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The Truth About Cocaine Addiction & Recovery

Jump to: What is cocaine? | Street Names | Crack vs. Powder | Alcohol & Cocaine | Effects | Long-Term Effects | Signs of Use | Dangers | Withdrawal | Abuse Statistics | Overdose Statistics | Help | Cocaine FAQs

In 1986, an American music group by the name of General Kane released a song describing the painful and consuming nature of drug addiction. The fictional Nathan “Applejack” Lewis came from a loving, two-parent home, but after being exposed to drugs, his life was turned upside down. He stole and even prostituted his wife … and himself … to maintain his drug addiction. There is nothing glamorous about cocaine … in any form. There is no grey area or silver lining when it comes to cocaine usage. It is a dangerous, illegal drug that should be avoided at all costs. Let’s jump straight in and get to the facts.

What is Cocaine? 

The DEA categorizes drugs into a number of categories according to the potency and potential for addiction. Cocaine is listed as a Schedule II drug, which is defined as a drug which has the potential for abuse and physical dependence.

Cocaine can appear as a fine, white, crystal powder or as a solid, rock crystal. It can be snorted through the nose, injected into the bloodstream via a needle, smoked, or rubbed into the gums to induce a high that involves feelings of increased energy and alertness. It is an extremely addictive and destructive drug. Cocaine increases the arousal activity in the brain, resulting in feelings of invincibility,  loss of appetite, and sexual arousal.

Street names 

Cocaine has many names. These names differ according to the user group or method of ingestion.

More common nicknames include:

  • Blow
  • Coke
  • Crack
  • Rocks
  • Dust
  • Paradise
  • Sniff
  • White
  • Snow

Other names for cocaine that have been used include:

  • Aunt Nora
  • Bernice
  • Binge
  • C
  • Charlie
  • Flake
  • Nose Candy
  • Mojo
  • Toot

How is cocaine used?

Cocaine is ingested in a number of ways. The white powder is snorted through the nose or rubbed into the gums. It is also dissolved and injected into the bloodstream using a needle. Another method of ingestion involves heating up the rock crystal version of the drug and breathing it into the lungs.

Crack vs. Powder Cocaine

When the rock crystal version of cocaine is smoked or inhaled into the lungs as a vapor, it is known as Crack (referring to the crackling sound that it makes while being heated). The key difference in crack and cocaine is the rock crystal form and the method of ingestion, (also known as “freebase cocaine”). Since these are essentially the same drug, please consider all of the facts shared here as descriptions of both forms.

Crack Cocaine
Crack Cocaine
Powder Cocaine
Powder Cocaine

Alcohol & Cocaine

Cocaine, as is the case with many other drugs, is not usually consumed solo. Cocaine dealers often combine cocaine the drug with powders such as talcum and cornstarch, and even flour, diluting the product, in order to increase profits. To enhance the potency, street dealers and users may mix cocaine with other stimulants such as amphetamine or synthetic opioids, including fentanyl.

One of the most common blends of cocaine is alcohol.

Many users drink alcohol, before, during or immediately after they use cocaine in order to enhance the high or feeling of euphoria. The danger here is that users aren’t usually aware of how much alcohol is being ingested, or vice versa, and can easily overdose or increase the chance of other adverse reactions.

Some people also sprinkle cocaine on cigarettes and cigars, mixing it with nicotine, marijuana, and other drugs while smoking it like a cigarette.

How it works

Cocaine sends high levels of dopamine, a natural chemical messenger in the body, into the part of the brain that controls pleasure and reward. Normally, dopamine is “recycled” and sent back out of the brain, but cocaine causes it to pile up in the brain, flooding the nerve cells and creating an intense feeling of energy and alertness.

Immediate effects

Cocaine’s effects are immediate and short-lived. The length and intensity of the effects depends on the method of ingestion. Injecting and snorting cocaine produces a stronger and quicker high that doesn’t last as long as the other methods. The high from snorting lasts about 15 to 30 minutes and the high from smoking lasts about 5 to 10 minutes.

Some of the effects include:

  • intense happiness
  • decreased appetite
  • increased agility
  • extreme sensitivity to touch, sound, and sight
  • anger/irritability
  • paranoid feeling, extreme and unreasonable distrust of others
  • bizarre, unpredictable, violent behaviors

Additional health effects include:

  • constricted blood vessels
  • dilated pupils
  • nausea
  • raised body temperature and blood pressure
  • fast or irregular heartbeat
  • tremors and muscle twitches
  • restlessness

Long-term effects

An abuser can become addicted to cocaine after one use. Stronger, more frequent uses of cocaine can cause long-term changes to the chemistry of the brain.

Since cocaine increases the dopamine in the reward center of the brain, it causes the reward circuit to adapt to this high amount of dopamine and the brain to become less sensitive to the chemical response.  Your body and mind begin to rely on the increased feeling of pleasure, which leads users to consume stronger doses in order to obtain the same high and to prevent withdrawal symptoms. 

The table below shows some of the effects according to the method of use.

Snortingloss of smell, nosebleeds, frequent runny nose, and problems with swallowing  
Smokingcough, asthma, respiratory distress, and higher risk of infections like pneumonia  
Consuming by Mouth (Rubbing on Gums)severe bowel decay from reduced blood flow  
Needle Injectionhigher risk for contracting HIV, hepatitis C, and other bloodborne diseases, skin or soft tissue infections, as well as scarring or collapsed veins  

Additional effects of cocaine and other amphetamines include anxiety, depression, paranoia, and psychosis.

Signs of Use

Cocaine use has observable signs that can be easily recognized if you know what you are looking for.

Signs of cocaine use include:

  • white powder around the nose or mouth
  • burn marks on fingers or lips
  • mood swings
  • dilated pupils
  • hoarse throat
  • sniffling and or runny/bloody nose
  • impotence
  • fast heartbeat
  • shaking
  • nausea or stomach pain

Other signs of cocaine abuse include sudden financial troubles, including the loss of money, engaging in risky behaviors, decreased personal hygiene, and stealing or selling personal property.

Dangers of Abuse 

Overuse of the individual ingredients used to make cocaine can lead to serious neuropsychological complications alone, and even more harsh reactions when combined.

Increasing use leads to addiction and the impulse to combine other illicit substances such as alcohol and opioids to maintain a high.

Additional dangers of using cocaine include:

  • addiction
  • lost sense of smell
  • reduced cognitive abilities such as decision making
  • inflammation of nose tissues
  • holes in roof of mouth
  • lung damage
  • nervous system disorders
  • death

Cocaine abuse can also cause significant damage to the reproductive, digestive and cardiovascular systems. These affects include infertility, malnourishment, infections and sexual dysfunction.

Cocaine Withdrawal

Withdrawal side effects 

Quitting cocaine is uncomfortable. If someone stops taking the substance, they may experience symptoms of withdrawal.

Cocaine withdrawal symptoms include:

  • anxiety
  • chills or goosebumps
  • diarrhea
  • faster heartbeat
  • irritability
  • loss of appetite
  • muscle aches
  • nausea and vomiting
  • runny nose
  • sleep problems
  • sweating
  • teary eyes
  • yawning

Abuse Statistics 

Cocaine use affects people of all ages and ethnicities, but it does vary across different groups, and it is currently on the rise in the U.S. Teens as young as 12 years old have admitted to using cocaine with nearly six million teens admitting to usage in 2017. An additional one million people a year admit to trying cocaine for the first time.

The highest cocaine use bracket is adults aged 18 to 25 and the second highest bracket is aged 26 to 34. Following this group, over 500,000 people over the age of 55 also abuse cocaine.

As is the case with a number of drugs, nearly twice as many men than women abuse cocaine. As a result, more men die of cocaine use than women.

Interestingly, while cocaine use is about the same across all ethnicities, at a rate of 1.2 to 2 percent of the population,  African Americans have statistically been more likely to suffer from overdose death than any other group.

Overdose Statistics 

A cocaine overdose is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate treatment to prevent death or further damage to the body’s organs and central nervous system.

In 2015, over 18,000 people per 100,000 abusers were admitted into the hospital as a result of cocaine overdose, adding up to nearly 600,000 hospitalizations in one year.

According to emergency room data, over ten percent of drug overdoses are attributed to cocaine.

As previously mentioned, the highest percentage of cocaine related overdose deaths occur in the African American community. In addition, it is reported that more overdoses occur in the northeast and southern United States, likely as a result of increased access to the drug.

Signs of cocaine overdose include:

  • trouble breathing
  • inability to keep eyes open, focus, speak, and even unconsciousness
  • blue or gray skin
  • darkened lips and fingernails
  • gurgling noises from throat

Getting Help

Cocaine abuse is highly addictive and it is important to get help as soon as possible if you or a loved one suffer from this addiction.

If you or someone you know does struggle with addiction to cocaine or have begun using cocaine in any of the described forms, you can seek help by calling Cocaine Anonymous. You can also contact a local addiction clinic or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357.

Compass Detox in Florida is another option for recovering from cocaine addiction.

Find more information about cocaine detox here.

Cocaine Addiction Help
Cocaine Addiction Help

Cocaine FAQs

Is cocaine safe?

No, cocaine is not safe. It is one of the most dangerous drugs abused. It is extremely addictive, and increases the chance of lung failure, cognitive issues, central nervous system disorders, and can even lead to death. 

How is cocaine made?

There are a few main steps to making cocaine.  The coca plant leaves are first harvested and soaked in gasoline. Next, the gasoline is drained, and the base for the drug is extracted, creating a crystallized substance and then dissolved in solvent. Lastly, the excess solvents are removed and the crystallized substance is dried into bricks.

What does cocaine look like?

Cocaine is a white, off-white, beige or pinkish powdery substance. It can also appear in the form of rock crystals.

Does cocaine get you high?

Yes, cocaine can get you high.

Is cocaine a narcotic?

Cocaine is not a narcotic, but it is still very dangerous. It is a stimulant drug, which increases energy, while narcotics block pain receptors to the brain and relax the body.

Is cocaine a Schedule I, II, or III drug?

Cocaine is a Schedule II drug. According to the DEA, schedule II drugs are defined as drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. These drugs are also considered dangerous.

Is cocaine a stimulant?

Yes, cocaine is a stimulant that affects the central nervous system.Stimulants increase the body’s state of arousal. Cocaine floods the brain with dopamine, increasing the feeling of pleasure and thereby creating a high.

Is cocaine an amphetamine?

Yes, cocaine is considered an amphetamine. It increases the activity of dopamine in the brain, creating a high or feelings of increased energy.

Is cocaine an opiate?

No, cocaine is not an opiate. Opiates are made from the opium poppy plant and interact with the opioid receptors in the brain, which block pain messages in the body from reaching the brain. Manmade versions of this drug are called opioids. Both opiates and opioids are used to relieve pain and create a feeling of relaxation. Cocaine, on the other hand, is a stimulant, produced from the coca plant, and creates feelings of increased energy and focus.

Is cocaine bad for you?

Yes, cocaine is extremely dangerous. It can cause physical and psychological dependence, negatively affect your central nervous system, reproductive system and digestive system. It can also cause infections, memory problems, cognitive issues, and even lead to death.

What does cocaine do to you?

Cocaine creates an intense feeling of increased energy and focus. It can also increase sexual arousal, alertness, make someone more talkative and hyper-stimulated, as well as create a feeling of invincibility. However, the euphoric feelings are short-lived, and a cocaine crash follows with increased heart rate, anxiety, loss of appetite, faster breathing, dilated pupils and paranoia.

What does cocaine do to your body?

Cocaine causes your pupils to dilate, your heart rate to increase, and can cause your nose to bleed.It can also cause impotence, a hoarse throat and shaking.

What is crack cocaine?

Crack cocaine is the rock crystal version of cocaine that is smoked or inhaled into the lungs as a vapor. The name “Crack” comes from the crackling sound that it makes while being heated.

Is cocaine addictive?

Yes, cocaine is highly addictive.

How addictive is cocaine?

Cocaine is highly addictive. Users can get addicted after the first use. It is also extremely difficult to break a cocaine addiction.

What is cocaine made of?

Cocaine is made from the South American coca plant. Often times, distributors mix other drugs and powdery substances into cocaine in order to increase profits. 

How is cocaine sold?

Cocaine is usually sold in small, clear, resealable plastic bags in the size of one-half gram to one gram.

How long does it take to feel a high on cocaine?

The effects of cocaine can be felt immediately or take up to 30 minutes to kick in, depending on the method of ingestion.

Oral: effects appear after 30 minutes and peaks in 50 to 90 minutes

Snorting: effects appear after 3 minutes and peaks in 15 minutes after intake

Smoking: effects appear and peak immediately

Injection: effects appear immediately and peaks within a few minutes

How long does a cocaine high last?

The high of cocaine lasts between 5 and 90 minutes depending on the form of ingestion.

Oral: effects appear after 30 minutes and peaks in 50 to 90 minutes

Snorting: effects appear after 3 minutes and peaks in 15 minutes after intake

Smoking: effects appear and peak immediately

Injection: effects appear immediately and peaks within a few minutes

How much does cocaine cost?

Cocaine prices vary depending on location and purity. The smallest amount that can be purchased on the streets is typically a gram, and can cost $20-$50. Long term, cocaine can be expensive due to increased tolerance to the drug and the need to purchase more of the drug to experience the same high.

How long does cocaine stay in your system?

Cocaine is expelled from the body fairly quickly, but exact numbers vary depending on how it is metabolized and how it is consumed.

Cocaine is broken down in the body further into two substances which last longer and can indicate cocaine use. Generally, cocaine can be detected from 4 to 144 hours after ingestion.

It can be detected according to the following forms:  

Urine:1 to 3 days
Blood: up to 24 hours
Saliva: 1 to 2 days
Hair follicle: up to 90 days (3 months)

Can cocaine kill you?

Yes, cocaine can cause breathing problems or put you in a coma like state, with other adverse effects, including death.

Is cocaine illegal in the US?

Yes, cocaine is illegal in the U.S.

How can I tell if someone is intoxicated by cocaine?

There are a number of observable signs associated with cocaine use and abuse.Signs of use include dilated pupils, sniffling or bloody nose, burned fingertips or lips, fast heartbeat, stomach pain or headaches, shaking, and a hoarse throat. You may see cocaine paraphernalia nearby such as syringes, burnt pieces of foil, mirrors, razors, and powdery substances, as well as aluminum foil and lighters.

What are some signs that someone I know is addicted to cocaine?

Signs of abuse or addiction include mood swings, sudden financial troubles, engaging in risky behaviors, decreased personal hygiene, and stealing or selling personal property. Environmental signs of cocaine usage in someone’s home, vehicle, or other place of use include cut straws, razor blades, small mirrors, and powdery residue on flat surfaces, as well as syringes, aluminum foil, and lighters lying around together.

Can someone get help with an addiction to cocaine without going to jail?

Yes, cocaine abusers can seek help confidentially at local addiction clinics or by contacting the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357. Treatment usually begins with inpatient detox, inpatient treatment, and then outpatient services.

References & Additional Resources

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“Amphetamines.” Drug Aware, drugaware.com.au/getting-the-facts/faqs-ask-a-question/amphetamines/#why-do-people-take-amphetamines. Accessed 10 July 2020.

“Cocaine DrugFacts.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/cocaine.

Ghaffari, Nadia, and Leah Miller. “How Is Cocaine Made | Where Does Cocaine Come From?” Recovery.Org, 18 Feb. 2020, www.recovery.org/cocaines/how-made.

“How Long Does Cocaine Stay in Your System?” Verywell Mind, www.verywellmind.com/how-long-does-cocaine-stay-in-your-system-80231. Accessed 10 July 2020.

“How Much Does A Cocaine Addiction Cost To Maintain?” Find Rehab Centers Based On Your Needs, www.rehabcenter.net/cocaine-addiction-cost.

“How To Tell If Someone Is Using Cocaine.” Addiction Campuses, www.addictioncampuses.com/cocaine/detection.

Isaac, Alexis. “Cocaine Statistics By Age, Gender, Ethnicity, More.” Addiction Campuses, 7 May 2020, www.addictioncampuses.com/cocaine/statistics.

Jewell, Tim. “What Happens After Using Cocaine Once?” Healthline, 10 Sept. 2019, www.healthline.com/health/what-happens-if-you-do-coke-once#side-effects-after-initial-use.

“Prescription Opioids | Drug Overdose | CDC Injury Center.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/opioids/prescribed.html. Accessed 10 July 2020.

“Prescription Opioids DrugFacts.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-opioids.

Siegel, R. K. “Cocaine Smoking.” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, vol. 14, no. 4, 1982, pp. 271–359.

“The Truth About Cocaine.” Foundation for a Drug Free World, www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/cocaine.html.

“What’s in Cocaine? – How Cocaine Is Made, from Plant to Illegal Product.” Sunrise House, 18 May 2020, sunrisehouse.com/cocaine-addiction-treatment/how-made.