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Cocaine Addiction: Signs and Effects of Cocaine Abuse

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Man sniffing cocaine in a skull image

Cocaine Overview

Cocaine is a white powdery drug that can also be made into a crystalized rock form. Although cocaine was often used in the early 20th century for medicinal purposes, cocaine grew as an abusive drug in the 1980’s and 1990’s as a “party” drug.

The word cocaine can refer to both the powder form and the crystallized form. The drug is extracted from coca leaves and was widely used for medicinal purposes in the early 1900’s. Cocaine can be injected, snorted, or smoked, depending on the form of the cocaine. As the second most trafficked drug, cocaine is one of the most psychologically dependent drugs next to methamphetamine.

Cocaine use can range from occasional use to compulsive use with a variety of patterns in between these two extremes. Whether the drug is injected, snorted, or smoked, the use of cocaine can lead to the absorption of toxic amounts that can cause severe cardiovascular problems, cerebrovascular emergencies, and seizures.

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

Because cocaine affects the stimulants of the brain so much, it can be very easy to become addicted to cocaine and very difficult to stop using cocaine without any kind of treatment. User demographics include all ages, economic statuses, and occupations.

A person might be under the influence of cocaine if they have:

  • Loss sense of smell
  • Nosebleeds
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Chronic runny nose
  • Powder residue around their face
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Paranoia
  • Tremors or twitches
  • Erratic behavior
  • Dilated pupils

A person might be abusing cocaine if they show:

  • Irritability
  • Restlessness or hyperactivity
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Disinhibition
  • Signs of involuntary movement such as muscle tics
  • Changes in focus or concentration

Cocaine Paraphernalia

A person might be snorting cocaine regularly if they have:

  • Clear bags or vials
  • Rings, necklaces, pens, or other items with hidden compartments
  • A flat surface with chop lines or white residue, usually a CD case or mirror
  • Something to chop the cocaine with like an ID or credit card
  • A hollow tube to snort the cocaine with such as a small piece of straw or rolled-up bill
  • A small lever to snort a “bump” that can be a pen cap or key, usually with white residue remaining

A person might be smoking cocaine regularly if they have:

  • Rolling papers
  • Cigars, cigar wrappers, or tobacco from cigars
  • A bong or marijuana bowl pipe
  • Larger plastic bags with stems or seeds

A person might be injecting cocaine regularly if they have:

  • A small round vessel with a trash tie around it in order to hold it over the lighter and cook or dissolve the cocaine before injecting
  • Hypodermic needles
  • Disposable lighters
  • A tie that could be used in the upper arm to make veins more prominent before injecting

What Happens to the Body from Cocaine Addiction?

Cocaine is a drug that affects the brain and increases the feeling of extreme pleasure. The side effects of this drug can range from gastrointestinal issues to heart damage, brain damage, and even overdosing leading to death.

Short-term effects of cocaine can include:

  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Increased body temperature
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Restlessness
  • Violent behavior
  • Restlessness
  • Vertigo
  • Abdominal pain and other gastrointestinal issues
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea

Long-term effects of cocaine can include:

  • Heart problems
  • Heart attacks
  • Respiratory complications, including respiratory failure
  • Nervous system problems that include strokes
  • Digestive problems
  • Coma
  • Contracting HIV or other communicable diseases due to injecting cocaine with shared needles
  • Severe skin infections
  • Severe allergic reactions
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Death

Since cocaine abusers experience long-term changes to the brain’s reward system along with other brain systems, cocaine addicts usually have unpredictable or unusual behavior toward others around them.

Cocaine users can become extremely frustrated when they do not experience a “high” like they did when they first started using. This can lead to an increased dosage risking physical or psychological side effects as well as a potential overdose.

Understanding a Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine dependence is due to the effect that cocaine has on the brain. When cocaine is administered to the body, the user experiences feelings of intense pleasure. Cocaine is a stimulant that increases the levels of brain chemicals, especially dopamine, which is a drug that releases in lower amounts when humans do something pleasurable. Cocaine then produces a euphoric feeling by increasing the release of dopamine and prevents normal re-absorption of dopamine back into the brain.

During regular use of cocaine, the body builds a tolerance to increased levels of dopamine, making the user have to administer increased amounts of cocaine for the “high”.

An Introduction to the Drug – Cocaine

Cocaine abuse continues to be a problem in the United States with about 15 percent of Americans having tried cocaine and about 6 percent having tried the drug by their senior year of high school. Cocaine can have extremely harmful effects on the brain leading cocaine users to have an increase in psychiatric disorders.

Cocaine is an attractive recreational substance due to its supposed positive effects on mood, energy, and motivation. The drug can be snorted, injected, or smoked depending on the format of the drug.

What Does It Look Like and Where Does It Come From?

Cocaine is derived from coca leaves and created into a purified chemical called cocaine hydrochloride. In the early 1900’s, purified cocaine was an active ingredient in many tonics and elixirs to treat a wide range of illnesses. This type of pure cocaine was extracted from the Erythroxylon coca bush leaf, which grew mostly in Peru and Bolivia. Crop reduction efforts in those two countries in the 1990’s led to Colombia becoming the nation with the largest cultivated coca crop today.

There is also a form of cocaine that is processed into rock crystals, which is known as crack. When cocaine and heroin are combined, it is known as a speedball.

Street names for Cocaine

  • Coke
  • C
  • Snow
  • Blow
  • Mojo
  • Aunt Nora
  • Charlie
  • Nose Candy
  • Bernice
  • White
  • Paradise
  • Sneeze
  • Dust
  • Toot
  • Sniff
  • Flake

When cocaine is sold on the street, many dealers dilute the substance with other substances such as cornstarch, sugar, or talcum powder. It can also be diluted with active drugs such as procaine, a local anesthetic, or amphetamine, another stimulant.

Cocaine is either a water-soluble hydrochloride salt or freebase, creating a powdered form of cocaine, which can be injected or snorted. The base form of cocaine can be processed with ammonia or sodium bicarbonate and water, and then heated to create a smokable substance. This is what is known as a crack due to the crackling sound heard when the substance is smoked.

Common Drug Combinations

Cocaine can oftentimes be used with deadly combinations of other drugs. Many popular drug combinations of cocaine include combining the drug with tranquilizers, amphetamines, marijuana, and heroin. This can sometimes lead to a two-drug habit and can also become fatal due to overdosing or chemical reactions.


There are both pharmacological approaches and behavioral interventions that can be used to treat cocaine addiction. About 13 percent of admissions to treatment programs were for cocaine addiction. About 72% of individuals who seek treatment for cocaine addiction are poly-drug abusers. Due to the multiple drug use and the effect the drug has on the brain, cocaine rehab and treatment programs must be comprehensive and strategies well thought out.