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Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine addiction tends to involve changes to the brain that affect the reward system in the brain, often resulting in the compulsive pursuit and ingestion of this substance. Learn more about cocaine addiction, causes, treatment option, and more.

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Cocaine Statistic@2x

What Is Cocaine? (Cocaine Uses)

Cocaine is popularly used both recreationally (which is illegal) and medically. Medically, cocaine is used as a local anesthetic. Recreationally, cocaine is used widely among numerous age groups and often abused repeatedly, leading to addiction or overdose.

Cocaine Medical Uses

In a medical sense, cocaine and its various derivatives are popularly used in medical treatments as local anesthetics, especially in operations that involve the ear, nose, and throat. Cocaine is also used for treating pain involved in terminal disease cases.

In cases of nose, mouth, or throat treatment, cocaine is utilized to cause numbness that helps to facilitate surgical procedures.

When cocaine is used as a local anesthetic (for surgery or examination, for instance), this is not abuse, and addiction isn’t a risk. However, if the body absorbs cocaine too quickly, serious side effects may take place. 

Due to the fact that certain individuals react to cocaine differently, it’s important to consult with an experienced medical professional who has some knowledge of your medical history before receiving cocaine as a local anesthetic during a medical procedure of any type. Any local anesthetic should be used in the presence of a doctor.

Recreational Cocaine Use

Cocaine is classified as a stimulant. Part of this stimulation related to cocaine involves dopamine, which is casually referred to as the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitter

Cocaine often raises alertness, even for individuals who ingest the drug while engaging in heavy alcohol intake, which makes it popular in the nightclub scene. The fact that it brings out feelings of pleasure and intense euphoria also makes it an attractive social drug. However, some individuals become highly secretive and paranoid while engaging in cocaine use

The drug itself has a fairly immediate effect, as it is most often snorted through the nostrils. This creates a sort of instant high that users often feel the need to maintain throughout the night or even the day when engaged in use. The drug itself is said to wear off quickly, which makes the user want to do it more.

Cocaine is a notorious drug due to the fact that individuals can quickly transition from casual use into full-blown addiction. Cocaine has the ability to alter the brain the first time it is used. Casual use is often followed by regular use, which is sometimes then followed by a substance use disorder.

Key Facts About Cocaine 

Statistics surrounding cocaine usage (particularly in the United States) are fairly astounding. Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health convey that about 14 percent of American adults reported having tried cocaine. 

The same survey asserts that 1 in every 40 adults in the United States reported using cocaine within the past calendar year. Young men ages 18 to 25 exhibited the highest rates of cocaine use with 8 percent having used the drug within the past year at the time they were surveyed.

When it comes to adults ages 26 or older, 2019 data conveys that 1.7 percent (3.6 million people) had used cocaine in the past calendar year. Recent data collected shows that cocaine use is around the same frequency as it was in the early 2000s, yet it is higher than the number of people using cocaine from 2010 to 2015.

How Big of a Problem Is Cocaine Addiction in the United States?  

Cocaine addiction is a significant problem in the United States. It is being used both by young people and people who are more advanced in age. 

Given that new generations are entering their senior years, some refusing to give up certain aspects of their lifestyles, cocaine is being used by perhaps a wider spectrum of individuals in this country currently than in previous generations.

Adolescents can get exposed to cocaine by their peers and can come into contact with it in social situations. It is common for a young person to be exposed to cocaine and other illicit drugs in high school. 

Cocaine is a drug that loses effect over time, so a user will most likely start using the drug more frequently and in higher amounts, often leading to cocaine use disorder.

Understanding the history of cocaine and how it has been used (and to what effect) helps illustrate why it is still a significant problem not only in the United States, but throughout the world.

Understanding the History of Cocaine

Cocaine is derived from a plant (the coca plant), which happens to be among the oldest cultivated plants in the South America region. The coca leaf was chewed by indigenous people due to the exhilarating sensation and energy boost that occurred as a result. The coca leaf was used in a variety of Inca ceremonies.

Cocaine in the 1800s

In 1869, Albert Nieman (a German chemist) successfully isolated cocaine from coca leaves. Its powdery residue created a numbing sensation. Shortly after this, cocaine began being used medically.

It is perhaps widely known that Coca-Cola also used to contain cocaine as an ingredient. Cocaine wasn’t removed from the original Coca-Cola recipe until 1903. 

Cocaine in the Early 1900s

In as early as 1905, people began using cocaine, snorting the powdered form of the drug, which became popularized by 1910, so much so that medical professionals started reporting nasal damage among patients who had been using cocaine regularly. 

By 1912, cocaine was reported to have caused 5,000 deaths. In 1922, cocaine was officially banned by the U.S. government.

Cocaine in the 1970s & 1980s

Decades later, cocaine made a major comeback in the 1970s and 1980s, especially in the club scene. Young professionals began using cocaine, many of them wealthy in stature. Cocaine was even viewed as a somewhat glamorous drug. 

Large amounts of cocaine moved into the country from South America. Drug dealers began flying planes into Florida ports, introducing the drug to more and more people. 

Cocaine in the 1990s

A wide number of individuals who used cocaine often in the 1970s and 1980s began to experience health problems related to the drug. Overdoses would occur on the club scene. 

By the 1990s, other drugs were considered far more mainstream. However, the advent of crack cocaine brought the drug back in a different form, ushering in the crack epidemic of the 1990s.

Today, cocaine is still being used widely among a variety of age demographics all over the world. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 19,447 people in the United States died from cocaine-related overdose deaths. To put this figure into perspective, from 2016 to 2020, there were significantly more overdose deaths, especially when compared to figures from the early 2000s. 

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Causes of Cocaine Addiction

Although there is no primary single cause of cocaine addiction, experts in the field of drug abuse have presented data that suggests addiction can be related to a variety of factors, including these:

  • Genetics
  • Environmental factors
  • Trauma and underlying mental health disorders
  • Changes that affect the brain

Signs & Symptoms of Cocaine Addiction

When someone is addicted to cocaine, they often have trouble keeping social obligations. Many individuals who are addicted to cocaine try to keep it secret and will retreat to places like bathrooms during social gatherings in order to maintain their desired state.

Money problems often go hand in hand with cocaine abuse due to the rising price of the drug and the amounts of the drug that heavily addicted users purchase on a weekly and monthly basis.

Cocaine addiction can manifest itself in ever-alternating states of anxiety and bursts of energy as the individual uses the drug and then crashes after use.

Can You Overdose on Cocaine@2x

Can You Overdose on Cocaine?

Individuals can certainly overdose on cocaine, although users might think differently. Cocaine-related deaths have increased exponentially since the early 2000s. 

What Are the Symptoms of Cocaine Overdose & Withdrawal?

Cocaine withdrawal symptoms include increased anxiety and irritability, paranoia, depression, fatigue, and intense cravings for the drug.

A cocaine overdose can bring about rapid breathing, chest pain, dangerously high body temperature, nausea, vomiting, and even twitching and convulsions.

If you believe you or someone you know has overdosed on cocaine, it is important to call 911 and seek medical attention immediately. 

Social Support Options for Cocaine Addiction

An experienced medical professional can help take an individual through drug detoxification. There are groups such as Narcotics Anonymous (also known as NA) that provide resources and support for those who have a cocaine addiction. Cocaine Anonymous is also a 12-step group specifically dedicated to those with cocaine addiction.

Resources for People Struggling With Addiction

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a national helpline for anyone who believes they are addicted to cocaine or any other drug. Individuals can call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) to be directed to local resources for addiction treatment and support.

Enrolling in a rehabilitation program and finding as much outside support as possible will give a person the best chances of abstaining from the drug after treatment. Many individuals struggling with cocaine addiction also supplement their rehabilitation and group work with different types of therapy. The key is to find a treatment approach that is personalized to your needs. 

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Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated May 8, 2023
  1. Meta-Analysis of Structural and Functional Brain Abnormalities in Cocaine Addiction. (June 2022). Frontiers in Psychiatry.
  2. A New Approach to Curbing Cocaine Use. (February 2022). MIT News.
  3. Cocaine Use Disorder (CUD): Current Clinical Perspectives. (February 2022). Yale University School of Medicine.
  4. Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. (September 2020). National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
  5. Overdose Death Rates. (January 2022). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  6. Withdrawal Syndromes. (October 2022). StatPearls.
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