular system, which can cause cardiomyopathy, strokes, and infarctions, the central nervous system, which causes hyperreflexia, headache, mydriasis, and abdominal pain, and numerous other adverse effects (Richards & Laurin, 2020). Moreover, serious health issues that are associated with cocaine use include potential threats from cutting agents – substances that are used to dilute the purity of cocaine, which has a median of 30% and 40% (Kudlacek et al., 2017). Yet the health complications from this drug are only a part of the complex set of adverse effects.

Social problems that stem from cocaine are linked with the desire to obtain the drug, which becomes the number one stimulus for any action for serious drug addicts. Only from 2015 to 2016, cocaine-involved death rates have increased by 52.4% (Kariisa et al., 2018). Kariisa et al. (2018) state that “preliminary 2018 data indicate continued increases in drug overdose deaths” (p. 394). Society suffers the most from rampant illicit drug abuse because it breaks down social values and changes the life priorities in addicts to short-term rewards, potentially pushing them to commit crimes.

The second part of the paper will contain the analysis of the article “Depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and quality of life in users of cocaine/crack in outpatient treatment” by Paiva et al. The article discusses the effects of cocaine on the mental health of addicted users, shifts in their societal status, and quality of their lives. Researchers examined the sociodemographic status of the sampled people, as well as surveyed them for self-reported observations on changes throughout their lives. All subjects are long-time users, with the majority of them being white males, over half of them had a history of drug abuse within the family (Paiva et al., 2017). 56% of subjects reported no current mental health issues, and the rest mentioned that they had recently experienced anxiety, hopelessness, and depression (Paiva et al., 2017). All of the surveyed addicts stated that they have problems with family due to drug abuse, 92% had issues with work, 80% with friends, and 12% reported health issues (Paiva et al., 2017). This substance works as a stimulant and can trigger violent behavior, however, it also puts people into a life situation that can cause such incidents.

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From this paper, I have learned that cocaine leads to a lower quality of life, problems in society, which lead to mental issues, such as depression and anxiety. It is also vital to understand that a family history of substance dependence plays one of the crucial roles in this issue, moreover, the first use for future long-time users occurs in adolescence. Many financial and leisure elements of an addict’s life suffer a negative impact, which is related to the reformulation of life that is now being forced to revolve around drug acquisition (Paiva et al., 2017). This dependence is a disorder, both mental and physical, and it causes a significant resistance against being treated.

However, the treatment of cocaine addiction can be successful if taken a more in-depth look, and addicts don’t get swept under the carpet. Gillen (2019) argues that “residential rehab treatment has proved to be one of the most effective ways of treating drug addiction.” He highlights the importance of removing an addict from the environment and social circle because they can slow down or negate the treatment, as well as serve as a distraction and temptation (Gillen, 2019). Attempts to curb and remove drug addiction, especially such a severe one in the case of cocaine, can require medical assistance during the detoxication period. Therefore, I strongly recommend the expansion and development of humane rehabilitation facilities, which can provide meaningful help for people in this situation. Moreover, judging from the studies that I have read, there is a need for further research on restoring brain functions after prolonged cocaine use, which could also take place in rehabilitation facilities.

In terms of legal laws regarding cocaine use and drugs in general, the situation has been vastly unfavorable for drug addicts, who are often seen as perpetrators. The significant influence, in this case, is the vision of people suffering from a drug addiction that was created by the mass media. The media tends to racialize the news and situations it portrays, which had happened with cocaine abusers. Stigmatization led to ineffective policies that attempted to cover the problem instead of solving it (Heffernan, 2019). Heffernan proposes the deradicalization of cocaine use – instead of issuing sentences for it, society must address people afflicted by it as patients who need help from medical and social institutions (Heffernan, 2019). A significant amount of time has passed since the introduction of Nixon’s law against drug abuse, and modern research shows that people with addiction should be cured, not ostracized.

Therefore, my recommendation for laws regarding this drug, or drugs in common, is to admit that cocaine users are victims and not perpetrators. It is up to society to prevent such incidents, and consider current drug addicts as people who need treatment instead of jail time. Addiction is a far more complex problem than a simple strive for drug effects, which could potentially lead to lawbreaking activities or antisocial behavior. It is an issue with personal physical and mental health, but also a societal problem. It can not be resolved by merely marking all addicts as criminals and putting them in jails.


Gillen, J. (2019). Why is drug abuse a social problem? Ocean Recovery Centre. Web.

Heffernan, E. (2019). Victims and villains: A comparative analysis of the opioid and crack-cocaine epidemics. [Senior’s Thesis, Trinity College]. Trinity College Digital Repository. Web.

Kariisa, M., Scholl, L., Wilson, N., Seth, P., & Hoots, B. (2019). Drug overdose deaths involving cocaine and psychostimulants with abuse potential – the United States, 2003-2017. Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 68(17), 388–395.

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Kudlacek, O., Hofmaier, T., Luf, A., Mayer, F. P., Stockner, T., Nagy, C., Holy, M., Freissmuth, M., Schmid, R. & Sitte, H. H. (2017). Cocaine adulteration. Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy, 83-84, 75–81.

Paiva, C. B., Ferreira, I. B., Bosa, V. L., & Narvaez, J. C. (2017). Depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and quality of life in users of cocaine/crack in outpatient treatment. Trends in Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, 39(1), 34–42. Web.

Richards, J.R., & Laurin, E.G. (2020). Cocaine. StatPearls. Web.

Wolf, M. E. (2016). Synaptic mechanisms underlying persistent cocaine craving. Nature reviews. Neuroscience, 17(6), 351–365. Web.

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