Causes & Effects of Cocaine Addiction

Understanding Cocaine Addiction

Learn About Cocaine Addiction & Abuse

Made from the leaves of the South American coca plant, cocaine is a powerful drug that most often appears as a white powder. Cocaine also comes in the form of a crystal rock, known as crack or crack cocaine.

Cocaine is a stimulant, which means that when a person ingests it, it increases the activity of certain regions of the brain. The results of cocaine use include feelings of pleasure, excessive energy, invincibility, and euphoria. The high from cocaine tends to be relatively short-lived, typically lasting no more than 30 minutes, so individuals who abuse this drug often take multiples over periods of hours or days. This behavior, which is known as bingeing, is one reason that individuals who struggle with cocaine abuse can quickly become addicted.


Cocaine Abuse Statistics

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), indicates that about 0.3% of individuals 18 years or older meet criteria for cocaine use disorder, which is the clinical term for cocaine addiction, in a given year. Cocaine abuse is four times more common in males (0.4%) than in females (0.1%) and is least common among adults ages 45 to 64 (0.1%).

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors for Cocaine Abuse

The DSM-5 indicates that the following are among the risk factors that can increase a person’s risk for engaging in cocaine abuse:

Genetic: Certain genetically influenced personality traits, such as impulsivity, may increase an individual’s risk of cocaine abuse. In addition, other mental health disorders that are linked to genetics, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, can also increase a person’s risk of cocaine abuse.

Environmental: In addition to genetic factors, certain environmental factors can also cause certain individuals to be at a greater risk for cocaine abuse. People who were exposed to cocaine in utero, as well as those who are raised by parents who abuse cocaine, are more likely to abuse the drug. Other environmental factors, such as exposure to community violence, living in an unstable home environment, and associating with dealers and other users, can also increase a person’s risk of cocaine abuse.

Risk Factors:

  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Personal history of substance abuse
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Impulsivity
  • Living in an unstable home environment
  • Exposure to community violence
  • Associating with dealers and cocaine users

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine Abuse

Cocaine abuse is often evidenced by some or all of the following signs and symptoms:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Failing to keep up with major obligations at home or work
  • A history of unsuccessful attempts to reduce use
  • 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, such as while driving or at work
  • Neglecting important social, occupational, or recreational activities in favor of using cocaine
  • Spending a lot of time acquiring, using, or recovering from use of cocaine
  • Taking more of the drug, or taking the drug over a longer period of time, than one intends

Physical symptoms:

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

Cognitive symptoms:

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

Psychosocial symptoms:

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

Lasting Effects

Effects of Alcohol Abuse

If left untreated, there is virtually no area of a person’s life that cocaine abuse cannot negatively affect. Potential effects of cocaine abuse include the following:

  • Loss of child custody
  • Social isolation
  • Polysubstance use, addiction, or chemical dependency
  • Damage to nasal mucous membranes from snorting
  • 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
  • Involvement with legal system, possibly including incarceration
  • Damage to arteries or veins from repeated injections
  • Onset or worsening of mental health symptoms
  • Contracting HIV or other sexually-transmitted infection from using unclean needles

Co-Occurring Disorders

Cocaine Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

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

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Gambling disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • 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, his or her body acclimates to the presence of the drug. Since a person’s body becomes used to the presence of cocaine, any attempt to stop using the drug can result in a series of extremely uncomfortable experiences known as withdrawal. The following are among the more common effects of cocaine withdrawal:

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

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 take. When this happens, the person will experience an overdose, which is a dangerous and potentially fatal condition. Some indicators of overdose can include:

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

Fortunately, there is treatment available for those who seek it, and it is possible to end one’s addiction to cocaine once and for all.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions About Cocaine Addiction

What causes cocaine addiction?

Cocaine addiction is caused by repeated use of the substance. Once you have consumed the drug, your body begins developing a tolerance to it, which means that you have to consume more of it in order to achieve the same effects. The more you consume, the more likely you are to become physically dependent on it, ultimately leading to the development of an addiction.

What are signs of cocaine dependence?

The most prominent sign that someone is physically dependent on cocaine is the ongoing need to consistently consume the drug. If the drug is not consumed, the person will enter a state of withdrawal as his or her body attempts to adjust to functioning without the drug present in his or her system.

What are the symptoms of cocaine addiction?

There are many signs that, when they remain persistent, may indicate that a person is addicted to cocaine. Examples of such signs can include the following:

  • Decreased appetite and weight loss
  • Continuing to abuse cocaine despite having a desire to quit
  • Stealing in order to have money to purchase the drug
  • Nausea, dilated pupils, elevated body temperature, chest pain, and rapid heartbeat
  • Pervasive paranoia
  • Heightened states of agitation and irritability

Can cocaine cause bipolar disorder?

No. Abusing cocaine cannot directly cause the onset of bipolar disorder. If someone is genetically predisposed to developing this mental health condition, however, the use of cocaine can lead to a rapid onset of symptoms.

What are the social effects of cocaine?

If you are using cocaine, your behavior will inevitably change. Your speech will likely become rapid, your thoughts may race, and you may experience feelings of grandiosity that can be confusing to those around you. Additionally, unprovoked aggression, irritability, and agitation can result from cocaine use, causing problems to develop within important relationships.

What are some cocaine abuse statistics?

The office of the National Drug Control Policy reports that an estimated 3.6 million people in the United States use cocaine on a regular basis. The American Psychiatric Association states that approximately 0.3% of the population suffer from cocaine use disorder, the clinical diagnosis for cocaine addiction.

What are the symptoms of cocaine withdrawal?

Cocaine withdrawal can cause a number of unpleasant symptoms, including the following:

  • Vivid, unpleasant dreams
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Strong cravings for the drug
  • Psychomotor retardation or agitation
  • Suddenly increased appetite
  • Dysphoric mood
  • Feelings of panic
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My son began to abuse cocaine while in college. He was suffering and really needed help. Serenity Knolls guided him to a sober life and he is now graduated and doing well! I'm very proud of him and thankful for Serenity Knolls.

– Mary Katherine T.