Causes, Signs & Effects of Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine, also known as coke, blow, crack, and rock, is an extremely addicting stimulant derived from the leaves of the coca plant grown in South America.

More About Cocaine

Learn More About Cocaine

This illegal drug is distributed in two forms: powdered cocaine and crack cocaine. In the most pure form, cocaine is a white powdered substance that is usually cut on the streets with fillers such as lactose, baking soda, or lidocaine. Sometimes this powdered cocaine can be cut with other stimulants such as methamphetamines or narcotics such as heroin. The combination of heroin and cocaine is called a “speedball.” As powdered cocaine can be mixed with a number of things, it’s hard to assess the purity and strength of the dose, even those sold by the same dealer. This can lead to overdose and death. Crack cocaine is of lower purity and comes in a rock-like crystal, hence the name “crack rock.”

These two forms of cocaine can be abused in a variety of different ways; crack cocaine is usually smoked, while powdered cocaine can be snorted or dissolved and injected. The route of administration affects the duration and intensity of the pleasurable effects produced by coke. Smoking or injecting the cocaine causes a faster delivery into the bloodstream, allowing it to quickly cross the blood-brain barrier. Snorting cocaine crosses the blood-brain barrier more slowly, prolonging the high.

As a central nervous system stimulant, cocaine increases the levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain by preventing dopamine reuptake in the neurons. This causes excessive amounts of dopamine to build up in the synapses between neurons, resulting in the associated high. With repeated use, cocaine changes the reward system of the brain, leading to tolerance, addiction, and dependence on cocaine.


Statistics on Cocaine Addiction

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) has estimated that in 2009, there were 1.9 million current cocaine users, of which about 359,000 were crack cocaine users. Adults between the ages of 18 and 29 have higher rates of cocaine usage, with 1.5% of those within that age range reporting past-month cocaine usage. Men overall have higher rates of cocaine abuse than women.

What Causes Cocaine Use?

Learn About the Causes and Risk Factors for Cocaine Addiction

Most researchers agree that addiction to any substance like cocaine is the result of a number of different factors working together that increase the likelihood a person will develop an addiction to cocaine. The causes and risk factors for cocaine abuse may include:

Genetics: Individuals who have a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, who has an addiction to cocaine or other substances are at a higher risk for developing an addiction themselves. While this is not a definitive indicator, genetics are believed to play a major role in addiction.

Physical: It has been hypothesized that some individuals are born with temperamental qualities that predisposes them to develop an addiction to stimulants. Additionally, those who abuse cocaine may be doing so in an attempt to self-medicate an unknown, inborn deficiency to certain neurotransmitters that regulate pleasure and activity.

Environmental: People who are born into families in which addiction and drug abuse is acceptable and prevalent may grow up to believe that using drugs such as cocaine is a normal way to cope with stressors of the world. Additionally, people who begin to experiment with drugs during their young teens are at a greater risk for developing addiction later in life.

Risk Factors: Some factors can increase a person’s chance at developing an addiction to drugs and alcohol. These factors include:

  • Early aggressive behaviors
  • Peer pressure
  • Lack of parental supervision
  • Availability of drug
  • Poverty
  • Being male
  • Presence of certain mental illnesses – ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder
  • Loneliness
  • High stress

Protective Factors: Certain factors can reduce the ability for a person to develop a drug or alcohol addiction, including:

  • Self-control
  • Parental monitoring
  • Academic achievement
  • Strong neighborhood attachment

Signs of Cocaine Addiction

Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine Addiction

The symptoms of cocaine abuse and addiction will vary depending upon individual genetic makeup, length of addiction, amount used, and the presence of other drugs in the body. The most common symptoms of cocaine abuse include:

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Extreme energy
  • Engaging in illegal activities
  • Speaking very quickly
  • Talkativeness
  • Conversation jumping around to multiple topics
  • Risk-taking behaviors

Physical Symptoms:

  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Changes in sleep and eating patterns
  • Tolerance
  • Physical addiction
  • Seizures
  • Racing heart
  • Hypertension
  • Sweating
  • Increased libido
  • Sudden cardiac death
  • Dilated pupils

Cognitive Symptoms:

  • Extreme focus and concentration on one task
  • Increased alertness
  • Increased feelings of competence

Psychosocial Symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Social withdrawal
  • Restlessness
  • Paranoia
  • Psychological addiction
  • Euphoria and feelings of wellbeing
  • Mood swings

Effects of Cocaine

The Effects of Cocaine Addiction

When not properly treated, the long-term symptoms of cocaine addiction can leave a wide variety of serious consequences. The effects of cocaine abuse will vary based upon individual genetic makeup, route of administration, length of abuse, and frequency of use.

  • Lower work ethic and loss of job
  • Addiction
  • Poverty
  • Legal problems
  • Incarceration
  • Malnourishment
  • Strained or ruined interpersonal relationships
  • Lung infections and scarring
  • Nasal perforation
  • Cardiovascular complications
  • Infections from bloodborne pathogens from using contaminated needles
  • Collapse of veins and abscesses on injection site
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Sudden cardiac death followed by respiratory arrest

Withdrawal & Overdose

Learn What Happens During Cocaine Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of Cocaine Withdrawal:

When a person becomes addicted to a substance like cocaine and they suddenly stop using that drug, withdrawal symptoms set in. It is always best to seek professional help when going through cocaine withdrawal so that you can be supervised by a trained medical professional who can help prevent complications.

Some of the effects of withdrawal from cocaine may include:

  • Agitation and restlessness
  • Depression
  • Cravings for more cocaine
  • Anhedonia
  • Increased appetite
  • Vivid and unpleasant dreams
  • Decrease in activity levels
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue and sleepiness
  • Aggression
  • Paranoia

Effects of Cocaine Overdose:

Cocaine overdose can be fatal, and is more likely to occur when an individual injects cocaine because the drug enters the body at a quicker speed, increasing the risk for overdose. However, overdose from cocaine can occur at any time an individual uses cocaine. Any signs of cocaine overdose indicates a medical emergency and you should seek help immediately.

Common symptoms of a cocaine overdose include:

  • Angina
  • Seizures
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Panic attacks
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Irregular breathing
  • Hyperthermia
  • Tachycardia
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Cocaine Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders

A number of mental health and related disorders have been linked to abuse and addiction to cocaine. These include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Alcoholism
  • Other addictions