Updated on February 6, 2024
4 min read

Cocaine Addiction

Key Takeaways

Cocaine hydrochloride (coke) is an illegal stimulant drug with extremely addictive properties. It is classified as a CNS (central nervous system) stimulant and a local anesthetic.

Initially, cocaine use can lead to increased alertness, energy, and feelings of euphoria. However, Cocaine abuse can lead to anxiety, loss of appetite, sleep problems, and other health consequences.

Why Is Cocaine Addictive?

Cocaine is addictive because it inhibits dopamine's reabsorption via nerve cells, creating a sense of euphoria. Its properties make it classified as a Schedule II drug with a high potential for abuse.

The more you use an addictive substance, the more at risk you are of developing an addiction. Over time, you can develop a tolerance, which means you’ll need to take more of the drug to achieve the same high. 

The substance also changes your brain chemistry and shrinks brain cells, creating dependence. In 2021, about 4.8 million people 12 or older reported using cocaine in the past 12 months.8

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Risk Factors of Cocaine Abuse

Various factors can increase the likelihood of engaging in repeated cocaine use or developing a cocaine addiction. These include:

  • A genetic predisposition to cocaine use
  • Narcissistic personality traits, which can make you vulnerable to the idea of cocaine use
  • Adverse Childhood Effects (ACEs)

Adverse Childhood Effects

People with adverse childhood effects experience traumatic events in their youth, which can be physical, psychological, or social. This leads to a higher risk of developing mental or substance use disorders (SUDs) later in life.7

Some ACEs include:7

  • Dealing with physical and emotional neglect
  • Living with a family member addicted to substances
  • Living with a family member with mental illnesses
  • Having a broken home (divorce, separation, or incarceration)
  • Experiencing racism

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Symptoms of Cocaine Abuse

The signs of cocaine use disorder (CUD) are often difficult to recognize. Since many people abuse cocaine at parties or social events, they may not know they are addicted. However, an individual tolerating the drug will experience withdrawal symptoms after stopping use.

Physical symptoms of cocaine abuse include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Dilated pupils
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Blurred vision
  • High blood pressure
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Sensitivity to sound, sight, and touch
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Poor hygiene
  • Weak immune system (getting sick often)

Psychosocial consequences of cocaine use  include:

  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Isolation from other people
  • Money difficulties or stealing money
  • Participating in risky behaviors
  • Extreme mood swings

Signs of Cocaine Dependency

Between 2018 and 2019, about 69,000 people died of a drug overdose. Cocaine overdoses comprised 23 percent (more than 1 in 5) of these deaths.5

If you or a loved one experiences any of the following symptoms, you may be at increased risk of cocaine dependency:

  • Uncontrollable cravings for the substance
  • Not wanting to use the drug, but doing so anyway
  • Ignoring the possible consequences and risk factors

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What Are the Long-term Side Effects of Cocaine Abuse?

If you use cocaine for a long period of time, you’re at risk of severe and permanent long-term consequences. Possible severe and long-term adverse effects of abuse include:

  • Mood changes or irritability
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Heart attacks
  • Seizures
  • Lung damage
  • Infections through injections (Hepatitis C, HIV, etc.)
  • Increased risk of mental health disorders
  • Loss of smell and trouble swallowing
  • Permanent changes to brain chemistry

Drug dealers can also dilute (cut) cocaine with other substances. This can increase the risk of severe side effects. 

Treatment for Cocaine Addiction

Pharmacological and behavioral treatments are the most effective options for cocaine addiction. Outpatient treatment, inpatient treatment, medications, therapy, or a combination of different treatment programs can help you recover from addiction.

For example, common medications used to treat cocaine addiction may include:

  • Propranolol: A beta-blocker that may help some patients with severe withdrawal symptoms
  • Disulfiram: A medication to treat alcohol dependence and reduce a patient’s risk for cocaine relapse
  • Baclofen: A muscle relaxant that reduces the amount of dopamine released; can decrease cocaine cravings and prevent relapse
  • Tiagabine: A drug to treat seizures; can improve cocaine abstinence and prevent relapse

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapies aim to address the reasons why someone might abuse cocaine. It also studies the mental disorders associated with substance abuse. Therapy methods common in substance abuse treatment include the following:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This addiction treatment aims to uncover the motivations behind cocaine abuse and replace associated maladaptive thinking with positive behavior and productive responses.
  • Contingency management: This treatment program provides incentives for abstinence and other positive parameters, such as maintaining a job or improving social interactions.

Support Groups

People with SUD may benefit from 12-step programs in group settings to encourage recovery. These interactions promote a community where members can hold one another accountable.

Support groups for cocaine addiction include: 

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Updated on February 6, 2024
8 sources cited
Updated on February 6, 2024
  1. Kampman, K.M. “New Medications for the Treatment of Cocaine Dependence.” Psychiatry, National Library of Medicine, 2005.
  2. “Cocaine.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2021.
  3. “How Is Cocaine Addiction Treated?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020.
  4. “What Is Cocaine?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2022.
  5. National Center for Health Statistics, “NCHS Releases New Monthly Provisional Estimates on Drug Overdose Deaths.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019.
  6. Kampman, K.M. “The treatment of cocaine use disorder.” Science Advances, National Library of Medicine, 2019.
  7. “The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Addiction.” The Council on Recovery, 2020.
  8. "What is the scope of cocaine use in the United States?" National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2023.

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