Symptoms, Signs & Effects of Cocaine Abuse

Understanding Cocaine Abuse

Understanding cocaine addiction

Cocaine is an illegal street drug also referred to as “blow,” “coke,” and “crack” on the streets. This recreational drug is created by purifying an extract from the leaves of the Erythroxylum coca bush. When bought on the street, cocaine can be found in two forms. The powered form of cocaine is snorted or dissolved in water and injected. The second form, crack cocaine, is created using a chemical process that produces a freebase form of cocaine that is smoked. The high produced by cocaine usually wears off between 30 minutes to two hours after use. Smoking or injecting coke leads to a faster high, but a shorter lasting high than the one achieved through snorting the drug.

Injecting or smoking cocaine causes almost immediate effects. The nasal passages quickly absorb the cocaine through nasal tissues, producing a high that’s nearly as fast-acting as injecting. Once inside the brain, coke interferes with chemical messengers in the brain that nerve cells use to communicate. Cocaine blocks reabsorption of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine back into the nerve cells. This chemical buildup is what leads the user to experience a high.

Cocaine is classified as having a high risk for abuse and high risk for dependency. This substance causes extremely negative effects on the heart, brain, and emotional wellbeing of anyone who uses it. Many people who use cocaine become physically and psychologically dependent upon the drug, which can lead to long-term and devastating life-threatening consequences. This illegal substance 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 it can lead to sudden death. That’s why it is vital to seek professional help to treat an addiction to cocaine.


Statistics of cocaine addiction

Cocaine use begin to rise in the 1990s and today is the second most popular illegal drug in the U.S., right behind marijuana. Approximately 14% of adults in the United States reported having tried cocaine at least once in their life, with 1 in every 40 adults in the United States reporting cocaine usage within the past year. This is roughly about 37 million people. The highest rates of cocaine usage are young men ages 18 to 25, with 8% having used blow with in the past 12 months.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders

Addictions to substances such as cocaine often co-occur with other mental health disorders. Some of the most common disorders that occur along with a cocaine addiction include the following:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Post-traumatic disorder
  • Additional substance abuse
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Alcoholism
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity disorder


Causes of cocaine addiction

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

Genetic: Individuals who have a first-degree relative, such as a parent or grandparents, who struggle with addiction problems are more likely to develop a substance abuse disorder themselves. Having a relative with a cocaine problem doesn’t mean that an individual will try this substance, it just means that should they decide to use cocaine they are more likely to become addicted.

Brain Chemistry: 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. They use cocaine in an attempt to experience pleasurable feelings that they are not able to naturally achieve. After prolonged cocaine use, the body becomes physically dependent and will need cocaine in order to continue to get those pleasurable feelings again.

Psychological: Cocaine addiction often occurs alongside other mental illnesses. For some individuals, cocaine use may be a form of self-medication to help them deal with unpleasant symptoms of an untreated or improperly diagnosed mental health condition. For example, individuals suffering with major depression may use cocaine as a mood booster.

Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine Abuse

Signs and symptoms of cocaine addiction

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

  • Depression
  • Difficulties swallowing
  • Chronic runny nose
  • Hoarseness
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Euphoria
  • Sudden need for money
  • Financial problems
  • Withdrawing from sober friends
  • Withdrawing from loved ones
  • Increase in risky behaviors
  • Engaging in risky sexual behavior
  • Restlessness
  • Excited, jubilant speech
  • Restlessness
  • Bizarre, violent behaviors
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia
  • Tachycardia
  • Marked mood swings
  • Feeling superior to other people
  • Lying about drug use
  • Increased energy and alertness
  • 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

Effects of Cocaine Abuse

Effects of cocaine addiction

Cocaine produces its powerful effects by acting upon the brain. However, not only does this substance affect the brain, as it travels through the bloodstream it can also cause damage to an individual’s entire body. Effects of cocaine can include:

  • Heart attack
  • Rhabdomyolysis
  • Loss of job or expulsion from school
  • Loss of support network
  • Decreased sexual function
  • Contracting blood borne diseases such as Hepatitis C or HIV/AIDS
  • Serious skin infections and abscesses
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Social isolation
  • Engagement in illegal activity
  • Incarceration due to illegal activity
  • Strokes
  • Seizures
  • Permanent lung damage
  • Perforation of the nasal cavities
  • Ulcers
  • Perforation of the stomach and intestines
  • Death

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms of cocaine addiction

After an individual uses cocaine on a regular basis over a long period of time, physical and psychological dependence may develop. When an individual is dependent physically upon cocaine if they abruptly stop using the drug they will develop symptoms of withdrawal. This is one reason why many addicts continue to use cocaine despite the negative consequences, as the resulting withdrawal symptoms can be particularly unpleasant. After about one to two weeks withdrawal symptoms generally resolve. Withdrawal symptoms from cocaine addiction may include:

  • Exhaustion
  • Fatigue
  • Anhedonia – the inability to feel pleasure
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Cravings
  • All-over body aches and pains
  • Tremors and shakiness
  • Fever
  • Chills

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

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