What Is Cocaine?
Cocaine is a highly addictive nervous system stimulant. Its use is widespread, with studies showing up to 14 percent of all people over 12 years old have taken cocaine in their lifetime.
There are two main types of cocaine: powder and rock. Powder cocaine can be snorted, injected, or smoked, while its rock form, commonly called “crack cocaine,” is mostly smoked or placed in an orifice in the body.
Cocaine is often abused because it produces an intense, though short-lived high that lasts up to 30 minutes, depending on the method of use. Smoking produces the quickest high with cocaine, so this is the most popular method of abuse, followed by intravenous (IV) use.
Cocaine works by blocking dopamine from being recycled in the body. As a result, the brain is flooded with dopamine and the body is tricked into feeling increased sensations of happiness. The high is often accompanied with a crash as the drug breaks down in the body. During this crash, a person may eat or sleep more.
Symptoms Of Cocaine Abuse
A cocaine high is often accompanied with a crash as the drug breaks down in the body. During this crash, a person may eat or sleep more. There are a number of other symptoms that indicate cocaine abuse. Some signs of abuse affect a person’s overall appearance, while others affect behaviors, mood, and emotions.
Physical Signs Of Cocaine Abuse:
- deteriorating hygiene
- dilated pupils
- runny nose
- unintended weight loss
- white residue around the nose or mouth
- burn marks on the hands or lips
Behavioral Signs Of Cocaine Abuse:
- mood swings
- social isolation
- risk-taking behaviors
- boosts in confidence
- an increased need for privacy
Cocaine abuse can also lead to financial difficulties, especially as abuse descends into addiction. Loved ones or people close to the person may notice signs of drug use in paraphernalia, including spoons, razors, or little baggies amongst a person’s belongings.
Because the high of cocaine is so short-lived, a person abusing it may binge, taking many doses back-to-back, or taking large doses all at once. There are many risks with binge cocaine abuse. Using higher doses of cocaine can lead to hostility, irritability, anger, and violent outbursts. It can also quickly create dependency.
Long-Term Effects Of Cocaine Abuse
Long-term use of cocaine increases leads to more serious side effects and increases the likelihood that abuse will lead to addiction. Regularly using cocaine creates a tolerance to the drug. When the body develops a tolerance, it takes a larger dose to create the same high the person had previously experienced. A person abusing cocaine who has developed tolerance will take increasingly larger doses to accomplish the high they felt on a lower dosage.
In addition to having built up a tolerance, an individual who regularly uses cocaine will experience changes in their brain. Cocaine tampers with the neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in the brain. This stimulates the central nervous system to trigger dopamine changes, sending “messages” to the pleasure and reward centers in the brain at times when the brain would not usually be experiencing those responses.
Over time, the brain will not create feelings of happiness without the drug. This is one reason some people continue to take the drug even after having experienced negative side effects and poor health outcomes. This effect, of the brain not creating the proper dopamine responses, is reversible with abstinence and proper treatment.
Drug use becomes more consuming the longer a person is taking the drug and increasing tolerance to it. A person who has become addicted to cocaine devotes more time to taking the drug, seeking the drug, and coming down from a high as they increase their use of cocaine. As each aspect of drug abuse takes up more time, every other activity is pushed to the side.
Other responsibilities, like work, school, and relationships, will become neglected. An addicted individual may withdraw from their loved ones and things they used to love as they spend more and more time taking the drug.
Cocaine And Polydrug Abuse
Cocaine is often abused alongside other drugs or alcohol, also known as polydrug abuse. In fact, the majority of people who seek treatment for cocaine addiction use another substance alongside cocaine. This behavior can cause a whole new set of negative side effects because drugs do not often interact well with each other.
For example, individuals may take what is called a “speedball,” mixing heroin and cocaine. Heroin is a depressant, and cocaine is a stimulant. This creates a dangerous counter effect, which may lead to impaired motor functions, blurred vision, and decreased sleep or appetite. Polydrug use can be especially dangerous because of the increased risk of overdose.
Some common combinations of cocaine and other drugs include:
- Cocaine and Alcohol
- Cocaine and Benzodiazepines
- Cocaine and Heroin (Speedball)
Signs Of A Cocaine Overdose
When large amounts of cocaine are taken at once, or when cocaine is taken alongside another drug, a person may experience an overdose. Overdoses occur when too much of the drug is in the body for a person to metabolize and flush it properly from their system.
Some signs of a cocaine overdose are:
- elevated heart rate
- chest pain
- rise in body temperature
An overdose can lead to a stroke or heart attack and may prove fatal. If you suspect someone is experiencing an overdose, seek medical assistance immediately.
Seeking Treatment For Cocaine Abuse And Addiction
Early intervention is key when treating cocaine abuse. The symptoms of withdrawal from cocaine are not as crippling physically as they are from some other street drugs, but can still make it difficult to achieve abstinence without dedicated treatment tailored to a person’s needs.
A person experiencing cocaine withdrawal may experience drowsiness, fatigue, increased appetite, depression, irritability, and cravings for the drug. These symptoms will decrease as the drug is flushed from the person’s system.
However, cocaine addiction causes serious emotional side effects that can be more easily managed with a treatment program that will address every area of concern, not just cocaine addiction. Addiction is a disease that targets more than just the person’s body and treatment is most effective when a person is able to have all of their needs met.
A person struggling with cocaine addiction may seek help because they are experiencing social, familial, financial, and other environmental difficulties in addition to their addiction. There are effective treatments available for cocaine addiction which can empower an addicted individual to overcome every one of these areas of concern.
Residential and outpatient treatments are very effective at helping a person attain and maintain sobriety. Some common programs used for cocaine addiction are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Wilderness Therapy, Family Therapy, and Gender-Specific programs.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most common techniques used to help individuals seeking long-term abstinence. The goal of CBT is to dig deeper than the addiction itself and identify the situations that cause a person to use cocaine. After these situations or triggers are identified, a person can then avoid them and create healthier mechanisms for coping.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a type of CBT that focuses on acceptance of change. DBT consists of individual treatment with a therapist and DBT skills group, both of which work to help a person stay motivated in their cocaine addiction treatment as they develop the skills to overcome negative emotions.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy breaks down cocaine addiction treatment into small goals to build the foundation of complete abstinence. As an individual continues through treatment, they may work through different behaviors that affect their cocaine addiction and overcome each obstacle using DBT skills.
Wilderness therapy is an outside-of-the-box approach to cocaine addiction treatment that challenges an individual to work within a team, communicate, and use problem-solving skills.
A client may have the opportunity to learn survival skills, like building fires, catching and cleaning fish, purifying water, and identifying plants and animals, among other skills. It also allows a person a chance to escape from the everyday push of electronics and focus on growing emotionally and mentally in a peaceful environment.
Family Therapy is offered as a means of helping a person recover the family relationships that may have been damaged or lost as a result of cocaine addiction. This intervention is meant to encourage problem solving, conflict management, and effective communication within family groups.
Addiction can hurt an entire family, not just the person suffering from addiction. Family Therapy can help a person gain those personal connections back.
Gender-specific programs are one more way that an individual’s needs can be met through personalized treatment. Biologically, men and women may experience the multiple effects of cocaine abuse, and factors which may have contributed to it, differently and can benefit from treatment that reflects those differences.
Men may, for example, desire a program that gives them more control over their cocaine abuse treatment timeline. Women may benefit from a program that offers compassionate care targeting common issues like trauma, sexual and physical abuse, and family disruptions, along with the needed treatment for cocaine abuse.
Cocaine Addiction Treatment Aftercare
Aftercare is an important follow up that those newly in recovery receive after completing an outpatient or residential program. It reinforces all the positive principles and skills a person has learned to help maintain abstinence. Aftercare may prevent relapse by addressing the problems that may make a person vulnerable, such as mental health concerns or declining self-efficacy.
A valuable aftercare tool is Cocaine Anonymous, a 12-step program that provides supportive fellowship and allows a recovering individual to share their common problems and issues.
It is within anyone’s power to tackle addiction. No one is beyond help. The physical and emotional side effects of cocaine use are reversible with proper care and treatment.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse — DrugFacts: Cocaine
- U.S. National Library of Medicine — HSDB: Cocaine