Causes & Effects of Cocaine Addiction

Understanding Cocaine Addiction

Learn about cocaine addiction and abuse

Known for its powerfully addictive properties, cocaine is an illicit substance that is classified as a stimulant. Found in the form of a powder or as a hard substance that resembles a rock, cocaine is often snorted or smoked by users as a means of achieving a mind and mood-altering short-term high that increases energy and focus, while also inducing feelings of invincibility and pleasure.

Whether taken alone or in conjunction with other substances, cocaine can cause a great deal of damage to a person’s life. For most who abuse this substance, the high is so enticing that an individual continues to abuse it more frequently and in amounts that can lead to a life-threating outcome. For this reason, and more, it is important for a person grappling with this type of addiction to consider seeking effective and appropriate treatment as quickly as possible. Should an individual who is addicted to cocaine engage in care, the risks associated with ongoing cocaine abuse can be minimized or avoided completely.


Cocaine addiction statistics

According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, men are more likely to abuse cocaine than women. Additionally, this same source, which is published by the American Psychiatric Association, states that men are four times more likely to engage in the abuse of cocaine, as the rate of men diagnosed with cocaine use disorder is 0.4% compared to 0.1% of women.

Finally, it has been concluded that, among adults aged 18 and older, the prevalence of cocaine addiction is said to be 0.3% in total. Additionally, it was reported that 0.1% of adults between the ages of 45 and 64 abuse this drug as well.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for cocaine addiction

There are many reasons why and how a person may come to abuse and, eventually become addicted to, cocaine. The following causes and risk factors are among those most commonly cited by addiction experts:

Genetic: Research has shown that the probability of an individual developing an addiction to cocaine can be partially influenced by a person’s genetic background. For example, those with a family history of cocaine abuse and addiction and/or mental health concerns are more likely to abuse cocaine at some point in life.

Environmental: Because the environment in which a person was raised or spends most of his or her time can have a profound impact on an individual’s chances of abusing cocaine, there are certain external factors that can influence the development of this type of addiction. For instance, if a person is exposed to cocaine or other substance abuse, community violence, an unstable home environment, or those who distribute this drug, that individual is more likely to eventually abuse cocaine. Additionally, if a person is exposed to cocaine while in utero, there is a heightened risk for that individual to turn to cocaine use later in life.

Risk Factors:

  • Personal history of mental health conditions
  • Personal history of abusing other substances
  • Family history of mental health conditions or substance abuse
  • Lacking effective impulse control
  • Residing in an unstable home environment
  • Being exposed to violence
  • Associating with others who use or sell cocaine

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of cocaine addiction

If an individual is grappling with a severe addiction to cocaine, the telltale warning signs of this type of addiction could be obvious to others. If you, a concerned loved one, are unsure as to whether or not someone you care about is abusing this substance, it could be helpful to note the presence of any of the following symptoms:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Abusing cocaine in hazardous situations
  • Using cocaine in favor of engaging in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Spending a great deal of time acquiring, using, or recovering from cocaine abuse
  • Being unable to control the amount of cocaine one uses
  • Failing to keep up with responsibilities and obligations at home or work
  • Using cocaine despite being aware of problems caused by the use of this substance

Physical symptoms:

  • Slowed movements
  • Muscle weakness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Increased heartrate
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Seizures
  • Blood pressure changes
  • Sweating
  • Having a tolerance to increased amounts of cocaine
  • Irregular heartrate
  • Dilated pupils
  • Restlessness

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Increased alertness
  • Confusion
  • Hindered judgement
  • Rapid thought processes
  • Strong cravings for more cocaine

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Inability to display appropriate emotions
  • Social isolation
  • Increased aggressiveness
  • Agitation


Effects of cocaine addiction

Cocaine abuse, especially if it occurs for a long period of time, can cause an individual to experience a great deal of turmoil in several areas of his or her life. The below listed effects are among the consequences that could occur if a person does not seek treatment to overcome a cocaine addiction:

  • Financial strife
  • Demise of meaningful relationships
  • Separation or divorce
  • Contracting HIV or another blood-borne virus or infection due to intravenous drug use
  • Social isolation
  • Polysubstance use
  • Involvement with the legal system
  • Damage to arteries or veins from repeated injections
  • Onset or worsening of mental health symptoms
  • Damage to nasal cavity from snorting cocaine
  • Decline in work performance
  • Job loss

Dual Diagnosis

Cocaine addiction and dual diagnosis

People who struggle with cocaine addiction, or cocaine use disorder, may also experience other mental health conditions. Clinicians use the term dual diagnosis to refer to the presence of addiction and another mental health disorder. If you’ve become addicted to cocaine, you may have an increased risk for the following disorders:

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

When you seek treatment for cocaine abuse, it’s important to get help from a provider who can fully assess your needs and offer dual diagnosis programming if necessary. Failing to get proper care for dual diagnosis can impair your ability to achieve successful long-term recovery from cocaine addition.

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of cocaine withdrawal and overdose

Effects of cocaine withdrawal: Prolonged cocaine abuse causes an individual’s body to become accustomed to the presence of this illicit substance. Once a tolerance to cocaine develops, a person will likely endure a process of withdrawal after the abuse of this drug has stopped. The following effects are those that may occur when an individual is experiencing cocaine withdrawal:

  • Nightmares
  • Fatigue
  • Depressed mood
  • Increased appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Oversleeping

Effects of cocaine overdose: Considered to be a medical emergency when it happens, an overdose following the overuse of cocaine can be fatal if proper care is not sought. For this reason, medical personnel should be contacted if any of the below listed effects of cocaine overdose are apparent:

  • Dizziness
  • Agitation
  • Aggression
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Tremors or shaking
  • Seizure
  • Stroke
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations

Additional Facts

How is cocaine made?

Cocaine is a central nervous stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant. The process of making cocaine is lengthy and complicated.

  • Dried coca leaves are chopped up and mixed with ammonia and lime.
  • The mixture is stirred in barrels of diesel gasoline. The diesel gas extracts the cocaine from the coca leaves.
  • Ammonia is added to separate the cocaine from the diesel gasoline.
  • Once extracted, sulfuric acid is added, causing the cocaine to turn into paste.
  • After a process of heating and filtering, sodium permanganate is added to purify the paste. Sodium permanganate reacts with the impurities in the coca paste and changes the color from yellow-brown to white.
  • The white paste is again filtered and treated with ammonia to neutralize the sulfuric acid.
  • The product is further dried and converted into the street product that is a white, crystalline powder.
  • Before it hits the streets, dealers cut cocaine hydrochloride with other substances to increase their profits. These substances may range from bicarbonate soda or amphetamines.

How does cocaine work?

Cocaine is a powerful central nervous stimulant that increases levels of dopamine, the chemical in the brain responsible for feelings of pleasure in the brain’s reward system. This increase in dopamine is causes the euphoric effects of cocaine, yet long-term use can cause long-term changes in the brain’s reward system, thereby leading to addiction.

As a stimulant, cocaine also constricts blood vessels, increase body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. These effects are responsible for the adverse physical effects and the destructive long-term effects of cocaine use.

How do people get high on cocaine?

There are four primary ways people abuse cocaine: oral ingestion, snorting, injecting, or smoking.

  • Oral ingestion (“Snow Bomb”): Crushed cocaine is rolled into a piece of toilet paper and swallowed.
  • Snorting: Users sweep the cocaine powder into thin lines and inhale the powder with rolled-up pieces of paper. The powder is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream through the nasal tissues, producing instantaneous effects.
  • Intravenous Injections: Users dissolve cocaine in water on a spoon. A cotton ball is applied to the solution to absorb the fluid and filter out impurities and users draw up the solution through the cotton. Shooting cocaine is a highly dangerous process due to the impurities found in street cocaine, the difficulty of self-injections, and the high risk of overdose.
  • Smoking: Cocaine powder has a vaporization temperature of over 400 degrees, making it nearly impossible to smoke since heat destroys much of the chemical. Some choose to combine cocaine with cannabis that is rolled into a joint. Although possible, this is the least popular method of abusing cocaine. Crack cocaine remains the most common form of crack that can be smoked.

What should I not mix with cocaine?

Cocaine should not be mixed with

  • Alcohol: Cocaine enhances the absorption and metabolism of alcohol, which means a person on cocaine will get drunk much faster than just drinking alone. Most cocaine overdoses involve the use of alcohol. Additionally, cocaine and alcohol combine in your body to produce a third substance: cocaethylene. Although cocaethylene intensifies cocaine’s euphoric effects, it is also associated with a greater risk of sudden death.
  • Heroin: Heroin and cocaine combined is also called a “Speedball”. Mixing a powerful depressant like heroin with a powerful stimulant like cocaine is like playing tug-of-war with your heart. One tells the heart to slow down, the other tells the heart to speed up. Your heart becomes stressed by the alternating signals and could stop working altogether. Heroin and cocaine also mask the overdose symptoms of each other, and a person may take lethal doses of both drugs without ever realizing the danger until it’s too late.
  • Ecstasy and other stimulants: Ecstasy, Ritalin, meth, and other stimulants produce the same effects as cocaine. Mixing stimulants with stimulants intensifies all effects and increases the chance of overdose.
  • Prescription painkillers and other depressants: Painkillers such as Vicodin or Percocet and depressant drugs such as Xanax or Valium work like heroin: they all slow down the central nervous system. Thus, combining painkillers with cocaine can cause effects similar to those of a speedball.

What are the short term effects of cocaine?

Short term effects of cocaine include:

  • Increased energy and alertness
  • Euphoria
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hyper-excitability
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Insomnia
  • Depression

What are the long term effects of cocaine?

Cocaine raises high blood pressure by increasing heart rate and constricting the blood vessels. Many of cocaine’s destructive effects result from this consistently high blood pressure Long term effects of cocaine include:

  • Permanent damage to blood vessels in the heart and lungs
  • Heart attacks due to high blood pressure and constricted arteries
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Lung damage
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Strokes from high blood pressure
  • Destruction of nasal tissues if cocaine is snorted
  • Infection (hepatitis, HIV) and abscesses if cocaine is injected
  • Tooth decay

If cocaine is taken during pregnancy, cocaine can cause premature births, birth defects, and brain damage.

  • malnutrition and weight loss
  • reproductive damage and infertility for both men and women
  • mood disturbances and irritability
  • severe depression
  • tolerance and addiction (even after just one use)

What are the overdose effects of cocaine?

Overdose effects of cocaine include:

  • Chest pain
  • Intense nausea followed by vomiting
  • Irregular breathing
  • Nose bleeds
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Delirium
  • Hallucinations
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack

How long does cocaine stay in my system?

Cocaine’s action on the body depends on several factors, such as your dosage, method of administration, tolerance, and personal metabolism. For example, an intravenous dose of 20 mg can be identified for 1.5 days, and street doses of cocaine administered through other routes can be spotted for up to one week.

In general, cocaine can be detected in the system for 2-4 days for sporadic users and for up to 12 days after a binge in chronic users. Even crack can be detected in the body for weeks. Although crack is absorbed in the body very quickly, small levels of the drug can linger in bodily fluids or hair for weeks and even months.

How long do the effects of cocaine last?

Cocaine is a relatively fast-acting drug with a fast onset but it is not effective for a lasting high. Obviously, the length of the high depends on the dosage, method of administration, your personal tolerance, and body’s metabolism. In general, a faster absorption of cocaine produces a more intense and rapid high and a shorter duration of action. Different routes of administration influence the durations of the effects:

  • An orally ingested dose of cocaine takes 30 minutes to take effect, but effects peak at 1 hour.
  • Effects from snorting cocaine lasts 15-30 minutes.
  • For intravenous doses, effects peak within 5 minutes.
  • Effects of smoking crack lasts approximately 5-10 minutes.

Due to the short duration of its effects, many users will binge on cocaine to achieve sustain the high. They will take more cocaine repeatedly on a relatively short period of time at increasingly higher doses. However, binges also produce intensified adverse effects and increase the risk for overdose. Additionally, tolerance decreases the effects even more, and the cocaine abuser is caught up in an endless cycle of chasing that high.

How much cocaine can I take before I risk overdosing?

In a sense, it is impossible to know how it takes to overdose. For a beginner user, just one “try” may result in overdose. The amount of cocaine needed for overdose depends on

  • the weight and metabolism of the person taking the drug
  • the amount of time over which the drugs are consumed
  • a person’s tolerance
  • the purity of the drug

Factors that predispose a person to overdose include:

  • Pre-existing heart concerns (For example, a person with pre-existing condition of a high blood pressure or a past history of a heart attack is more likely to have an overdose.)
  • Intravenous use: Users can easily overdose from intravenous ingestion due to meticulous dosage calculations required for injections.
  • Mixing cocaine with other substances, especially heroin

Can cocaine kill you?

Yes cocaine can kill you.

Some studies say that over one gram of cocaine taken orally and 750 to 800 mg used intravenously or inhalation is fatal, but there is no conclusive evidence on the exact doage. Some say it takes an extremely high amount of cocaine to die, yet death can occur at lower doses.

Whatever the case, the effects of cocaine should not be underestimated. According to a 2008 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report, cocaine is responsible for more emergency room visits than any other illegal drug.

So do we know how much cocaine will kill you? No. But, as with all drugs, it’s a gamble.

How do I know if I’m addicted to cocaine?

Addiction occurs when an individual cannot function normally without using cocaine. Individuals who are addicted to cocaine cannot control their urges to seek out and use cocaine despite negative consequences. Below are common signs of addiction:

  • Needing more of the cocaine to achieve the same effect (tolerance)
  • Using more cocaine than intended
  • Unable to cut down or stop cocaine use
  • Spending more money than you have on cocaine
  • Continuing to get high despite the problems it causes
  • Depending on cocaine to relax or enjoy yourself
  • Neglecting daily responsibilities
  • Others have expressed concern about your cocaine use
  • Feelings of guilt when using cocaine


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