Cocaine Abuse, Addiction, And Treatment Options

Cocaine forges intense addictions quickly. Prompt treatment of cocaine addiction can help a person build sobriety and a healthier, more fulfilling life.

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In 2016, an estimated 1.9 million Americans aged 12 and older were current users of cocaine, according to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Of this number, 432,000 currently used crack. Every time a person uses cocaine they are endangering their health, jeopardizing their life, and exposing themselves to the risk of addiction.

With individualized treatment, a cocaine addiction is treatable, and long-term sobriety is possible.

What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug derived from the coca plant of South America. As a stimulant, cocaine speeds up an individual’s central nervous system (CNS), which is why cocaine is referred to as an “upper.” For this reason, some individuals use cocaine as a performance-enhancing drug.

Cocaine takes two forms, either as a fine, crystalline white powder or as a hard, crystallized yellowish-white rock-like version termed crack cocaine. Cocaine is referred to by drug abusers as “blow,” “coke,” or “snow.” Crack cocaine may be referred to as “rock.”

Both forms are extremely addictive, however, crack cocaine is more addictive due to the fact it’s most often smoked. The high from cocaine hits a user quickly, and lasts from five to 30 minutes.

How Is Cocaine Abused?

Powdered cocaine is most commonly snorted, though it may also be smoked, injected, taken orally, or rubbed on a person’s gums to create a numbing sensation. Crack cocaine is predominantly smoked, though some individuals may attempt to snort or inject the drug.

Either form of the drug may be used with other drugs to create a more intense high or to level out the buzz of another drug. Cocaine is heavily abused with both alcohol and heroin, each of which are CNS depressants, or “downers.” Using an upper and downer together is very dangerous. Some individuals will sprinkle cocaine on top of marijuana and smoke it.

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Signs And Symptoms Of Cocaine Abuse

When a person first does cocaine they may appear to have boundless energy and be overly excited. A person may continue to perform this way with little to no food or sleep. They may be very upbeat or exuberant, however, once a person begins crashing from cocaine their mood may plummet, leaving them despondent and fatigued for days on end.

Cocaine’s effects aren’t always pleasurable or expected. Some people become upset and feel extremely on edge after doing cocaine. A person’s behaviors may also become bizarre and erratic. Some individuals may even become violent or confrontational, putting both their safety and that of those around them in danger.

As a person continues to use cocaine in large and frequent quantities they may not experience the high they once did. Instead, some individuals feel intense fear and become suspicious of others (paranoia).

Here are some other signs that a person may be using cocaine:

  • anxiety
  • becoming highly alert
  • dilated pupils
  • euphoria
  • extreme happiness
  • hypersensitivity to sight, sound, and touch
  • hyperstimulation
  • increased body temperature
  • increased energy
  • insomnia
  • irritability
  • panic
  • quickened heart rate
  • raised blood pressure
  • restlessness
  • runny nose (from snorting it)
  • tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal

During this period, a person will also exhibit strong cravings for the drug. As this occurs they may fixate on the drug and spend large amounts of time looking for it. They might also talk about the drug or how they need it to “feel better.”

Other behavioral changes of cocaine abuse include a person:

  • finding that they’re unable to quit or reduce their use, should they attempt to do so.
  • becoming very upset if they can’t find more of the drug.
  • claiming the drug helps them to function better.
  • becoming secretive and shutting loved ones out of their life.
  • having new “friends” (individuals they do cocaine with)
  • ignoring their family-, work-, or school-related responsibilities.
  • losing interest in hobbies or activities they previously looked forward to.
  • letting important elements of their self-care slip (e.g. bathing, brushing teeth, wearing clean clothes, etc.)
  • having money troubles because they spend so much money on the drug.

Your loved one may act very secretive and protective about their personal space, including their vehicle, purse, wallet, bedroom, or bathroom. This is because they may have cocaine or drug paraphernalia hidden there. Common paraphernalia items include:

  • small baggies or squares of aluminum
  • snuff vials or bullets for snorting it
  • straws or hollowed out pens for snorting it
  • glass pipes for smoking it

If an individual injects cocaine you may find a needle, syringe, alcohol swabs, cotton balls, spoons, and a piece of rubber tubing or a belt.

Dangers Of Cocaine Abuse

As a stimulant, cocaine places a person’s heart and cardiovascular system under great strain. This impact can be deadly, even for young cocaine abusers. Cardiac-related dangers of cocaine abuse include:

  • aortic ruptures
  • aneurysm
  • cardiac arrest
  • endocarditis (infection of the heart’s lining and valves)
  • heart attack
  • stroke
  • sudden death

Cocaine causes damage throughout the body and mind, including:

  • anxiety
  • auditory hallucinations
  • cognitive impairment
  • coma
  • deep vein thrombosis
  • intracerebral hemorrhage (bleeding of the brain)
  • lung damage
  • malnourishment
  • migraine
  • miscarriage
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • persistent abdominal pain
  • psychosis
  • seizures
  • severe bowel decay

Individuals who snort cocaine on a chronic basis may suffer frequent nosebleeds, lose their sense of smell, and/or have difficulty swallowing. Injection drug abusers face the risk of bloodborne illnesses, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C.

Signs Of A Cocaine Overdose

A cocaine overdose may occur from one use, though it frequently occurs during binges. An overdose can happen to a first-time user or to a person who has used for years. Using cocaine with another drug increases the likelihood of overdose.

Signs of a cocaine overdose include:

  • becoming unaware of surroundings
  • blue-tinged skin
  • high blood pressure
  • high body temperature
  • excessive sweating
  • inability to control bladder
  • irregular heart rhythm
  • very fast heartbeat
  • quickened breathing
  • trouble breathing
  • seizure

A cocaine overdose can quickly cause death. Should you suspect that a loved one is overdosing, contact emergency medical services immediately.

Signs Of Cocaine Withdrawal

When a person is cocaine dependent, their body will react harshly to the drug’s absence. This is called withdrawal.

Signs of cocaine withdrawal include:

  • agitation
  • depression
  • fatigue
  • feeling a sense of discomfort
  • increased appetite
  • intense cravings
  • psychosis may occur
  • restlessness
  • slowing of activity
  • vivid and unpleasant dreams

Some individuals may not experience any visible symptoms of withdrawal.

Heavy cocaine abusers may continue to feel severe cravings and depression for months after discontinuing cocaine. For some individuals, the depression of withdrawal becomes so intense that they contemplate suicide. The risk of overdose also climbs during withdrawal.

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Medically-Supervised Cocaine Detoxification

Cocaine addictions don’t always require a medically-supervised detoxification program. There are currently no FDA-approved medications to treat cocaine addiction, however, certain medications may be used to treat symptoms of withdrawal for those who require this treatment.

As cocaine can cause a person to become extremely malnourished, IV fluid hydration and nutritional support may be administered during this time, so that a person’s body can begin to recuperate.

Treatment For An Cocaine Addiction

The psychological addiction of cocaine requires intensive, personalized treatment. Dysfunctional behaviors, emotions, and thoughts are often central to addictive behaviors. Behavioral therapies and counseling sessions help a person to overcome these things so that they can heal and build healthy habits which support a drug-free life.

These sessions also teach coping, relapse prevention, and stress reduction skills so that a person is able to protect their sobriety once they leave treatment. Choosing an inpatient drug rehabilitation program gives a person more time to heal and develop these critical skills.

Contact today to learn the best treatment options for your or a loved one.


BMJ Journals — Cocaine And The Heart
Center for Substance Abuse Research — Cocaine
MedlinePlus — Cocaine Intoxication
National Institute on Drug Abuse — Cocaine: Research Report Series, What is Cocaine?
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health

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