Cocaine Abuse Information

Understanding Cocaine Addiction

Learn About Cocaine Addiction & Abuse

Cocaine, which is also frequently referred to simply as coke, is a powerful stimulant substance that is abused by many people throughout the world. This illicit substance is typically found in the form of a crystallized rock or a powder, which can be ingested through snorting, smoking, or injecting. When used, cocaine elicits powerful feelings of euphoria and invincibility. It can enhance an individual’s self-esteem, while also invoking a false sense of grandiosity. As a stimulant substance, cocaine also brings on a surge of energy and a heightened state of awareness that is appealing to many. Additionally, its appetite-suppressing properties make it a desirable drug for individuals who wish to better control their eating habits and lose weight.

Yet, while the appeal to use cocaine can be great, the detriments that accompany the abuse of this substance are significant. The intense high that results from the use of cocaine is usually quite short, rarely lasting longer than 30 minutes, which can cause users to consistently take more of the substance in order to keep their high going. With the use of cocaine comes the onset of changes in the reward systems of the users’ brains. As this happens, so does the development of tolerance, dependency, and addiction. And once an addiction to cocaine, or cocaine use disorder, has developed, it can seem almost impossible for users to overcome without professional help.


Cocaine Abuse Statistics

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the estimated year long prevalence of cocaine use disorder is 0.3% among people aged 18 and older and 0.2% among adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17. The office of the National Drug Control Policy reports that a total of approximately 3.6 million people in America alone use cocaine on a consistent basis.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Cocaine Abuse

These causes and risk factors for the development of cocaine use disorder are discussed briefly in the following:

Environmental: The American Psychiatric Association (APA) notes specific examples of ways that an individual’s environment can impact his or her susceptibility to beginning to use cocaine. For example, both prenatal exposure to cocaine and parental postnatal cocaine use are strong factors that can ultimately result in an individual beginning to abuse the substance him- or herself. Additionally, being exposed to community violence throughout childhood or living in an unstable home environment can also make an individual more susceptible to eventually abusing cocaine.

Risk Factors:

  • Suffering from bipolar disorder, antisocial personality disorder, or schizophrenia
  • Suffering from childhood conduct disorder
  • Having an impulsive nature or possessing similar personality traits
  • Associating with people who abuse cocaine
  • Growing up in an unstable home environment
  • Being exposed to community violence
  • Being exposed to cocaine while still in utero

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine Abuse

The specific signs and symptoms that may arise when an individual is abusing cocaine

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Abusing cocaine in larger amounts or over longer periods of time than one originally intended
  • Failing to stop using cocaine despite having the desire to do so
  • No longer fulfilling obligations at work, in school, or at home
  • No longer participating in activities that were once found enjoyable
  • Interacting differently in social situations
  • Rapid speech
  • Jumping from topic to topic in conversation
  • Hypervigilance
  • Displaying repetitive movements
  • Using cocaine in situations that would be considered dangerous
  • Engaging in dangerous or risky situations in order to obtain cocaine

Physical symptoms:

  • Decrease in appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Elevated or lowered blood pressure
  • Increased bodily temperature
  • Chest pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Seizures

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Having intense cravings for or strong urges to use cocaine
  • Impaired judgment
  • Paranoia

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Lacking emotional reactivity
  • Increased agitation and irritability
  • Episodes of unwarranted anger
  • Anxiety
  • Euphoria


Effects of Cocaine Abuse

The effects that cocaine can have on an individual’s life can be devastating. Not only will his or her physical health be placed in peril, but also other aspects of his or her everyday life can be affected in an equally negative manner. Examples of possible effects of cocaine abuse can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Malnutrition
  • Damage to the cardiovascular system
  • Damage to the liver, lungs, and kidneys
  • Loss of one’s sense of smell
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Irreversible cognitive impairment
  • Interaction with law enforcement
  • Familial conflict
  • Marital strife or divorce
  • Inability to adhere to occupational responsibilities, potentially resulting in job loss or demotion
  • Inability to adhere to academic responsibilities, potentially resulting in academic failure or expulsion

Co-Occurring Disorders

Cocaine Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

It is not uncommon for individuals with cocaine use disorder to simultaneously suffer from symptoms synonymous with other mental health conditions. Examples of such conditions can include the following:

  • Other substance use disorders
  • Gambling disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Conduct disorder

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of Cocaine Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of cocaine withdrawal: The symptoms of cocaine withdrawal can develop within hours or days after one ceases use of this substance. The period of withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable and may include the following symptoms and effects:

  • Disturbed social, occupational, or academic functioning
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Vivid dreams that are unpleasant in nature
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Dysphoric mood

Effects of cocaine overdose: Sadly, overdosing is a very real possibility for individuals who use cocaine. Because of the potency of this substance and the rapidity with which it crosses the blood-brain barrier, individuals can be at risk for ingesting more than their bodies can metabolize without even realizing it. A cocaine overdose is a serious medical emergency that warrants immediate treatment. Signs that someone may have overdosed on cocaine can include the following:

  • Irregular breathing
  • Excessive sweating
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Vomiting
  • Hypertension
  • Heart palpitations
  • Feelings of panic
  • Cramping
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Chest pain
  • Cardiac arrest

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