Cocaine is the third most-used illicit drug in the United States and #2 in the rest of the world. Usually snorted as a powder or smoked as a rock, cocaine causes euphoria and temporary feelings of immense energy and confidence. The drug is also addictive, and the consequences of habitual use can be very serious for the user and their loved ones. Fortunately, use of cocaine has been on its way down for some time, a trend that seems likely to continue into 2022.
The Scope of the Problem
Roughly 15% of people in the United States report having used cocaine at least once in their lives. Around 2% say they’ve used it at least once in the past year. The drug is mostly manufactured outside of the United States and smuggled into the country. In 2020 alone, U.S. authorities seized more than 42,000 tons of cocaine trying to enter the country.
Cocaine is an addictive drug, and the toll it takes is expensive. A heavy cocaine user can buy a gram a day and spends close to $50,000 a year on their habit. It’s estimated that something like 1.3 million people are dealing with cocaine use disorder, which is the medical term for cocaine addiction. Annually, these users go to the hospital more than 350,000 times and account for 54% of drug-related incarcerations in federal jails and prisons.
The cost of cocaine abuse in time, money and freedom is high, but the death toll is also a major issue. Cocaine is either suspected or confirmed as the cause for nearly 16,000 overdose deaths in the United States each year. It’s at least a contributing factor in many more deaths, usually from violence, associated medical conditions or other health impacts of the user’s lifestyle.
How Is Cocaine Being Used?
There are several ways to use cocaine. When it was first developed, the drug was used medicinally to treat, among other conditions, cholera and fatigue. Cocaine is still used in limited medical settings, marketed under the name cocaine hydrochloride as a topical anesthetic.
Cocaine’s clinical uses are limited, and most of the people who use this drug do so on their own, without a medical reason. This is illegal in nearly every country in the world, and the underground markets that have developed to sell the drug operate in extremely violent and dangerous ways.
The illegal form of cocaine people get on the street comes as a white powder of varying levels of purity. Users consume this powder in four basic ways:
Snorting cocaine is the most popular choice for users. When taken this way, the drug acts quickly on the brain and produces an intense rush in just a few seconds. The effect is short-lived, however, and a person using the drug may experience withdrawal within minutes or hours.
Injecting cocaine is done in a manner similar to IV heroin use, and it has many of the same health risks, such as collapsed veins and the transmission of bloodborne disease. IV cocaine use is one of the more hazardous ways to use the drug, and it accounts for a disproportionate share of overdose-related emergency room admissions.
Cocaine can be smoked in two main ways: on its own or mixed with baking soda and formed into rocks of crack. When the pure form is smoked, or “freebased,” the near-instantaneous high hits hard and produces intense euphoria that can last half an hour or so before wearing off. Crack is typically less pure than freebase, and so its high wears off even quicker and the crash hits harder. This can motivate a heavy user to seek more of the drug within minutes of the last dose.
Swallowing cocaine is relatively rare, since this is the least effective way to get the drug into the bloodstream. As a rule, swallowing cocaine is done as a reinforcement for a prior dose or to prolong the euphoria the drug produces. “Boosting” in this way can be dangerous, since it increases the concentration of cocaine in the user’s system in unpredictable ways.
Who Is Most Affected by Cocaine Abuse?
The damage cocaine does isn’t evenly distributed through the population. Young people, for instance, are more likely than older adults to use cocaine recreationally. White Americans and Native Americans are significantly more likely to report recent use than Black or Hispanic Americans. Interestingly, people with high school diplomas and some college are more likely to report cocaine use than either high school dropouts or people with college degrees. Of particular note is cocaine’s use broken down by age.
- Teens: The reduction of cocaine use among teenagers over the past 20 years is miraculous. In 2002, 2.1% of people aged 12 to 17 reported using cocaine in some form over the previous year, a total of 508,000 minors. In 2020, that figure had dropped to 0.4%, or 97,000 minors. While this is more than zero, it’s still a very hopeful sign.
- Young adults: Adults aged 18 to 25 also show diminished use from 2002, though the numbers are less dramatic than for children. In 2020, 5.3% of young adults reported using cocaine in the prior year, down from 6.7% in 2002. Crack use is down from 0.9% in 2002 to 0.2% in 2020. These numbers are up a bit from 2016 levels but still down for the long-term trend.
- Older adults: Adults aged 26 and over used cocaine somewhat less in 2020 than in 2019. In 2019, 17.3% in this group reported past-year cocaine use, which dropped to 16.5% in 2020.
Current Trends in Cocaine Use
As these numbers show, cocaine use is in decline nationwide in almost every demographic category. Use peaked around 2002 in most categories for both powdered cocaine and crack, but it reached its lowest level roughly between 2012 and 2016. Since then, the numbers have bounced around near the low end of the 30-year range.
While use is down and the numbers for 2022 look promising, there are still a lot of people abusing cocaine. Of course it’s always difficult to project the future course of illegal activity that most people would like to keep private. Even if the numbers go lower and stay there, however, each of the people represented in these dry stats is an avoidable tragedy for themselves and the people who care about them.
If you or someone you care for is affected by cocaine use, the situation is not hopeless. Help is available for quitting cocaine abuse, and it’s effective. You’re not a weak or bad person if you can’t quit using cocaine on your own. Most people who’ve successfully treated cocaine addiction did it as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.
If you’ve been struggling with cocaine use, now is the time to quit for good. If a loved one is using cocaine, the best thing you can do for them is get help yourself. Reach out for that help by calling us at (833) 596-3502. Our team of trained and compassionate counselors is standing by to take your call 24/7. Start your journey to recovery today.