Project Description

Cocaine Addiction Fast Facts

About 17% of American adults over the age of 26 reports having used cocaine at some point during their lifetime. About 4% of American 12th graders report having used cocaine.

Approximately 15% of cocaine users become addicted to the drug within 10 years of their first use. The rates of addiction are higher when the drug is smoked and even higher when it is injected.

When are more likely to develop a dependency on cocaine, and those who try it for the first time under the age of 13 are significantly more likely to become addicted. Dependency on cocaine often goes hand-in-hand with abuse of other drugs, such as alcohol or amphetamines.

Cocaine is the cause of an estimated 5,000-6,000 deaths in the United States each year.

What is Cocaine Addiction?

Cocaine is a stimulant drug derived from the leaves of the coca plant. Although it has some legitimate medical uses, when used as a recreational drug used outside of tightly controlled medical situations, it is illegal. As an illicit street drug, cocaine can be in the form of a white powder or a solidified “rock” (called crack cocaine). Crack cocaine is commonly heated and smoked, while cocaine powder is usually inhaled through the nose or mixed with water and injected.

The affect cocaine has on users comes from the drug’s ability to interfere with normal brain chemistry, increasing the levels of naturally occurring brain chemicals that produce feelings of well-being. Cocaine’s action on the brain usually produces feelings of euphoria, boundless energy, vitality, and excessive confidence.

The drug can also cause anxiety and agitation. The drug’s powerful stimulant effect can have severe, sometimes fatal, short-term health impacts. It is also extremely addictive, and over the long term, dependence on cocaine can have significant physical, mental, and social consequences.

Symptoms of Cocaine Addiction

Addiction to cocaine develops since the drug causes changes in the development of neurons in the brain. This change to brain development begins after even the initial use of the drug, and it becomes more pronounced the more frequently and the longer the drug is used. Dependence on cocaine makes the user need ever-increasing doses of the drug in order to feel well, and ceasing use will cause symptoms of withdrawal.

Signs of addiction experienced by the user include:

  • Inability to stop using even when you try
  • Intense cravings or intrusive thoughts about using cocaine
  • Continuing to use even when your drug use is causing harm
  • Failing to meet your responsibilities because of cocaine use
  • Needing more of the drug as time goes on
  • Taking risks in order to get and use the drug
  • Feeling unwell when you stop using cocaine

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

What Causes Cocaine Addiction?

Cocaine produces feelings of well-being by increasing the level of certain brain chemicals, called neurotransmitters, that cause those good feelings. Over time and with repeated use, cocaine causes changes in brain cells that alter the way the cells respond to certain neurotransmitters. These changes result in a dependency on cocaine because the now-altered brain can’t feel well without it.

Although anyone who uses cocaine is at risk of developing a dependency on the drug, some factors increase the risk of addiction. These risk factors include:

  • Family history. People who have close relatives who have suffered from drug addiction are more likely to develop an addiction themselves.
  • Abuse of other substances. Cocaine abuse often occurs in conjunction with the abuse of other drugs or alcohol.
  • Use in childhood or adolescence. The earlier in life that cocaine is first used, the more likely the user is to develop an addiction.
  • Mental illness. Drugs are often used as a coping tool by people with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental illnesses.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Is Cocaine Addiction Hereditary?

Environmental factors such as stress and peer pressure are likely the reason that most people try cocaine for the first time. Although having a family member who uses cocaine may be one of those environmental factors, there is little evidence that there is an inherited component that will make someone use the drug initially. However, there is evidence of an inherited increase in the risk of addiction once an individual begins using cocaine.

Studies have found that the risk of addiction is greater when an individual has a family history of addiction. Also, studies of identical twins have suggested that the increased risk has a genetic component. This is true of addiction to many different substances, but cocaine is among the drugs in which the increased risk is greatest.

The exact genes that cause the increased risk have not been determined, and hundreds of different gene variations could be to blame. These genes may affect the way that nerve cells communicate with each other in the brain, or they may affect the brain’s response to neurotransmitter chemicals.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Cocaine Addiction Detected?

Cocaine users will often expend great effort to hide their drug use and dependency. Spotting the problem early and encouraging the user to get treatment is the best way to head off the worst consequences of addiction.

Warning signs that a loved one may be abusing or addicted to cocaine include:

  • Nosebleeds or runny nose
  • Excitability or unusual talkativeness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Irritability or moodiness
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased appetite
  • Dilated pupils
  • Withdrawal from social situations
  • Secretive behavior
  • Unusual increase in confidence or optimism
  • Financial problems
  • Direct signs of drug use, such as white residue or chemical burns around the nose or mouth

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Cocaine Addiction Diagnosed?

To determine whether or not a patient has an addiction to cocaine, a doctor will look for indications that the patient is using cocaine, as well as a pattern of use that suggests dependency. Diagnostic steps can include:

  • Blood and laboratory tests. These tests will look for indications that the patient is using cocaine. They will also look for conditions that may be caused by cocaine use, such as high blood pressure, high heart rate, and chest pain.
  • Medical and psychological history. The doctor will determine whether the patient has a history of substance abuse or mental illness. The doctor will also ask the patient directly about the frequency and intensity of cocaine use or the presence of withdrawal symptoms.
  • Family history. The doctor will look for evidence of abuse of cocaine or other drugs among the patient’s family members.
  • Imaging and further exams. The doctor may also order exams to determine if the patient has other health problems associated with long-term cocaine use.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Cocaine Addiction Treated?

There are currently no medications that have been approved for the treatment of cocaine addiction. Researchers are pursuing the development of drugs that may counter the changes that cocaine makes in the brain or that may prevent a cocaine addict from relapsing after completing treatment. Drugs used to treat other conditions, such as alcoholism, have shown promise in treating cocaine addiction, too, but it is still unclear how these drugs work in relation to cocaine dependency.

Until drug-based therapies are developed, the best course of treatment for cocaine addiction is behavioral or group-based therapies.

  • Contingency Management Therapy (CM). Also called motivational therapy, this type of therapeutic approach rewards patients for successfully abstaining from cocaine use. This approach is especially effective as an initial treatment to encourage the user to begin the process of beating the addiction.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on developing skills in recognizing problem behavior and creating strategies for dealing with problematic situations when they arise. CBT is most effective at preventing relapses once the patient has begun to abstain from cocaine use.
  • Therapeutic Communities. This treatment approach requires the patient to live in a drug-free environment with other patients who are undergoing treatment. In these communities, the patient gets support from the other members of the community who are in a similar situation. They also get support in developing behaviors that will help them succeed after they leave treatment.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How Does Cocaine Addiction Progress?

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant that can have adverse health effects even in the short-term, including:

  • Headache
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Anger or aggressive behavior

A cocaine overdose (or an overdose of cocaine in conjunction with another drug) can cause immediate and sometimes fatal conditions, including:

  • Seizures
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Respiratory failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Stroke

Long-term health consequences of cocaine use can include:

  • Seizures
  • Heart disease or stroke
  • Chronic nosebleeds or throat problems
  • Lung disease
  • Bowel disease
  • Sexual impotence
  • Hepatitis or HIV (for intravenous users)

In addition to physical health impacts, cocaine addiction can lead to financial and social struggles, relationship problems, and mental health issues.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How Do I Prevent Cocaine Addiction?

The only certain way to prevent cocaine addiction is to never use cocaine. Beyond that, parents should be sure to educate their children about the dangers of cocaine use and to model good behavior by abstaining from drug use themselves.

Those who have undergone treatment for cocaine dependency can help prevent relapse by avoiding situations in which drugs are used and by getting immediate support when relapse happens.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Cocaine Addiction Caregiver Tips

  • Get educated about addiction. It is important to understand that addiction to cocaine is a brain disease and not merely bad behavior. It will help you to be supportive of your loved one if you know how addiction affects them.
  • Be involved in the recovery process. Often, an important component of addiction treatment is family therapy, in which the patient and their loved ones learn new behaviors and coping strategies together.
  • Don’t get discouraged. The battle with addiction is tough and usually long. There are almost certain to be setbacks and obstacles along the way. Be prepared for disappointments, and don’t let them discourage you from continuing the fight.
  • Get help for yourself. Take time to keep yourself healthy, both physically and mentally. Be careful to get enough sleep and exercise, eat well, and walk away from the stress of the situation when you’re able. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your friends or family, and find a support group if you feel overwhelmed.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Cocaine Addiction Brain Science

Researchers are working to determine how cocaine alters brain chemistry to produce a dependence on the drug. They know that the drug interferes with the normal processing of neurotransmitter chemicals, and the most likely key is dopamine, a pleasure-producing neurotransmitter that is a factor in many kinds of addiction. However, recent research has suggested that cocaine causes changes in the brain’s response to other neurotransmitters such as serotonin, glutamate, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and norepinephrine, too.

As scientists work to develop drugs to treat cocaine addiction, they are focused on compounds that can directly lower the level of neurotransmitters where those levels are elevated by cocaine use. Another approach is the search for a drug that can restore the balance between different neurotransmitters where that balance has been thrown off by long-term cocaine abuse.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Cocaine Addiction Research

Scientists are working on several research projects to expand on what is known about Cocaine Addiction.  The research will improve knowledge about the factors that increase the risk for Cocaine Addiction, as well as the causes, and best treatments, and will aid people living with Cocaine Addiction and their caregivers.

We are currently gathering the information required to support projects such as A Sequenced Behavioral and Medication Intervention for Cocaine Dependence, and Rebalancing the Serotonergic System in Cocaine Dependenceand Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of N-acetylcysteine in Cocaine Dependence.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

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