Cocaine Abuse by Children

What is cocaine?

Cocaine is a drug made from the coca plant. It causes a short-lived high that is immediately followed by intense feelings of depression, edginess, and a craving for more of the drug. Cocaine may be snorted as a powder, converted to a liquid form for injection with a needle, or processed into a crystal form (crack) to be smoked.

What is cocaine abuse?

When children first start using cocaine, they do it to feel good. When use of the drug is causing problems, it is abuse. When a child cannot feel good without the drug or the child needs increasing amounts of the drug to get high, the child has become dependent on the drug.

Cocaine interferes with the way the brain processes chemicals that create feelings of pleasure. Children who abuse cocaine start to lose interest in other areas of their life, like school, friends, and sports. Progress from abuse to dependence (addiction) can be rapid.

What are the signs of cocaine abuse?

Children who abuse cocaine over a long period may be jumpy, irritable, and depressed. They don't eat or sleep regularly. They may have a fast heart rate, muscle spasms, and even convulsions. If they snort cocaine, they can also permanently damage their nasal tissue. They may also:

  • have vivid and bizarre thoughts and ideas (delusions)
  • see things or feel things that are not there, such as bugs under their skin
  • feel disoriented
  • be unable to concentrate
  • become moody, angry, or worried all the time
  • have physical symptoms like shaking or a constant runny nose
  • lose interest in activities that used to bring pleasure such as hobbies or sports
  • stop showing interest in school or stop going to school
  • withdraw from friends or start hanging out with kids who use drugs
  • be unable to reduce or stop using cocaine

How is it treated?

First the healthcare provider will treat the physical complications. Complications of cocaine abuse may include:

  • effects on the heart, including heart attack, disturbances in the rhythm of the heart, and high blood pressure
  • effects on the nervous system, including paranoia, hallucinations, very high fever, stroke, and seizures

For any treatment to be successful, your child must want to give up cocaine. The most important part of treatment is for your child to be in a drug-free environment. Treatment for cocaine abuse is long-term. Your child’s healthcare providers and counselors will work with you and your child to develop a treatment program.

While your child is withdrawing from cocaine, he or she may be tempted to use alcohol or other drugs to reduce restlessness, depression, and anxiety. Seek professional help so that your child does not switch to other harmful drugs. Medicines prescribed by your healthcare provider can help treat mood changes that may occur with cocaine withdrawal.

How long do the effects last?

Abusing cocaine for a long time can cause serious physical problems. Long-term effects can include abnormal heart rhythms, breathing problems, ongoing stomach pain and nausea, constant headaches, stroke, and seizures. It can also cause psychological problems such as memory loss, depression, and paranoia (believing that other people are out to get you).

What can I do to prevent cocaine abuse?

You can help prevent cocaine abuse if you:

  • Be a good example. Children are much more likely to do what you do rather than what you say.
  • Listen to your children's feelings and concerns, so that they feel comfortable talking with you.
  • Teach your child to become a confident decision-maker. As your child becomes more skilled at making all kinds of good choices, you will both feel more secure in his or her ability to make the right decision about alcohol and drugs.
  • Offer information that fits the child's age and ability to understand. If you are watching TV with your 6-year-old and cocaine is mentioned on a program, you can say, "Do you know what cocaine is? It's a bad drug that can hurt your body." If your child has more questions, answer them. If not, let it go. Short, simple comments made and repeated often enough will get the message across. For your 12-year-old, you might explain what cocaine and crack look like, their street names and how they can affect his or her body.
  • Make your family position on drugs clear. For example "We don't allow any drug use and children in this family are not allowed to drink alcohol."
  • Discuss what makes a good friend. Peer pressure is a big part of why kids get involved with drugs and alcohol. Help your children understand that friends who pressure them to drink or use drugs aren't friends at all. Role-play ways for your child to refuse to go along with friends without becoming a social outcast.
  • Build self-esteem. Children who feel good about themselves are much less likely than other kids to turn to illegal substances to get high. Offer lots of praise for any job well done. If you need to criticize your child, talk about the action, not the person. Set aside at least 15 uninterrupted minutes per child per day to talk, play a game, or take a walk together.
  • Repeat the message. Talk to your children about drugs whenever the opportunity arises.

If you suspect a problem, seek help from your child's healthcare provider or a mental health professional.

Call the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI) at 1-800-729-6686.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-05-21
Last reviewed: 2011-06-29
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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