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Cocaine Abuse

  1. Table of ContentsPrint
  2. Overview of Cocaine Abuse
  3. Signs and Symptoms
  4. Am I Addicted?
  5. Cocaine Abuse Treatment
  6. Finding Treatment for Cocaine Addiction
  7. Resources, Articles and More Information


Overview of Cocaine Abuse

Cocaine is a type of drug that functions to increase the availability of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is associated with:

  • The generation of 'euphoric' emotions.
  • The regulation of movement.
  • The processing of reward cues.

However, it is also associated with a considerable potential for dependence, and thus abuse over time. Cocaine abuse is related to an increased risk of:

  • Psychiatric disorders.
  • Disease.
  • Death.

Cocaine is attractive as a recreational substance due to the perceived positive effects on mood, motivation and energy. Abusers of cocaine may smoke, snort, or take it intravenously (via injection).

Cocaine Abuse Statistics


  • The United Nations have released estimates indicating that approximately 17 million people worldwide used cocaine in 2012.
  • Other estimates suggest that cocaine is the second most popular illegal substance of abuse in the United States.
  • Cocaine is thought to be responsible for up to 10% of cases seen by emergency medical staff in this country.
  • Cocaine abuse was related to over 36,000 hospital admissions for suspected heart attacks in 2010, at a healthcare cost of over $83 million dollars.
  • Other figures reported in 2010 indicate that 1,700 people per day tried cocaine for the first time in that year.

To learn more, visit our article, Cocaine History and Statistics.

Cocaine Abuse question 1

Teen Cocaine Abuse

Cocaine abuse is relatively common among adolescents. In a recent study of cocaine abuse treatment including 428 patients, 41 first used cocaine at the age of 14 or younger.

Initiating use at a younger age increases the risk of dependence on cocaine. It is also thought to be related to increased risks of legal and psychiatric problems in later life, and is associated with reduced responses to treatment.

To prevent drug abuse in your teen, it’s important to talk to him or her about substance abuse at a young age and continue the conversation. Make sure they understand the dangers of both illicit and prescription drugs, and monitor their behvavior, friends, and habits for sudden changes.

Credit: 10List

Cocaine Abuse Quiz question 2

Signs and Symptoms

Typical signs and symptoms of current cocaine use include:

  • Increased agitation and/or enthusiasm.
  • Increased movement (i.e. hyperactivity).
  • Increased common cold-like symptoms and/or nosebleeds.
  • Signs of involuntary movements and disinhibition.
  • Changes in concentration and focus. 

Other Adverse Effects

The most well-known adverse effect of cocaine abuse is heart muscle damage.

Cocaine may cause damage by inducing cell death in the muscles of the heart (cardiomyopathy) and inflammation of the inner tissues of the organ (endocarditis).

These cellular effects of cocaine cumulate into serious conditions such as heart attacks and cardiac arrhythmias, which may be fatal.

Other symptoms of cocaine-induced cardiotoxicity include:

  • Inflammation of heart muscle.
  • Rupture of the aorta, the major artery leading from the heart.
  • Severe declines in health and life quality due to reductions in cardiac function or severe blood loss.

Cocaine-induced heart failure or damage may also increase the risk of stroke, or brain damage resulting from interruptions in the blood supply available to the brain.

The abuse of this drug is also associated with kidney damage. The prolonged use of cocaine is thought to be related to the inflammation of important microstructures within this organ.

Cocaine and Changes in the Brain

Cocaine abuse is also associated with changes in brain chemistry over time. These changes are associated with the increased 'need' for cocaine over time, and with behavioral abnormalities that may result from taking cocaine. These behavioral anomalies associated with cocaine's effects may include:

  • Unusually erratic behavior (which may even result in unintentional trauma incurred during accidents).
  • Psychotic symptoms.
  • New-onset attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Even users who regard their use as 'recreational' may be at risk of neurological changes that affect their lives. 'Recreational' use is associated with the decreased ability to regulate and control behavior, leading to reduced abilities to control movements, react to environmental stimuli and carry out daily activities. Long-term cocaine use is also associated with deficits in cognitive performance, attention and decision-making abilities.

Other risks of cocaine abuse include bloodborne infectious conditions such as HIV or hepatitis C (HCV). These risks are related to the injection of cocaine, and the adverse effects of irresponsible and non-sterile needle use.

Cocaine Abuse question 3

Am I Addicted?


Cocaine Abuse Treatment

There are many treatment options available for cocaine dependence and abuse. These may be delivered in inpatient facilities, which accommodate the treatment-seeker for the duration of their therapy.

Alternatively, the patient may make regular appointments at a center or clinic to receive treatment (i.e. outpatient treatment).

The nature of these treatments may be behavioral or pharmacological.

Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapies are psychosocial treatments that address the reasons, motivations and possible underlying psychological issues associated with a person’s substance abuse.

Current research indicates that behavioral therapy techniques are particularly effective in patients affected by cocaine abuse and dependence.

An example of behavioral treatment associated with effective abstinence from cocaine use is contingency management (CM). This treatment is based on incentives (e.g. prizes or cash) for abstinence, or other positive parameters, such as improved social interactions. This treatment has demonstrated promising in-treatment results, but the long-term effects are less certain, as it appears to lose efficacy over time.

Another form of behavioral treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be used. This type of treatment addresses the reasons behind the substance abuse.

Pharmacological Therapies

Pharmacological (or drug-based) therapies refers to medications administered to treat cocaine dependence by physiological means.

This type of treatment uses medications that may mimic the substance of abuse in question, but to a reduced or different extent. The doses of these medications are reduced (or 'tapered') over time, thus 'weaning' the patient off drug dependence and allowing them to work on abstinence and recovery from addiction.

An emerging form of pharmacotherapy for cocaine dependence is methylphenidate treatment. This medication is prescribed to treat ADHD, and is similar to cocaine in terms of neurological effects. However, methylphenidate acts on the brain for longer, but elicits less extreme reactions, compared to cocaine. This alleviates the 'need' for cocaine, and thus dependence, over time.

Cocaine Abuse question 4

Finding Treatment for Cocaine Addiction

Seeking treatment for substance addiction is the first step to true recovery. This may require thorough research to find a program best suited to the treatment needs and preferences of the individual patient. In addition, a patient may have to find answers such as:

You don't deserve cocaine addiction. Find help and begin your recovery today by calling 1-888-747-7155.

  • How treatment will be funded.
  • How long the program will last.
  • Whether the treatment program will accommodate any special needs.
  • The quality of aftercare (a program of post-treatment activities or lifestyle modifications that may enhance abstinence and recovery) available on the completion of a program.

Cocaine Abuse question 5

Resources, Articles and More Information

For more information, see the following articles:

You can also join the conversation on cocaine abuse and addiction by visiting our Forum today.

Cocaine Abuse question 6


  1. Dürsteler KM, Berger E-M, Strasser J, et al. Clinical potential of methylphenidate in the treatment of cocaine addiction: a review of the current evidence. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation. 2015;6:61-74.
  2. Maraj S, Figueredo VM, Lynn Morris D. Cocaine and the heart. Clin Cardiol. 2010;33(5):264-269.
  3. Qureshi AI, Chaudhry SA, Suri MFK. Cocaine use and the likelihood of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality: data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Mortality Follow-up Study. Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology. 2014;7(1):76-82.
  4. Jaffe JA, Kimmel PL. Chronic nephropathies of cocaine and heroin abuse: a critical review. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2006;1(4):655-667.
  5. Hellem T, Shi X, Latendresse G, Renshaw PF. The Utility of Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy for Understanding Substance Use Disorders: A Systematic Review of the Literature. J Am Psychiatr Nurses Assoc. 2015;21(4):244-275.
  6. Weiss LM, Petry NM. Substance abuse treatment patients with early onset cocaine use respond as well to contingency management interventions as those with later onset cocaine use. Journal of substance abuse treatment. 2014;47(2):146-150.
  7. Barrio G, Molist G, de la Fuente L, et al. Mortality in a cohort of young primary cocaine users: controlling the effect of the riskiest drug-use behaviors. Addict Behav. 2013;38(3):1601-1604.
  8. Colzato LS, van den Wildenberg WP, Hommel B. Impaired inhibitory control in recreational cocaine users. PLoS One. 2007;2(11):e1143.

Need Help Understanding Your Addiction Treatment Options? Call 1-888-747-7155.