Signs Of Cocaine Use & Abuse

Signs of Cocaine Abuse

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, national drug overdose deaths involving cocaine among all ages have risen dramatically from 3,822 deaths in 1999 to 13,942 deaths in 2017. Overdose deaths are still on the rise with 14,666 deaths in 2018. With that being said, there are certain physical and behavioral signs that point to a person abusing cocaine. One telltale sign is if a person has a “coke nose.” A coke nose is caused by frequent snorting of cocaine. A few cocaine symptoms that indicate a coke nose are swelling in the nasal passage, nose bleeds, holes developing in the septum, mouth, and throat, inability to smell odors, nose deformities, and nasal blockages.  A few other visible signs of cocaine use are deteriorating hygiene, dilated pupils, unintended weight loss, white residue around the nose or mouth, and burn marks on a person’s hands or lips.

Behavioral signs that point to a person abusing cocaine are excitability, mood swings, social isolation, risk-taking behaviors, boots in confidence, talkativeness, and in an increased need for privacy. Cocaine abuse can lead to financial difficulties due to people who abuse the substance gaining tolerance and needing more to achieve the original desired effects. Also, an individual might lose interest in things that once brought them joy because of the constant burning need to find the next fix.

Usage and What to Watch For

Cocaine is used by either smoking, snorting, rubbing on gums, adding to drinks or food, or injecting it into the body. The most common use of the powdered form of cocaine is snorting it into the nasal passage. Powdered cocaine can even be sprinkled onto cigarettes. Smoking the substance in its rock form creates a more intense and immediate high which makes the drug more addictive.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, almost 15 percent of all Americans age 12 and older have used cocaine at least once in their lifetime. Everyone has a different body type therefore cocaine impacts everyone a little differently. Cocaine can impact people differently depending on a person’s dependence on the substance, mixing of other drugs, amount, and potency of the drug. Someone’s first time using cocaine will affect them differently than someone who is addicted.

Some signs of cocaine use to watch out for are people seeming more confident than usual, deterioration in physical appearance, talking more, expressing increased sudden physical strength, dry mouth, aggression, unpredictable and risk-taking behaviors, obsessive thoughts about cocaine, and indifference to pain. Also, finding spoons, razors blades, plastic bags, and other drug paraphernalia in a person’s room is a sign that they may be addicted to cocaine. A person may experience financial difficulties due to borrowing or stealing money to pay for their cocaine addiction. This can lead to family and friend relationship problems. Cocaine is often accompanied by a crash as the drug breaks down in a person’s body. When a person crashes they may sleep or eat more.

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Mixing with Other Drugs

Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant. This means that it produces feelings of euphoria, high energy levels, and focused attention. Cocaine can be mixed with other drugs to obtain desired effects. Some other stimulant drugs that cocaine is often mixed with are caffeine, amphetamine and synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Cocaine is also mixed with depressant drugs like alcohol, marijuana, and heroin. When cocaine is mixed with heroin it is known as a “speedball.”  Mixing cocaine with heroin creates harmful adverse effects that can negatively influence motor functions and cause blurred vision. Mixing other drugs with cocaine leads to more overdose deaths among individuals who use cocaine. Combining drugs creates a new set of negative side effects because drugs do not interact well with one another. The majority of people who seek help for cocaine addiction use another substance along with cocaine.

When Cocaine Abuse Turns into Addiction

Just like with frequent use of other drugs, cocaine can rewire a person’s brain leading them to addiction. Cocaine escalates the levels of the brain’s natural chemical messenger known as dopamine.  Dopamine regulates an individual’s control of movement and rewards. The result of frequent use of the substance results in people getting used to the extra dopamine produced by the drug. This extra dopamine floods the brain’s reward circuit which strongly reinforces cocaine taking behaviors. Eventually, this leads to people becoming less sensitive to it and needing a stronger more frequent hit to produce the same high they received in the beginning. If an individual does not continue to consume the drug they will experience withdrawal symptoms. There are a few warning signs that point to recreational cocaine use turning into an addiction. The first is uncontrollable seeking behavior. This is when a person will do anything to obtain a fix of the drug to prevent withdrawal symptoms. A few withdrawal symptoms that people who are addicted to cocaine frequently experience are depression, fatigue, increased appetite, slowed thinking, unpleasant dreams and insomnia.

Treatments Available

Currently, there are no medications to treat cocaine addiction that have been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Therefore, behavioral treatment is currently the most effective treatment for cocaine addiction. A few types of behavioral therapies are cognitive behavioral therapy, contingency management, therapeutic communities, and community-based recovery groups.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy attempts to change a person’s negative thoughts associated with drug use and identify situations that cause a person to use cocaine. Once the situation is identified a person can learn to avoid them or use healthy coping mechanisms. Common interventions used are learning stress and anxiety management skills such as deep breathing.

Contingency management attempts to relate a reward to refraining from drug use. A common example is an individual passing a urine drug test being rewarded with a token that can be used to purchase items that encourage a healthy lifestyle such as movie tickets.

Therapeutic communities are inpatient rehab centers and outpatient programs that individuals overcoming their addiction can go to in order to gain support in abstinence and recover from drug use. Therapeutic communities offer inpatient rehab centers, outpatient treatment, as well as sober living homes to give recovering individuals the option to pick the program that will best support their unique recovery needs.

Community-based recovery groups attempt to surround the recovering individual with the support needed to overcome their addiction. An example of this type of recovery group is a 12-step program. A 12 step program enables an individual recovering from cocaine addiction to share their story and struggles while having support and fellowship from a group of individuals who are trying to overcome the same affliction.


Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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