Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug known to increase one’s level of alertness, attention, and energy. Derived from the coca plant, native to South America, cocaine has been utilized for certain valid medical purposes by health care providers. However, it is most commonly abused recreationally. In addition, using cocaine is illegal, and thus, many people will partake in dangerous endeavors to obtain the drug. Other names for cocaine include: coke, snow, rock, blow, and crack.
As a street drug, cocaine comes in fine, powder form. Often cocaine is mixed with other drugs, such as stimulant amphetamine or opioids, including fentanyl, to increase profits. Adding synthetic drugs to cocaine is extremely risky as it increases overdose deaths among users. Because this drug is highly addictive and destructive by nature, it is extremely important that someone abusing this drug seek help immediately. Learning how cocaine affects the brain, withdrawal symptoms experienced when detoxing off cocaine, and how to get help for drug abuse are essential to moving on the path of sobriety.
How Cocaine Use Affects the Brain
Cocaine increases dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for controlling movement and reward. When dopamine is working optimally, it will recycle back into the cell that released it. However, when cocaine is used, dopamine is unable to be recycled, thus creating large amounts of buildup between nerve cells and stopping their normal communication. This buildup creates a “high,” or intense feelings of energy and alertness.
Prolonged cocaine use can create a tolerance to the drug, meaning that the person using it becomes less sensitive to the dopamine “high” and needs larger amounts to feel its effects. This, in turn, reinforces taking more of the drug to feel the same high and prevent experiencing withdrawal symptoms from detoxing off cocaine.
In addition to its effects on the brain, cocaine use creates a myriad of short and long-term health side effects for the individual abusing this drug.
Short-term effects of using cocaine include:
- Extreme energy and happiness
- Hypersensitivity to light, sound, and touch
- Mental alertness
- Paranoia (extreme, fearful distrust of others)
- Unpredictable and violent behavior
Other health complications of cocaine use include:
- Raised body temperature and blood pressure
- Dilated pupils
- Constricted blood vessels
- Tremors and muscle twitches
Long-term health effects of cocaine depend on the method of its use and can include:
- Smoking: cough, respiratory distress, pneumonia, asthma
- Snorting: nosebleeds, runny nose, loss of smell, issues with swallowing
- Needle injection: skin or soft tissue infections, scarring or collapsed veins, higher risk of getting HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases
- Consuming by mouth: bowel decay as a result of reduced blood flow
The effects of using cocaine can appear almost immediately and disappear within a few minutes to an hour. Additionally, a person can overdose and die from using cocaine.
Some severe health consequences of overdose include:
- Irregular heart rhythm
- Heart attacks
- Difficulty breathing
- Extreme agitation
Detox and Withdrawal Symptoms Experienced from Cocaine Use
As with any drug, cocaine poses a risk of addiction, especially with repeated use. Many people addicted to cocaine may continue taking the drug to avoid the withdrawal symptoms experienced from detoxing. Withdrawal symptoms often experienced when detoxing off cocaine are similar to those experienced during nicotine cleansing and may include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased appetite
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
- Slowed thinking
- Depressed mood
- Physical craving for cocaine
- Inability to experience sexual arousal
- Slowing of activity
- Physical fatigue
- Inability to feel pleasure
- Muscle aches
- Nerve pain
The cravings for cocaine and depression can last for months after detoxing off cocaine. As such, it is essential that if one is withdrawing from cocaine, they get the help and support they need. This could be from a professional medical doctor specializing in addiction or an inpatient/intensive outpatient drug rehab. If the person using cocaine is suffering from co-occurring mental health disorders, it would be most beneficial to follow up a medical detox with a comprehensive inpatient addiction treatment plan to address both disorders effectively.
The withdrawal timeline can vary from person to person depending on:
- The length of time cocaine was used: If cocaine was abused for a relatively short period, withdrawal symptoms might be short, usually resolving within 7-10 days after the last use. However, if someone has abused cocaine for years, they may have lingering withdrawal symptoms for weeks and even months after the last use (especially psychological effects, such as depression and anxiety).
- Amount of cocaine used: People who abused larger amounts of cocaine may experience more intense withdrawal symptoms than someone who used much less.
- If other drugs were abused along with cocaine: If someone developed a dependence on more than one drug, they would potentially feel withdrawal symptoms from detox more intensely.
- Any co-occurring medical or mental health issues: If the person abusing cocaine also has another underlying mental health issue, such as depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, or personality disorder, the withdrawal process may be more complicated.
- What environment the cocaine was abused in: If someone abused cocaine to escape a stressful environment, or stress factors such as relationship or work issues, then the cravings for a return to cocaine may be more intense, as they may want to continue coping from these stressors.
Addiction Treatment for Cocaine Use
Since cocaine is a powerfully addictive substance, it takes immense support to start walking on the path of sobriety, especially in the first couple of months when the cravings are the most intense. One of the most beneficial and proven tools for long-term sobriety is going to an inpatient drug rehab facility. Through this experience, someone suffering from substance abuse can eliminate outside distractions and solely focus on sobriety. This greatly increases the chances of maintaining sobriety when transitioning out of rehab.
Inpatient rehabs that include medically-guided detox, support groups, and counseling provide the most holistic, well-rounded approach to lasting sobriety. If one does not get to the root of why they are using cocaine in the first place, the likelihood of returning to the drug is much greater. This is especially true if the person is triggered by an emotion that caused the use of coping with the drug in the first place. Furthermore, a person’s health and safety are monitored in inpatient drug rehab environments, thus creating a sense of peace while detoxing.
The time to get sober is now. Don’t let another moment pass you by if you are struggling with an addiction to cocaine. You deserve the support and guidance needed to endure any trials that may come your way while walking out the path of sobriety. We offer Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas rehab services and accept clients from Texas and across the country. Reach out today, and a friendly enrollment advisor will gladly discuss your options and how to get you the help you deserve.
Infinite Recovery has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations for our references. We avoid using tertiary references as our sources. You can learn more about how we source our references by reading our editorial guidelines and medical review policy.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Cocaine DrugFacts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published April 8, 2021. Accessed June 24, 2022. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/cocaine
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Fentanyl. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published June 6, 2016. Accessed June 24, 2022. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/fentanyl
- Cristol H. What Is Dopamine? WebMD. Published June 14, 2021. Accessed June 24, 2022. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-is-dopamine
- Patafio M. Cocaine: How It Works, Effects, and Risks. WebMD. Published February 9, 2021. Accessed June 24, 2022. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/cocaine-use-and-its-effects