Everything You Need to Know About Cocaine Addiction: Treatment, Withdrawal, and Abuse

Cocaine is a popular stimulant drug derived from the coca plant which can be found in South America. The drug makes users overly engaged, very energetic and chatty, or morose, hostile, and aggressive. The physical effects are very strong and abusing cocaine can lead to severe mental and physical disorders.

At one time it was called a designer drug, as it was mainly abused by those in upper classes, but it can now be found in use in a wider variety of groups. Some users snort it, some shoot it, and others turn it into a rock form commonly referred to as crack and smoke it.

Though most people might believe that cocaine isn’t as common in the United States as it once was, the substance is still widely abused. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported in 2012 that:

  • 5% of people over the age of 12 had used the drug at least once in their lives.
  • 6% of adults between the ages of 18 and 25 had used it in the past year.
  • 5% of those over the age of 12 had used crack cocaine at least once in their lives.

Cocaine abuse in the United States is still statistically significant and it causes thousands of deaths each year.

The Reward System

Cocaine works by triggering the pleasure pathway in the brain, releasing dopamine and blocking the uptake of this chemical. This causes it to build up and create a sense of euphoria, a feeling which can be very addictive, but at the same time, it gets more and more difficult to achieve with continued use of the substance. The psychological cravings get worse and the body develops a physical dependence to the drug.

Prenatal Exposure

A large number of studies has shown that using cocaine during pregnancy can cause severe harm to the fetus, including:

  • Low weight at birth
  • Miscarriage
  • Withdrawal symptoms at birth
  • Early developmental issues

A study went further than this and researchers found that teens who had been exposed to cocaine while in the womb had an increased risk of developmental issues during their teenage years as compared to other teenagers.

Signs of Addiction

A person’s behavior while under the influence of cocaine will vary depending on a number of factors, such as:

  • The length of time spent abusing cocaine
  • The length of the binge
  • Other drugs they may have used frequently
  • The presence of any mental health issues

It might not always be easy to spot, but there are some signs of an active addiction that you can keep an eye out for:

  • Possession of paraphernalia used for carrying or taking cocaine.
  • Lying about using cocaine, or about the frequency or amount used.
  • Stealing money to buy cocaine.
  • Experiencing negative consequences in their personal or work lives as a result of cocaine use.
  • Suffering from mood swings that include euphoria, depression, hostility, and anxiety.

Cocaine abusers can unwillingly endanger their lives as well as threaten the safety of those around them by making poor judgement calls while under the influence or trying to get more cocaine, such as getting behind the wheel, practicing unsafe sex, keeping drugs in a house with children, or being high when they are supposed to be responsible for the safety of others. These are just a few examples of an addiction that requires immediate treatment.

Health Risks

Cocaine abusers can suffer from several health problems and they can be acute, occurring while they are under the drug’s influence, or they can build over time because of regular cocaine use.

Some common health problems associated with cocaine use include:

  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Malnutrition
  • Increased risk of HIV because of needle sharing or unprotected sex
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Sudden death

The method used for ingesting the drug can also have its own unique health risks. Those who inject it have a higher risk of getting HIV or hepatitis C, while swallowing the drug can lead to bowel gangrene. Snorting cocaine can cause nosebleeds, hoarse throat, a constantly runny nose, difficulty swallowing, and a lost sense of smell.

Mental Health Issues

Cocaine abuse can also cause the development of several mental health issues, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Hostility
  • Restlessness
  • Aggression or violent behavior
  • Severe paranoia

These issues usually pass as the drug leaves the body, but when chronic abuse is an issue, they can last longer and require treatment to overcome.


NIDA reports that about 13 percent of addicts who seek treatment are dependent on cocaine or crack. As with all drug abuse, a comprehensive treatment plan can help addicts stop using the drug and learn how to live life by making positive choices that promote wellness and health.

Cocaine addiction treatment generally includes:

  • Medication. There are no drugs specifically approved for treating cocaine addiction, but there are several medications that have been shown to diminish cravings.
  • Behavioral therapy. Some therapies have been shown to be effective in treating cocaine addiction. Motivational incentives, specifically, have been shown to help patients remain dedicated and focused on their sobriety, allowing them to engage in therapy for long enough to make progress and actually change things in their lives.
  • Group support. Support groups such as 12-step groups can be a great way for addicts to connect with peers and stay committed to getting clean.
  • Additional treatment. This can include family therapy, therapies that address co-occurring mental health disorders, holistic treatment, and even practical help for day-to-day challenges like finding a job. All this can help put the finishing touches on a truly comprehensive treatment program which will prepare addicts to re-enter the real world.

There are aftercare options one should follow after a treatment program. This is meant to be like a continuation of the therapies and treatments that worked during rehab and allow patients to remain active in recovery for longer, so they can avoid a relapse.


There are several studies that come out every year showing progress when it comes to cocaine addiction treatment. Some researchers are even working on vaccines that could be effective in fighting cocaine addiction. Those who are seeking help for their addiction will find it easier and easier to get the comprehensive treatment they need.