Cocaine Abuse Causes, Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

No one experiences cocaine addiction the same way as someone else. Understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of cocaine addiction is a key component toward starting the recovery journey.

Understanding Cocaine Addiction

Learn about cocaine addiction

Often called the “caviar of street drugs,” cocaine addiction is frequently portrayed by the media as being a glamorous type of drug to abuse. The reality of cocaine abuse, however, paints a much uglier picture. Cocaine abuse can lead to drug addiction which has many life-threatening effects on the heart and brain, as well as devastating consequences to emotional well-being.

Cocaine is a purified extract of the Erythoxylum Coca bush which grows in the Andes region of South America. Through different chemical processes, there are two primary types of cocaine created each of which affects the intensity and duration of the high experienced.

Powdered cocaine, otherwise known as “blow” or “coke” dissolves in water and can be snorted or injected. The high from snorting powdered cocaine can last between 15 and 30 minutes while the high from injecting cocaine can last a shorter time but provide a more intense high.

Crack cocaine, otherwise known as “freebase,” “rock,” or “crack” is produced by a chemical process that creates a crystallized rock which is often smoked. The crystal is heated to create a smoke that is inhaled then absorbed into the bloodstream by the lungs. Smoking crack cocaine may produce a high that lasts 5 to 10 minutes.

As the duration of the high is relatively short, people who abuse cocaine typically use the drug in a binge and crash fashion. This means that the drug is taken repeatedly within a short period of time at higher doses in order to sustain a high. This process can lead to cocaine addiction which is a chronic relapsing disease caused by changes in the brain and intense drug-seeking behaviors.

Cocaine is a stimulant that affects the central nervous system by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is generally released in response to a potential reward then recycled back into the cell that released it stopping the signal between brain cells. Cocaine prevents dopamine from being recycled which leads to extreme levels of dopamine between the brain cells. This increases the dopamine’s effect and changes the way the brain communicates. Long-term cocaine use can change the way the reward system in the brain functions.

Cocaine is often involved in polydrug – or multiple drug – abuse, most especially combined with sedatives like alcohol or benzodiazepines which serve to intensify the high as well as ease the crash associated with cocaine abuse. Cocaine abuse can cause major problems in all areas of a person’s life and without proper intervention and treatment, it can cause life-threatening consequences.


Cocaine addiction statistics

Cocaine use continues to be a growing problem and one of the most abused major stimulant drug in America. It has recently become the drug that is most frequently involved in emergency room visits. Approximately 1.9 million people use cocaine each month of which about 359,000 were crack cocaine users. Adults ages 18-25 have a higher rate of cocaine usage with 1.5 percent of young adults reporting the usage of cocaine in the past month. More men than women abuse cocaine each month.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Cocaine addiction and co-occurring disorders

  • Other addictions
  • Alcoholism
  • Benzodiazepine abuse
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for cocaine addiction

People experiment with drugs for a variety of reasons, such as curiosity or to relieve stress or anxiety. Drug abuse doesn’t always lead to addiction, but it’s important to note that drug abuse is less about the amount or frequency of abuse and more to do with the negative consequences, such as losing a job or your home.

As is the case with many drugs, there is no single cause for addiction to cocaine. Addiction is generally considered to be the combination of genetic, environmental, biological, and psychological factors working together

Genetics: people who have grown up with an addict, especially a first relative have higher rates of addiction. However, not all individuals who grow up in high-risk homes will develop an addiction to cocaine.

Biological: current research indicates that repeated cocaine abuse causes a change in the brain that can lead to altered levels of a protein responsible for the action of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that leads to pleasurable sensations in the brain.

Environmental: there has been researching that indicates that people who come from homes that have a history of trauma such as child abuse, or child neglect may have an increased likelihood of developing an addiction later in life. Early usage of drugs may also increase the chance that a person will become addicted to drugs.

Psychological: many people use recreational drugs in order to manage symptoms of an underlying mental illness, such as depression or anxiety. Cocaine may also fill a powerful emotional void for some.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of cocaine addiction

Cocaine is a powerful and addictive drug which means that it can be a challenge to correctly identify the way in which a person will react to cocaine use. Some of the more common signs and symptoms are as follows:


  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Euphoria
  • Panic
  • Feeling supreme or better than other people
  • Fearful


  • Talkative during periods of high
  • Increased mental alertness
  • Increased energy
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Bizarre and erratic behaviors
  • Violence
  • Continuing to take the drug in spite of mounting problems the drug is causing in one’s life.
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work or school
  • Legal problems
  • Abandoning once-pleasurable activities to get high
  • Stealing or borrowing money


  • Vasoconstriction
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Nasal perforation
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Kidney failure
  • Hoarseness
  • Chronically runny nose
  • Nosebleeds
  • Pupil dilation
  • Increases body temperature
  • Increases heart rate
  • Increases blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Decreased appetite, often leading to malnutrition
  • Bowel gangrene
  • Risks for HIV, Hepatitis C and other blood-borne pathogens
  • Tremors and muscle twitches
  • Strokes
  • Seizures
  • Heart attacks
  • Coma


  • Reckless risky behaviors
  • Severe paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Hallucinations
  • Feeling as though the drug is needed for survival
  • Inability to use good judgment
  • Drug cravings
  • Rationalization of drug use and abuse
  • Problems in interpersonal relationships
  • Unexplained changes in personality
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Lack of motivation


Effects of cocaine addiction

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Legal problems
  • Unemployment
  • Domestic violence
  • Divorce
  • Coma
  • Heart Attack
  • Blood-borne diseases, such as HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis B and C
  • Stroke

Withdrawl Effects

Withdrawl effects of cocaine addiction

While unpleasant, cocaine withdrawal is rarely a serious type of withdrawal, unless the withdrawal is accompanied by suicidal thoughts. The symptoms of withdrawal from cocaine addiction only last one to two weeks, and may include:

  • Depression
  • Anhedonia, an inability to feel pleasure sensations
  • Anxiety
  • Exhaustion
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Intense craving for cocaine
  • Aches
  • Tremors
  • Chills
  • Pains