Medically Reviewed by Dr. Francine Mends, MD on August 4, 2020
Cocaine is a stimulant drug that comes from the South American coca plant. You may know it by the names coke, flake, snow, or blow. It also comes in a form called crack. Crack cocaine is the free base form of cocaine that is heated and smoked.
People take cocaine because it makes you feel energetic, alert, and euphoric. However, even short-term cocaine use can cause physical dependence and addiction.
On average, 1.9 million people use cocaine in any given month. This drug is more common and more dangerous than you think.
Over 15% of Americans have tried cocaine, yet cocaine addiction doesn’t receive as much media attention as other kinds of addiction.
Here’s what you should know about cocaine addiction:
What is Cocaine Addiction?
Cocaine addiction is a physical or psychological need to keep using cocaine.
It usually takes only a few uses of cocaine to develop an addiction.
Each time you use cocaine, it increases the dopamine in your brain.
Dopamine is a chemical that affects the mood and reward centers in the brain. When you rely on cocaine to keep your dopamine artificially high, the result is you stop feeling a sense of reward and pleasure (even a good mood) without it.
If you use cocaine regularly and suddenly stop using, you’ll experience cravings and withdrawal. These symptoms can make it impossible to go without a dose. This is why addicts use again to make the withdrawal go away.
The result is a never-ending cycle of cravings, withdrawal, and cocaine use. Cocaine addiction can be devastating to you emotionally, physically, and financially.
What Causes Cocaine Addiction?
Cocaine addiction happens when you use cocaine repeatedly. When you use cocaine continuously, it affects your brain in 2 ways:
- It makes your stress pathways more active so that you feel increasingly moody and negative when you’re not using cocaine.
- It makes your reward pathways less sensitive to natural stimuli. This means you don’t get a natural hit of dopamine from things that used to make you happy.
Together, these 2 effects can cause addiction. The changes to your reward pathway mean that you only feel good when you’re doing coke. At the same time, the effects on your stress pathway can make it much harder to abstain from coke.
The more you use coke, the more likely it is that you’ll develop tolerance. Tolerance means that it takes more cocaine to get the same effect. You’re much more likely to develop an addiction once you’ve developed tolerance.
There’s also some evidence that suggests that using cocaine while your brain is still developing can cause addiction.
People who use cocaine as teens or young adults are extra-sensitive to the effects of cocaine for the rest of their life. That added sensitivity may lead some people to continue using coke into adulthood, making you vulnerable to addiction.
Who is at Risk for Cocaine Addiction?
Everyone who uses cocaine is at risk for cocaine addiction. There’s no such thing as light or safe cocaine use. Even a couple of social uses can lead to lifelong addiction.
You may have a higher-than-normal risk of cocaine addiction if you:
- Have a history of addiction
- Have mental illness
- Have people in your family with addiction
What Are the Symptoms of Cocaine Addiction?
You may be addicted to cocaine if you:
- Use coke even though it’s damaging your relationships and health
- Spend too much time using coke, looking for coke, or recovering from the effects of coke
- Have a tolerance for coke, or need increasingly larger amounts to get high
- Can’t stop using or control your usage of coke
Withdrawal when you stop using coke is a sure sign of cocaine addiction.
The signs of withdrawal include:
- Agitation with an intense need to move
- Cravings for cocaine
- Hunger, which is worse if you used coke long-term and it affected your nutrition
- Mood changes, including depression, irritability, and anxiety
- Psychomotor slowing, or a slowing of your motor abilities
- Trouble sleeping
Does Treatment for Cocaine Addiction Work?
Getting treatment for cocaine addiction is more effective than trying to address it on your own.
The safest way to treat your cocaine addiction is through a quality treatment program.
Treatment programs include inpatient/residential facilities where you can detox from cocaine in the safety of the facility and continue treatment under supervised care.
You can also choose an outpatient program if you cannot commit to staying at a facility 24/7 due to responsibilities pertaining to the care of others, work or school.
Treatment centers use evidence-based treatments for stimulant use disorder, which means treatments that have been proven to work. These can include therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or Contingency Management.
These are just a few of the effective treatments available for cocaine addiction. An experienced care team can help you choose the treatment plan right for you.
- How many people use cocaine?
- How does cocaine produce its effects?
- Cocaine Addiction: From Habits to Stereotypical-Repetitive Behaviors and Punding
- Cocaine Withdrawal: Symptoms, Timeline, & Treatment
- Diagnosis and Consequences of Cocaine Addiction
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