As decades change, so do attitudes toward cocaine. In the latter 1800s it was widely used by ordinary middle-class Americans and had a reputation no worse than alcohol or tobacco. In the years before World War I, news media stories tied the drug to African Americans and crime, and public opinion transformed the substance from a commonplace item into a substance used
mainly by social deviants. Cocaine received little attention from the 1960s illicit drug culture, which seemingly considered cocaine an archaic item no longer of interest. In the 1970s cocaine was portrayed as a drug used by wealthy “beautiful people,” and in the 1980s it was portrayed as a poor ghetto dweller’s drug. In the 1800s cocaine was considered highly addictive, but from the 1950s into the 1980s it was described as nonaddictive. By the 1990s cocaine was called the most addictive drug known, and demand for the product resulted in accessibility likened to fast-food hamburgers. Although tolerance develops with abuse of most stimulants and was reported with cocaine in the 1800s, in the 1970s and 1980s a scientific consensus held that tolerance did not develop among cocaine abusers. On the contrary, abuse was believed to sensitize people taking the drug, allowing them to achieve the same effects with smaller and smaller doses. Yet by the 1990s cocaine addicts were believed to have a compulsive desire to take more and more of the drug. They were seen to engage in the same kind of binge habit exhibited by amphetamine abusers.
Although a chemical formula stays unaltered as decades pass, ways of using a substance can change. Long ago cocaine was used to make mildly stimulating drinks. Velo-Coca and Vin Mariani were popular cocaine beverages of the nineteenth century, the latter endorsed by notables such as Thomas Edison, Jules Verne, and Pope Leo XIII. The soft drink Coca-Cola originally contained cocaine, but the drug was dropped from the soda early in the twentieth century. These old beverages, however, had about the same relation to cocaine as beer has to white lightning moonshine.
A pint of beer and a pint of white lightning may both contain alcohol, but their impact on a user will likely differ. Compared to full-strength pharmaceutical cocaine, old cocaine beverages were relatively weak concoctions.
Some notables are famed for their use of the full-strength product, the most famous example being that of the pioneering psychiatrist Sigmund Freud. When he no longer found the drug useful, he tapered off and eventually quit with no particular difficulty. His example has been duplicated by many other users. He and they were persons enjoying lives of fulfillment in which cocaine was simply one part. In contrast, persons who are dissatisfied with their lives, for whom cocaine brings relief of unhappiness, may face a harder struggle in giving up the drug if it begins degrading the quality of their lives. The more needs a drug satisfies for a person, the stronger its appeal. Some needs may be biological; a study of identical twins finds their cocaine usage patterns to be remarkably similar. Some needs may derive from a person’s life situation.
Cocaine abuse is normally part of a multiproblem lifestyle. A study of homeless cocaine abusers found that achieving abstinence was easier for them if they obtained shelter and employment. Compared to the whole population, cocaine addicts are much likelier to be addicted to gambling as well. Alcoholism and suicidal thoughts increase the likelihood that a person who uses cocaine will become addicted. One study of persons being treated for cocaine abuse found over one half to be jobless and over one third to have jail records. A survey of crack smokers found that over one third had been physically attacked over a one-year period. Five years of records at one hospital showed the following primary reasons for admission of cocaine-using patients: assaults, stabbings, and bullet wounds. Such persons obviously face serious challenges other than cocaine; any inability to cope with the drug is but a single element in a general inability to cope with life.
For information about specific cocaine class stimulants, see alphabetical listings for: coca and cocaine.