Cocaine Addiction: Health Risks, Signs, and Treatment

Cocaine use presents many risks to a person’s physical and mental health, and it has the potential to be very addictive. Although cocaine use has many destructive outcomes, there is hope for recovery from cocaine addiction through treatment. Learn about the signs of cocaine use, health risks, and treatment options if you or a loved one struggles with addiction to cocaine.
Cocaine Use, Health Risks, and Addiction

What Is Cocaine?

cocaine powder

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug derived from coca plant leaves, which grow in South and Central America. 2,3 However, what cocaine is made of can vary. After coca leaves are processed into cocaine, the resulting product looks like white powder. It can then be cut and diluted with one or more of several products making cocaine impure. These products include:2,3

  • Boric acid.
  • Household goods like cornstarch, flour, or talcum powder.
  • Levamisole.
  • Anesthetics, such as lidocaine or procaine.
  • Other illicit drugs, such as methamphetamines, heroin, or fentanyl.

Cocaine is a widely used recreational drug that has many dangerous side effects. While it may not get the attention that some drugs like methamphetamine or fentanyl do in the media, an estimated 5.2 million people in the United States use cocaine every year.1

Cocaine can be used in numerous ways, including snorting, injecting, or rubbing it on your gums.3 People typically use cocaine on binges, where they will ingest cocaine repeatedly, sometimes at higher doses, to keep their high going.3 Some people also smoke cocaine, typically in the form of a rock-like crystal, commonly referred to as crack cocaine, or “crack,” which produces a rapid, intense sense of euphoria that disappears quickly.3

Signs of Cocaine Use

It is important to note that while these may be signs someone is using cocaine, only a professional can diagnose someone as having a cocaine addiction or a substance use disorder. However, whether a person smokes, injects, or snorts cocaine, there are symptoms and signs of cocaine misuse that include:3,4

  • Elevated energy or euphoria.
  • Excessively talkative.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Hypersensitivity to light and sound.
  • Restlessness, irritability, or paranoia
  • Less need for food and sleep.
  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • Elevated body temperature.

Risk Factors for Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine use affects different areas of the brain, including the mesolimbic dopamine system – or the brain’s reward center. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps us to feel good when we do things like eat or exercise. Dopamine can also be released when drugs or alcohol are used.4

Cocaine is an addictive substance, primarily because how cocaine stimulates the brain to release dopamine, which reinforces the use of cocaine.3 When a person repeatedly uses cocaine, they can develop a tolerance to it, which means that their brain gets used to the effects of cocaine and then requires more and more cocaine to keep experiencing the pleasurable sensations it gives them. 3

While cocaine is considered a highly addictive substance, the use of the drug will not necessarily always lead to addiction. Addiction is a complex interaction between a number of factors that include: 5

  • Family history of substance misuse and addiction.
  • Exposure to drug use, especially during childhood.
  • Age of first use.
  • Genetics.
  • Brain chemistry.
  • Mental health disorders.
  • Environmental influences, including experiencing discrimination or racism.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Addiction?

Not everyone experiences the same type or severity of long-term effects of cocaine use. Still cocaine is a dangerous substance with many potential complications.2

While any use of cocaine can be dangerous and result in a heart attack or stroke,2 the long-term dangers of cocaine can include:3

  • Parkinson’s disease.
  • Malnutrition from reduced appetite.
  • Paranoia.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Nosebleeds and loss of smell from snorting cocaine.
  • Asthma and other respiratory diseases if smoked.
  • Bowel decay if taken orally.
  • Higher risk of HIV and hepatitis if cocaine is injected.
  • Skin infections and damaged veins from injecting cocaine.
Cocaine Comedown and Withdrawal

Cocaine Comedown and Withdrawal

man sitting on the edge of a bed and feeling sick from the symptoms of drug withdrawal

When a person uses cocaine, they will experience a euphoric high that usually lasts 15 to 30 minutes if they inject or snort it. If they smoke it, the high may only last up to about 10 minutes.2 Once a person starts to come down from cocaine, they will crave it and likely start using it again to avoid the unpleasant feelings of withdrawal.6 Individuals who use cocaine frequently may experience withdrawal symptoms if their use is cut back or stopped. 3,2

Furthermore, various cues in a person’s environment can remind them of using cocaine and provoke strong cravings for cocaine, which can lead to relapse, even during periods of abstinence.7

What Are the Symptoms of Cocaine Withdrawal?

There are numerous signs of cocaine withdrawal that can include:3,8

  • Anxiety.
  • Depressed mood.
  • Fatigue.
  • Sleeping too much or too little.
  • Bad dreams.
  • Poor concentration.
  • Slower thinking than usual.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Cravings for cocaine.
  • Paranoia.

Overall, cocaine withdrawal is not life-threatening, rarely leading to severe complications like those that can occur in an alcohol or benzodiazepine withdrawal.8 However, some complications can occur during withdrawal.8 These include:

  • Intense depression.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Severe cravings that frequently will trigger a relapse.
  • Cardiac complications that can lead to heart rhythm issues.

Thus, given the risk of more severe complications, it is better to undergo cocaine withdrawal under the supervision of a medical detox program, where the individual will receive emotional support to resist cravings, receiving monitoring for physical side effects, and be able to address psychological effects as they arise.8

Treatment Options

Cocaine Addiction Treatment and Rehab Options

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction to cocaine, there are effective treatment options to help get you on the road to recovery. At our inpatient addiction treatment in New Jersey, we offer different levels of addiction treatment including safe medical detox. Our team of treatment specialists use evidence-based addiction-focused healthcare to help people find meaningful recovery from substance use disorders.

Sunrise House offers several programs with various lengths of stay based on your needs, such as:

Our family resource guide can provide additional information to help answer your questions about addiction, the treatment process, and what to expect in inpatient rehab.

How to Get Into Rehab for Cocaine Addiction

When you’re ready to start the treatment admissions process, call our helpful and compassionate admissions navigators at . They can answer your questions about our center, help you make travel arrangements, and let you know about the different ways to pay for rehab – including paying for rehab with health insurance.


Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.