Cocaine Addiction and Treatment
Cocaine is a highly addictive drug that causes feelings of intense pleasure and increases focus and energy.1 But it is also a dangerous drug that can lead to many negative consequences, including addiction, heart problems, overdose, and death.2,3
According to the Central Intelligence Agency, the United States is the world’s largest consumer of cocaine.4 In 2020, about 5.2 million Americans over the age of 12 reported using cocaine in the past year, and roughly 1.3 million people had a cocaine use disorder.3,5 In Nevada in 2019 (the latest year for which we have numbers), roughly 70,000 people aged 12 and older used cocaine in the past year, while 112,000 Nevadans over the age of 12 had an illicit drug use disorder (a category that includes cocaine).6
What Is Cocaine?
Cocaine is a stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant, which grows in South America. Most of the cocaine consumed in America is from Colombia and arrives here via Mexico and countries in the Caribbean. Stimulants are a category of drugs that also includes caffeine, prescription amphetamines like Adderall or other medicines for ADHD such as Ritalin, as well as illegal drugs like methamphetamine.7 Stimulant drugs work by increasing the activity of the body’s nervous system.7 People use cocaine as a powder by snorting it, injecting it, or rubbing it into their gums. It can also be smoked, and is typically smoked in crystal form, known as crack cocaine.1,2
Cocaine is a Schedule II drug, meaning that while it has a high risk of misuse and addiction, it also has a currently accepted medical use. Cocaine is sometimes used as an anesthetic or to reduce bleeding, but it is rarely used for these purposes in the United States.2
Cocaine is often cut with filler or other substances to increase profits.1 These substances can include flour, cornstarch, talcum powder, or synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine or fentanyl, which can be made cheaply on the illegal market.1 This means that a lot of cocaine on the market isn’t “just” cocaine and may in fact be laced with other dangerous drugs. Researchers believe this is one reason for the recent rise in cocaine overdose deaths, despite usage numbers staying mostly level throughout the last few years.2,8
In the United States in 2020, 19,447 people died from an overdose involving cocaine, compared to 5,419 in 2014.3,8,13
What Happens When You Use Cocaine?
Cocaine produces reinforcing pleasurable effects by stimulating your brain’s reward center in a way that causes the area to briefly flood with active dopamine. Dopamine is the body’s main reward chemical and helps motivate you to repeat pleasurable experiences.3 This high is often short-lived, and as the cocaine starts to leave your system, it can also lead to unpleasant symptoms such as anxiety, restlessness, and paranoia (extreme distrust of others).3,9 Avoiding these negative effects and chasing the same “high” leads some to take higher doses of cocaine more often, which can fuel tolerance, dependence, and addiction.3,9
Other possibly negative health effects of cocaine include:3,10
- Increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure.
- Nausea and stomach pain.
- Erratic or violent behavior.
- Trouble sleeping.
- Panic attacks.
- Heart problems, including heart attack and changes in heart rhythm.
- Stroke, seizures, and coma.
Long-Term Health Risks of Cocaine
Over time, regular cocaine use is associated with:1,3,10
- If snorted: Loss of sense of smell, nosebleeds, and trouble swallowing.
- If taken by mouth: Bowel infection and decay.
- If injected: Infectious diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV, skin infection, damaged veins.
- If smoked as crack cocaine: Lung damage, such as asthma and pneumonia.
Cocaine binges, or using cocaine often at higher and higher doses, is associated with:3
- Psychosis (losing touch with reality).
- Hallucinations (hearing and seeing things that aren’t there).
- Memory problems and trouble staying focused.
Long-term use of cocaine has also been associated with:3,10
- Poor nutrition.
- Weight loss.
- Movement disorders, like Parkinson’s disease.
- Tolerance, dependence, and addiction.
Cocaine Tolerance, Dependence, and Addiction
With regular cocaine use, your brain adapts to the continued presence of the drug, and you may become less sensitive to it. This is called “tolerance” and can result in someone taking more frequent and higher doses to feel the same effects.1,3
Regular cocaine use can also lead to dependence, where you don’t feel normal without taking the drug. Cocaine dependence may cause withdrawal symptoms.1,3,11
Both tolerance and dependence can lead to addiction (often referred to by the clinical term “substance use disorder”).1,3,11 Addiction is a chronic, relapsing—and treatable—disease marked by uncontrollable drug use no matter the harms it causes in your life.11
As stated, withdrawal symptoms may appear if you have become dependent on cocaine and suddenly cut down or stop using it. Cocaine withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person and may include:1,12
- Increased appetite.
- Vivid and unpleasant dreams.
- Slowed thinking and movements.
- Cocaine cravings.
- Sleep troubles.
- Depression, which can lead to suicidal thoughts in some people.
Generally speaking, cocaine withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening, and most symptoms tend to last only a few days. Some symptoms, such as depression and anxiety, can last for several weeks, increasing the risk of relapse (return to drug use after a period of not using).12
How to Treat Cocaine Addiction
If you’re worried about your cocaine use, know that recovery is possible. Cocaine addiction treatment should be tailored to meet a person’s physical and mental health needs and will therefore vary from person to person. Cocaine addiction recovery can involve inpatient (or residential) treatment, outpatient treatment, or a combination of both.
While in treatment, you will likely take part in individual and group counseling. Counseling sessions involve one or more behavioral therapies, which can include:3
- Contingency management. Also called “motivational incentives,” this type of treatment encourages people to stay off cocaine and other drugs by offering rewards for drug-free urine tests and other positive changes.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT teaches you relapse prevention skills and helps you identify and change the unhealthy thoughts and behaviors that contributed to your addiction.
- Community-based recovery groups. These include 12-step groups like Cocaine Anonymous and mutual-help groups like SMART Recovery, where you share your experiences with and get support from others in recovery.
How to Get Help for Cocaine Addiction
Cocaine addiction is treatable, and treatment can teach you the skills needed to manage your stimulant use disorder. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of cocaine addiction rehab in Nevada and nationwide. We offer individualized treatment plans that are tailored to your recovery needs. Our skilled and compassionate staff will be there to guide you throughout the recovery process.
Whether you’re ready to take the next step or just want to discuss your treatment options, please call our free, confidential, 24/7 helpline at or you can text us.
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Check your insurance coverage or text us your questions to learn more about treatment by American Addiction Centers (AAC).