Symptoms of Addiction to Cocaine

Cocaine user

Recognizing symptoms of addiction to cocaine can help you know when a loved one has a problem. It can also help you recognize addiction in yourself.

Why Cocaine Is Addictive

Cocaine acts on chemical pathways in the brain. Medical studies suggest that it affects one area of the brain in particular: the area that's responsible for feelings of pleasure.

In the normal brain, a chemical called dopamine is responsible for the pleasurable feelings that come from a rewarding event or accomplishment. Cocaine interferes with the normal processing of dopamine. It causes too much dopamine to build up in the spaces between cells, leading to a state of euphoria that lasts until the drug wears off.

For cocaine addicts, the idea of re-creating that good feeling is irresistible. Addicts continue to seek out and use the drug so that they can feel that euphoria again and again.

Tolerance

After a while, the brain adjusts to frequent cocaine use. That means that the user will need more and more of the drug to get the same result. Unfortunately, tolerance does not mean that the person's body can tolerate larger doses. The risks of cocaine use, including seizures, heart attacks, and strokes, continue and may even intensify.

Recognizing Symptoms of Addiction to Cocaine

Cocaine abusers have many characteristics in common with other substance abusers. As with any drug addiction, recognizing cocaine addiction symptoms includes looking for changes in behavior or irrational choices.

Not everyone reacts to cocaine the same way. However, there are certain behaviors you can look for.

  • Increased activity
  • Increased sociability, including talkativeness or good humor
  • Decreased desire for sleep or rest
  • Excitement or "hyper" behavior
  • Decreased hunger
  • Impulsive decisions
  • Risky or impulsive sexual choices

Although cocaine is usually used to create good feelings, someone who has taken a large dose of cocaine may progress to a much less pleasant state. Signs to look for include irritability, restlessness, fearfulness or paranoia. There may be muscle twitching, shaking or cold sweats. Some people will even begin to hallucinate.

Physical Changes

Depending on how an addict uses cocaine, different physical signs may appear. Although not every cocaine abuser has these signs, they can be helpful for recognizing symptoms of addiction to cocaine. People who "snort" powdered cocaine through the nose may have nosebleeds, constant sniffles, stuffiness and crusting around the nose.

People who smoke crack cocaine may develop lung problems. A cough that doesn't go away, shortness of breath and coughing up black mucus or blood can all be symptoms of cocaine addiction.

Cocaine can also be injected. These users may have needle marks on their arms or elsewhere on the body. They may also develop skin infections where the drug was injected.

Personality Changes

Over time, drug abusers may become secretive, unreliable and dishonest. Signs to look for include:

  • Refusing to say where they've been or what they've been doing, or lying about it
  • Missing important meetings or failing to show up for social occasions
  • Forgetting important dates or events
  • Becoming angry without a good cause
  • Becoming violent
  • Developing mood swings or depression
  • Acting defensive
  • Neglecting old friends and family to spend time with other drug abusers

Financial Issues

Cocaine is an expensive drug. Pure powder cocaine can cost more than $100.00 per gram. Crack cocaine costs about $10.00 per use, and abusers can spend hundreds of dollars over just a few days.Recognizing symptoms of addiction to cocaine often includes keeping an eye out for financial problems. This may not be an issue for wealthy addicts, but for most people the costs add up quickly. Abusers may be unable to pay their bills, have trouble meeting the mortgage or fail to pay rent on time. They may also spend money on the drug instead of using it for necessities like healthy food, car repairs or medical care.

Physical Dangers

People who are high on cocaine are at risk from injury due to car accidents, violence or other risky behavior. Making poor choices about sex can lead to STDs including HIV. Injecting cocaine also raises the risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis and other infections.

Cocaine has other serious risks, as well. It can cause strokes, seizures, heart attacks, kidney failure, respiratory failure and blood clots that can lead to loss of a limb or even paralysis. A suspected addict who has a seizure or chest pain, who passes out or who has any other worrisome symptoms should be brought to the hospital right away.


Recognizing the symptoms of cocaine addiction can be the first step in seeking help for an addiction.

Symptoms of Addiction to Cocaine