Cocaine is a powerful, highly addictive drug. Despite the adverse effects of cocaine abuse, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports about 4.8 million Americans use cocaine each year. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, learn more about the drug’s effects and how to treat cocaine addiction. 

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Overview of Cocaine Addiction

Regular cocaine use can result in compulsive or frequent doses and a physical dependency on the drug. Cocaine dependence can cause intense drug cravings and alter how neurons in the brain function, requiring larger doses to achieve the same effects as time passes.

There are several symptoms that may indicate a cocaine addiction, including:

  • Mood swings
  • Weight loss
  • Runny nose or nosebleeds
  • Risky behavior
  • Social isolation
  • Confidence boost
  • Dilated pupils
  • Shaking hands
  • Frequent sore throats
  • Excitability
  • Lack of personal hygiene
  • Financial difficulties
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Increased need for privacy
  • Spoons, razor blades and other drug paraphernalia in the person’s home

There are many misconceptions surrounding cocaine addiction, such as the drug not being as dangerous as other drugs and that it can help you socialize better. However, cocaine is an illegal substance with many health risks outweighing any positive benefits.

Relying on it to reduce social anxiety can result in harmful consequences, such as engaging in risky or impulsive behaviors. It’s also common to mix cocaine with other substances, including fentanyl and meth, making it more dangerous or even life-threatening.

Group therapy for cocaine addiction

What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a white, powdery substance derived from the leaves of the coca plant from South America. It became popular as a recreational substance due to its effects on mood, energy and motivation. Many cocaine users take the drug to enhance concentration and decrease shyness, especially in social settings.

Brief History and Origin

Cocaine was originally used in the late 1800s by the medical community as an anesthetic and treatment for depression. The drug was adopted by the party scene in the 1960s for illicit recreational use because of its perceived positive effects on people’s moods. However, the short- and long-term risks of repeated cocaine use revealed how harmful the drug is to people’s health and safety.

Classification as a Stimulant

In 1970, cocaine was categorized as a Schedule II drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration because of its high potential for abuse. Being a stimulant, cocaine produces an appealing euphoric effect, but stimulants are also known for causing health problems.

Effects on the Brain and Body

Cocaine produces high levels of dopamine, a brain chemical linked to pleasure and reward. Prolonged cocaine use can alter brain cells, nerve cells and proteins, causing negative effects in every part of the body with the potential for long-term or permanent changes.

Most Common Ways Cocaine Is Used

  • Eating: In its powdered form, cocaine can be swallowed or rubbed along the gums to absorb into the system.
  • Snorting: People will often form powdered cocaine into a line to snort into their nose, which coats the nasal passages’ soft tissue to enter the bloodstream and cause more prolonged effects. 
  • Smoking: To smoke cocaine, a person will usually heat crack cocaine in a pipe and inhale the vapors. The effects happen almost instantly and increase your risk of cocaine addiction.
  • Injecting: Cocaine must be dissolved into a liquid to inject by needle into the bloodstream. This is the most dangerous method to consume cocaine. Sharing needles can increase your risk of HIV and collapsed blood vessels.
A group therapy session for cocaine addiction

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Why Is Cocaine Addictive?

Cocaine is addictive because it releases “feel-good” chemicals, such as dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, into the brain. Long-term drug abuse can cause changes to the brain’s reward system and receptors, desensitizing you to the dopamine rush cocaine produces.

Eventually, the brain will adapt to higher dopamine levels, influencing people to take larger and more frequent doses to achieve desired effects and prevent withdrawal symptoms. When you have to continue drug use to avoid withdrawal, this may indicate a chemical dependency.

How Long Does Cocaine Stay in Your System?

Detection time can vary depending on the screening method used. After the last dose, cocaine can be detected for about 2 to 3 days in urine, 1 to 2 days in sweat or saliva, 12 hours in blood and several months in hair. Your gender, age and overall health can also influence how long cocaine remains in your system.

Group therapy session for cocaine addiction

Dangers of Cocaine Use

On its own, cocaine can cause various short- and long-term physical and mental health effects. Street dealers sometimes combine cocaine with other drugs, including synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, to maximize profits. When a drug is laced with fentanyl, it increases your risk of overdose because of how potent even a small amount is. 

Short-Term Effects on Physical and Mental Health

People often use cocaine because they believe it’ll help them perform physical and mental tasks quicker. However, it can also cause several short-term health effects, including:

  • Extreme happiness and energy
  • Hypersensitivity to sound, sight and touch
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia
  • Decreased appetite
  • Nausea
  • Increased blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature

Cocaine may make some people feel alert and talkative, while others will become anxious and paranoid. In some cases, people may experience violent or erratic behavior. The length and intensity of these effects depend on the method of use and the amount of cocaine consumed.  

Long-Term Effects on Physical and Mental Health

Long-term effects of cocaine abuse largely depend on the method of use but can include:

  • Loss of smell
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Respiratory failure
  • Chronic cough or asthma
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Higher risk of infections, such as pneumonia
  • HIV or AIDS from shared needles
  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Malnourishment from decreased appetite

Some people may also experience extreme paranoia after a cocaine binge, resulting in a loss of touch with reality and auditory hallucinations. 

General Dangers and Consequences of Cocaine Use

Other dangerous consequences cocaine use can cause include:

  • Confusion
  • Restlessness
  • Tremors or muscle twitches
  • Loss of interest in food or sex
  • Financial hardship
  • Risky behavior to obtain cocaine, such as selling drugs or prostitution
  • Dangerous or fatal accidents while high, including car crashes, falls, burns or drowning
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

Treatment Options for Cocaine Addiction

Outpatient treatment

Intensive outpatient treatment provides a flexible schedule for people with jobs or schoolwork to maintain. You attend drug addiction treatment services a few days per week and return home afterward to resume your regular schedule. 

Counseling and therapy

Many drug abuse treatment programs provide behavioral therapies and counseling to help you uncover the root cause of your cocaine addiction and treat underlying mental disorders. The most common types of therapy are individual, family or group therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Medication-assisted treatment

During cocaine addiction treatment, you may be prescribed medications to manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce drug cravings. This can help you endure a successful cocaine detox while also attending therapy or support groups. 

Inpatient Treatment for Cocaine Addiction

An inpatient rehabilitation program can be effective for treating cocaine addiction. Also referred to as residential treatment, this type of care is the highest level of rehab offered for treating a substance use disorder. You live full-time at the treatment center and attend various addiction and mental health services, including therapy, support groups and planned sober activities. Medication management and case management services may also be provided to track your progress. 

Inpatient treatment is effective for cocaine addiction treatment because it provides you with a structured environment free from negative influences that may encourage drug use. It can also help treat co-occurring disorders, such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), that may be contributing to your drug addiction. Many treatment centers offer detox services to safely purge your body of the drug before fully integrating into an inpatient program. 

Man talking to a counselor during therapy for cocaine use disorder

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the most common cocaine withdrawal symptoms?

Common withdrawal symptoms you may experience during cocaine treatment include:

  • Drug cravings
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Exhaustion
  • Intense hunger
  • Angry outbursts or agitation
  • Loss of pleasure

What’s the difference between crack and cocaine?

Crack cocaine comes in yellow or pale pink rock crystals and is a cheaper alternative to powder cocaine. It’s usually smoked in a pipe or like a cigarette with marijuana or tobacco. Crack is the most addictive form of cocaine and causes a quick, intense high that can produce long-term or fatal effects. 

How do I know if inpatient treatment is right for me?

Inpatient treatment should be considered if you are at high risk of experiencing withdrawal symptoms or have tried and failed to quit cocaine use in the past. Residential treatment can provide a safe, secure environment away from negative influences or distractions so you can focus solely on cocaine addiction recovery. 

Learn More About Overcoming Cocaine Addiction

If you’ve been struggling with cocaine addiction, it’s never too late to seek help. Recovery Life Group in Maryland provides personalized care and a team of compassionate medical professionals to help clients get the cocaine addiction treatment they need. We use a combination of therapy, education and counseling to equip you with healthier coping skills and help you achieve long-term recovery.

Call us today at (301) 686-3233 or fill out our contact form to learn more about luxury rehab services for cocaine addiction.