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Signs of Cocaine Abuse and Addiction

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Cocain Addiction

Cocaine is known as a highly potent stimulant drug that has a high potential for abuse. It actually comes in different forms including a fine, white powder (hence the street name “snow”) and a solid rock crystal (which is where the term “rock” comes from).

Navigation: What is Cocaine?, Signs of Cocaine Abuse, Signs of Cocaine Addiction, Effects of Cocaine Abuse and Addiction, Who is At Risk of Developing a Cocaine Addiction?, Signs of Cocaine Overdose, Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms, Cocaine and Pregnancy, Treatment for Cocaine Addiction, Rehab is Your Best Chance


Commonly known as coke, snow, crack, rock, and blow, cocaine is a highly addictive drug that is made from the coca plant that is native to South America. As a stimulant, this drug can increase a person’s energy levels as well as their attention and alertness. But because of its potential adverse effects and addictive potential, cocaine is illegal in the United States.

Some of cocaine’s effects are much more dangerous. It is important to understand its effects and talk about how taking it can impact a person’s life. But more importantly, if you have a loved one who you think is abusing cocaine, you also need to know the signs and symptoms of addiction so you know what to look out for. Let’s take a closer look.


What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is known as a highly potent stimulant drug that has a high potential for abuse. It actually comes in different forms including a fine, white powder (hence the street name “snow”) and a solid rock crystal (which is where the term “rock” comes from).

Most recreational users snort it directly into their nose, while others rub the powder into their gums. Some people who are looking for an even more intense high dissolve it in water and take it intravenously by injecting cocaine into their veins using a needle. As for people who prefer the rock version, they will heat it up and then inhale the smoke.

Cocaine use will increase a person’s body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate. Cocaine users have more energy and don’t have to sleep as often. They also eat less because of their reduced appetite. Users are also reportedly more focused and confident. Overall, cocaine can make a user feel good. But as we all know, the adverse effects of cocaine far outnumber the benefits.

Physical and psychological dependence can occur as a result of cocaine abuse, regardless of the method of administration. Taking cocaine can cause serious adverse health effects. This is why it is categorized as a Schedule II controlled substance by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Cocaine has limited medicinal use as a local anesthetic, and that is the only reason why it is not classified as a Schedule I drug.

While cocaine can offer euphoric effects, these come with a plethora of harmful side effects. In fact, over 500,000 people in the US had to be rushed to the emergency department due to the drug’s harmful effects back in 2011. Cocaine accounts for over 40 percent of all emergency department visits.

Meanwhile in 2013, over 855,000 people in the US over the age of 11 were considered cocaine dependent. Cocaine abuse rates remain high to this day. Sometimes people are in denial about their condition because they are ashamed or guilty about their substance abuse. Others are afraid of treatment because there is still plenty of stigma surrounding addiction and rehab. Addiction is viewed as a moral failure rather than a serious medical condition, while people in addiction treatment are judged for being there in the first place.

Loved ones are often the first to notice the signs and symptoms of addiction, regardless of the type of drug being used by the person. So it is often up to friends and family members to watch out for these indicators of abuse. Let’s discuss the signs and symptoms of cocaine abuse and cocaine addiction so you can help your loved one face the truth about their condition and start receiving the help that they need.


Signs of Cocaine Abuse

People who are addicted to any type of substance often exhibit physical and behavioral changes. Let’s start with the physical changes you can expect from someone who is abusing cocaine.

First, it’s worth noting discussing what happens when a person takes cocaine. First, it sends high levels of dopamine into the brain. This is the body’s natural chemical messenger that gives you feelings of pleasure. The body naturally releases it when you do something pleasurable. Normally, after dopamine is released, it is reabsorbed. However, cocaine not only releases dopamine, but also blocks it from being reabsorbed. The brain is flooded with dopamine, which gives intense feelings of pleasure, which is what makes it so addictive. The brain is wired to seek out pleasant sensations, and that is why cocaine users tend to repeat the behavior. Eventually, they are hooked on the drug.

Addiction can start to form from the first time you take cocaine. This is because the dopamine buildup causes intense feelings of alertness, energy, and confidence. This euphoric high influences the person into repeatedly taking the drug. With that in mind, we can talk about what cocaine abuse looks like.

A cocaine user may feel extra sensitive to light, touch, and sound. The person will also have a decreased appetite, so you may notice that they are not eating as much as they used to.

You may see physical signs of cocaine abuse such as dilated pupils, nausea, headaches, and abdominal pain. Your loved one may also experience increased blood pressure, increased temperature, and increased heart rate. They may even suffer from convulsions, seizures, sexual problems, stroke, and lung damage.

Aside from these physical signs, you may also notice several changes in their personality and behavior. Loved ones are usually the ones to notice behavioral changes in a person because they are the ones who are most familiar with how they usually act.

Cocaine can affect a person’s mood, making them feel angry, paranoid, irritable, or uncharacteristically euphoric.

These are all just the short-term effects of cocaine abuse. Long-term use of cocaine can lead to even more devastating consequences.

Signs of Cocaine Addiction

As addiction develops, the person may become increasingly secretive. They may lie about their whereabouts and who they are with. They may begin to isolate themselves or shut out people they are close to, preferring to spend time with people who tolerate their substance abuse. You may even find some drug paraphernalia in their possession. These are all clear signs of a serious drug abuse problem.

It is likely for addiction to co-occur with a mental health disorder. This is a very common situation due to the relationship between substance abuse and mental health.

Some people may take drugs to feel better when they are struggling with the effects of a mental health disorder such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder. But it can also be the other way around wherein the person’s substance abuse led to them developing certain mental health issues.

Some people become more paranoid or prone to violent behaviors due to their cocaine use.

Addiction is characterized by the compulsive use of a certain substance even when the person is already suffering from its adverse health effects. The cocaine user will keep taking the drug even when they are already struggling with its many consequences. Cocaine has plenty of physical and mental health effects, but due to intense cravings, the person will keep taking it.

They will spend most of their time thinking about, seeking out, taking the drug, and recovering from its effects. They will lose interest in things they used to enjoy. They may even neglect their responsibilities in favor of taking the drug.

The more a person uses cocaine, the more the brain wants it. They eventually become tolerant, which means they will have to take more of the drug just to get the same effects. This creates a dangerous pattern of drug abuse, which may spiral into an addiction.

Even if they attempt to quit, they may just go into withdrawal, which is the body’s reaction to the sudden absence of a substance after being exposed to it for a long period of time. Someone who has been using cocaine for a long time may have become drug dependent, which means their body has adapted to the increased levels of dopamine. When they stop taking the drug or even just reduce their dosage, the body reacts and produces adverse effects.

The body crashes soon after cocaine leaves a person’s system. They experience fatigue and hunger, which makes them want to just take the drug again and extend their euphoric high. When the brain gets used to receiving large amounts of dopamine, it stops producing the same amount. This means the cocaine user now has to take more of the drug just to reach those same levels of dopamine.

Withdrawal is an uncomfortable and often painful experience that lasts for days or even weeks. It is often paired with intense cravings. This combination usually results in relapse for the addicted individual.

Long-term cocaine abuse can have an adverse effect on your brain’s chemistry. The user may struggle to sleep, think, or remember things. They may have a slowed reaction time. Other organs are at risk as well, including the stomach, the lungs, and the heart.

Effects of Cocaine Abuse and Addiction

Aside from all the signs and symptoms mentioned above, cocaine abuse and addiction could create other serious adverse effects.

The person’s method of administration may influence these health effects to some degree. For example, those who smoke cocaine may suffer from more respiratory problems like breathing issues and even respiratory failure.

For those who snort cocaine, they are more likely to suffer from nasal tissue damage, nosebleeds, and sinus cavities. Those who inject cocaine are at risk of blood borne illnesses, skin irritation, and scarring.

All methods of cocaine intake can lead to an overdose, which in some cases can be fatal.

Prolonged exposure to cocaine can lead to damage in the cardiovascular system, which may lead to heart attacks, stroke, arrhythmia, blood clots, and increased blood pressure. Taking large doses of cocaine may have the same results. The same can be said for those who take small doses frequently.

Respiratory problems associated with cocaine abuse include breathing problems, pain, cough, wheezing, and black sputum.

It can also damage the sinus and mouth, causing septal perforations, palatal perforations, and collapse of the nose structure. This is especially applicable to people who prefer to snort the drug.

Cocaine can also cause serious brain damage and a host of other neurological problems like mini-strokes, inflammation, mood changes, irritability, anxiety, depression, cerebral atrophy or brain shrinking, tremors, and muscle weakness. Long term cocaine abuse can even lead to coma.

These effects on the brain can impact a person’s ability to solve problems, process information, pick up new skills, and remember things. It even prevents them from making good decisions, which extends into their ability to control their drug intake. This is why addiction is a medical condition and not a moral failure or a lack of willpower.

Who is At Risk of Developing a Cocaine Addiction?

While there’s an element of choice when people are starting out, the ability to choose is quickly lost once the brain makes the connection between the drug and pleasure.

Besides, addiction has several genetic and environmental factors that influence its development. People decide to try drugs due to a wide range of factors.

Simply put, while anyone can develop a cocaine addiction, some are at more risk than others. There are so-called risk factors that increase a person’s risk of becoming addicted at some point in their lifetime. The more risk factors they are exposed to, the more likely it is that they will become addicted to a particular substance.

Factors that influence the development of addiction include method of ingestion, age at first use, duration of drug abuse, amount ingested, family health history, mental health history, family history of substance abuse, co-occurring medical disorders, co-occurring mental health disorders, etc.

There are also environmental risk factors such as work stress, poverty, childhood trauma, and peer pressure.

Taking other drugs alongside cocaine can significantly increase someone’s risk of becoming addicted. It also puts them at an increased risk of a fatal overdose. These risk factors do not guarantee that the person will become addicted someday, but it indicates how much work someone has to do to stay away from illicit substances like cocaine. Some people with fewer risk factors also develop addiction.

Signs of Cocaine Overdose

Another important thing to take note of is the possibility of an overdose. If you have a loved one who is struggling with cocaine abuse, you should familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of a cocaine overdose because this is a life-threatening emergency.

Call 911 or seek immediate medical attention if you or someone else experiences what you think may be an overdose. If you want to help them survive, you need to recognize these signs as quickly as possible, so you can look for help quickly.

A cocaine overdose happens when a person’s bloodstream reaches toxic levels of the substance. An overdose will speed up the user’s respiration, blood pressure, and heart rate. It can also elevate their body temperature to dangerous levels. They may suffer from a heart attack, a stroke, or a seizure.

Other signs of cocaine overdose to watch out for are the following: headaches, nausea, irregular heart rate, fever, agitation, chest pain, and hallucinations.

The person may become unable to speak, focus, or keep their eyes open. They may even lose their consciousness. Some people have shallow breaths while others stop breathing entirely. Their lips or fingernails may darken, and their skin may turn blue or gray. Watch out for other signs of overdose like snoring or gurgling noises from their throat.

Contact medical experts immediately. Try to shake or shout at the person to get their attention. Try to wake them up if they become unconscious. You can try to reduce the severity of the overdose by applying CPR while you wait for medical assistance. Push your knuckles down on their chest while rubbing gently. You can then attempt CPR.

Move the person to their side to help them breathe, and make sure to keep them warm. Stay with them until the emergency responders arrive. The ER doctor will test for conditions like stroke or heart attack. They may also administer medications to treat complications that the person may have.

Cocaine overdose is extremely dangerous and can be fatal.  In 2013, there were around 5,000 overdose deaths related to cocaine.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) used to have a public health surveillance system called the Drug Abuse Warning Network or DAWN, which monitored drug-related visits to hospital emergency departments as well as drug-related deaths. Although it was discontinued in 2011, SAMHSA continues to track drug-related emergency visits through other sources.

Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms

Cocaine withdrawal happens for a lot of addicted individuals, typically when they attempt to quit the substance. This is what keeps them from staying sober. Cocaine withdrawal symptoms may range from mild to painful.

Quitting cocaine cold turkey is not recommended because even withdrawal can be life-threatening. The symptoms of cocaine withdrawal can manifest even if the person still has a bit of the drug within their system.

A crash happens almost immediately after the person stops their cocaine intake. Here are some common withdrawal symptoms associated with cocaine use: anxiety, irritability, fatigue, sleepiness, paranoia, agitation, and the inability to experience pleasure without the drug. Cocaine abuse has made the brain dependent on cocaine to produce dopamine, which is why the user feels depressed without it.

Interestingly, cocaine does not cause physical withdrawal symptoms unlike other drugs. Withdrawal from cocaine does not lead to shaking or vomiting. The effects are more psychological, plus it involves intense cravings for the drug. Some people even experience suicidal thoughts as part of the withdrawal stage.

Cocaine and Pregnancy

It is dangerous for you and your baby to use cocaine while you are pregnant. This is because the drug can pass through the placenta surrounding the fetus. This will affect the development of its heart and nervous system.

Cocaine intake during pregnancy may cause premature birth, miscarriage, and neurological birth defects. To improve your baby’s chances of becoming healthy, you need to stop drug use during the first trimester.

The effects of cocaine can linger in the mother after giving birth, making them feel anxious, depressed, irritable, dizzy, and nauseated.

Treatment for Cocaine Addiction

To recover from a cocaine addiction, you need proper medical treatment in an addiction treatment facility or rehab center. Just like with other drug addictions, treatment for cocaine addiction involves taking care of the patient’s physical and mental health needs.

Everyone goes through addiction differently. This is why a personalized treatment plan is ideal. The rehab program will create one for the patient after the intake process.

Medical detox will help the patient get sober by gradually reducing their cocaine intake while managing their withdrawal symptoms. Meanwhile, behavioral therapy and counseling will help them stay sober long after they have left rehab. This is done by addressing the root causes of addictive behavior and learning health coping mechanisms.

Whether they have been smoking cocaine or taking crack cocaine, the effects would generally cause a significant deterioration in their health. This happens when you abuse cocaine regardless of the method of administration.

In terms of substance abuse, cocaine is one of the more dangerous drugs to get addicted to. It is essential to recognize the various cocaine addiction signs. But now that you understand the signs of cocaine use and can recognize both physical and behavioral symptoms, you can help someone with substance use disorder to find the help that they need.

Look for an addiction treatment facility near you today to learn more about programs and facilities that help fight cocaine addiction. There you will find out about the different treatment options for those with co-occurring disorders like mental illness. It all starts with identifying the symptoms, signs, and indicators of drug use. Get them started on the road to recovery today.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.


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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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