Although we frequently hear how cocaine increases risk of heart attacks and strokes—health issues associated with the middle-aged-and-older population—young users are by no means safe. Nor are they particularly rare. Monthly-and-more-often cocaine use in 12–17-year-olds dropped noticeably in the early 21st century, but by the end of 2017, still comprised tens of thousands of teens. And the U.S. age demographic with the highest rate of cocaine use is the 18–25-year-old group.
In many ways, cocaine is more harmful to younger users than to adults, because:
1. Cocaine hurts brain development.
Still-developing brains (which, incidentally, are a fact of life for 18–25-year-olds as well as those below voting age) need their neurotransmitters working at full capacity to organize data processing and judgment for the long term. Frequent cocaine use interferes with this process, dulling the brain’s learning capacity and teaching it unhealthy habits just when habits are about to become harder to change. Many teenage cocaine users become adults with poor memories and chronically thoughtless behavior. Sometimes cocaine damages the brain’s dopamine processors, leaving it permanently susceptible to dependence on dopamine-connected drugs (a person may stop cocaine and wind up in medical detox from opiates).
2. Cocaine stimulates impulsive behavior.
Make no mistake, still-developing teenagers feel the effects of drugs more powerfully than adults do. When cocaine is fed to the brain, reckless-youth ideas of invulnerability and being “ready for anything” become more intense, a potential path to extremely dangerous actions. Many users turn violent or fly into panicked confusion. Plus, there’s risk that impulsive ingestion of more cocaine may trigger an overdose.
3. Cocaine is a major cause of mood swings.
Again, the teenage brain has enough problems here without outside help. The emotional effects of “coming down” from a cocaine high are as dangerous as the effects of going up. Many users “crash” into depression or paranoia that may even trigger suicide, which is why patients in cocaine rehabilitation have to be closely observed despite limited physical risks.
4. Cocaine isolates youngsters from their best sources of support.
A common sign of cocaine addiction is a person’s withdrawing from non-using family and friends because “they wouldn’t understand” or “they’d try to make me stop.” This is of course a common symptom of any addiction at any age (every heroin rehab specialist knows that withdrawn and secretive behavior go with the territory there as well, and specialists in medical alcohol detox routinely list “drinking when alone” among the top indicators of alcoholism). However, social isolation is particularly dangerous for teenagers, who have little experience with independence in either the physical or emotional sense. Cutting themselves off from parents and friends intensifies their fear of helplessness, which can be the start of a vicious circle: feeling guilty or defensive about their cocaine use, hiding it, feeling increasingly isolated and defenseless, then taking more cocaine to boost their confidence.
5. Cocaine use can lead to problems with sleep, appetite or weight.
Although you’d find it hard to believe from observing the typical teenager’s life, when their bodies are growing fastest they need more sleep than adults. They also need to eat healthily and regularly to keep up with calories burned through physical development. Cocaine users tend to sleep and eat erratically due to energy swings, and many develop excessive cravings for sweets—and sweets, besides their generally negative effect on health, are particularly dangerous for those who go long periods without eating, because “empty calories” are burned up quickly and leave a “hole” of malnourishment if not replaced.
6. Cocaine use diminishes interest in other life activities.
Cocaine rehabilitation, alcohol detox, medical detox from opiates—just about everyone who winds up in any of these drug detox programs can tell stories of how feeding the addiction became all that mattered. It usually takes weeks of rehab to rediscover other passions. Teenagers who fall into cocaine use are seriously hampering themselves right at the stage when they should be developing their first serious long-term life plans, not to mention finishing school (a sudden drop in grades is one common indicator of trouble).
7. Cocaine use is expensive.
Not that any addiction is cheap to satisfy, but cocaine ranks among the more expensive drugs. Most teenagers have little experience in budgeting or independent earning, and are thus at particular risk for turning to theft to support their habit.
Here are a few tips for encouraging your teenager to steer clear of cocaine—or for spotting a cocaine problem in time.
- Initiate conversations about the dangers of drug use and peer pressure—not as a lecturer handing down unquestionable truths, but as a two-way communicator who is also interested in listening to and respecting your teenager’s thoughts on the matter.
- Make it clear that your teen can always come to you with any problem, and that you can be trusted not to fly into a rage or deliver an “I’m ashamed of you” diatribe.
- Make unconditional love a life rule—no criticizing imperfect efforts or saying “Don’t you ever let me hear of you doing this or that.” And no being “too busy” to interact with your teen.
- Keep one eye open for drug-use symptoms, but don’t constantly fret about the possibility or pry into your teen’s business: you might generate resentment that turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- If you notice minor signs something is wrong, ask your teen directly if anything is the matter. If the response is evasive or defensive, let it go for the moment—it may simply be a “down period”—but assure him you’re ready to talk whenever he is.
- If signs of trouble are more serious—obviously declining health, money and property disappearing, the actual discovery of cocaine or drug paraphernalia—confront the situation in a kind-but-firm way that makes it clear you are still listening and understanding, but something is going to be done about the situation whether your teen likes it or not.
- Research local cocaine rehabilitation centers with good track records of helping adolescents. Take your teenager with you to evaluate potential drug detox programs. When you register her with a center, make arrangements to check on her regularly and to start family counseling immediately.
- No matter what happens, hold onto hope for your teenager’s and family’s future.
If your teenager—or you—is struggling with cocaine addiction, please call Inland Detox at (888) 739-8296. We pride ourselves on offering the best drug and alcohol medical detox services in southern California: our other services include benzodiazepine, methamphetamine and heroin rehab.