Cocaine Abuse, Addiction, and Treatment

Cocaine is a highly addictive and dangerous stimulant drug. Known for its short-acting but euphoric side effects, it is highly sought after by recreational drug users looking to increase their energy and boost their confidence. However, cocaine abuse can quickly lead to physical and psychological dependence, ultimately affecting all areas of a person’s life.

This article will explore cocaine abuse and addiction. You will learn:

  • Everything you need to know about cocaine abuse
  • Signs of cocaine addiction
  • The long-term dangers of cocaine
  • What to expect during cocaine detox and treatment

If you or someone you love are struggling with cocaine addiction, please reach out to Ascend Recovery Centers today to discuss your treatment options and get started with a confidential, risk-free assessment.

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a powerful and addictive stimulant drug that is derived from the leaves of the coca plant (Erythroxylon coca).[1] Although the coca plant is native to South America, cocaine is abused worldwide.

In the United States, cocaine is a Schedule II Controlled Substance. Schedule II controlled substances have a high potential for abuse and dependence but can be used or approved for medical purposes. Cocaine can be used for local anesthesia and some eye, ear, or throat surgeries, however, the majority of cocaine use in the U.S. is recreational and illegal.

Cocaine is sold in the form of a white powder that is snorted or injected. It may also be sold in the form of freebase crystals that are smoked, known as crack cocaine.

As a stimulant, cocaine increases activity in the central nervous system (CNS). It causes increased heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. Cocaine also increases the levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, in the brain.[2] This surge in dopamine produces feelings of euphoria and increased energy.

Common side effects of cocaine are:

  • Euphoria
  • Increased energy
  • Talkativeness
  • Increased alertness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Wakefulness
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased body temperature
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • High heart rate
  • Bizarre or erratic behaviors
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Paranoia
  • Muscle twitching

The effects of cocaine can last for about 30 minutes while the effects of crack cocaine only last about 5-10.[1]

Cocaine Abuse: Understanding the Problem

More than 41 million people ages 18 and older have used cocaine at some point in their lives.[3] Due to its energizing effects, cocaine is often abused at social events such as parties or nightclubs. However, people may also abuse it privately to have more energy at work or school.

Since the early 2000s, rates of cocaine abuse have slowly increased, and so have the number of hospitalizations and drug overdose deaths involving the substance.[4]

In 2019, 11,891 patients were hospitalized as a result of cocaine abuse.[3] In 2020, there were 19,447 drug overdose deaths that involved cocaine.[4]

While overall rates of cocaine use have increased, the percentage of students in grades 8-12 who have tried cocaine has decreased from 7.2% in 1999 to just 1.4% in 2021.[4]

Over time, repeated cocaine use disrupts the brain’s natural dopamine regulation system, leading to tolerance, where higher doses of cocaine are needed to achieve the same effects. Users begin to crave more of the drug, using it more and more frequently, until their bodies rely on it to function properly (physical dependence). Once physical dependence develops, stopping cocaine can be incredibly challenging due to the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that arise.

Signs of Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine addiction is a complex and challenging condition that can profoundly impact an individual’s life, health, and relationships. Identifying the signs of cocaine addiction is crucial for early intervention and support. Here are some common indicators that someone may be struggling with cocaine addiction:

Behavioral Signs:

  • Increased secrecy and lying about drug use
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work, school, or home
  • Engaging in risky behaviors to obtain or use cocaine
  • Continuing to use cocaine despite negative consequences, such as legal problems or relationship issues
  • Changes in social circles, including spending time with individuals who also use cocaine

Physical Signs:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Nosebleeds or frequent sniffing (if cocaine is snorted)
  • Track marks or injection sites (if cocaine is injected)
  • Rapid weight loss or changes in appetite
  • Increased energy followed by periods of exhaustion
  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as insomnia or oversleeping

Psychological Signs:

  • Intense cravings for cocaine
  • Mood swings, including euphoria, irritability, or agitation
  • Anxiety, paranoia, or hallucinations
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Depression or suicidal thoughts

Financial and Lifestyle Signs:

  • Financial problems, including borrowing money or stealing to support cocaine use
  • Selling personal belongings or engaging in illegal activities to obtain cocaine
  • Neglecting hobbies, interests, and previously enjoyed activities
  • Decline in personal hygiene and appearance

If you or a loved one are struggling with cocaine addiction, know that you are not alone. More than 1.5 million Americans meet the diagnostic criteria for a cocaine use disorder.[5] Compassionate treatment is available at Ascend Recovery Centers–call today to speak with an admissions counselor about your treatment options.

Long-Term Dangers of Cocaine Abuse

Prolonged cocaine use can lead to structural changes in the brain, impairing cognitive function, decision-making abilities, and impulse control. Cocaine abuse can also affect physical health, leading to cardiovascular complications and other health problems.[1]

Some of the most common long-term risks associated with cocaine use are:

  • Lung damage
  • Nasal and sinus problems
  • Irregular heart rhythms
  • Respiratory failure
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Psychiatric disorders like depression, anxiety, and paranoia
  • Impaired cognition

Addiction is a progressive disease. Continued cocaine abuse can worsen one’s mental and physical health, increasing all of the above-listed risks. It’s crucial to stop using cocaine and seek help as soon as a problem is discovered.

Cocaine Withdrawal and Detox

Suddenly stopping the use of cocaine after periods of regular use can result in withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can appear just a few hours after the last use and may last for a couple of weeks. In heavy, long-term users, withdrawal symptoms can last up to 10 weeks, but can be managed with substance abuse treatment and lifestyle changes.

Symptoms of cocaine withdrawal include:

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Increased appetite
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Drug cravings
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Nightmares
  • Suicidal ideation

Cocaine withdrawal is generally not life-threatening, but it is not something that should be endured alone. Without treatment, withdrawal symptoms can become so intolerable that individuals resort to using cocaine for relief. Medical detox centers can provide the care and support required for a safe, effective detox.

Upon admission to a detox center, individuals undergo a thorough medical assessment to evaluate their overall health and assess the severity of cocaine withdrawal symptoms. The medical team provides medical supervision to manage cocaine withdrawal symptoms effectively. Medications may be prescribed to alleviate symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and agitation.

Cocaine Addiction Treatment Programs

Cocaine rehab can take place at various levels of care. Individuals with moderate to severe cocaine use disorders, or those with co-occurring disorders, are best served at a residential treatment facility where they receive around-the-clock support and supervision.

After inpatient rehab, clients can transition to lower levels of care such as a partial hospitalization program (PHP), an intensive outpatient program (IOP), and an outpatient program (OP). This continuum of care is designed to serve the changing needs of individuals as they take steps forward in their recovery. It can also reinforce the valuable coping skills used during rehab.

The goal of rehab is to educate about addiction, diagnose and treat the underlying causes, and provide the resources, support, and tools necessary for long-term recovery. This is primarily accomplished through counseling and behavioral therapy.

Therapies and approaches that have been proven to be useful in treating cocaine addiction include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – A talk therapy that helps individuals better understand their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, learning to evaluate high-risk situations and make healthy decisions.
  • Contingency management (CM) – A voucher or incentive-based approach that rewards those who abstain from cocaine and make progress in their recovery.
  • The Matrix Model – A 16-week treatment model developed to help cocaine and meth users. It combines behavioral therapy with relapse prevention, family education, 12-step meetings, and drug testing.[6]
  • Therapeutic communities – Drug-free residences or sober living homes that provide community-based peer support in the first 6-12 months of sobriety. These often include vocational therapy and other supportive services.

Cocaine addiction treatment programs like Ascend Recovery Centers provide whole-patient care extending beyond psychotherapy. Treatment also includes:

  • Individually-tailored treatment plans
  • Case management
  • Life skills training
  • NA/AA Intergroup or SMART Recovery
  • Discharge planning
  • Aftercare support

From your initial assessment and intake all the way to discharge, we’ll support you every step of the way.

Get Treatment for Cocaine Addiction With Ascend Recovery Centers

Ascend Recovery Centers is a leading provider of opioid abuse treatment. We’re setting the standard for evidence-based, whole-person care with clinically proven treatments, a multidisciplinary team of addiction specialists, and state-of-the-art facilities across the United States. In-network with many major insurance providers, we’re making quality substance abuse treatment accessible to all who need it.

Ascend Recovery Centers was founded on the premise of providing superior addiction treatment, delivered by a team of expert professionals, in the comfort of a facility that invests in the success of your long-term recovery. We recognize that addiction affects everyone differently, which is why our treatment programs are individually tailored to meet each person’s unique needs.

To learn more about our cocaine rehab programs or to get started with a confidential, risk-free assessment, please contact us today!


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): Cocaine
  2. National Institutes of Health (NIH): Cocaine Increases Dopamine Release by Mobilization of a Synapsin-Dependent Reserve Pool
  3. National Institutes of Health: Trends of Cocaine Use and Manifestations in Hospitalized Patients: A Cross-Sectional Study
  4. Statistica: Number of people in the U.S. who used cocaine in their lifetime from 2009 to 2022
  5. PubMed Central: Cocaine Use Disorder (CUD): Current Clinical Perspectives
  6. ScienceDirect: An intensive outpatient approach for cocaine abuse treatment: The matrix model

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