Cocaine Addiction: Symptoms, Effects, and Risks

Last Medical Reviewer On: March 27, 2024
Updated On: Nov 1, 2023
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Written by:

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Medical Review by:

Dr. Po Chang Hsu MD, MS

Cocaine Addiction: Symptoms, Effects, and Risks
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    Cocaine is a naturally derived street drug in the stimulant classification. Due to its impact on brain chemistry and pleasure hormones, cocaine has a high potential for abuse and dependence.

    What Is Cocaine?

    Cocaine comes from the coca plant, which is native to certain parts of South America.[1] For thousands of years, the natives chewed on the leaves of these plants to give themselves a boost of energy. In more modern times, many drug manufacturers have turned these plants into the fine, white powder we know as cocaine. It is a Schedule II controlled substance.

    Cocaine has a long history of being used for medicinal purposes. Many cough syrups made in the late 1800s and early 1900s contained cocaine. Cocaine is still used in medical settings but primarily for its local anesthetic properties in certain types of surgeries, especially in otolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat) for its ability to vasoconstrict and numb the mucous membranes.

    Most people use it illegally and get their cocaine off the street from unregulated manufacturers. This drug is often called snow, blow, white stuff, and white gold on the street.

    Side Effects of Cocaine

    Cocaine is a powerful central nervous system stimulant with a higher potential for addiction compared to caffeine in coffee. While Adderall® and cocaine are both stimulants, Adderall® is a prescription medication used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy, with a different mechanism of action and a lower addiction profile under medical supervision. When a person first takes cocaine, they will get an immediate rush of energy and clarity. They will feel extremely energetic. They may become very talkative, and their thoughts may bounce from one to the next very quickly.

    People may feel very happy, though some may become irritable or violent. Weight loss due to a decreased appetite is also common.

    How Is Cocaine Taken?

    In medicine, cocaine is a topical anesthetic. Cocaine can be ingested in various ways, including snorting, smoking a form known as crack cocaine, and injecting a solution. On the street, cocaine is a fine white powder meant to be snorted through the nose. This brings the powder through the airways, where it can diffuse into the blood and enact its effects. The sublingual route is less common, and cocaine is more typically smoked in the form of crack cocaine rather than the powder itself.


    Cocaine Quick Reference

    Drug Category Commercial & Street Names DEA Schedule Administration
    Cocaine (stimulant) Coke, blow, snow, powder, white stuff Schedule II Topical, snorting, injection

    Learn About Specific Drug Families

    • Sleeping Pills
    • Benzodiazepines
    • Barbiturates

    Statistics on Cocaine Use, Misuse, and Addiction

    According to data from 2021, 4.8 million people in the United States have used cocaine within the past year.[2] Cocaine is one of the more well-known drugs, and many people often associate it with luxury and wealth. This makes it more attractive to people, especially young people, who might want to experiment with risky drugs to prove themselves. Unfortunately, this behavior can lead to many dangerous consequences.

    New Jersey Drug Use

    New Jersey has reported a steady increase in drug abuse and drug overdose. Data from 2021 indicates nearly 3,100 overdose deaths.[7] Drug treatment facility admissions have increased significantly in the past decade.

    In 2021, cocaine resulted in 4,494 of all substance abuse admissions in New Jersey, or 5% of all admissions statewide.[3]

    Tennessee Drug Use

    Tennessee ranks 10th overall for the highest drug use by state. According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, it’s estimated that cocaine will be the 5th most commonly abused drug in 2023 cases reported to their crime labs.[4]

    In 2019 alone, there were 2,089 drug overdose fatalities in Tennessee. That number has been steadily increasing over the past five years. Of the total overdose deaths, 334 were from cocaine. Over a decade, from 2011-2021, drug overdose death rates have increased from 17.2 per 100,000 to 56.6 per 100,000, which is higher than the rates for the US as a whole.[5]

    Effects of Cocaine Abuse

    Cocaine is extremely habit-forming. Once you start using it, it can be hard to stop. You may feel the need to use it throughout the day. You may become irritable or aggressive if you can’t get your hands on it. You may develop a dripping nose, and you may sweat excessively. Dilated pupils are a common sign of cocaine abuse, along with bloodshot eyes. Those addicted to cocaine may also appear shaky or twitchy.

    Can You Overdose on Cocaine?

    Yes. Many people overdose on cocaine accidentally because they don’t know how much their bodies can take. Once you develop a tolerance to the drug, you will need more to feel the same sense of euphoria.

    Taking more and more will become increasingly dangerous and increase your risk of overdosing. This is also true when you mix the drug with other substances, whether prescription or street drugs.

    Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine Overdose

    A person who has overdosed may experience tremors, confusion, paranoia, aggression, nausea, and vomiting. They may have hallucinations and delusions, and in severe cases, they may try to attack those around them. Some may become unresponsive, especially if they mix cocaine with alcohol or other substances. Others may have seizures or heart attacks if their hearts are unable to take such stimulation.

    What to do if you suspect someone is overdosing on Cocaine:

    Call 911 immediately. Once medical services arrive, the overdosed person will have a better chance of survival and recovery. As you wait for the medical services to arrive, stay with the person and make sure they’re okay.

    Dangers of Long-Term Cocaine Use

    Because cocaine is such an intense drug, it has some harmful long-term effects. Many people will develop a hole in the septum of their nose, which can cause chronic nasal infections. Over many years, people who use cocaine may find it hard to breathe, and they may get frequent lung infections.

    Cocaine can also eat away at your brain and lead to cognitive decline. Due to the way cocaine speeds up the heart, many also suffer from heart attacks or heart damage.

    Mixing Cocaine with Other Drugs

    Mixing any two or more substances together is always more dangerous. Mixing cocaine with alcohol or cut with other stimulants can cause a person to pass out or have a heart attack, which can be fatal.


    Cocaine Addiction and Abuse

    Cocaine stimulates the brain’s reward system, the mesolimbic dopamine system.[6] Cocaine overloads this system and activates feelings of euphoria. Once the drug is out of the system,  the “crash” or come down begins. This can make one feel ill and depressed, spurring them to take more cocaine. This can easily lead to serious dependence and addiction.

    Signs of Addiction to Cocaine

    You will experience withdrawal symptoms if you go without cocaine for long enough after developing a dependence. You may feel sick and in pain. You may also experience strong cravings for the drug. Other signs of addiction include tremors, anxiety, grandiose feelings of self-worth, and more risky behavior.

    Cocaine Addiction and Mental Health

    At first, cocaine will make a person feel very happy, but this feeling won’t last long. Long-term cocaine use can cause severe depression and anxiety. It can also make a person feel paranoid and violent toward others. This can make it difficult to maintain healthy relationships.


    Cocaine Addiction Treatment

    Depending on the severity of your substance use disorder, detox is often the first step in treatment and recovery. This will allow harmful toxins to be released from the body and prepare the person for other therapies that would lead to long-term recovery from cocaine addiction.

    Therapies Used in Cocaine Addiction Treatment

    • Cognitive behavioral therapy
    • Group therapy
    • Mindfulness
    • Behavioral Therapy
    • Experiential Therapy

    Cocaine and Co-Occurring Disorders

    Treating cocaine dependence is a life-saving intervention. However, it’s also critical for long-term recovery to address any potential underlying mental health conditions simultaneously. This will reduce the risk of relapse and promote lasting healing.


    Cocaine Withdrawal Management Treatment

    During the process of detox, you may experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Medication-assisted treatment and therapy are the best defense against symptoms and maintaining sobriety. Detox centers offer inpatient or outpatient services and should be determined based on the severity of substance use, underlying medical or mental health issues, and insurance coverage.

    Drugs Used in Cocaine Withdrawal Management

    Several drugs can help manage the withdrawal process with fewer symptoms and greater comfort. A few examples include:

    • Modafinil
    • Topiramate
    • Baclofen
    • Vigabatrin

    Frequently Asked Questions

    How Addictive Is Cocaine?
    What Are the Complications of Taking Cocaine?
    Who Uses Cocaine?

    Are you or a loved one struggling with Cocaine addiction?

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