On November 11, 2023
People use cocaine for a variety of reasons. In some cases, it is primarily to achieve the high. In other cases, it is a coping mechanism for dealing with stress, depression, or to enhance work performance
Whatever the case, cocaine is a highly addictive substance that is very difficult to quit, and can lead to a range of health effects from mild to severe.
If you or a loved one is showing signs of cocaine abuse, this is everything you need to know from the origins of cocaine, what happens before it gets to the user, side effects, long term effects, and treatment options.
Cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug derived from the leaves of the South American coca plant. The drug has been used for centuries by indigenous populations for both medicinal and recreational purposes, but can be deadly, addictive, and is illegal in most parts of the world.
The majority of the world’s cocaine is sourced from Peru, Columbia, and Bolivia where the drug is grown and harvested illegally before being sold. It is typically cut with other substances before it gets to the consumer.
Additives are added to the majority of cocaine before it reaches the user. Cocaine is an illicit substance that is both difficult and dangerous to obtain, therefore drug dealers will add substances to the cocaine to increase the supply.
Pure cocaine is a crystalline substance that turns into a white powder when processed. Similar looking substances are added so that the user will often not know that the cocaine is not pure. Common cocaine additives are baking soda, boric acid, flour, powdered laxatives, and worming agents.
Cocaine may also be laced with other illicit substances like fentanyl or amphetamines to enhance the effects.Many cocaine additives can increase the dangers of the drug and lead to fatality.
Cocaine comes in various forms. Most of the cocaine consumed in the United States comes in powder form, crack cocaine, or freebased, but there are other less common forms and methods of consumption.
Each type of cocaine comes with its own risks.
|Methods of Use
|White, crystalline powder
|Typically snorted but can be further processed and injected or smoked
|Feelings of euphoria, increased energy, increased heart rate, reduced appetite
|Cocaine that is processed with baking soda or ammonia to create small crystal-like rocks
|Typically smoked or injected but may be snorted
|Feelings of euphoria, increased energy, increased heart rate, reduced appetiteThe effect of crack cocaine are more intense than that of powder cocaine but shorter lived and has a higher risk for addiction
|Sticky, brown substance that is a precursor or powder cocaine
|Feelings of euphoria, increased energy, increased heart rate and blood pressure
|Raw, unprocessed leaves of the coca plant
|Typically chewed or brewed and consumed as a tea
|Mild stimulation, reduced appetite, increased energy
There is not one form of cocaine that is safer than the others. Each form of cocaine carries a risk for addiction as well as cardiac and respiratory complications.
Cocaine is one of the most commonly used illicit drugs, with 4.8 million people over the age of 12 years old reporting cocaine use in 2022 alone. Use was highest in the 18-25 age range, with 1.2 million people having used the drug.
Cocaine side effects will vary among individuals, depending on factors such as amount ingested, whether or not any other substances have been ingested simultaneously, weight, age, height, and body composition.
Some side effects of cocaine use include:
Other more serious side effects include hyperthermia and hallucinations, especially in cases where large amounts of the drug are taken.
Routine drug tests, such as those required for employment, typically test for cocaine. Depending on the type and sensitivity of the drug test, cocaine use can be detected anywhere from a couple of days to 90 days after the last use.
|Cocaine Detection Time
|Up to 4 days
|Up to 2 days
|Up to 2 days
|Up to 90 days
Several factors contribute to the likelihood of developing an addiction to cocaine or any other drug. A family history of addiction, personal history of addiction, underlying mental health conditions, a history of poverty, and the accessibility to the drug all play a role in addiction.
The use of cocaine impacts the brain’s reward system by triggering the release of high levels of dopamine–a chemical that induces feelings of pleasure and reward. This surge in dopamine levels can cause intense sensations of euphoria and a sense of overall well-being, which in turn strengthens the urge to continue using the drug.
If you believe that you or someone you love might be addicted to using cocaine, look for the following hallmark signs:
An individual who is addicted to cocaine may begin to use the drug more frequently. For example, if an individual was only using cocaine socially once per month, but then begins to use 2-3 times per week or even more. Or, the individual may begin to use the drug compulsively at times where it may be risky to use the drug, such as at work or prior to driving a vehicle.
As cocaine is used more and more often, the body becomes accustomed to the drug. This results in the need for higher quantities or more frequent use to achieve the effects the individual initially experienced.
Cocaine use can lead to severe consequences in many aspects of life. From strained interpersonal relationships to financial destitution to physical and emotional destruction. Those addicted to cocaine may use the drug even when these consequences are fully understood.
A signature sign of cocaine addiction is experience of withdrawal symptoms when the use is stopped or dosage is decreased. Withdrawal symptoms look different for everyone, but often include fatigue, anxiety, depression, and agitation. In some cases, someone addicted to cocaine may even experience suicidal thoughts or ideation when not taking the drug.
Not everyone who is addicted to cocaine will exhibit every sign or symptom of abuse. If you believe that you are addicted to cocaine, it is important to seek help from a medical professional for a thorough evaluation.
Cocaine is responsible for up to 20% of drug overdoses. Overdose can be fatal, and the risks increase if the drug is laced with other substances. Some signs of a cocaine overdose include:
A cocaine overdose can lead to cardiac arrest, respiratory failure, seizures, coma, and death. It is important to seek emergency medical help if you suspect a cocaine overdose.
Long-term use of cocaine can be extremely damaging and lead to destruction of the organs and system.
Long term effects of cocaine include:
As cocaine is commonly snorted, the nose and nasal passages are at risk for damage. Repeated cocaine use can lead to inflammation, irritation, damage to the delicate nasal tissue, holes in the septum, and nose bleeds.
In some cases, long-term cocaine users may experience loss of smell.
Cocaine use leads to narrowing of the veins, arteries, and capillaries, which can result in hardening of cellular walls. This condition may be irreversible. Those who engage in smoking cocaine are at an increased risk of developing pulmonary conditions such as chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, and emphysema.
Long-term cocaine abuse is extremely damaging to the cardiovascular system. Repeated use can lead to heart failure, arrhythmias, heart attacks, infections, and aortic tears, as well as high blood pressure and an increased risk for stroke.
Severe eye complications may occur as a result of long-term cocaine use. Those who use cocaine are at risk for glaucoma and retinal detachment as well as ischemic optic neuropathy that can cause vision loss.
Using cocaine long-term damages the cells in the liver, resulting in blood clots, fat buildup, liver failure, liver cancer, and hepatitis.
Those who use cocaine are at risk for inflammation and scarring of the kidneys, as well as kidney failure.
The risks increase for brain damage the longer an individual uses cocaine. Long-term cocaine use can bring about alterations in both the structure and function of the brain, which can result in an escalating challenge for individuals to stop using the drug.
Before entering recovery, it is important to understand that recovery is a lifelong process. There will not be a time that you can occasionally recreationally use cocaine without the risk of relapsing back into a full-fledged addiction.
But, no matter how long, how often, or how much a person uses cocaine, recovery is possible.
It is not impossible to quit cocaine on your own, but it is not recommended. Stopping cocaine use can result in intense withdrawal symptoms and psychological struggles, which increases the risk for relapse and overdose.
It is highly recommended that someone who is addicted to cocaine explores professional treatment options for both the detox process and subsequent relapse prevention.
This stage can be stressful both physically and mentally, and withdrawal can cause uncomfortable side effects, however, detoxing from cocaine is the necessary first step in recovery.
Cocaine withdrawal symptoms can be challenging to manage, and even more so those who have been using the drug for an extended period or in larger dosages. These symptoms may include intense cravings, mood swings, anxiety, fatigue, restlessness, increased appetite, weight gain, difficulty concentrating, muscle aches, chills, and sweating.
In particularly severe cases, individuals may experience vivid dreams or nightmares, along with depression or suicidal thoughts.
Inpatient rehab involves residing in a facility where individuals receive 24-hour support and supervision to help overcome their cocaine addiction. This type of rehab typically provides a structured and comprehensive treatment plan that includes various therapies, support groups, and medical assistance.
This step-down level of care offers structured treatment during the day while returning home in the evenings. This program is less intensive than inpatient rehab, but more structured than outpatient care.
This level of care offers a more flexible treatment option that allows individuals to receive treatment several times a week, while still being able to maintain their daily routine. IOP usually includes individual and group therapy, and may also provide medication-assisted treatment.
A less intensive treatment option that allows individuals to receive care while still being able to maintain their daily routine, outpatient programs are best suited for individuals who feel confident in their recovery or have completed a more intensive program.
If you are looking into cocaine addiction recovery, there are a few things you can expect during treatment.
Everyone’s experience with both addiction and recovery are different. When you enter into a recovery program, your treatment plan will be customized to your unique circumstances so that you have the best chance at lifelong recovery.Depending on the severity of your addiction, you will either enter into an inpatient or outpatient program.
A pivotal part of recovery is addressing any underlying issues that may be contributing to your addiction. This may include previously undiagnosed or unmanaged mental health conditions or trauma.Most treatment programs will include a combination of both individual and group therapy sessions for a more holistic approach to healing. Both individual and group therapy will help you work through hang ups and develop healthy coping skills, as well as improve interpersonal relationship and communication skills.
Recovery is a lifelong process. It is important that your treatment include continued therapy, support groups, or other ways to keep yourself accountable to ensure long-term sobriety. Your treatment plan will include a plan for continuing your sobriety journey outside of a recovery setting.
It is possible for your body to heal from a cocaine addiction. Depending on the length and severity of the addiction, some organ damage may be irreversible, however, this depends on the individual. No matter the extent of the addiction, it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible for the best chance at mitigating any damage.
There is no definitive endpoint to the recovery journey. Long-term healing required continued recommitment to one’s sobriety. Going through a recovery program does not mean your addiction is “cured.” You will need to continue to take steps to prevent relapse.
Fentanyl is a powerful opioid drug that is far easier to obtain than cocaine and can also intensify the effects of the drug. This combination is extremely dangerous and can result in overdose or death.
There is no quick method for ridding your body of cocaine. Cocaine is metabolized in the liver and excreted through the urine, which may take several days. However, staying hydrated and eating nutritious food can help your body stay healthy and facilitate the elimination process.
It is not recommended that you detox from cocaine on your own. Intense withdrawal symptoms can lead to life threatening consequences. It is recommended that those who wish to quit using cocaine seek professional medical assistance when detoxing to ensure safety and prevent relapse.
Here at Ascendant New York, we understand the importance of having access to accurate medical information you can trust, especially when you or a loved one is suffering from addiction. Find out more on our policy.
 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2022). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved April 12, 2023 from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/report/2021-nsduh-annual-national-report
 Cano, M. Oh, S. Salas-Wright, C. Vaughn, M. G. (2020, July 15). Cocaine use and overdose mortality in the United States: Evidence from two national data sources. Science Direct Retrieved April 12, 2023, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0376871620303136
 Lin, L. Y., Reshef, E. R., Lansberg, M. P., Barshak, M. B., Chwalisz, B. K., Holbrook, E. H., & Wolkow, N. (2022). Posterior Ischemic Optic Neuropathy in the Setting of Cocaine-Induced Orbital and Sinonasal Inflammation. Ophthalmic plastic and reconstructive surgery. Retrieved Apr 12, 2023 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35470323/