Cocaine Addiction: Signs, Side Effects, & Recovery

Written By: Facility Staff

Edited By: Editorial Team

Published Date: 02/03/24

Last Updated: 02/03/24

If you or a loved one have a cocaine addiction (cocaine use disorder), know that 1.4 million other Americans are battling the same health condition. 

Cocaine addiction is characterized as a compulsive use of cocaine. It ​​involves intense cravings, leading users to continue use despite experiencing negative effects.

Yet, with the right care, support, and resources, chronic cocaine users can lead a drug-free lifestyle centered on their health and wellness. 

At Otter House Wellness, we offer a comprehensive and specialized treatment program for each person in our care to help you recover from drug addiction in safety and comfort. 

Cocaine Addiction (Cocaine Use Disorder): Quick Definition

Cocaine addiction, clinically referred to as cocaine use disorder (CUD), is a chronic condition characterized by the compulsive use of cocaine even if users experience negative consequences.

Cocaine, derived from the leaves of the coca plant, is a powerful stimulant that affects the brain’s pleasure and reward system, rapidly increasing dopamine levels in the brain.

People with CUD often find it challenging to control their cocaine use, leading to detrimental effects on their physical, mental, and social well-being. 

This disorder is recognized as a substance use disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), highlighting its serious nature. 

Key Facts on Cocaine Addiction & Cocaine Abuse

  • Approximately 1.7% or 4.8 million Americans used cocaine in the past year.
  • About 0.5% or 1.4 million Americans are affected by cocaine addiction.
  • Roughly 0.3% or 447,000 of Americans struggling with cocaine addiction seek or attend professional treatment.
  • The side effects of cocaine use can be wide-ranging and impactful, affecting various aspects of a person’s life.

How Does Cocaine Use Disorder Start?

People use cocaine for a variety of reasons. But once an addiction forms, it can be hard to stop. 

Why Do People Abuse Cocaine?

The reason someone may decide to use cocaine varies, but people may not be thinking they’ll become addicted to the substance when they first use it.

People may use cocaine for:

  • Pleasure or recreationally
  • To escape from life’s stressors 
  • In social settings where everyone else is using cocaine
  • To explore how cocaine use alters their consciousness
  • Self-medication to cope with an underlying mental health condition like depression 

Pleasurable Effects That Lead to Cocaine Misuse

Cocaine blocks the reuptake of neurotransmitters in the brain, like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. This can produce intense feelings of pleasure and reward. 

Such feelings can create a sense of happiness, enhance confidence, and even give you a feeling of more energy. In turn, these effects can create a positive reinforcement effect for continued use. 

How Cocaine Affects the Brain

Cocaine primarily affects the dopamine pathway in the brain. This creates a sense of reward and the desire to repeat the experience. 

However, prolonged cocaine use can change the brain’s structure and function in areas of decision-making and impulse control. This can make it harder for cocaine users to stop using the drug.

Long-term effects of cocaine can reduce the number of dopamine receptors in the brain, decreasing the brain’s ability to experience pleasure and reward without it.

Is Cocaine Addiction a Choice?

No. Cocaine addiction is not a choice. The first time someone tries cocaine is a choice, often assuming that it will be only for a short time.  

However, once the user’s brain chemistry changes after chronic use, they may feel like it’s impossible to stop, depending on when, why, and how frequently they use it.

What Are the Signs of Cocaine Addiction?

People who become addicted to cocaine may not be aware of the issue at first. They may even be able to mask their symptoms once they are aware they have a cocaine use problem.

But, with time, and as cocaine hijacks the brain, they may show outward signs that make it difficult for people in their lives to ignore the issue.

Some of the most common signs of cocaine addiction include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased heart rate
  • Bloody nose
  • Excessive amounts of sweating
  • Lying or stealing (when these behaviors weren’t characteristic before)
  • Having high, unexplained amounts of energy
  • Acting excessively confident, aggressive, or hyperactive
  • Experiencing periods of unexplained low appetite
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis

Does Cocaine Abuse Lead to Physical Dependence?

Cocaine abuse can cause both mental and physical symptoms. In addition to feelings of pleasure and reward, users may feel more energized, allowing their bodies to move faster.

However, cocaine users may experience more of a psychological dependency (addiction) than a physical dependency, especially during withdrawal. 

What Causes Cocaine Use Disorder to Develop?

Cocaine addiction develops through a combination of biological, environmental, and psychological factors. 

Repeated cocaine use leads to neuroadaptations, which alters the brain’s reward circuitry. This can lead to increased tolerance, requiring users to take higher doses for the same effects. 

Higher tolerance levels often feed a cycle of escalating use and dependence, building more dependency on the drug.

CUD also often coexists with other mental health disorders, like anxiety or depression, a phenomenon known as dual diagnosis. 

This can lead users to rely on cocaine for relief from their mental health conditions. 

Risk Factors for Cocaine Addiction

People who abuse cocaine may find themselves caught in a cycle of compulsive use, driven by an overwhelming desire to experience the drug’s intense euphoria. 

This psychological dependence can overshadow adverse consequences, such as health deterioration, strained relationships, or even legal issues.

Other risk factors of cocaine include: 

  • Cocaine purity and dosage: Higher purity levels and dosage amounts can increase the risk of addiction and intensify its impact on the cardiovascular and nervous systems. Cocaine can also be mixed with fentanyl, a deadly substance, and other substances to make crack cocaine, which is highly addictive.
  • Early drug use: People who were introduced to cocaine at a younger age, whether at school or in home environments, are at a higher risk of becoming addicted.
  • Environmental factors and home life: People who may live in an abusive home environment may use it to escape and create more pleasurable feelings.
  • Family history: Having a family history of addiction may make a cocaine user more susceptible to becoming dependent on it.
  • Overlap with mental health conditions: People with anxiety, depression, or ADHD may develop a dependency on cocaine to manage their mental health.  
  • Individual sensitivity: Genetically, some people may be more prone to the rewarding effects of cocaine than others, increasing the risk of dependence.
  • Method of use: Some people may enjoy different forms of use for the drug, as it may lead to unique or more intensified highs and, as a result, a higher risk for addiction.

Who Experiences Cocaine Abuse Problems?

Cocaine abuse affects people of all demographics. No matter who someone is or where they come from, they can develop a cocaine use disorder with continued use. 

There are, however, some groups that may be more affected by cocaine abuse, such as:

  • Young adults, particularly in their mid-20s, aged 18 to 25 years old
  • Both men and women
  • Impoverished communities with high unemployment rates
  • Urban areas with greater access to cocaine compared to rural locations
  • Students and professionals facing high levels of stress 
  • Those with a history of previous substance use
  • People struggling with mental health disorders

Side Effects of Cocaine Abuse

Cocaine abuse can have a range of detrimental effects on both physical and mental health. It’s important to learn of its potential side effects and the warning signs of cocaine overdose. 

Some side effects include:

  • Cardiovascular: Elevated heart rate, high blood pressure, and risk of heart attack
  • Respiratory: Shortness of breath, respiratory failure and chronic cough 
  • Neurological: Paranoia, agitation, impaired judgment
  • Psychiatric: Mood swings, irritability, risk of psychosis
  • Gastrointestinal: Nausea, abdominal pain, weight loss
  • Dermatological: Skin infections, excessive sweating, skin picking
  • Dental: Tooth decay, tooth loss, and gum disease
  • Sexual health: Erectile dysfunction (in males), menstrual irregularities (in females), reduced libido
  • Renal and hepatic: Kidney damage, liver damage, hepatitis (with injection use)
  • Nasal: Nosebleeds, nasal congestion, runny nose (when snorting)
  • Psychological: Depression during withdrawal, cravings, increased risk of suicidal thoughts

Signs of overdose can include:

  • Seizures
  • cardiac arrest
  • Death
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Unconsciousness 

Complications of Cocaine Addiction

If left untreated, cocaine addiction can impact every aspect of a user’s life, including family, social, and work relationships while leading to a range of health problems. 

Some complications can include:

  • Relationship strain
  • Impaired function, potentially affecting their work performance
  • Reproductive issues 
  • A weakened immune system 
  • Increased risk of heart attack and other heart issues

If your or a loved one is currently struggling with CUD, an intervention and substance abuse treatment may be helpful to help overcome addiction and take back control of your life.

Cocaine Addiction Treatment Options

Addressing cocaine addiction requires a comprehensive approach that focuses on both the physical and psychological aspects of dependence. 

Cocaine Detox Programs

Under the care of medical professionals, you can safely navigate the withdrawal process. 

Medications may be administered to ease withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. Continuous monitoring ensures the safety and well-being of individuals during detox.

Cocaine Rehab Programs

Inpatient residential programs offer immersive, round-the-clock care, providing a structured environment for recovery.

Users can also partake in outpatient programs with scheduled therapy sessions while living at home.

Some intensive program options in an outpatient setting include partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Dual diagnosis programs cater to people with both substance use disorders and underlying mental health issues. Treatment plans consider the interplay between addiction and mental health, fostering holistic recovery.

Behavioral Therapy & Counseling

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can target negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with cocaine drug use, promoting healthier coping mechanisms.

Another method is motivational enhancement therapy (MET), which aims to enhance intrinsic motivation for change and commitment to recovery.

Contingency management is also effective for treating cocaine use. This therapy offers rewards for positive behaviors and abstinence, reinforcing sobriety and re-introducing the brain to its natural reward processing system.

Alternative Therapies

Some people may find alternative therapies to be a beneficial healthcare approach. Some may include:

  • Art therapy: This approach uses creative expression to enhance self-awareness and emotional well-being.
  • Mindfulness and meditation: These practices help to promote self-reflection, stress reduction, and relapse prevention.
  • Yoga and exercise programs: Physical activity contributes to overall well-being and aids in the recovery process.

These programs could also be used in combination with other forms of therapy and rehabilitation.

Cocaine Recovery Options

Successfully overcoming cocaine addiction involves ongoing commitment and a supportive environment. Several recovery options are available to individuals in various stages of their journey.

Sober Living & Halfway Houses

Sober living homes provide a supportive environment for people transitioning from cocaine treatment to independent living. 

It creates structured accountability where residents adhere to house rules, take part in house meetings, and undergo regular drug testing.

Living with others in similar cocaine recovery stages also fosters a sense of community and shared commitment.

Continuing Care

Continued outpatient therapy ensures ongoing support and addresses evolving recovery needs for people overcoming a cocaine addiction.

One-on-one counseling sessions also provide personalized guidance and address specific challenges. Support groups and group therapy sessions offer a sense of community and shared experiences, promoting ongoing recovery.

Cocaine Addiction Recovery Resources 

Accessing reliable resources is crucial for people navigating the complexities of cocaine addiction recovery. 

Here are valuable resources that offer support, information, and guidance:

  • National Helpline for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA): A confidential, free, 24/7 helpline providing help and resources for individuals facing substance abuse.
  • Cocaine Anonymous (CA): CA is a fellowship of individuals recovering from cocaine addiction, offering meetings, support, and a 12-step recovery program.
  • SMART Recovery: A science-based approach to addiction recovery, SMART Recovery offers tools and resources for individuals seeking self-empowered recovery.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): NIDA provides comprehensive research-based information on drug abuse and addiction, including resources on cocaine addiction.
  • Crisis Text Line: A text-based crisis intervention service offering support and assistance for individuals in crisis, including those facing addiction challenges.
  • Faces and Voices of Recovery: A national advocacy organization focused on promoting long-term recovery, offering resources and support for individuals and families.
  • Addiction Policy Forum: A national nonprofit organization working to eliminate addiction as a major health problem, offering resources and support.

Find Targeted Cocaine Treatment at Otter House Wellness

If you’re noticing the symptoms of cocaine addiction in yourself or a loved one, help is here for you.

You’re not alone in your struggle against addiction, and you never will be.

Otter House Wellness offers targeted and holistic addiction treatment plans to help you overcome addiction.

Addiction doesn’t have to define you. So when you’re ready, we’re here to help.  Contact us to learn how we can help you through your recovery.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Helpful Links

  About Us



   Drug Rehab North Carolina

Frequently Asked Questions

At vero eos et accusamus et iusto odio dignissimos ducimus qui blanditiis praesentium voluptatum deleniti atque corrupti quos dolores et quas molestias excepturi sint occaecati cupiditate non provident, similique sunt in culpa qui officia.

How is cocaine addiction treated?

Cocaine addiction is treated through a combination of behavioral therapies, counseling, support groups, and sometimes medication.

Treatment plans are personalized to address individual needs and may include detoxification, rehabilitation, and ongoing support.

Is cocaine addiction dangerous?

Yes, cocaine addiction can be dangerous and can have severe health consequences. Prolonged use may lead to heart issues, respiratory problems, neurological damage, and increased risk of overdose.

Can you fatally overdose from cocaine?

Yes, cocaine overdoses can be fatal. Overdose symptoms include heart attack, stroke, seizures, and respiratory failure. Seeking immediate medical attention is crucial in the case of a suspected overdose.

How can you spot a cocaine addiction?

Signs of cocaine addiction may include erratic behavior, financial issues, social withdrawal, changes in appearance, and neglect of responsibilities. Physical signs can include dilated pupils, nosebleeds, and weight loss.

How to ease cocaine withdrawal symptoms?

Withdrawal symptoms from cocaine can be challenging. Seeking professional help is recommended. 

Supportive therapies, counseling, and medication may be used to manage withdrawal symptoms and increase the chances of successful recovery.

Can you recover fully from cocaine?

Yes, recovery from cocaine addiction is possible. With the right treatment, support, and commitment, people can achieve lasting recovery. 

Ongoing aftercare and lifestyle changes play a crucial role in maintaining sobriety.


Indiana University of Health. “Is Addiction Really a Disease?” Retrieved from: Accessed on January 18, 2024.

National Institute of Drug Abuse. “Research Report Cocaine Research Report What is the scope of cocaine use in the United States?” Retrieved from: Accessed on January 18, 2024.

National Library of Medicine. “Drug addiction. Is it a disease or is it based on choice? A review of Gene Heyman's Addiction: A disorder of choice.” Retrieved from: Accessed on January 18, 2024.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” Retrieved from: Accessed on January 18, 2024.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “SAMHSA Announces National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) Results Detailing Mental Illness and Substance Use Levels in 2021.” Retrieved from: Accessed on January 18, 2024.

we work with most insurance companies

Insurance coverage will vary across plans, fill out our insurance verification form and we'll provide you with all the details.

Check Your Coverage