Cocaine Addiction: Symptoms, Effects, & Rehab

Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug, with an estimated 1.3 million people in the U.S. struggling with a cocaine use disorder in recent years.1 This article can help you learn more about cocaine, its potential for addiction, the signs of cocaine addiction, and the long-term effects of cocaine use.
Did you know most health insurance plans cover addiction treatment?
What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a central nervous stimulant drug commonly encountered on the illicit market as a white powder. In this crystalline powdered form, it is often cut with other substances, such as talcum powder or cornstarch, to make it more profitable for dealers.2 Illicitly manufactured cocaine is sometimes also mixed with other stimulants or synthetic opioids like fentanyl—a practice which can make devastating drug overdoses more likely.2

People using cocaine commonly snort it, though it may also be smoked or dissolved into liquid solution to be injected.2 Other people may mix cocaine with heroin prior to injecting it, which is known as a “speedball”.2

Why is Cocaine Addictive?

Cocaine is an addictive substance because its use increases the activity of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in rewarding certain types of behavior.2 This temporary surge in dopamine activity in our brain’s reward circuits reinforces the continued use of cocaine.2

Over time, repeated use of cocaine and the accompanying alterations in our reward centers and other brain systems are thought to make cocaine addiction more likely.2 Additionally though, whether or not a person develops an addiction is thought to be influenced by the complex interaction of several biological and environmental factors. These risk factors can include:3

  • Genetics.
  • Certain adverse life experiences (e.g., chaotic home life, abuse).
  • The presence of certain other mental health issues.
  • Drug availability.
  • Peer influences and low peer refusal skills.
  • Exposure to parental substance use.
  • Lack of parental supervision.
  • Drug use beginning at a relatively early age.
  • Common route of use (i.e., smoking and injecting).

Signs of Cocaine Addiction

Although a substance use disorder diagnosis may be best provided by a doctor or other treatment professional, there are signs that someone possibly has a problem that could indicate the need for further evaluation. As the official diagnostic criteria for stimulant use disorders, the signs of cocaine addiction can include:5

  • Using more cocaine than was originally intended.
  • Persistently wanting to or unsuccessfully attempting to cut back on cocaine use or stop using it entirely.
  • The use of cocaine takes a lot of money, time, and resources to get it, use it, and recover from using it.
  • You have strong urges and cravings to use cocaine.
  • You cannot fulfill your obligations as a parent, student, and/or employee due to cocaine use.
  • Cocaine use continues despite increased social or interpersonal problems.
  • Cocaine use leads you to abandon previously important social, occupational, or other recreational pursuits.
  • Cocaine is used in risky situations like driving or operating heavy machinery.
  • You keep using cocaine despite knowing it has caused or worsened a mental or physical condition.
  • You develop a tolerance, which means you need to take more cocaine to keep feeling its desired high.
  • You experience signs of withdrawal if you stop using it.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Addiction?

While in the short-term, a person may experience euphoria and increased energy, they can also experience irregular heart rate and rhythm, increased blood pressure, hyperthermia, hypersensitivity to various external stimuli, irritability, and psychotic features such as hallucinations and paranoia.2 Some people may eventually become malnourished due to cocaine misuse, as this drug reduces appetite significantly.2

There are also other risks based on how the person uses cocaine. For example, in the long-term, people who snort cocaine may develop:2

  • Loss of sense of smell.
  • Chronic congestion or runny nose.
  • Nosebleeds.
  • Swallowing issues.

If a person smokes cocaine routinely, they can also experience:2

  • Asthma.
  • Coughing.
  • Breathing difficulties.
  • Increased risk of infections like pneumonia.

If someone injects cocaine, the negative, long-term health risks include:2

  • Increased likelihood of contracting bloodborne illnesses, such as hepatitis C and HIV.
  • Scarring and collapsed veins from repeated injections.
  • Skin and tissue infections (e.g., skin abscess, cellulitis).
Cocaine Withdrawal & Detox

Woman with psychosisAs physical dependence to cocaine develops, a person will eventually need the drug to feel normal; when the drug is no longer used, the person will experience symptoms of cocaine withdrawal.6 During cocaine withdrawal, the absence of the substance in the system after a period of heavy and prolonged use leads to a characteristic set of often-unpleasant physiological adjustments—known as an acute withdrawal syndrome.6,7

Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms

When cocaine dependence becomes significant, after the cessation of cocaine use, a person may experience a number of withdrawal symptoms, such as:2,5,7

  • Depression.
  • Feelings of irritability.
  • Vivid dreams or nightmares.
  • Changes in sleep patterns (hypersomnia or insomnia).
  • Fatigue.
  • Poor concentration / impaired thinking.
  • Increased appetite.

Though stimulant withdrawal rarely presents immediate medical dangers nor intense physical discomfort, some individuals may benefit from the added safety and comfort of a drug detox program. In some cases of stimulant withdrawal, people can experience a profound depression with associated suicidal thoughts. In such instances, more intensive treatment interventions and withdrawal management measures may be needed. Medical supervision may also be especially important if the individual is dependent on multiple substances, which may complicate withdrawal.7

Cocaine Addiction & Treatment

Holding handsAlthough it is never easy to speak to others about cocaine misuse or addiction to any other types of drugs, it is important to get your loved one the help they need. There are family resources that can aid you in helping a family member with addiction.

What Kinds of Treatment Are Effective for Cocaine Addiction?

There are numerous forms of treatment for cocaine addiction, and various levels of care can help your loved one. These levels of care include:8

  • Inpatient addiction treatment, where you receive 24/7 supervision and care for cocaine addiction.
  • Outpatient addiction treatment, where you attend for a few hours to up to 20 hours per week but can go home at night.
  • Short-term rehab, which can last for a few days and can sometimes be a starting point for treatment. Oftentimes, people will go to a short-term inpatient program and follow this with additional outpatient treatment efforts. Though the exact duration of treatment will vary based on individual recovery needs, for many people, relatively longer periods of some type of treatment are associated with improved recovery outcomes.9
  • Long-term residential treatment, which can last 6 to 12 months, or even longer, provides what’s known as a therapeutic community for those people who need the added time and structure to support their recovery progress.

Getting into Rehab for Cocaine Addiction

If you are ready to start treatment, you may wonder what the process is to get into a rehab program. The first step is to call to speak to one of our admissions navigators, who can answer questions that you may have about the rehab program and help you figure out your insurance coverage and payment options for treatment. Call us right now at to gather all the information you need regarding how you can start your treatment today.

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