Cocaine Addiction Causes & Effects

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Understanding Cocaine Addiction

Learn about cocaine and substance abuse

Cocaine is an illegal stimulant drug that often appears in the form of a white powder or as crystals known as crack or crack cocaine. Made from the South American coca plant, cocaine provides users with a fast-acting and relatively short-lived high when they ingest it and causes users to feel euphoric and excessively energetic. Because the high from cocaine does not last very long, those who abuse the drug sometimes engage in binges of repeated use that can last for hours or days. With continued abuse, it is possible for individuals to develop cocaine use disorder and suffer numerous detrimental effects in virtually all areas of their lives. Fortunately, with professional treatment for cocaine addiction, there is hope for those who are suffering.


Cocaine addiction statistics

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) reports that in a given year, 0.6% of 18- to 29-year-olds have a cocaine use disorder. In addition, women are about four times less likely than men to develop such a disorder. Cocaine is also a dangerous drug, being responsible for 6.3% of emergency room visits in 2011, according to data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for cocaine addiction

Researchers have long known that substance use disorders, and cocaine use disorder in particular, are not the result of any single causal factor. Rather, a person’s risk of developing a cocaine use disorder results from a complex, interlinked network of factors. These risk factors can include:

Environmental: People who were exposed to cocaine in the womb, as are those who grow up among cocaine users, are more likely to develop a cocaine use disorder in adulthood. Exposure to traumatic experiences such as community violence can also increase the chance that a person begins abusing cocaine. For women, living in an unstable home environment, associating with cocaine dealers and users, and having a co-occurring mental health condition all increase their risk of developing a cocaine use disorder.

Risk Factors:

  • Prenatal and postnatal cocaine exposure
  • Exposure to community violence
  • Personal history of mental illness or other substance use disorder
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Spending time with cocaine dealers or users
  • Growing up in an unstable home environment
  • High impulsivity

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of cocaine addiction

Every cocaine user’s pattern of use differs based on individual personality factors and the length and extent of their cocaine abuse. That being said, the following signs and symptoms may indicate that a person is struggling with a cocaine use disorder:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Continuing to use cocaine despite knowledge of adverse physical, occupational, social, or psychological consequences of use
  • Using the drug in situations where it is physically hazardous to do so
  • Neglecting important social, occupational, or recreational activities in favor of using cocaine
  • Failing to keep up with major obligations at home or work
  • Spending a lot of time acquiring, using, or recovering from use of cocaine
  • A history of unsuccessful attempts to reduce use
  • Taking more of the drug, or taking the drug over a longer period of time, than one intends

Physical symptoms:

  • Changes in heart rate
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Dilated pupils
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Agitation or restlessness
  • Slowed movements
  • Muscle weakness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Seizures
  • Experiencing tolerance with continued use or withdrawal when attempting to stop using

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Slowed or rapid thought processes
  • Excessive alertness
  • Confusion
  • Impaired judgment
  • Having strong desires or cravings for the drug

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Continuing to use cocaine despite experiencing interpersonal difficulties, such as conflict or estrangement, as a result of use
  • Anger or aggressiveness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Blunted emotions


Effects of cocaine addiction

If left untreated, a cocaine use disorder can cause numerous negative effects in a person’s life, possibly even including a fatal overdose. Some of the other negative effects associated with cocaine abuse include:

  • Damage to nasal mucous membranes from snorting
  • Damage to arteries or veins from repeated injections
  • Onset or worsening of mental health symptoms
  • Polysubstance use, addiction, or chemical dependency
  • Contracting HIV or other sexually-transmitted infection from sharing used needles
  • Decline in work performance leading to demotion or being fired
  • Financial difficulties
  • Being a victim of violence related to drug trafficking
  • Strain on social relationships
  • Separation or divorce
  • Loss of child custody
  • Social isolation
  • Involvement with legal system, possibly including incarceration

Co-Occurring Disorders

Cocaine addiction and co-occurring disorders

Sadly, people with cocaine use disorder often meet criteria for other mental illnesses. Some of the most common co-occurring disorders among those with cocaine use disorder include:

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Gambling disorder
  • Other substance use disorders, especially involving substances with sedative properties that counteract the effects of cocaine

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of cocaine withdrawal & overdose

Effects of cocaine withdrawal: When a person uses cocaine for a long period of time, her body acclimates to the presence of the drug. Since a person’s body becomes used to having cocaine in its system, any attempt to stop using the drug can result in a series of extremely uncomfortable symptoms known as withdrawal. The signs, symptoms, and effects of cocaine withdrawal can include:

  • Increased appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Depressed mood
  • Oversleeping
  • Vivid and unpleasant nightmares or dreams
  • Fatigue

Effects of cocaine overdose: In the process of pursuing a high, it is possible for someone who uses cocaine to ingest more than her body can safely process or excrete. When this happens, the person will experience an overdose, which a dangerous and potentially fatal condition. If a person who has been using cocaine demonstrates or experiences any of the following signs or symptoms, she should receive medication attention as soon as possible:

  • Dizziness
  • Tremor or shaking
  • Confusion
  • Agitation or aggression
  • Hallucinations
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Seizure
  • Stroke

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Snorting cocaine became second nature to me. Thanks to The Rose, I was able to break free from my cocaine addiction and am about celebrate my second year of sobriety.

– Former Patient
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