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Cocaine Abuse Symptoms, Signs and Addiction Treatment

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Cocaine is a powerful stimulant that causes euphoria, heightened energy and increased alertness when it is smoked, snorted, injected or ingested orally. Cocaine is derived from the leaves of the Coca plant to produce a powdery substance that is white and soft. Because cocaine has no accepted medical uses, any use of the drug is considered abuse.

What is Cocaine?
cocaine effectsCocaine is an illegal, powerful stimulant. Its abuse can quickly lead into addiction.

According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, cocaine is a schedule II substance known as a stimulant. The drug first appeared in American society during the late 1800s as a surgical anesthetic. The drug would later become common in households and was used throughout the 1900s in Coca-Cola as well as various types of wine.

Cocaine abuse became very common in the 1960s prompting Congress to enact legal implications for those who were caught in possession of the drug. In 1970, cocaine because a class II controlled substance which would be strictly enforced by the DEA. Since then, cocaine abuse has continued to be an evident problem throughout the United States as well as in other countries; this is especially true in countries where the Coca plant is harvested such as Columbia and parts of central Mexico.

Signs of Cocaine Abuse

Users will often show immediate signs of abuse such as:

  • Heightened paranoia or fear
  • Increased energy
  • Increased alertness
  • Insomnia
  • Euphoria
  • Heightened confidence

Depending on the method of use, the individual may show additional signs of abuse such as:

  • A runny nose.
  • Clogged sinuses.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Powder around the nostrils.
  • Injection marks or track marks from needles being used to inject cocaine.
  • Cough or respiratory illness resulting from smoking cocaine.
  • Changes in sleep patterns.
  • Acting or behaving irrationally or being very risky.
Dangerous Effects of Cocaine

According to Brown University, various short term effects of cocaine can be highly dangerous to the user. Some of the most dangerous effects of cocaine include:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Heart palpitations
  • Delusions
  • Violent outbursts
  • Psychosis
  • Sudden death

The stimulant effects of cocaine can be highly dangerous when they are paired with substances that are otherwise known as depressants such as alcohol or benzodiazepines such as Xanax. The effects of the depressants are not felt by the user which can lead to slowed respiration, lowered blood pressure and other serious complications.

High Doses of Cocaine Can Lead to:

  • Seizures
  • High blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid respiration
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Stroke
  • Fatal reaction

According to Macalester College, "people who abuse drugs regularly often exhibit psychotic behavior such as hallucinations, delusions or persecution, mood disturbances, and repetitive behaviors, all of which closely resemble the symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia."

Cocaine Addiction

Repeat use of cocaine often leads to physical dependence. Although cocaine addiction is generally not plagued by the significant physical symptoms of withdrawal that are seen in those suffering from heroin addiction, the aftermath of cocaine abuse and the subsequent dependence that comes with addiction is still very difficult to cope with.

Studies by Harvard have actually found that the blood flow in the brain of a cocaine user is slower than the flow in that of a non-user. Although research has not confirmed the details, it is suspected that the slowed blood flow in the brain may be responsible for:

  • Memory loss
  • Learning problems
  • Attention deficit
  • Stroke
Cocaine Addiction Symptoms

According to CESAR, "cocaine is a highly addictive substance, and users can quickly develop a tolerance to the drug, needing more of the substance to achieve the desired effects." Symptoms of cocaine addiction can range from the development of an increased desire to use the drug to an increase in tolerance and intense cravings. You are likely suffering from cocaine addiction if you:

  • Find yourself preoccupied with the use of cocaine.
  • Find yourself preoccupied with the craving to use cocaine.
  • Use more cocaine than you intended to.
  • Use cocaine to cope with emotions.
  • Use cocaine in dangerous situations such as while driving or while operating heavy machinery.
  • Use cocaine because you don't feel like you can have fun without it.
  • Use cocaine as a way of coping with stress.
  • Have made promises to quit using cocaine but continue to use anyway.
  • Have suffered legal, financial or relationship trouble as a result of cocaine use but continue to use.
  • Feel symptoms of withdrawal when you don't use cocaine.
Cocaine Overdose

Repeat use of cocaine over a short period of time, or using a large amount of cocaine in one dose can cause an overdose. Overdose is most common when a user injects cocaine but it can occur with oral or nasal consumption as well as when smoking the drug. According to the University of Delaware, medical complications that may arise as a result of cocaine overdose include:

  • Disturbances of the heart rhythm
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Respiratory failure
  • Seizures
  • Death
Cocaine Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms result when cocaine use is abruptly discontinued following a bout or period of abuse. Withdrawal symptoms can be difficult to deal with and may make continued abstinence difficult for the user to fathom. It is very common for cocaine addicts to become depressed, irritable and inconsolable when they quit using cocaine, especially if they are long-term users or if they suffer from other health conditions or co-occurring disorders in addition to their addiction to this powerful stimulant.

Symptoms of Cocaine Withdrawal

  • Cravings which are very intense.
  • Depression that is minimally or unresponsive to medication.
  • Extreme fatigue and tiredness.
  • Nightmares that make it difficult to stay asleep.
  • Extreme irritability, anger and outbursts.
Types of Treatment for Cocaine Addiction

At this time, there are no medications that have been FDA approved in the treatment of cocaine addiction. As such, the most common methods of acceptable treatment for an addiction to cocaine continue to be in the form of behavioral therapy. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, CBT, motivational interviewing and motivational incentives continue to play a key role in the recovery process for most cocaine addicts.

Residential treatment, though not always necessary, provides the most solid foundation for those in the early stages of recovery from this type of addiction. Here, addicts are able to work one-on-one with counselors and therapists while they receive around-the-clock care and guidance that is aimed at teaching them how to take back control of their lives.

Individuals with long histories of drug abuse should consider residential treatment as a first choice in recovering from cocaine addiction.

Other Options of Treatment May Include:

  • Outpatient treatment
  • Sober living
  • Support groups
  • Intensive outpatient treatment

The type of treatment that is best for you will depend on your addiction, your lifestyle, your ability to remain abstinent and various other factors. Many will initially choose the help of an outpatient program with the idea that it will be less invasive and easier to adjust to but they later find that there's not enough monitoring and guidance in this type of program to keep them clean. Others find that the support which comes from a support group is all that they need to stay sober - this will be a learning curve that can only be understood by the patient as time goes on and they progress through the treatment and recovery process.

Recovering from Cocaine Addiction

There's no definitive amount of time that it will take for you to recover from cocaine addiction. For some, 90 days in treatment is plenty of time to get back on track; others will require extensively longer in order to fully overcome the challenges and the burdens of addiction to cocaine. Your recovery will depend on how committed you are to getting sober and to remaining abstinent from cocaine use, but it will also depend on the methods and effectiveness of treatment that is provided to you.

What if I Relapse?

If you relapse, don't be afraid to pick up the pieces and get back on track. People relapse all the time - it's a common element of recovery that many addicts have to learn how to face. The best way to overcome relapse is to get back on the path to recovery. Attend an NA meeting, contact your sponsor, talk with your treatment provider, seek support from a friend or family member, do whatever it takes to get yourself heading back in the right direction.

Most importantly, know that recovering from cocaine addiction will take time - you can't expect it to happen overnight. Commit yourself to your recovery and you will find a way to achieve your sobriety goals. Through treatment, counseling, therapy and support, cocaine addiction can become a part of your past, and sobriety can become your future.


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