Cocaine Addiction Side Effects, Symptoms, Withdrawal, and Treatment
Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug that comes in the form of a white powder which is commonly snorted, smoked, or injected.1 Its popularity as a recreational substance is in part due to its perceived positive effects on mood, motivation, and energy—heightening concentration, increasing sociability, decreasing shyness, and more.2
In this article, we will talk about cocaine addiction, how addictive cocaine is, the signs and symptoms of addiction, and cocaine’s effects and withdrawal symptoms. We’ll also go over mixing cocaine with other drugs, as well as different types of addiction treatment for cocaine abuse and how to help someone addicted to cocaine.
What Is Cocaine Addiction?
People who are struggling with cocaine addiction will begin to use cocaine in a way that is compulsive (feeling an irresistible urge to use), even if they experience harmful consequences.3 While addiction is a chronic brain condition, it is treatable and recovery is possible.3
Cocaine addiction and misuse can be caused by cocaine’s reinforcing high, which is primarily a result of how it works on the dopamine neurotransmitter system in the brain.1,4 Addiction to cocaine can be triggered in many people after only one use, since cocaine affects the brain’s reward pathway immediately.1
How Addictive is Cocaine?
Dopamine is associated with ‘euphoric’ emotions, the regulation of movement, and the processing of reward cues.1 While individuals using cocaine may feel these highs for a time, once the drug begins to leave the system, they may experience unpleasant reactions, including anxiety, confusion, irritability, and agitation.2
These negative effects may lead people to regularly use cocaine in order to avoid uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, which can drive the development of tolerance. Tolerance occurs when more frequent and/or escalated use is needed to achieve the same level of positive effects (or high) and temporarily decrease the negative effects of cocaine withdrawal.2,5
Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine Use
Typical signs and symptoms of current cocaine use include:1,2,5
- Increased agitation.
- Effusive enthusiasm.
- Increased movement (i.e. hyperactivity).
- Signs of involuntary movements (i.e. muscle twitches).
- Changes in concentration and focus.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, those who are addicted to cocaine continue to engage in drug misuse despite the harmful consequences that result from it.3 Work, family, home, and/or school obligations can become negatively impacted due to the effects of cocaine use disorder.
Adverse Side Effects of Cocaine Use
There are several potentially dangerous side effects of cocaine use. One serious risk of cocaine abuse is heart damage.5,6 Both acutely and over time, cocaine use can result in several cardiovascular issues, such as ischemic heart disease, aberrant heart rhythms, hypertension, and cardiomyopathy. Intravenous cocaine use can result in infection and inflammation of the heart valves and the lining of the heart chambers (endocarditis).6
Other symptoms of cocaine-induced cardiotoxicity include:6
- Inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis).
- Aortic rupture.
- Severe declines in health and life quality due to chronic reductions in cardiac function.
Cocaine-induced heart failure or damage may also increase a person’s risk of strokes or brain damage resulting from interruptions to the blood supply available to the brain.2
Cocaine addiction 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.7
Even cocaine users who regard their use as recreational may be at risk of neurological changes that affect their lives. Long-term cocaine use is associated with deficits in cognitive performance, attention, and decision-making abilities.1,8
Other risks stemming from cocaine abuse include bloodborne infectious conditions such as HIV and hepatitis C (HCV). These risks are primarily related to the injection of cocaine and the adverse effects of non-sterile needle use.1,5,9
Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms
Cocaine withdrawal symptoms can occur when an individual decreases or discontinues using cocaine. As the body becomes used to having cocaine in the system, physical dependence develops, causing the brain to desire cocaine in order to function.
As a person’s brain adapts to the dopamine surges related to their cocaine use, they aren’t as sensitive to them. This may lead the person to use more of the drug or use it more frequently in order to prevent uncomfortable cocaine withdrawal symptoms, which may include:1
- Increased appetite.
- Unpleasant dreams.
- Delayed thinking.
No medications have been developed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to manage cocaine withdrawal symptoms.10 Since withdrawal from stimulants like cocaine usually does not involve intense patient discomfort or medical danger, the need for medications is not as high as it is in the case of withdrawal from drugs such as alcohol and opioids.10
Mixing Cocaine With Other Drugs
Sometimes people use cocaine with other substances such as alcohol, heroin, and marijuana. These combinations can be dangerous and even deadly. Using more than one drug at a time (or within a short time frame) is known as polysubstance use and can occur intentionally (e.g. the user wants to experience the effects of cocaine and another substance) or unintentionally (e.g. in cases where a drug is laced with another drug and the user is not aware).11
It has been observed that individuals who misuse cocaine often combine it with alcohol.12 Drinking alcohol can increase a person’s desire to use cocaine, as well as the effects, which can lead to overdose. Combining cocaine and alcohol can also increase your risk of serious damage to the brain, heart, and other organs.11
More recently, fentanyl is being mixed with cocaine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.13 If individuals use cocaine laced with fentanyl, their risk of overdosing is very high.
Cocaine Addiction Treatment Programs
There are many addiction treatment options available to help people struggling with cocaine addiction. Treatment can take place in an inpatient or residential center that provides room and board and around-the-clock supervision and support. Outpatient treatment offers a similar range of therapeutic interventions to that of its counterpart but does not require onsite residence.
Behavioral therapies are psychosocial treatments that address the reasons, motivations, and possible underlying psychological issues associated with a person’s substance misuse. Behavioral therapy techniques are particularly effective in helping patients affected by cocaine abuse and dependence.10,14,15,16
An example of a behavioral treatment associated with effectively promoting 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.1,14,15
Another form of behavioral treatment—cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—may be used. This type of treatment addresses the reasons behind substance abuse and helps to alter maladaptive ways of thinking and acting that may be contributing to the cocaine use issue.14,15,16
How to Help Someone With a Cocaine Addiction
Seeking treatment for substance addiction is the best way to help someone struggling with addiction. It is the first step of the journey to lasting cocaine addiction recovery. This may require some research in order to find a program best suited to the treatment needs and preferences of the individual. In addition, a person may want to know:
- What is a cocaine addiction helpline?
- What methods of funding can I use for treatment?
- Will insurance cover some or all of my treatment?
- How long will the program last?
- Will my treatment program accommodate any special needs?
You may also want to find out what types of aftercare programs will be available or arranged upon completion of a program. Your aftercare regimen could include post-treatment counseling, support groups, wellness activities, and other lifestyle modifications to help prevent cocaine relapse and bolster recovery.
Rehab programs are located throughout the United States. You can use SAMHSA’s Find Treatment tool to search for facilities. Many state government websites will also provide local drug and alcohol resources to those in need. To find your state government’s website, do a web search for your state name and ‘.gov.’
American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading treatment provider and has trusted programs across the country. To find a rehab near you, you can search the drugabuse.com directory for inpatient and outpatient centers. You can also instantly verify your insurance coverage for cocaine use disorder treatment with AAC. Please call our free, confidential helpline at to speak with a caring admissions navigator about your rehab options.