Signs, Effects & Symptoms of Cocaine Abuse

Understanding the Signs of Cocaine Addiction

Understanding the signs of cocaine addiction

Cocaine is an incredibly addicting stimulant that is derived from the leaves of the coca plant from South America. This popular illegal drug is sold in the United States and worldwide in primarily two forms: powdered cocaine and crack cocaine. In its purest form, cocaine is a white powdered form that is often adulterated or “cut” on the street with powdery fillers such as lactose, baking soda, or lidocaine, to increase its weight. Occasionally, powdered cocaine is cut with other stimulants such as methamphetamines. Crack cocaine is a lower purity, rock-like form of cocaine generally smoked in a glass crack pipe.

The two forms of cocaine can be abused in different manners; crack cocaine is usually smoked, while powdered cocaine can be snorted intranasally or dissolved in water or alcohol and injected. The route of administration will affect the duration and intensity of cocaine’s pleasurable effects. Smoking or IV injection of cocaine allows for a faster delivery into blood as it quickly crosses the blood-brain barrier, while snorting cocaine crosses the blood-brain barrier more slowly, prolonging the high.

As a central nervous stimulant, cocaine affects the brain by increasing the levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine by preventing dopamine reuptake in the neurons. This causes excessive amounts of dopamine to build up in the synapses between neurons. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is involved in regulation of movement and pleasurable sensations, and the flood of dopamine causes the high associated with cocaine. With repeated use, cocaine changes the reward system of the brain, leading to tolerance, addiction, and dependence on cocaine.


Statistics for cocaine addiction

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) has estimated that in 2009, there were 1.9 million current cocaine users, of which about 359,000 were crack cocaine users. Adults between the ages of 18 and 29 have higher rates of cocaine usage, with 1.5% of those within that age range reporting past-month cocaine usage. Men overall have higher rates of cocaine abuse than women.

Causes & Risk Factors

Causes & risk factors for cocaine addiction

Most researchers agree that addiction to cocaine is not caused by a single factor; rather it is the interplay of a number of factors that increase the likelihood that a person will develop an addiction to cocaine. These causes may include:

Genetics: Individuals who have a first-degree relative such as a parent or sibling who has an addiction to cocaine or other substances are at a higher risk for developing an addiction themselves. While this is not a definitive indicator, genetics do play a role in addiction.

Physical: It has been postulated that some individuals are born with a temperament that predisposes them to develop an addiction to stimulants such as cocaine. Additionally, those who abuse cocaine may be self-medicating an unknown, inborn deficiency to certain neurotransmitters that regulate pleasure and activity.

Environmental: People who are born into families in which addiction and drug abuse was common may grow up to believe that using drugs such as cocaine is a normal way to cope with the demands of the world. Additionally, people who begin to experiment with drugs during their young teens are at a greater risk for developing addiction later in life.

Psychological: Those who become addicted to cocaine or other drugs of abuse are often self-medicating the symptoms of undiagnosed, untreated mental illnesses, such as depression or bipolar disorder.


Symptoms of cocaine addiction

The symptoms of cocaine abuse and addiction will vary based upon individual genetic makeup, length of addiction, amount used, and the presence of other drugs in the body. The most common symptoms of cocaine abuse include:

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Speaking very quickly
  • Talkativeness
  • Conversation jumping around to multiple topics
  • Extreme energy
  • Engaging in illegal activities
  • Risk-taking behaviors

Physical Symptoms:

  • Racing heart
  • Hypertension
  • Sweating
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Changes in sleep and eating patterns
  • Tolerance
  • Physical addiction
  • Seizures
  • Increased libido
  • Sudden cardiac death
  • Dilated pupils

Cognitive Symptoms:

  • Extreme focus and concentration on one task
  • Increased alertness
  • Increased feelings of competence

Psychosocial Symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Paranoia
  • Psychological addiction
  • Euphoria and feelings of wellbeing
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Social withdrawal


Effects cocaine addiction can have

When properly treated, many of the long-term symptoms of cocaine addiction can be avoided or lessened, which is why prompt treatment is vital for those who use cocaine. The effects of cocaine abuse will vary based upon individual genetic makeup, route of administration, length of abuse, and frequency of use.

  • Joblessness
  • Addiction
  • Poverty
  • Incarceration
  • Malnourishment
  • Strained interpersonal relationships
  • Lung infections and scarring
  • Nasal perforation
  • Cardiovascular complications
  • Infections from bloodborne pathogens from using contaminated needles
  • Collapse of veins and abscesses on injection site
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Sudden cardiac death followed by respiratory arrest

Withdrawal Effects

Effects cocaine withdrawal can have

Effects of Cocaine Withdrawal:

When a person becomes addicted to a substance and that substance is abruptly discontinued, withdrawal symptoms set in. It is always best to go through cocaine withdrawal under the supervision of trained medical professionals to prevent complications. Some of the effects of withdrawal from cocaine may include:

  • Cravings for more cocaine
  • Anhedonia
  • Increased appetite
  • Agitation and restlessness
  • Depression
  • Vivid and unpleasant dreams
  • Decrease in activity levels
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue and sleepiness
  • Aggression
  • Paranoia

Effects of Cocaine Overdose:

Cocaine overdose can be a potentially fatal condition and is more likely to occur when an individual injects cocaine, as the speed at which the drug enters the body affects the risk for overdose. However, overdose from cocaine can occur at any time an individual is abusing cocaine. Any signs of cocaine overdose indicate a medical emergency.

Common symptoms of a cocaine overdose include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Irregular breathing
  • Hyperthermia
  • Tachycardia
  • Angina
  • Seizures
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Panic attacks
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Cocaine addiction & co-occurring disorders

A number of mental health and related disorders have been linked to abuse and addiction to cocaine. These include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Alcoholism
  • Other addictions

I thought I had tried every option, but I kept relapsing. Thanks to Highland Ridge, I finally feel strong enough that I don't need or want cocaine anymore.

– Tom H.