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Teen Cocaine Use More Harmful Than Adult Use

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Cocaine impacts people differently, but it can actually be more harmful to teenagers than it is for adults, simply put. Cocaine addiction can be hard for family members as well. In a study by the University of São Paulo’s Medical School (FM-USP), in Brazil, researchers discovered that cocaine use in teenagers results in deficits of sustained attention, working memory, and declarative memory.

With the multidisciplinary treatment approach offered at an inpatient cocaine rehab center, both teens and adults can overcome cocaine addiction, and return to living a normal life.

Why Do Teenagers Use Cocaine?

Cocaine is a white powder that’s manufactured from the leaves of the coca plant, which is native to South America. It’s a central nervous system stimulant, that’s often snorted, or mixed with a liquid and injected into the bloodstream. Cocaine can also be free based or smoked as crack. The majority of teens who try cocaine for the first time will snort it.

Where did it all begin? In the late 1800s, cocaine has been impacting society. But it got a lot worse in the 1970s and 1980s when cocaine use became more of a trend among college students.

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Why Do Teens Try Cocaine?

Psychology Today described teenage rebellion as a part of adolescent growth, stating that “it can cause them to experiment with high-risk excitement.” In this respect, cocaine might be deemed attractive, or mischievous because of the risk involved. Cocaine might also be viewed as something that rich and famous people do, but parents scorn. To a teenager, someone using cocaine might seem cool with their lingo, sex-appeal or expendable money.

What’s worse is that cocaine is also highly addictive, and also potentially lethal. Actually, in 2015, cocaine was the cause of 6,784 deaths in the United States (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

Cocaine isn’t always called by name; it has nicknames or “street lingo.” Here are some of the most widely used terms for cocaine in the United States:

  • Candy
  • Blow
  • Snow
  • White
  • Powder
  • Toot
  • Coke
  • Yayo
  • Line
  • Rail
  • Base
  • Flake

Taking a closer look into a cocaine addiction reveals that it’s a lot less glamorous than it appears at first glance. Cocaine addiction can result in permanent brain damage, nasal damage, cardiovascular damage, or even spending time in federal prison. According to the National Library of Medicine, cocaine use also comes with a risk of diseases like HIV and hepatitis from having unprotected sex and sharing needles.

What Are The Effects Of Cocaine On Teen Brain Development?

Cocaine gives a person a rush of happiness, numbness, or alertness. It gives them energy; so much that it may keep them awake all night. As it wears off, cocaine causes a crash and can make that person feel irritable, hostile, and paranoid—which is what happens when the brain stops naturally producing dopamine. Teens might start using cocaine to fit in, seem cool, or rebel, but in the process, they’re actually causing serious damage to their brain.

Scientists used to think that the human brain stopped developing in the teenage years. In recent years, however, it was established that the brain continues growing until well into a person’s twenties. Teenagers using cocaine are at a greater risk than adults for shortfalls in cognitive development in memory, and attention.

“Adolescence is considered one of the key stages of brain development when surplus synapses are eliminated and the structures essential to adulthood are selected and refined. Drug use in this stage can impair the brain programming process and lead to the loss of important connections,” said Paulo Jannuzzi Cunha, a professor at FM-USP.

Through their research, scientists at FM-USP found the main difference between teenagers and adults who use cocaine was their attention span, and ability to perform more than one task at a time. In essence, cocaine can change the structure of a teenager’s brain, the prefrontal cortex, and how it works.

Yale University has done similar studies to show that when a teenager first experiments with cocaine, “their brain launches a strong defensive reaction designed to minimize the drug’s effect… vulnerability to cocaine is much higher in adolescence when the brain is shifting from an explosive and plastic growth phase to more settled and refined neural connections characteristic of adults.”

So what happens is the teenage brain actually changes the shape of its cells. This defensive reaction is controlled by a certain pathway in the brain involving integrin beta, which is a crucial gene involved in the development of the nervous system in humans.

When a teenager uses cocaine, the changes it makes to their brain can alter the rest of their life. These changes involve behavioral, developmental, and cognitive growth impairment. If one should become addicted to cocaine, the drug not only has the potential to damage the brain, but can also result in heart attack, and stroke.

How Can I Tell If A Teenager Is Using Cocaine?

It may come as a surprise that in 2014, there were 1.5 million people 12 and older using cocaine (NIDA). As parents, it can be difficult to believe, or realize that your child is using drugs. Most teenagers aren’t going to come home and tell their parents that they’re using cocaine. It can help to know what to look for. By understanding that addiction is a chronic disease; that someone addicted to cocaine is suffering from a mental obsession to use the drug. They might not be able to stop without help.

The signs of cocaine use and addiction are presented through nearly every aspect of a person’s life and can include financial, behavioral, physical, and social problems.

At an inpatient cocaine rehab, the professionals not only understand what addiction looks like but that it requires a treatment that will cover every aspect. If your loved one is having a hard time quitting cocaine, they may benefit from the comprehensive care, and education offered at rehab.

Treating Cocaine Addiction With A Multidisciplinary Approach

Teens are at a greater risk of developing a cocaine use disorder, which includes addiction.

In a normal brain, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released into the reward pathway when that person does something they enjoy. Then after the activity, the dopamine goes back into the cell that it came from.

When someone uses cocaine, the drug causes a flood of dopamine into their brain and prevents it from recycling the neurotransmitter. The flood of dopamine is what makes a person feel high when they use cocaine.

When a person uses cocaine repeatedly, their brain may stop producing this dopamine naturally, which makes it nearly impossible to feel pleasure from normal activities. Further use causes them to develop a tolerance to the drug, where they need more of it to feel the same effect. After that, a lot of teens (and adults) become dependent and addicted to cocaine. Now they may need the drug to feel normal, whereas before it was just for a good time.

“The typical age-related pattern of drug use involves experimentation in the late teens and early 20s, so those who experiment before these typical times are the most at risk” for developing substance use disorders and addiction (NLM).

In the study by FM-USP, scientists found that those with severe cognitive deficits from cocaine use or addiction needed an intense multidisciplinary treatment approach to recover. This means that the treatment professionals are able to work against the addiction from several fields. Some of the methods included in multidisciplinary treatment include:

  • Behavioral therapy and behavior modification
  • Individual and group counseling
  • Physical activities
  • Pain management
  • Social skills training
  • Adventure or Wilderness therapy
  • Nutrition counseling
  • Stress reduction
  • Alternative therapy such as yoga, acupuncture or massage
  • Vocational training
  • Family or relationship counseling and therapy
  • Support groups
  • Relapse prevention and aftercare

Teens Can Overcome Cocaine Use With The Right Treatment

If you suspect that your teen is using cocaine it is important to intervene and get them the help they need right away. Contact one of the adolescent treatment specialists at Vertava Health today for more information.