Cocaine Addiction & Abuse

Cocaine is one of the most expensive stimulant addictions that creates immense difficulties across personal life and physical health. Although the drug is deemed as responsible for the upheaval it creates, it is the grip of an addiction that must be overcome. To understand cocaine addiction, we look at its addictive properties, what constitutes cocaine abuse, and the dangers of developing a drug dependence. Furthermore, we explore some of the treatment options for cocaine addiction.

What is Cocaine Addiction?

Cocaine is a powdery white substance that is also known as blow, Charlie, and coke. It is a stimulant that is responsible for creating a feeling of euphoria whether snorted, smoked, or injected in its dissolved form (Addiction Center).

While many people know that cocaine is a class A controlled substance in the UK, it continues to be an experimental and social drug of choice. As a stimulant, it influences central nervous functioning, releasing dopamine, and increasing pleasurable sensations.

It is considered a dangerous substance particularly where long term use is involved because of the effects it has on the brain and the body. Regular cocaine use can cause permanent changes in the genetic condition of the nerves and cells (Addiction Center).

man hiding his cocaine problem

Cocaine Addiction VS. Abuse

A cocaine addiction can develop with the single or frequent use of the drug owing to its highly stimulating effects on the mind and the body. An addiction or dependence is characterised by cravings and the formation of withdrawal symptoms when the substance is not used. It is also associated with a preoccupation with the drug, and an inability to quit using despite negative consequences including trouble with the law or poor health.

Cocaine abuse is common in social situations where individuals experiment with the drug for recreational purposes. In such instances, drug use is controlled and does not involve cravings or withdrawal symptoms when stopped.

An example of cocaine abuse would be using the drug in a social setting and continuing with everyday life without the need to use the substance. An addiction would involve the use of the drug in social settings, in daily life, and in some instances, using at work to prevent withdrawals and cravings.

a man struggling with cocaine abuse

What Makes Cocaine Addictive?

Cocaine is a stimulant with a very intense effect on the mind and the body. It works by stimulating the nervous system and releasing high levels of dopamine into the body. Dopamine is a feel-good hormone that creates a sense of pleasure and euphoria. Individuals describe cocaine use as a sudden euphoric rush.

What makes this drug addictive is its influence on the neurotransmitters in the brain and nerves in the body. Even the short term use can cause permanent changes at a cellular level. The effects of cocaine have a short duration depending on the way it is used (snorted or injected). This leaves many to increase the dosage or use the substance more frequently. This process heightens the risk of an overdose.

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How Cocaine Addiction Develops

Cocaine is a highly addictive substance because of its stimulant effects. However, not every person who uses the drug will develop an addiction. From repeat exposure to genetic factors, we determine why and how a cocaine addiction can develop.

Repeat Exposure

According to Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, repeat cocaine exposure is well documented across studies in which the substance is used to achieve pleasurable and euphoric effects. It is also used to prevent the aversive reactions (cravings, dealing with mental health issues) when it is not consumed or ingested.

The repeated use of cocaine stimulates the pleasure principle in the brain. It reinforces the connection between the drug and feeling good, which increases the risk of a dependence.

Trauma & Pre-existing Mental Health Conditions

Research has shown that past traumas, particularly childhood traumas, are associated with a substance dependence in adulthood. An average 34% of individuals who have suffered a trauma as a child, or an adolescent have developed a cocaine addiction (Wiley Depression and Anxiety).

It is further found that high levels of cocaine use are strongly correlated with childhood physical, emotional, and sexual abuse including the experience of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Concerning mental health conditions and addictions, the World Psychiatry Official Journal reports a significant psychiatric comorbidity with cocaine dependence. This includes a psychological comorbidity among cocaine users that is strongly associated with substance use disorders, personality disorders, depression and post traumatic stress (World Psychiatry Official Journal). The presence of an existing mental health condition increases the risk of developing an addiction, which is commonly referred to as a ‘dual diagnosis.’

a family therapy session

A Family History of Cocaine Use

Neuropsychopharmacology reveals the link between genetics and family cocaine use.

This includes the interplay between environmental and hereditary factors in the development and the maintenance of a cocaine dependence.

Reports concerning environmental, genetic, and epigenetic factors (trans-generational impact), reveal how inherited epigenetic traits increase the propensity for developing a cocaine addiction. The use of stimulants such as cocaine is highest among siblings and the relatives of those who are struggling with drug or substance dependence. Research has further revealed that the genetic factors which predispose individuals to drug use are common across substances such as alcohol and cocaine.

Signs & Symptoms of Cocaine Addiction

The signs and symptoms of a cocaine addiction include:

  • Depression after binging drug use
  • Heightened energy and anxiety
  • Narcissistic attitudes
  • Withdrawal symptoms including craving the substance
  • Risky behaviours including emotional and sexual dysfunction
  • Financial difficulties
  • Withdrawing from friends and family.

The physical symptoms include:

  • Rapid speech
  • Constant sniffing (from snorting)
  • Restlessness
  • Behaviours that are out of character or dangerous
  • Dilated pupils
  • Poor sense of smell and taste
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Delusions
  • Mood disruptions including irritability.

Options Behavioral Health System provides details concerning the effects of using cocaine which include:

  • Constriction of blood vessels increasing risk of stroke and heart attack
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Sexual dysfunction.

Diagnosing Cocaine Addiction

The Drug Screening questionnaire or DAST is commonly used to determine the nature and the severity of a substance-related addiction.
The DAST-10 is a screening tool that uses a scoring system for each question answered. Every question is assigned 1 point where the answer is yes, except for question 3 where a “No” response will be assigned 1 point (DAST 10 Institute).

Doctors rely on the assessment to devise an integrated treatment programme for patients.

a man struggling with cocaine addiction

The Dangers of Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine is a highly addictive substance and has profound effects on the healthy condition of the body and the mind. The stimulant works at a cellular level which changes the physiological condition of cells, nerves, and neurotransmitters in the brain.

Cocaine related deaths in the UK recorded a rise in cases from 2000-2008 with a noticeable dip in 2009.

An average 2700 deaths that were associated with cocaine use were determined in the UK alone. The average age and gender for cocaine related deaths included 34 year old men with two-thirds of cases attributed to a cocaine overdose (J Psychopharmacol).

Cocaine Use in Teens

Very Well Mind indicates that children who use cocaine are more likely to develop chronic problems as an adult. The growing rates of cocaine abuse and addiction among adolescents has shown a higher propensity for depression and anxiety as an adult. Cocaine use among the age group 16-17 year olds is highest compared to other age groups.

Cocaine Use in Pregnancy

The use of cocaine during pregnancy has negative effects on the developing foetus. NIDA indicates that maternal cocaine use is associated with higher incidences of chronic migraines and seizures. Cocaine use is further associated with the separation of the placental lining in the uterus which causes life threatening circumstances.

In pregnant women with hypertension, cocaine use will exacerbate such problems which means the risk of heart attacks and stroke. This can also lead to premature labour and sudden miscarriage.

Babies who are born to mothers with a cocaine dependence will suffer the following:

  • Low birth weight
  • Small head circumference
  • Premature birth
  • Shorter body length.

Studies have also shown that children born to cocaine addicted mothers may suffer multiple learning deficits which involve difficulties in learning and memory processing.

Mothers who are breastfeeding are encouraged to cease the use of cocaine to prevent exposing infants to the drug. Although research concerning the impact of breast milk and the ingestion of cocaine is still ongoing, cocaine that is used by mothers will be transferred to the infant, exposing the baby to small doses of cocaine. Infants who have ingested the stimulant through breastfeeding can suffer from seizures, irritability, and tachycardia (NIDA).

man struggling at work with cocaine use

Cocaine Use and Employment

Cocaine use and dependence have a profound effect on the ability to maintain workplace productivity. This is owed to compromised cognitive function and motivation.

In controlled studies, adults with a history of cocaine use revealed significant physical and mental impairment including inappropriate and unproductive behaviour. Such levels of unprofessionalism associated with cocaine use could lead to chronic unemployment in these adult populations.

Mixing Cocaine with Other Drugs

Mixing different types of recreational drugs carries a high risk of complications including the risk of death. When cocaine is combined with alcohol for example, it can produce Cocaethylene which is a deadly by-product (American Addiction Centers).

When cocaine and alcohol are metabolised by the liver, it has a detrimental effect on internal organs including the heart and the liver. Individuals can suffer from hypertension and violent thoughts but also sudden death owing to the accumulation of toxins.

man getting help for cocaine dependency

Getting Help for Cocaine Addiction

If you are struggling with a cocaine addiction or you know someone who needs help, there are options for cocaine addiction recovery and achieving sobriety from drug dependence.

A private rehab or residential rehab offers an inpatient service where you will remain at the centre for the duration of the treatment without access to family, friends, and the outside world.

In a welcoming environment, you are provided round the clock access to support staff, medical doctors and therapists specialised in addiction. The private rehab programme includes a medically supervised cocaine detox and support to overcome the grip of a cocaine addiction.

Outpatient services are an affordable alternative; however, you will be required to visit a centre to attend scheduled meetings and therapy.

Support groups include Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Cocaine Anonymous (CA) are also advised for helping individuals maintain sobriety.

There are different types of outpatient therapies including private therapy and free addiction services provided by the NHS and UK based charities.

We encourage you to contact us if you are looking for the appropriate inpatient or outpatient services to manage and beat a cocaine addiction. Our professional consultants are supportive and attentive, helping you find the right therapeutic service and programme for your needs

Frequently Asked Questions
You may have a lot of questions about cocaine addiction. If you are unable to find the answer below please give us a call and speak to one of our addiction specialists today.
Is cocaine physically addictive?
Yes. Cocaine use over a short period can cause physical changes in the brain and in both nerve and cell structure. It increases dopamine levels and reinforces the experience of pleasure and euphoria.
What do I do if I suspect my child of using cocaine?
It is important to approach the situation calmly. Provide your child with love and reassurance that you are there to help them and encourage them to be honest about their experiences. Children will simply shut down if they feel threatened.
Does cocaine abuse affect mental health?
Because cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant, it can have a negative impact on mental health. For those who consume or ingest a large amount of cocaine in one setting, the effects include powerful hallucinations, agitation, and dangerous psychosis.
Can you get addicted to cocaine after one use?
The development of an addiction is not related to the frequency or the amount of the substance used. Instead, it is influenced by individual circumstances including genetic factors, past traumas, and pre-existing mental health conditions. Some people can experience an addiction to cocaine after one use.
How can I help a loved one struggling with cocaine addiction?
If a loved one is battling a cocaine addiction, approach them with compassion and understanding. With research into treatment for a substance dependence, you can help create awareness into the options for therapy and provide clarity on the issues they may be facing without judgement.

Jason Sheirs
Author / Jason Shiers / Dip. Psych MBACP
Jason Shiers is a Certified Transformative Coach & Certified Psychotherapist who is a specialist in addiction, trauma and eating disorders. He has been working in the field of addiction for 25 years now.