Things you need to know about Cocaine addiction

Cocaine addiction is a disease characterised by the overwhelming need to obtain and use cocaine, despite any negative consequences that might occur as a result.

Cocaine – also referred to as coke or blow – is a Class A stimulant drug usually found in powder form and made from the leaves of a cocoa plant native to South America. In the last three decades, cocaine use has increased world-wide, and what was once considered a ‘middle-class’ drug is now a widespread problem. Once it reaches street dealers it is cut with other substances, reducing its purity and increasing the risk of dangerous reactions.

Cocaine works by reacting with the body’s central nervous system to produce feelings of extreme pleasure and euphoria. It’s a popular party drug because of its ability to keep users alert, awake and talkative for many hours. The effects of cocaine are felt almost instantly and wear off just as quickly, which is why those who use it are often left craving more.

A ‘comedown’ occurs soon after the last dose and can last anywhere between one to three hours. ‘Coming down’ refers to the effects of cocaine wearing off and each person will experience it differently depending on how much cocaine they’ve been using and for how long, however, it often triggers feelings of disappointment which, in turn, leads to further drug use.

With continued abuse of cocaine, the brain tries to adjust to the sudden increase in dopamine levels by releasing fewer dopamine chemicals in response to each use. This results in the feelings of pleasure and euphoria diminishing, also referred to as increased tolerance.

Signs and symptoms of cocaine addiction

Addiction can cause drastic changes in behaviour as well as physical appearance, and someone suffering with a cocaine addiction can become very good at hiding the true nature of their habit. However, as their addiction becomes more unmanageable some of the more obvious signs of substance misuse will become recognisable. The signs and symptoms of cocaine addiction can manifest behaviourally, psychologically and physically. If you’re worried about your cocaine use, or think that someone you care about may be suffering with cocaine addiction, it’s important to familiarise yourself with some of the most common cocaine addiction symptoms below:


  • Lying to conceal cocaine use
  • Talkative
  • Hyperactive
  • Aggressive
  • Isolating from loved ones
  • Finding that you only tend to socialise with other cocaine users
  • Spending most spare time thinking about cocaine or trying to get more
  • Feeling like cocaine is needed to function and stay motivated
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Poor job performance and attendance


  • Sweating
  • Gurning
  • Constantly sniffing
  • Runny nose
  • Rapid heart rate
  • High body temperature
  • High blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils
  • Regular nosebleeds
  • Collapsed nose


  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Heightened confidence
  • Reckless decision-making
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Psychosis

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Effects of cocaine

As is the case with most illicit substance use, prolonged use of cocaine can do long-term physical and psychological damage. While there are various common short-term effects of cocaine use, such as increased heart rate, dilated pupils, rapid breathing, insomnia, loss of appetite and paranoia, cocaine abuse can also cause damage to other organs of the body.
Some of the most commonly observed problems include:

  • Reduced blood flow in the gastrointestinal tract, which can lead to tears and ulcerations
  • Aortic ruptures
  • Toxic effects on the heart and cardiovascular system
  • Risk of stroke
    Inflammation of the heart muscle
  • Drastic weight loss and malnourishment
  • Bleeding in the brain
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Impaired cognitive functions
  • Seizures

Other long-term effects can depend on the preferred method of use. Snorting cocaine can result in damage to the nasal passages, difficulty swallowing. Smoking freebase cocaine, also known as ‘crack’, can cause asthma, coughing and damage to lungs, while injecting it orally can lead to intestinal damage caused by reduced blood flow.

Cocaine addiction and depression

Cocaine addiction and co-occurring illnesses such as depression often go hand-in-hand. Cocaine is often used for the temporary high it releases and many feel as though it helps lift their mood during a depressive episode. However, the stark reality of drug addiction is that it often contributes to, and even causes, depression.

How addictive is cocaine?

Cocaine is a highly addictive drug, and once you find yourself stuck in the cycle of cocaine addiction it is extremely difficult to stop without some form of intervention. Cocaine works with the brain’s neuropathways to release pleasure hormones like dopamine. However, when dopamine is naturally produced by the brain it is then reabsorbed, but when produced in response to cocaine, the brain does not reabsorb it and the build-up of chemicals results in a surge of pleasure that then affects the reward centre. You begin to associate the drug with pleasure and reward which brings about obsessive cravings and the desire to use again.

When you stop using cocaine, you may experience withdrawal symptoms as the brain tries to adjust to the absence of dopamine. It’s these unpleasant flu-like symptoms that often drive people to continue using. Although the comedown and withdrawal period can be uncomfortable, it’s the psychological aspect of cocaine addiction that is the most difficult to overcome.

Cocaine and alcohol

It is not uncommon for people abusing cocaine to mix it with alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant, and can intensify feelings of pleasure, while also reducing the negative effects of a comedown, which can cause irritation, anxiety, insomnia and twitching. However, combining the two can be extremely dangerous and sometimes even fatal.

Some of the dangers of mixing cocaine with alcohol include:

  • The risk of cocaine overdose can be increased by mixing it with alcohol.
  • Stroke.
  • Intracranial haemorrhage (bleeding in the brain).
  • Heart attack.
  • Chronic cardiac toxicity.
  • Cardiac arrhythmia.

Cocaine addiction treatment

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At Step-by-Step Recovery, we are dedicated to providing the very best quality of care for each and every one of our clients and our ultimate goal is to provide you with the tools you need to maintain a clean and sober life free from cocain addiction.

Suffering with cocaine addiction can seem like an endless cycle. The obsession to find and use cocaine consumes every waking moment and each day is spent trying to achieve the same high as the very first time. As your cocaine use increases, so does your tolerance for the drug, and you will require more and more to feel any buzz at all. At the stage, you are no longer receiving any pleasure from cocaine use and continue to cause harm to yourself. However, it’s never too late to seek help. The best course of treatment for cocaine addiction is a detox programme where necessary, and a specialised treatment programme. Although you may experience some withdrawal symptoms once you stop taking cocaine, it is the psychological addiction that needs to be explored in order to give you the best chance of maintaining a clean and sober life.


Cocaine can disrupt your brain’s natural chemistry, specifically its dopamine system. This significantly impairs your brain’s ability to feel pleasure from regular activities that you would normally enjoy. If you begin abusing cocaine by taking large amounts more often you will start to build a tolerance, meaning you’ll require higher doses in order to achieve the high you’ve become used to. Cocaine highs are typically short-lived, and the intensity of the effects depend on the method of use. Within an hour of your last dose, you will start to ‘crash’. During this time, you may experience feelings of anxiety, irritability and paranoia, along with very strong cravings for more cocaine.

If you want to know whether someone has just taken cocaine and is currently high, there are several signs that might give you an indication. These include burst of confidence, excessive sweating, dilated pupils and hyperactive behaviour. However, if someone suddenly appears withdrawn or agitated, this may be a sign they are ‘coming down’ from a cocaine high.
Yes. A cocaine overdose or adverse reaction to cocaine can result in death. Cocaine can be deadly when taken in large doses or when mixed with other drugs or alcohol, and cocaine-related deaths often occur due to heart failure. Using cocaine and drinking alcohol or using other drugs increases these dangers, including the risk of overdose.
Yes. Anyone can overcome cocaine addiction if they are serious about getting help. One of the hardest parts of recovery is admitting that you have a cocaine addiction and need help.
The best treatment for cocaine addiction is a medically supervised detox (if necessary) alongside therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy, one-to-one and individual counselling, trauma therapy and dialectical behavioural therapy.

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A page revised the 6 of July of 2021, by Danielle Byatt, a Level 4 addictions counselling, Level 5 in Leadership & Management, BA applied social work. and Treatment Director at Step by Step Recovery.

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