Cocaine Addiction & Abuse

Worried About Your Cocaine Use?

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Are you misusing cocaine and are worried you have become addicted? Are you concerned a loved one’s life is becoming unmanageable due to their use of cocaine? Cocaine addiction can be devastating but it is important to know that recovery is possible with the right interventions and support. 

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Cocaine is an illicit short-acting central nervous system stimulant drug that comes in white crystalline powder form, commonly used recreationally. Cocaine is a highly addictive psychoactive drug. Misuse of cocaine can lead to several psychological, physical and behavioural symptoms. Those using cocaine are at risk of becoming dependent and should seek help sooner rather than later. Treatment for cocaine addiction includes therapy, support groups, outpatient rehab, and inpatient rehab. Families may also want to consider staging an intervention. Cocaine dependence can be dangerous and should be treated by a medical team to ensure a safe withdrawal.

Is Cocaine Addictive? 

Yes, cocaine is addictive. One-time use of the drug can quickly turn into a pattern of misuse, which may lead to cocaine addiction. The effects of cocaine, both physically and psychologically, are typically intense but short-lived. Recreational cocaine use can result in you needing to take increasing amounts of the drug, more often, to experience the same high. This can cause the body and mind to build up a tolerance, leading to an addiction to cocaine.

Addiction is complex and it can’t be blamed on one single cause. There have been many studies surrounding the causes of cocaine addiction, and while there is no definitive answer, there is some evidence to suggest that genetics, peer groups, trauma and environment can all contribute to someone becoming an addict.

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Is Cocaine Psychoactive?

Yes, cocaine is a psychoactive substance. A psychoactive drug, such as cocaine, is a chemical substance that changes the functions of the nervous system. These changes affect mood, behaviour, levels of awareness, and thought patterns.

Psychoactive drugs are used both medically and recreationally. In addition to cocaine, recreational psychoactive substances include caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, LSD, and cannabis.

UK Government Classification of Cocaine

In the UK, cocaine was made illegal by the Dangerous Drugs Act 1920 and it is now classed as a Class A drug controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. For possession, the punishment is up to seven years in prison, an unlimited fine or both. Supply and production of cocaine carry a punishment of up to life in prison, an unlimited fine or both. Medical use as a local anaesthetic is legal in the UK.

The legal status of cocaine differs between nations, from the banning of elements of cocaine in some countries to complete illegal status in others. While the recreational use of cocaine is illegal globally, some countries have legalised it for possession, personal use, transportation, and cultivation, while others have decriminalised the drug for some uses.

Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine Abuse

Signs and symptoms of cocaine abuse vary from person to person depending on several factors including individual vulnerability and if cocaine is being used with other drugs. Abusing cocaine usually sees someone continuing the use of cocaine despite the negative consequences due to cocaine-induced craving

Early Warning Signs 

The difference between someone addicted to cocaine and a recreational cocaine user is the former’s inability to put down the drug. Someone struggling with a cocaine addiction will feel a sense of compulsion to find and use cocaine, resulting in the drug having an increased influence on their day-to-day life. 

The early warning signs of cocaine abuse: 

  • Poor timekeeping — you may notice that someone using cocaine is always late, unreliable, and/or unable to honour commitments. This is due to the unmanageability that results from someone being preoccupied with finding and using drugs. 
  • Excessive perspiration — cocaine increases the body’s metabolism, thus raising its temperature. If you notice that someone who uses cocaine is sweating for no obvious reason, they may likely be abusing the drug. 
  • Pupil dilation — if you notice someone’s pupils are constantly dilated, this may be due to the regular use of cocaine. 
  • Mood swings – as the gradual changes to the brain from cocaine use occur, you might notice more frequent and sudden mood changes. 
  • Hyperactivity followed by depression – the initial cocaine-induced high produces extreme hyperactivity. However, those who have already built up a tolerance will only experience a brief high, followed by long bouts of depression. This is also referred to as ‘coming down.’
  • Isolation – addiction causes people to disconnect from those around them. This is often because they want to avoid people challenging their use or witnessing unmanageability in their lives. 

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Short Term Effects

The symptoms of cocaine addiction become more noticeable when someone has been using the drug for a long period of time. However, there are more immediate symptoms that could imply that your loved one is suffering from addiction rather than engaging in occasional use. 

These can include:

  • Reckless and sometimes violent behaviour; 
  • Irritability
  • Hallucinations
  • Convulsions and seizures
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Depression
  • Panic
  • Psychosis

Signs of Long-Term Use

For someone unfamiliar with the effects of addiction, it can often take a long period of use for them to realise there is a problem. The long-term effects of cocaine addiction to look out for in yourself or a loved one are both psychological and physical. 

Psychological Symptoms of Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine causes the brain to release an unusual amount of the chemical dopamine which controls mood. This high level of dopamine creates a sense of euphoria. With continued cocaine use, the brain begins to develop a dependence on cocaine for the release of dopamine. As such, the brain needs larger amounts of cocaine to produce that initial high. As a result of this, someone may start experiencing paranoia, agitation, irritability, hallucination, depression, and a loss of normal functioning.  

Physical Symptoms of Cocaine Addiction 

Physical symptoms are often the last signs of addiction to be noticed, seen more in those who have developed a serious addiction. The most common physical signs of cocaine addiction include dramatic weight loss, excessive sweating, respiratory issues and burns on the lips if smoking, damage to the nose if snorting, poor oral hygiene, damage to vital organs, infectious disease, and exhaustion.

When To Get Help for Cocaine Addiction 

Addiction is a progressive illness that only gets worse if left untreated. Using cocaine is different to addiction. You may have started by using cocaine recreationally and could easily stop. If you have developed an addiction you will be craving the drug and find it difficult, even impossible, to stop use. 

If you think you are struggling with cocaine use, it is important to seek help sooner rather than later. The illness of addiction is characterised by denial, meaning you have an illness that tells you that you don’t have an illness. High-functioning people who are using cocaine often need to experience a rock bottom — extreme consequences of their illness — before seeking help. Tragically, waiting for yourself or someone else to rock bottom before receiving help can lead to unnecessary fatalities.

How Is Cocaine Addiction Treated? 

It takes courage to admit that you have a problem with cocaine and looking into treatment options is an important first step in finding freedom. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to treating cocaine addiction. Everyone’s usage, personal history and current circumstances are different. Whether you are struggling with addiction or worried about a loved one, there are various treatment options available to you that vary in cost, intensity and length of time. 

Staging an Intervention

If your loved one is suffering from addiction, staging an intervention can be a helpful tool to motivate them to seek help. It is important not to stage an intervention alone and unplanned. Approaching this with other family members, loved ones, and a trained interventionist not only improves the chances of a successful intervention but gives you the support you need.

Attending support groups 

Local support groups such as Cocaine Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Smart Recovery are an important part of recovery. Support groups help you to build a community of individuals who have direct experience of struggling with addiction and finding freedom. This provides you with a network on leaving treatment (if you attend inpatient treatment) and hope for a future free from addiction.

Counselling / Therapy

Cocaine addiction is more than a physical dependence on a mood-altering substance. Even after detox, when your body is no longer dependent, there is still a risk of relapse. Certain psychological and social factors can be powerful triggers. Seeing a counsellor or therapist gives you time and space to look at the underlying causes of addiction and helps you learn how to deal with the stressors of everyday life without using cocaine. 

Residential rehab 

Residential rehab, or inpatient rehab, offers a safe space away from the triggers, responsibilities of everyday life, family pressures, and consequences of addiction-related unmanageability so you can focus on your recovery. Inpatient treatment programmes are characterised by a wide range of therapies such as individual counselling, group work, 12-step meetings and holistic treatments like acupuncture or yoga.

Outpatient Rehab

Outpatient treatment is a programme structure for addiction and other mental health concerns that doesn’t require a residential setting. Outpatient programmes offered by addiction treatment providers are generally structured in the same way as inpatient programmes but without the need to leave your home for weeks at a time. Outpatient treatment tends to be longer than inpatient treatment as the therapeutic sessions are spread over more days/weeks. 

Cocaine Withdrawal

Cocaine withdrawal symptoms are mostly psychological rather than physical. Stopping the use of cocaine after a long period of intensive use can cause fatigue, energy loss, mood swings, insomnia and restlessness. Intense cravings occur along with anxiety, paranoia, depression and occasionally suicidal ideation. There are also health risks for those with a history of fits, high blood pressure or heart disease. Such symptoms are best treated by a medical team in a residential setting to avoid relapse. 


How Do I Know Someone’s Been Using Cocaine?

If someone you know has been using cocaine they will not be acting as they might normally. Cocaine can make people more talkative and disproportionately excitable. Someone who is under the influence of cocaine might have dilated pupils, a runny nose, a nosebleed, and have white residue around their nose and/or mouth. Someone who has been using cocaine long term might experience mood swings, weight loss, isolation, lose interest in hobbies and work, not sleeping well, and acting in a risky manner. 

What Are the Withdrawal Symptoms From Cocaine?

Cocaine withdrawal symptoms will present differently depending on individual health, history of cocaine use, and current usage. Symptoms of cocaine withdrawal include fatigue, energy loss, mood swings, insomnia, restlessness, cravings, anxiety, paranoia, depression, and occasionally suicidal ideation. What are the effects of cocaine use?

Can You Die From Cocaine Withdrawal?

Withdrawing from cocaine can be very uncomfortable but it is unlikely to kill you, unlike alcohol or opioid withdrawal syndromes. Despite this, it is ill-advised to stop using cocaine alone due to the distressing psychological symptoms that can come from stopping the use of a drug you are addicted to. Cocaine withdrawal is generally manageable with the right medical care. A detox can help support those who are addicted to cocaine to free themselves physically of the drug. However, long-term freedom requires ongoing therapeutic support. 

How Does Physical Addiction Work?

Physical addiction, also known as dependence, is a condition caused by long-term use of a habit-forming drug, such as cocaine, in which abrupt or gradual withdrawal causes unpleasant symptoms. Higher doses of a drug, longer duration of use, and the commencement of use in early life can worsen physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms. Physical addiction can manifest in both physical and psychological symptoms which are caused by the drug changing how the central nervous system and the brain function.

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