Lines of cocaine and one dollar bill

Cocaine is a highly addictive and illegal stimulant drug. When abused, cocaine floods the brain with dopamine, one of the brain’s natural neurotransmitters that signals pleasure, and produces a rush of euphoria, or an intense “high.” This feature can make cocaine extremely addictive, as it produces a kind of shortcut to happiness by altering the brain’s circuitry and pathways related to reward, moods, and motivation. The changes in the brain and its pathways become more fixed with repeated use, and a person battling a cocaine addiction will likely suffer depression and have trouble feeling pleasure without the drug.

Withdrawal from cocaine can be psychologically significant, and individuals may decide to keep using the drug to self-medicate withdrawal symptoms, to control powerful drug cravings, or to escape reality and feel good. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in 2014 reported that almost 1 million Americans who were over the age of 11 were suffering from a cocaine addiction.

Cocaine addiction is treated with a variety of methods that work to address the social, medical, emotional, and behavioral aspects of the disease. Support groups and 12-Step programs like Cocaine Anonymous (CA) can be beneficial as a part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

Cocaine Anonymous is a nonprofit organization that follows the guidelines of the 12 Steps and 12 traditions outlined by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) for becoming and remaining abstinent. CA meetings are held all over the world, and there are no requirements in order to attend or join a group. No fees are collected, no paperwork is required, and signing up is unnecessary. Anyone is welcome at a meeting regardless of social status, age, ethnicity, gender, religion, or professional affiliations. The only requirement for attending a CA meeting is that the person wants to stop using, or continue abstaining from, cocaine or other psychoactive substances. CA provides fellowship and a high level of social support that can help individuals struggling with cocaine addiction to sustain long-term recovery that is free from cocaine and drug abuse.

Meeting Format

Cocaine Anonymous follows the concept that people are powerless over addiction and drug use, and only by accepting this and turning over their lives to a higher power can they be healed. CA is nondenominational and does not follow any specific religion, although there is a definite spiritual aspect to it. Members are encouraged to work through the 12 Steps, which involve accepting one’s faults, admitting wrongdoing and making amends, turning life over to one’s higher power, experiencing a spiritual awakening, and providing service to others in need of help achieving sobriety.

Meetings are welcoming and nonjudgmental, and attendance is kept confidential. A typical meeting will be either “open,” meaning that anyone – including friends, families, and caregivers – can attend, or “closed,” meaning it is only meant for those battling cocaine addiction themselves.

Individuals can attend any, and as many, meetings as they wish, and Cocaine Anonymous encourages those battling cocaine addiction to find a “home group” that they are comfortable with and attend regularly. A home group can help individuals new to CA by providing sponsorship until a specific sponsor is set up for them. A sponsor is an individual in more sustained recovery who works with a new member to offer support.

Each CA group is autonomous, meaning that each operates independently and is self-sufficient. Groups are funded through donations by members, and no outside contributions or influence is allowed.

There are a variety of meeting types that groups may use. For example, every so often a group may need a “service” meeting where they discuss the way the group is run and any business needs. Other CA meeting types may include “book study,” “discussion,” “step study,” “H & I Meeting,” or “speaker.” Both book and step study group meetings will focus on CA literature or the 12 Steps and working through them, while a speaker meeting usually has one or two prearranged members speaking on a particular topic or experience. Discussion meetings are the traditional meeting types, while H & I meetings may be hosted at treatment facilities and be specifically for people who are receiving care there.

One of the most important aspects of CA is related to service. Members are encouraged to find some way to serve the group, either by taking a service position within the group or agreeing to be in charge of making or cleaning up the coffee and snacks before or after a meeting. This provides individuals with a sense of purpose and belonging, and ensures everyone contributes to the good of the group.

Who Should Go to CA Meetings?

Cocaine can provide people with a temporary escape from reality and an artificial spike in energy, focus, and pleasure. It also makes them seem more social and talkative. Cocaine may be used as a way to cope with stress or other painful emotions. When cocaine use is stopped, a person may feel tired, lethargic, unhappy, and isolated.

Cocaine Anonymous can offer social and emotional support from other individuals who have been there and understand. A sense of community is formed, giving individuals the social network they may feel was lost when they stopped using drugs. These bonds can be lasting, as CA members work together to achieve the common goal of sobriety and maintained abstinence. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines hope as being one of the foundations of recovery. Cocaine Anonymous may help individuals to find and expand upon that hope.

Stress is a common trigger for substance abuse. By working through the steps taught in CA meetings, participants can learn new coping mechanisms and techniques for managing stressors that don’t involve cocaine or any substance use. Peer support and peer pressure can be powerful, and CA is a network of peers that provide healthy peer pressure and a level of support that others who haven’t experienced cocaine addiction may not completely understand.

A return to drug use after a period of being sober is called relapse, and this is common during recovery. Relapse may be especially dangerous in the case of cocaine abuse, as individuals may return to using the drug at levels they were used to before getting sober. This may overwhelm the system and cause a potentially life-threatening overdose. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that in 2014, close to 6,000 Americans died from a cocaine overdose. Relapse may be minimized and the potential outcome positively influenced by regular participation in a support group like Cocaine Anonymous.

Members of CA can be there for each other, provide tips for controlling drug cravings, and help each other from returning to cocaine use. Complete abstinence from abusing mind-altering substances is one of the overarching themes and goals of 12-Step programs. Active involvement and participation in a self-help and peer support group like CA can reduce relapse and increase the chances that someone will remain abstinent, the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment publishes.

Finding a CA Group

CA groups exist in more than 20 countries, and there are even options to join online meetings as well. There is a directory on the Cocaine Anonymous website to help users find a meeting in a particular state or region in the United States. Each specific group may have their own website as well. For instance, Cocaine Anonymous of San Diego (CA San Diego) has a 24-hotline listed as well as information on local groups, meeting times, locations, and other pertinent information.

Substance abuse treatment providers and facilities are also great resources for helping individuals and families find CA meetings that are local. In addition, primary care providers and mental health professionals can offer referrals to local meetings.

Individuals do not have to do anything prior to a meeting; just show up to a scheduled meeting. CA meetings are open not only to individuals struggling with cocaine addiction, but also to those who abuse other mind-altering substances.