Cocaine Addiction Causes, Signs, & Symptoms

Understanding the signs, symptoms, causes and effects of cocaine addiction is an important first step toward healing and recovery.

Understanding Cocaine

Learn about cocaine and substance abuse

Cocaine, often touted as the “caviar of street drugs,” is a high-priced way of getting high. The mystique of cocaine is often sensationalized in movies and by celebrities, who can afford this high-priced and illegal drug. Classified by the federal government as a high abuse, high dependency risk, the reality of cocaine hits after the high. Cocaine has extremely negative effects on the heart, brain, and emotional wellbeing of users. Many people who use cocaine become physically and psychologically dependent upon the drug, which can lead to long-term and devastating life-threatening consequences.

Cocaine, an illegal street drug often called “blow,” “coke,” and “crack” on the streets, is a recreational drug that is created by purifying an extract from the leaves of the Erythroxylum coca bush. Different processes produce the two primary forms of cocaine we see on the street. Powdered cocaine, known as “blow” or “coke,” is often snorted, but is easily soluble in water and can be injected. Crack cocaine, or “crack” or “rock” on the streets, is created using a chemical process that produces a freebase form of cocaine that is smoked. The immediate effects, or the high produced by cocaine usually wear off between 30 minutes to two hours after use. Smoking or injecting coke leads to a faster, yet shorter high than snorting the drug.

Cocaine acts in the deep areas of the brain that reward us for “good behavior” – such as activities that lead to food, sex, and healthy pleasure. Stimulating this brain area with cocaine feels good and can create a powerful craving to use more and more cocaine. Repeated cocaine use leads to tolerance – higher and higher doses needed to attain the same effects, dependence, and addiction. There is no amount of cocaine usage that is considered safe.

Injecting— also known as “skin popping”— or smoking cocaine causes nearly immediate effects. The nasal passages quickly absorb the cocaine through nasal tissues, producing a high that’s nearly as fast-acting as injecting or snorting the drug. Once inside the brain, coke interferes with neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers in the brain that nerve cells use to communicate. Cocaine blocks reabsorption of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine back into the nerve cells. The chemical buildup that results from this process leads to feelings of a blissful high.

As cocaine travels through the blood as well as the brain, the abuse of cocaine causes effects upon the whole body. Cocaine is responsible for more U.S. emergency room visits than any other illegal drug. Cocaine abuse damages the brain, heart, blood vessels, and lungs – occasionally leading to sudden death.

With proper rehab and therapies, cocaine addiction can be overcome. While it may feel as though a life without cocaine is impossible, let the compassionate staff at Options show you that a sober life is a beautiful life.


Cocaine addiction statistics

The statistics of cocaine usage are staggering. Approximately 14% of adults in the United States reported having tried cocaine. One in every 40 adults in the U.S. reports cocaine usage within the past year. The highest rates of cocaine usage are young men ages 18 to 25, with 8% having used blow with in the past 12 months.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for cocaine addiction

The cause for addiction to cocaine is not considered to be related to a single factor. Instead, cocaine addiction is considered to be the result of multiple factors working together. These factors may include:

Genetic: Individuals who have a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) who also struggle with addiction are more likely to develop the disorder themselves.

Brain Chemistry: As cocaine acts upon the pleasure center of the brain, individuals who may have been born lacking the proper neurotransmitters associated with pleasurable activities may use cocaine as an attempt to self-medicate their symptoms.

Environmental: Individuals who are expected to excel at work or school and feel the pressure to do more and more are at greater risk for developing an addiction to cocaine. In addition, individuals who begin to abuse drugs earlier in life have a higher risk for developing addiction later in life.

Psychological: Cocaine addiction often occurs with other mental illnesses. Some individuals may use cocaine to pick themselves up during a depressive phase or before engaging in other risky activities.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of cocaine addiction

The symptoms of cocaine abuse and addiction will vary from one individual to the next depending upon length of addiction, frequency of use, and level of physical dependency. The most common symptoms of cocaine abuse include the following:

  • Depression after a binge-crash cycle of abuse
  • Anxiety
  • Euphoria
  • Marked mood swings
  • Feeling superior to other people
  • Lying about drug use
  • Increased energy and alertness
  • Sudden need for money
  • Financial problems
  • Withdrawing from sober friends
  • Withdrawing from loved ones
  • Increase in risky behaviors
  • Engaging in risky sex
  • Restlessness
  • Excited, jubilant speech
  • Restlessness
  • Bizarre, violent behaviors
  • Drug paraphernalia
  • Tachycardia
  • Hypertension
  • Damage to nasal passages
  • Increased libido
  • Dilated pupils
  • Constriction of blood vessels supplying blood to the heart
  • Vasoconstriction of blood vessels in the brain
  • Loss of sense of smell
  • Difficulties swallowing
  • Chronic runny nose
  • Hoarseness
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Irritability


Effects of cocaine addiction

Cocaine produces the powerful effects by acting upon the brain. However, cocaine travels through the bloodstream as well, leading to damage in the whole body.

These damages can include:

  • Heart attack
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Strokes
  • Seizures
  • Permanent damage to the lungs
  • Perforation of the nasal cavities
  • Ulcers
  • Perforation of the stomach and intestines
  • Rhabdomyolysis
  • Decreased sexual function
  • Contracting bloodborne diseases such as Hepatitis C or HIV/AIDS
  • Serious skin infections and abscesses
  • Death

Withdrawal Symptoms

Cocaine withdrawal signs and symptoms

After an individual uses cocaine at a regular frequency over a long period of time, physical and psychological dependence, or addiction, develops. When an individual is dependent physically upon cocaine, he or she will develop symptoms of withdrawal if the drug is abruptly stopped. This may cause an addict to continue to use cocaine despite the negative consequences, as the resulting withdrawal symptoms can be particularly unpleasant. Withdrawal symptoms generally resolve within one to two weeks.

Withdrawal symptoms from cocaine addiction may include:

  • Exhaustion and fatigue
  • Anhedonia – the inability to feel pleasure
  • Challenges in concentration
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Cravings for cocaine
  • All-over body aches and pains
  • Tremors and shakiness
  • Chills

While highly unpleasant, cocaine withdrawal symptoms are rarely medical emergencies. However, some people may suffer from suicidal thoughts.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Cocaine addiction and co-occurring disorders

Addictions to substances such as cocaine often co-occur with mental illness. The most common disorders that co-occur with cocaine addiction include the following:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Other substance abuse
  • Alcoholism
  • PTSD
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • ADHD
  • Gambling disorder
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