Cocaine Abuse Causes and Effects

Sunrise Recovery Ranch provides cocaine addiction treatment rooted in a science-based, research-supported clinical model to ensure a healthier, more satisfying life, without addiction.

Understanding Cocaine

Learn about cocaine and substance abuse

Cocaine, a drug derived from the coca plant and native to South America, is a powerful stimulant that often comes in the form of a white powder. When in powder form, it is typically snorted or dissolved in water and injected. Another form of cocaine, known as crack cocaine, is processed to form a crystal, which is heated and the smoke from that heating is then inhaled. Cocaine causes users to have extreme amounts of energy and feelings of invincibility. They also tend to become overly talkative and will likely experience an elevation in heart rate and blood pressure. The high from cocaine is relatively short, typically no more than 30 minutes, and so people who use cocaine often abuse it in a binge pattern of repeated uses within a short timeframe.

While cocaine can be powerfully addictive and can cause severe negative effects in a person’s life, with proper treatment, it is possible to overcome a cocaine addiction and regain control over one’s life.


Cocaine statistics

Estimates from the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders suggest that, in a given year, approximately 0.3 percent of people in the United States use cocaine. People aged 18 to 29 use the drug most frequently, and men use cocaine at a rate nearly four times higher than that of women. The average age at which a person begins using cocaine is estimated to be 23.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for cocaine addiction

While there is no one single cause or risk factor for cocaine abuse, researchers have discovered a number of environmental and other risk factors, such as:

Environmental: Certain environmental factors can increase a person’s risk for using cocaine. These environmental factors can include prenatal cocaine exposure and parental cocaine use. In addition, living in an unstable home, being exposed to community violence, spending time with dealers and users, and having a mental health condition can all increase a person’s risk for cocaine abuse.

Risk Factors:

  • Personal history of a mental health disorder, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, antisocial personality disorder, or another substance use disorder
  • Having poor impulse control
  • Meeting criteria for conduct disorder in childhood
  • Exposure to community violence or other trauma
  • Prenatal or postnatal cocaine exposure
  • Growing up with parents who abuse cocaine
  • Having cocaine dealers and users in one’s social circle

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of cocaine addiction

While the signs and symptoms of cocaine abuse will likely depend on individual personality factors, as well as the length and severity of abuse, the following are indicators that suggest a person is abusing cocaine:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Using cocaine in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than intended
  • Unsuccessful attempts to reduce one’s use of cocaine
  • Investing a great deal of time and energy into obtaining cocaine, using it, or recovering from using it
  • Decline in work performance
  • Continuing to use cocaine despite knowing that it is causing problems in one’s life
  • Giving up important activities in favor of using cocaine
  • Using cocaine even when doing so may be physically hazardous

Physical symptoms:

  • Needing to use increasing amounts of the drug to achieve a high
  • Diminished effect over time when using the same amount of cocaine, also known as tolerance
  • Wounds or puncture marks at injection sites

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Strong cravings for cocaine

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Continued use of cocaine despite the emergence of social and interpersonal problems related to use


Effects of cocaine addiction

Cocaine has the potential to cause devastation in the lives of those who use it. If left untreated, an addiction to cocaine can result in a person’s experiencing the following negative effects:

  • Disruption in work performance
  • Loss of job
  • Strain on social relationships
  • Social isolation
  • Damage to mucus membranes
  • Respiratory problems
  • Contracting HIV, other sexually transmitted infections, or other diseases from sharing needles or engaging in risky sexual activity
  • Being involved in theft, prostitution, drug dealing, or other illegal activities
  • Legal problems
  • Weight loss
  • Malnutrition
  • Onset or worsening of mental health symptoms
  • Polysubstance use
  • Being the victim of drug-trafficking violence
  • Heart attack or respiratory failure
  • Birth complications
  • Neurocognitive impairment
  • Dental problems, including tooth decay, gum disease, and mouth sores
  • Seizures
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Cocaine addiction and co-occurring disorders

Sadly, people who abuse cocaine may also meet criteria for other mental health disorders, such as:

  • Other substance use disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Gambling disorder
  • Bipolar disorder

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of cocaine withdrawal & overdose

Effects of cocaine withdrawal: If a person uses cocaine for an extended period of time, his or her body becomes accustomed to the presence of the drug. Should a person then stop using cocaine, his or her body must readjust to operating without the drug present. This often results in an extremely unpleasant readjustment process, known as withdrawal, which may cause the following symptoms to manifest:

  • Fatigue or exhaustion
  • Increased appetite
  • Difficulties with sleep
  • Slowed movements
  • Jitteriness, tremors, or shaking
  • Depressed mood

Effects of cocaine overdose: When a person ingests more cocaine than his or her body can safely metabolize or excrete, he or she will suffer an overdose. Symptoms of an overdose can include:

  • Dizziness
  • Tremors
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Aggression
  • Confusion
  • Hostility
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety or panic
  • Hallucinations
  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscular cramps
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Convulsions
  • Delirium
  • Seizures

Thanks to Sunrise Recovery Ranch, my daughter was able to get the lasting recovery she deserved from her addiction and her co-occurring mental health disorder. I am super grateful!

– Michelle A.
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