Cocaine Addition Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Cocaine, also known as blow or coke, is one of the most commonly used drugs in the United States, with nearly 17 percent of the population having tried it at some point in their lives. The drug is often found in powder or crystallized rock form, known as crack cocaine, and can be injected, snorted, or smoked.

Understanding Cocaine Addiction

Learn about cocaine addiction and substance abuse

Cocaine provides users with a short high, usually lasting no longer than 30 minutes. This high typically brings about feelings of euphoria, excessive energy, and a sense of invincibility. This high can cause a person even further harm, as feelings of euphoria and invincibility can encourage a person to engage in risky behavior. A 2008 report from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) found that almost a quarter of the nearly 2 million drug abuse-related hospital visits that year involved cocaine. Because the high from cocaine is relatively short, cocaine users often engage in binges of back-to-back use that can last for days at a time. These binges can lead to a person building tolerance, thus requiring even more of the drug to achieve a high.

Cocaine addiction can overwhelm a person’s life with much of that person’s energy being directed towards obtaining more of the drug. The consequences of cocaine use are severe and can even include death, thankfully, help is available for those who seek it.


Cocaine Abuse Statistics

In the U.S., cocaine use is highest among those aged 18 to 25, with 1.5 percent reporting cocaine use within the last month, according to a 2008 study by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Nearly two million people use cocaine at least once per month and almost 360,000 people actively use the drug. Men are more likely to use cocaine than women.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors for Cocaine Abuse

There is no one single gene nor one single life experience that will cause someone to abuse cocaine. Although the risk of cocaine abuse does seem to be affected by genetics, the most recent research suggests that cocaine abuse comes about as a result of epigenetic effects, or the effects environment has on the expression of certain genes. Cocaine addiction is a process involving a complex interplay between genetic and environmental factors, as discussed below.

Genetic: Like with many other drugs, people with relatives who use cocaine are at a higher risk of using cocaine. A person’s individual biology may also play a role in how vulnerable a person is to a cocaine addiction. Cocaine affects the brain’s available supply of dopamine, a neurotransmitter commonly associated with pleasure. People who naturally have lower levels of dopamine found drug use more pleasurable than people with naturally higher dopamine levels. This suggests variations in individual biology can make certain people more susceptible to drug abuse, and these biological variations can be passed down from generation to generation.

Environmental: Certain environmental factors also contribute to a person’s chance of becoming addicted to cocaine. The more readily available cocaine and other drugs are, the more likely a person is to use them. In addition, a poor bond with family members and abusive or neglectful parents can increase a person’s chance of becoming addicted to cocaine.

Risk Factors:

  • Lower natural dopamine level in the brain
  • Relatives who use cocaine or other drugs
  • Availability of cocaine
  • Exposure to crime or violence
  • Suffering from abuse or neglect during childhood
  • Other mental health diagnoses
  • Use of other drugs
  • Prenatal exposure to cocaine

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine Abuse

The evidence of cocaine abuse in someone’s life stretches across multiple domains and can depend on the duration and severity of the abuse. If you see the following symptoms in yourself or a loved one, it may be time to consider seeking help:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Lying or stealing
  • Violent or aggressive outbursts
  • Failing to meet work or social obligations
  • Constant, intense need to use cocaine
  • Spending money on cocaine
  • Rapid, excited speech
  • Risky behaviors
  • Neglecting one’s physical appearance
  • Failed attempts to quit using cocaine
  • Changes in relationships
  • Withdrawal from relationships in favor of drug use

Physical symptoms:

  • Bodily harm related to the method of ingestion, such as burned lips from smoking a crack pipe or puncture wounds from injection
  • Illnesses or STIs, such as hepatitis or HIV, resulting from risky behavior
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Pupil dilation
  • Malnourishment

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory loss
  • Hyperfocus
  • Poor judgment or decision-making
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions, such as belief in one’s own invincibility

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Loss of pleasure in daily activities
  • Irritability
  • Dramatic mood swings


Effects of Cocaine Abuse

Cocaine is a powerful substance and can have dramatic negative effects on a user’s life. Death from overdose is always a possibility, but some people have even suffered heart attacks after using cocaine only once. The following are some of the effects of prolonged, untreated cocaine use:

  • Lung, kidney, or liver damage
  • Damage to mucous membranes from snorting or ingestion
  • Loss of job
  • Poverty or homelessness
  • Strain and fracture in relationships
  • Divorce
  • Loss of custody of children
  • Loss of sense of smell
  • Weight loss
  • Incarceration
  • Death from heart attack or overdose

Co-Occurring Disorders

Cocaine Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

People who use cocaine often struggle with other mental health diagnoses. Sometimes, coping with the symptoms of these diagnoses is the reason a person sought out cocaine in the first place. Other times, extensive drug use can cause symptoms of these disorders to appear. The following are some of the more common disorders that people who use cocaine also suffer from:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Other substance use disorders


Effects of Cocaine Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of cocaine withdrawal: As a person uses cocaine, his or her body becomes accustomed to the presence of the drug. If that person were to suddenly stop using the substance, his or her body would need time to readjust to functioning without it. This period of readjustment is known as withdrawal and can include the following symptoms:

  • Intense, overwhelming cravings for cocaine
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Vivid dreams
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety

Effects of cocaine overdose: A cocaine overdose occurs when a person takes more of the drug than his or her body can metabolize. If you or someone you know is experiencing the following symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention immediately, as the results of an overdose can be fatal:

  • Hallucinations
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Chest pain
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Irregular breathing
  • Fever

I've tried rehab for my cocaine addiction before, but I would always relapse. At Wellness Resource Center, because of their Transitional Living program, I have finally recovered for good. I'm so happy! WRC changed my life.

– Grace B.