Signs & Symptoms of Cocaine Abuse

Cocaine, also widely known as “coke” or “blow,” is one of the most commonly used recreational substances in the world today.

Understanding Cocaine

Learn More About Cocaine Abuse

Said to be the most powerful substance that comes from a natural origin, cocaine is distributed in the form of powder or crystallized rock and can be smoked, injected, or inhaled. When people use coke, they experience a high that elicits intense feelings of euphoria and exhilaration by increasing the amount of dopamine that is released in the brain and simultaneously blocking the brain’s pain receptors. When cocaine is used excessively, the substance causes the reward system in the brain to become altered, ultimately leading to tolerance, addiction, and dependence.

Known to be an extremely addictive substance, cocaine users often have a difficult time putting an end to their habit. These individuals will begin to experience disruption in various areas of their lives and within their interpersonal relationships. Yet, with proper intervention, successful treatment can be received and individuals can return to a life of sobriety.


Statistics of Cocaine Abuse

According to the office of the National Drug Control Policy, there are an estimated 3.6 million people in the United States who use cocaine on a regular basis. Additionally, it is said to be the second most commonly used illicit drug in the U.S. and the third most commonly found illegal substance in American schools. Studies have also shown that slightly less than 15% of the American population over the age of 12 has used coke at least once and 75% of people who experiment with cocaine become addicted to it.

Causes and Risks

Causes and Risk Factors of Cocaine Abuse

Addiction experts believe that the reasons why some individuals develop an addiction to a substance while others can use the same substance and not develop an addiction are the result of a combination of genetic, physical, and environmental factors.

Genetic: Many researchers believe that there is a strong genetic link in determining whether or not someone is at a higher level of susceptibility to developing an addiction to a substance like cocaine, as addictions are known to run in families. Studies have shown that children who have parents who are addicts are eight times more likely to become addicts themselves. This is believed to be the result of variations in certain genes that have a positive or negative effect on the level of resistance that individuals have towards developing an addiction.

Physical: When people use cocaine, the receptors in the brain that are responsible for recognizing changes in the body are stimulated and, as the drug crosses the blood-brain barrier, individuals begin feeling an immediate sense of euphoria as excessive amounts of dopamine are released.

Environmental: The environment in which people spend a significant amount of time can have a large impact on whether or not they will begin experimenting with drugs. For example, when individuals are surrounded by the presence of other drug users, they are more likely to use themselves. Additionally, individuals who are subject to tumultuous home environments or highly stressful situations are also at risk for using substances as they try to find something that they can have control over.

Risk Factors:

  • Being exposed to cocaine prenatally
  • Exposure to drug use
  • Family history of substance use disorders
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Exposure to violence
  • Experiencing high levels of stress
  • Chaotic home environment
  • Lack of parental involvement
  • Peer pressure

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine Abuse

The signs that an individual is abusing cocaine will vary from person to person depending on things such as the amount of coke that the person uses and the length of time that the person has been using. Examples of various symptoms that may be displayed by someone who is abusing cocaine can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Sudden, unexplained bursts of hyperactivity
  • Sudden, unprovoked episodes of aggression
  • Participating high risk behaviors
  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Speaking excessively, rapidly, and excitedly

Physical symptoms:

  • Frequent nose bleeds
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased heart rate
  • Profuse sweating
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Lacking the need for sleep
  • Seizures
  • Elevated body temperature

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Ability to hyperfocus
  • Heightened startle response
  • Intensified alertness
  • Psychosis
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Poor judgment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Sudden, drastic fluctuations in mood
  • Prolonged periods of mania
  • Excessive anxiety
  • Decreased feelings of pleasure regarding things other than the cocaine itself


Effects of Cocaine Abuse

When individuals abuse cocaine for prolonged periods of time, the impacts that the use can have on their lives can be long-lasting and far-reaching. The physical, mental, and social effects of the drug can be devastating to the lives of those who use coke, as well as to the lives of those around them. Possible effects that can result from cocaine abuse may include:

  • Strained or destroyed interpersonal relationships
  • Academic failure / loss of a job
  • Damage to one’s liver, kidney, and/or lungs
  • Irreversible cognitive impairment
  • Permanent damage to the heart
  • Permanent damage to blood vessels
  • Malnutrition
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Extreme paranoia
  • Unhealthy weight loss
  • Destruction of nasal tissue
  • Loss of one’s sense of smell
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Cocaine Addiction & Co-Occurring Disorders

It is not uncommon for people who struggle with cocaine use disorder to suffer from other mental health conditions as well. In some instances, individuals who are living with an undiagnosed mental illness may begin using substances like cocaine as a means of self-medicating in order to reduce the presence of its symptoms. Some of the most commonly noted mental health disorders known to occur with cocaine use disorder include:

  • Other substance use disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of cocaine withdrawal: When someone has been abusing cocaine for a prolonged period of time and then abruptly stops using, symptoms of withdrawal can develop. Examples of such symptoms may include:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Increased irritability
  • Intense and overwhelming cravings
  • Vivid dreams and nightmares
  • Excessive drowsiness
  • Increase in appetite
  • Sudden aggressive behavior
  • Extreme paranoia

Effects of cocaine overdose: When an individual consumes more cocaine than his or her body is capable of handling, an overdose will occur. Overdosing on cocaine can be extremely dangerous and warrants immediate medical attention. Signs that may indicate that someone is overdosing on cocaine can include the following:

  • Extreme chest pains
  • Hyperthermia
  • Seizures
  • Irregular breathing
  • Panic
  • Paranoia
  • Nausea and profuse vomiting
  • Delirium
  • Stroke
  • Hallucinations

Both the staff and the facility were very nice. I was so impressed with my treatment for cocaine abuse at Sonora.

– Liam M.