Cocaine Abuse and Addiction: Effects, Facts & Recovery

Written by Heather Lomax

& Medically Reviewed by Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD

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Article at a Glance

  • Cocaine is a stimulant and a Schedule II controlled substance
  • People abuse cocaine by smoking, snorting and injecting the drug
  • Cocaine use leads to a surge of the feel-good chemical dopamine in the brain
  • Side effects of cocaine include increased blood pressure and a rapid heart rate
  • A cocaine overdose is possible and is a potentially deadly medical emergency
  • Withdrawal symptoms like restlessness and depression can occur when someone suddenly stops using cocaine
  • Recovery from cocaine addiction is possible with medical support and help

What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a strong stimulant. People in South America have used coca leaves for energy for a long time. But over a century ago, scientists made a man-made form of this chemical that gives you energy. They used it in medicine for things like headaches, alcoholism and stomach pain. It was even in the first recipe for Coca-Cola.

Currently, we see cocaine as a very addictive drug. It’s in the Schedule II category of controlled substances

Cocaine comes in two main forms. The first is a white powder that can dissolve in water. People either snort it through their nose or inject it. The other form is crack cocaine, which looks like little rocks. It’s made by mixing cocaine with things like baking soda and water. People smoke it.

Cocaine has many slang names like coke, snow, powder and blow. Sometimes, people mix it with other stuff like cornstarch or even other drugs and alcohol. For example, Liquid Lady is a mix of cocaine and alcohol, and a speedball is a mix of cocaine and heroin.

The History of Cocaine in the U.S.

Cocaine has a long and complicated history in the United States. Back in the early 1900s, it was in many tonics and elixirs and was commonly used. It was even in the first Coca-Cola recipe and was used as pain relief during surgeries.

But in 1914, the government passed a law requiring a doctor’s prescription to use it. By the 1950s, it seemed like cocaine was fading away. But it came back in the 1960s and 1970s, especially in rock culture. As people learned how addictive and dangerous it could be, they put it in the category of controlled substances.

How Is Cocaine Used?

Street cocaine is a white powder, often cut with other ingredients to make more money. This mix can be risky, depending on what’s added.

People use cocaine in different ways, depending on the form. The powder version is usually snorted. Crack cocaine, the rocky kind, can be smoked.

When someone uses cocaine for the first time, they often feel really good. They get a “high” with lots of pleasure, happiness and alertness. They might not feel hungry or sleepy, and it can even boost their sex drive.

But the drug can also lead to anxiety, irritability, paranoia, increased heart rate and high blood pressure. It can even raise the risk of a heart attack.

The effects of cocaine depend on factors like how much you use, how pure it is and how you use it. Some people use it to feel high, enhance performance, enjoy socializing or cope with mental health issues like depression or anxiety.

Cocaine Side Effects

Cocaine is addictive because it makes your brain release a chemical called dopamine, which feels good. But this comes with a price. Your brain starts to connect cocaine with feeling good and wants more. That’s how addiction starts.

Cocaine is also appealing because it makes you feel energetic and confident. People using cocaine often feel connected to others who use it, which makes it hard to stop.

But cocaine addiction can mess up your life in many ways, including your relationships, your job and your finances. You may get into legal trouble if you’re found in possession of cocaine or driving while intoxicated. It can also hurt your health in different ways, both physically and behaviorally.

Physical Side Effects of Cocaine

Since cocaine is a stimulant, it makes your central nervous system very active. This can lead to various side effects, like high blood pressure, a fast heart rate, big pupils, trouble sleeping and loss of appetite. 

Over time, it can cause loss of smell, nosebleeds, swallowing problems, hoarseness, runny nose, worsened asthma and a higher risk of infections like HIV and hepatitis C. Cocaine can also lead to issues in your stomach, chest pain, stroke, heart inflammation, aortic artery rupture, seizures, bleeding in the brain and Parkinson’s disease.

Psychological Effects of Cocaine

Right after using cocaine, people might feel really happy, alert, excited, restless, irritable, anxious or paranoid. But after using, they often crash, which may cause the individual to feel sad or tired. As a result, they may become withdrawn or sleep for much of the day. These unpleasant effects cause many people to go back to using cocaine, and the cycle continues. 

Over time, cocaine addiction can cause problems with paying attention, controlling impulses, memory, making decisions and doing tasks that need coordination.

Cocaine Overdose

Taking a lot of cocaine at once can lead to an overdose. This is very dangerous and can affect many parts of your body. Signs of a cocaine overdose include losing control of your bladder, high body temperature, heavy sweating, high blood pressure, a very fast or irregular heartbeat, bluish skin, fast breathing, seizures, passing out and even death.

A cocaine overdose is an emergency. If you think someone is overdosing, call 911 right away. Don’t hesitate to get help. If you can’t call, reach out to Web Poison Control Services online.

Cocaine Withdrawal

If you’re addicted to cocaine and want to quit, it’s not as easy as just stopping. Cocaine withdrawal can bring on many uncomfortable symptoms, and it’s often safer to get medical help.

Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms

When you use cocaine regularly, your body gets used to it. Suddenly stopping can lead to symptoms like feeling restless, irritable and depressed. You might sleep more, eat more, have muscle aches, find it hard to concentrate, think slower and feel anxious. Some people even have thoughts of suicide or lose interest in sex and pleasure. While cocaine withdrawal doesn’t usually cause physical symptoms like vomiting and shaking, having other mental health issues can make it harder.

Cocaine Detox

Because cocaine withdrawal can be uncomfortable and risky, it’s a good idea to go to a medical detox program when quitting. This is especially important if you also have mental health issues like depression or anxiety because cocaine withdrawal can make you more likely to have suicidal thoughts.

In a medical detox program, professionals can quickly deal with withdrawal symptoms and keep an eye on you. They make sure you stay hydrated and get the right nutrition during withdrawal. Medical detox is often short but can be followed by an addiction rehab program that includes ongoing care, counseling and help for mental health disorders.

Cocaine Addiction Treatment

Getting better from cocaine addiction is a journey, and it often starts with medical detox. Cocaine addiction can be tough to overcome on your own because it’s hard both physically and mentally. In a detox center, you get medical support to make detoxing safer and more comfortable.

But detox alone isn’t enough for a lasting recovery. It’s important to move from detox to a professional addiction treatment program for the best results. Think about places like The Recovery Village Indianapolis Drug and Alcohol Rehab. We offer:

– Medical detox

– Inpatient care

– Partial hospitalization programs

– Intensive outpatient programs (IOP)

– Outpatient treatment

– Long-term aftercare

This step-by-step approach helps you go from the hardest part of quitting to more manageable steps. Detox and inpatient care help you through the beginning of your sobriety journey, while outpatient and aftercare options support your long-term recovery.

If you’re searching for cocaine addiction treatment options in Indiana, The Recovery Village Indianapolis Drug and Alcohol Rehab is ready to help. Contact us today to learn about programs that fit your needs and goals.


World Health Organization. “Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Manag[…]e in Closed Settings.” 2009. Accessed December 10, 2023.

National Library of Medicine. “Cocaine Intoxication.” January 2, 2023. Accessed December 10, 2023.

U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration. “Drugs of Abuse.” December 2022. Accessed December 10, 2023.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What are the long-term effects of cocaine use?” May 2016. Accessed December 10, 2023.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “How does cocaine produce its effects?” May 2016. Accessed December 10, 2023.

History Channel. “Cocaine.” August 21, 2018. Accessed December 10, 2023.

Johnson, Matthew W.; Herrmann, Evan S.; Sweeney, Mary M.; et al. “Cocaine administration dose-dependently increases sexual desire and decreases condom use likelihood: The role of delay and probability discounting in connecting cocaine with HIV.” Psychopharmacology, December 5, 2016. Accessed December 10, 2023.


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