Cocaine Addiction

Dr Katie Brown
Calendar icon Last Updated: 11/1/2023

What is Cocaine Addiction?

Cocaine is one of the most widely abused stimulants in the United States and is the cause of thousands of overdoses and physical complications leading to emergency room visits each year. Over 2.1 million Americans have used cocaine at least once in their lives. Cocaine is one of the oldest known drugs and has been abused around the world for decades. Cocaine addiction leads to extreme physical and psychological consequences that can have permanent effects on the user and those around them.

Cocaine addiction is a psychological and physical dependence that compels the individual to use cocaine. The compulsion to use this dangerous drug will often lead individuals suffering from cocaine addiction to using so much cocaine, so often, that they experience serious adverse reactions that impact them emotionally, physically, and mentally, while also hurting their loved ones. Cocaine addiction can cause families emotional trauma, financial distress, and a range of complications that require professional help to heal.

Although cocaine is highly addictive and can wreak terrible destruction on a person’s life, there is help. Many treatment centers provide recovery solutions for those suffering from cocaine addiction, from inpatient care to outpatient support groups. Cocaine addiction can become a thing of the past if an individual is ready and willing to seek and to accept help when it is offered.

What are the Risks of Cocaine Addiction?

The risk of an individual becoming addicted to cocaine is relatively high. Classified as a Schedule 2 drug by the DEA, cocaine addiction is a risk for just about anyone who abuses the drug. In fact, a landmark study that was published in 2005 stated that the risk of an individual becoming addicted to cocaine after just one use is 5%, and this risk increases with each subsequent use of the drug.

Addiction to this powerful stimulant develops easily, in part because the effects of the drug only last for a short time. To sustain the high, users will often take cocaine repeatedly in a short period. Chronic use leads to a physical tolerance to the drug, which forces the user to take increasingly higher doses to continue or produce the same high, swiftly leading to physical and psychological addiction.

What are the Side Effects of Cocaine Addiction?

Cocaine is used in some different ways, and some of the methods of having a more powerful impact than others. One of the most common methods of cocaine use is to snort the drug, which causes effects that last for about an hour and then gradually taper off. To prevent the “coming down” effect, the user will snort more cocaine each hour or less to keep the high going and to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

Short-term effects of cocaine abuse include:

  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Heart rhythm disturbances
  • Heart attack
  • Chest pain
  • Increased temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure
  • Neurological effects such a strokes or seizures
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Nosebleeds
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dilated pupils
  • Horse throat
  • A runny nose

Another method of cocaine use is to inject the drug using a needle. This method has many additional risks and adverse effects. Shooting or injecting cocaine is dangerous because it can:

  • Produce a much stronger high
  • Lead to the contraction of blood-borne diseases from the use of shared needles
  • Cause an increased risk of infection
  • Produce an increased risk of overdose because it is difficult to measure the potency of an injected dose and because the full load is very quickly delivered to the brain

Injecting cocaine can cause additional health complications that are typically more dangerous with more severe long-term consequences than those experienced from snorting or smoking cocaine. The effects of injecting cocaine include:

  • Increased risk of contracting blood-borne diseases such as HIV or hepatitis
  • Infection of the injection site
  • Allergic reaction
  • Death

Cocaine can also be smoked. In its soft form, the drug is typically added to another substance, such as sprinkling cocaine in a joint of marijuana or mixing it with standard tobacco for a hand-rolled cigarette. The effect of smoking cocaine in its powdered form is not typically as strong as when the drug is manipulated through chemical changes and cooked into a hard form called crack. Smoking crack is highly addictive, highly dangerous, and a much larger problem for users than other forms of cocaine.

The way cocaine is taken affects the duration of its effects as well. Faster absorption creates a more intense high, but for a shorter time. For example, the effects of smoking last 5 to 10 minutes, but are felt immediately. When snorted, the cocaine high takes longer to arrive but lasts 15 to 30 minutes.

What are the Signs of Cocaine Addiction?

Cocaine tricks the brain’s pleasure receptors into releasing unnaturally large amounts of feel-good chemicals, and after repeated use of the drug, the brain adapts physically and chemically, in an attempt to restore a natural balance. As a result, the user can no longer feel pleasure from their usual activities and must take cocaine to feel normal. They often begin to take dangerously high doses of the drug, chasing a high they remember, but can’t repeat, building up even more of a tolerance, and suffering terrible withdrawal symptoms whenever the levels of cocaine in their bodies diminish.

Signs of Cocaine Addiction to Look Out for:

  • Weight loss – Cocaine is a stimulant, and therefore those who abuse cocaine will often go without meals for many hours or sometimes days. This leads to a significant amount of weight loss.
  • Covered clothing – Intravenous users of cocaine will cover their arms, legs and other areas of their body where they have been injecting cocaine.
  • Money lost or missing – Many cocaine addicts will lie about where their money went, why they need money, or other financial concerns, and will frequently ask to borrow money.
  • Mood changes – The cocaine user will show signs of fatigue that can very quickly be followed by increased energy and alertness. Irritability, hostility, and aggression will often surface when the user has gone too long between doses and is beginning to experience withdrawal.
  • Isolating from loved ones or friends – Many people addicted to cocaine will avoid their friends or family members. Some will completely change the group of friends, so they can spend their time with other cocaine users who share and accept their addiction.
  • Continued use of cocaine despite legal, financial or relationship trouble – Cocaine addiction will cause the addict to continue using cocaine even once they realize that their drug use has led to financial problems, legal problems, or lost relationships.

Tolerance is one of the many symptoms of addiction that develop from the chronic use of cocaine. Tolerance occurs when the brain and body adapt to the effects of a drug, requiring the user to take increasingly larger amounts to achieve the same high. Eventually, individuals suffering from cocaine addiction will no longer be able to experience the same euphoria from taking the drug and may overdose in an attempt to achieve an unreachable high.

Other symptoms of cocaine abuse and addiction include:

  • Agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Uncontrolled violence
  • Breakdown of nasal cartilage

What to do if Someone You Love is Abusing Cocaine

A single use of cocaine will not guarantee addiction and may not warrant the need for medical care or treatment, but in some cases, cocaine use can lead to physical or psychological complications that require immediate attention. If any of the following situations occur after using cocaine, you should seek emergency medical treatment:

  • Foul, itchy or bloody discharge from the sinuses
  • A sinus infection that causes facial or severe sinus pain
  • A chronic cough paired with fever
  • Phlegm production or foul mucous
  • Redness or swelling at an injection site
  • Foul or infectious discharge from an injection site
  • A severe headache that won’t go away
  • Chest pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Double vision
  • The inability to speak or slurred speech
  • Weakness of extremities

Which Treatment Options are Available for Cocaine Addiction?

Getting help at an inpatient treatment program for cocaine addiction will significantly help your chances of recovery. The relapse rate for cocaine addiction is between 18 and 24% for individuals who complete a treatment program, and approximately 90% for individuals attempting to recover on their own. These statistics emphasize the importance of getting professional treatment, not leaving treatment too soon, and staying in touch with peers and therapists who can support the ongoing recovery journey.

Inpatient programs can provide you with medical oversight, as well as medication-assisted treatment to reduce any withdrawal symptoms. The 24/7 care will allow you to safely detox off cocaine, and recover in a clean environment. Behavioral therapy is also available to help treat underlying causes of addiction, alongside any mental health issues of the patient.

Individuals who are addicted to cocaine can help themselves by taking some time to rest and recuperate in early recovery. Some of the self-help methods that may be beneficial for treating cocaine addiction include:

  • Using a humidifier to add moisture into the air to reduce sinus infections
  • Using a saline solution to cleanse the nose
  • Taking an over the counter pain reliever to reduce headaches
  • Drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration
  • Eating nutrient-dense foods
  • Sleeping as much as is needed, and speaking to a doctor in the case of insomnia, anxiety, or other symptoms that prevent rest

Of the various counseling and therapy options for addiction treatment, the following have been proven most effective for cocaine addiction:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy counselors work with patients to determine the situations, emotional states, and patterns of thought that lead to their cocaine use, then guide them towards positive behavioral changes, healthy coping mechanisms, and more beneficial ways of thinking about substance use.
  • Community reinforcement therapy treatment by means of community support and positive reinforcement. When an individual does not use cocaine for a period of time or reaches a treatment goal, they are rewarded with a coupon or voucher that will provide them with money or prizes, such as vouchers for a meal at their favorite restaurant, or a gift card for their favorite department store.

Aftercare for Cocaine Addiction Treatment

Anyone who is in recovery from a cocaine addiction should make plans for a follow-up routine that will keep them moving forward in the right direction after completing a treatment program. Many treatment facilities make aftercare a part of each patient’s recovery plan, so that healthy supportive systems are put in place before the patient’s treatment has ended. The patient’s loved ones are often counseled in family therapy before discharge to ensure they know how to be supportive of the patient’s transition back into the community.

Most aftercare plans will include regular check-ins with a psychiatrist or counselor, and 12-step meetings or other peer support groups. It is crucial that anyone in recovery from cocaine addiction take good care of their physical and mental health, and regularly participate in therapy sessions or meetings.

Medical Reviewer
Dr Katie Brown, MD
Attending Physician
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As a recent family medicine graduate, Dr. Katie Brown has a solid foundation in addiction medicine. She is certified to prescribe Suboxone for opioid use disorder and has treated many cases of substance use disorder in her clinic. She is particularly experienced in diagnosing and treating alcohol use disorder as well as its complications.