Cocaine Symptoms and Warning Signs

Cocaine is a highly addictive substance and cocaine abuse can have significant and damaging effects on your life and the lives of your friends and family.

Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant that boosts energy levels and produces transient euphoria, but also causes dangerous elevation of heart rate and blood pressure. Cocaine is used recreationally primarily in two forms: as a powder that can be snorted, smoked or injected; and as a larger, rock-like crystals, popularly referred to as ‘crack cocaine’, which can be smoked.

Cocaine produces a euphoric high by triggering the release in the brain of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in the neural pathways relating to reward and pleasure. With repeated exposure to cocaine the chemistry and structure of the brain can be altered, resulting in dependency and addiction, while excessive use can result in overdose. There has been a sharp increase, in the UK and worldwide, in deaths linked to cocaine overdose in recent years.

Warning signs of addiction or risk of addiction to cocaine include:

  • White powder residue around the nose and clothing, or around the home
  • Razor blades, spoons, plastic bags or other drug paraphernalia hidden on the person or around the home or other private spaces
  • Restlessness and excitability
  • Pupils dilated for no apparent reason
  • Sniffles or a constantly runny nose
  • Sudden weight loss and lack of appetite
  • Sudden and unpredictable mood swings
  • Avoiding the company of others
  • Engaging in new, risky behaviours whilst neglecting familiar activities
  • Nosebleeds
  • Talkativeness
  • Insomnia
  • Burn marks around the lips or hands
  • Disregard for personal hygiene

If you recognise any of these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, you should immediately contact a helpline for assistance. The sooner that cocaine addiction is identified, the faster you or your loved once can get on the road to recovery.

When Abuse Turns into Addiction

The stimulant effect of cocaine is fast-acting but short-lived . You can experience a euphoric high within minutes but it will last only for 5-30 minutes, depending on your physiology and how you took the cocaine. Dependency causes changes in brain physiology that make it hard for users to experience comparable euphoria without using cocaine. Once you start abusing cocaine, you’ll feel compelled to seek out this euphoric high with increasing frequency.

You will also be likely to increase your dosage, as your body becomes more tolerant to the drug and you need more of it to achieve the same effect. Increasing frequency and dose of cocaine will soon impact your personal life and finances, and can trigger a negative spiral of increasing dependency and toleration.

Addiction becomes especially apparent once you start to experience symptoms of withdrawal when you’re not using. You’ll feel that you cannot function normally or live without cocaine, with compulsive cravings that further drive the cycle of addiction. Every aspect of your life, from finances to health, relationships and work, could be in jeopardy.

To avoid a life compromised by substance abuse, it is vital to recognise early the signs of cocaine dependence and intervene in a timely fashion. Contact professionals for help today could save your life – or that of a loved one.

Top Indicators of Cocaine Use

Continued long-term abuse of cocaine, can result in tell-tale signs of substance dependence. Indicators include physical symptoms and changes in your personality/behaviour. You can try to hide the signs, but as addiction deepens, so will the symptoms.

Physical Symptoms

Over time, substance abuse changes your physiology in a variety of ways. Some of the changes are brought on by your prioritisation of cocaine above all else, as you pay less attention to personal hygiene and nutritional needs. Other physical symptoms are caused directly by exposure to cocaine.

Some of the most commonly witnessed physical symptoms of cocaine abuse include:

  • Nose bleeds – caused by repetitive snorting or sniffing of cocaine through the nose. Snorting cocaine leads to damage of nasal tissues and rupture of nasal blood vessels. In time, snorting cocaine can also lead to loss of smell
  • Runny nose, accompanied by chronic sniffing and rubbing
  • White powder residue around nose or clothing
  • Dilated pupils
  • Itchiness
  • Weight loss – substance abuse can suppress appetite, although in some cases it can have the opposite effect and stimulate over-eating
  • Burn marks around the lips or hands – prevalent in people who smoke cocaine
  • Needle marks – for those who inject cocaine
  • Disregard for personal hygiene
  • Increased heart rate and high blood pressure, which can lead to a myocardial infarction, stroke or other cardiovascular problems

The physical symptoms of cocaine abuse are dependent on your individual physiology: everyone’s body reacts differently to stresses like consumption of narcotics.

Behavioural Symptoms

Cocaine affects brain physiology and cognition, so prolonged cocaine abuse can lead to a variety of behavioural symptoms. Keep in mind that behavioural symptoms can differ in intensity and type between individuals. Symptoms can also be influenced by how often you abuse cocaine and how high a dose you’re imbibing.

  • Restlessness and excitability
  • Sleeplessness
  • Euphoria or unusual excitement
  • Aggression
  • Overconfidence
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Becoming withdrawn
  • Engaging in new risky behaviours whilst neglecting familiar ones

Cocaine and Mental Health

Cocaine has various and far reaching effects on the brain.

Long-term use of cocaine produces long-lasting changes in the way your brain produces and responds to dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in pleasure and reward pathways. One effect can be to suppress normal dopamine function so that it is difficult to derive pleasure from anything other than cocaine. Through detox and rehab, however, it is possible to restore more normal dopamine metabolism.

Aside from tampering with your dopamine metabolism, other mental health issues linked to cocaine abuse include:

  • Paranoia: Can make you anxious, nervous and even violent
  • Psychosis: Most common amongst users of crack cocaine
  • Depression: Not unusual when coming down from a cocaine high, cocaine addiction-linked depression can even be intense enough to lead to suicidal thoughts. People in rehab or those going through symptoms of drug withdrawal are also prone to depression, as they struggle to cope with cravings. This is why close supervision is recommended for patients during detox and the early days of rehab
  • Hallucinations: Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there; can be associated with paranoia
  • Aggression: Shortened temper, overconfidence in your strength or paranoia. All these can lead to violent behaviour

Even after you stop abusing cocaine, you might find yourself experiencing the following mental and psychological effects for a while after: difficulty concentrating, intense cravings for stimulants, anxiety, and mental exhaustion.

Keep in mind that everyone’s physiology and psychology are different, so the psychological effects of your cocaine use might differ from that of other users. Good specialists have experience dealing with a variety of cocaine addiction cases and can help you find your way to  a healthier and happier life.

How Relationships are Affected by Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine abuse can lead to emotional withdrawal and social isolation, cutting you off from family and friends. Attempting to conceal your habit from people who care about you, can lead you to become more withdrawn and secretive, preferring the company of other substance abusers. Unfortunately, spending more time with other substance dependent people will exacerbate your condition,placing you in an enabling environment.

Cocaine can damage relationships regardless of age; at home, school, work, church or elsewhere. Some of the ways cocaine addiction can negatively impact your relationships include:

  • Trust issues: Addicts can become distrustful of others and paranoid, avoiding friends and family who genuinely want to help. Friends and family can also become distrustful of an addict in the wake of failed promises to quit the habit or if an addict starts stealing from them to fund drug use.
  • Honesty issues: Lying is common among drug users, especially when denying that they need help with addiction. Also, the hypnotic and hallucinogenic properties of cocaine can make an addict become unreliable. Addicts may be uncertain about what they have or have not done.
  • Financial issues: Drug habits aren’t cheap, and addicts need money to finance them. If you are an addict, you’re likely unable to hold down a steady job and this can lead to you hounding friends and family for money – and at times even lying to them about what it is for. Knowing that you are asking for money to buy drugs can place tremendous strain on your loved ones and even lead to them avoiding you. You could even end up stealing from friends or family members.
  • Emotional harm: People close to an addict might experience frustration and depression when having to deal with their unpredictability.

Who Cocaine addiction affects

Cocaine addiction can affect addicts and those directly and indirectly associated with them. Anyone from adolescents to adults can be affected by cocaine addiction.

Cocaine addiction can affect a number of different groups:

  • Family: Family members are typically the first to be affected by drug addiction. Addiction compromises the happiness and security of spouses, children, parents and siblings. Financing a drug habit can negatively affect family financial stability. Drug abusers also provide a maladaptive role model for other family members.
  • Society: Cocaine addiction has consequences for society as a whole. Cocaine is an illegal drug and its trade increases crime rates, which can affect the security and stability of your community.
  • Friends: Cocaine addiction can damage your social network and drive a wedge between friends. Addicts often seek to conceal their habit by becoming withdrawn and isolated, and gravitate to other users, while addiction-related issues such as dishonesty and aggression also damage relationships.
  • Co-workers: Cocaine addiction can negatively impact your relationship with co-workers, which in turn can lead to a hostile work environment. Also, your addiction might make it almost impossible for you to actually fulfil your duties in the workplace.

What Risks Does Cocaine Abuse Expose You To?

Cocaine dependence can jeopardise your life, relationships and accomplishments. Risks include:

  • HIV infection: Intravenous drug users – such as those who inject cocaine – are at dramatically increased risk of contracting HIV, due to needle sharing and other dangers. In 2010, more than 3 million intravenous drug users worldwide were infected with HIV.
  • Hepatitis B and hepatitis C infection: Injecting cocaine also dramatically increases your risk of contracting hepatitis. In 2010, 7.4 million injection drug users suffered from hepatitis C, while 2.3 million had hepatitis B.
  • Cardiovascular disease: Cocaine elevates heart rate, and can cause irregular heartbeat, increasing the risk of cardiovascular conditions such as hypertension, stroke, cardiac arrest and others.
  • Respiratory illness: Snorting or smoking cocaine is associated with respiratory illnesses.
  • Gastrointestinal conditions: Cocaine abuse is associated with bleeding and infection in the digestive system, and can even lead to bowel gangrene.
  • Malnourishment: Cocaine usually suppresses appetite and abuse can lead to poor eating habits, malnutrition and dangerous weight loss.
  • Poly-drug abuse: This is where cocaine is taken in conjunction with other substances. It is most common amongst heavy users who are no longer able to get high with normal doses, but instead combine other stimulants with cocaine to achieve this. Poly-drug use multiplies the risks already associated with using cocaine.
  • Seizures: Cocaine abuse can lead to potentially deadly epileptic seizures.
  • Brain damage: Includes long or short-term memory loss, decrease in brain size, reduced reaction time, short attention span, mood disorders and other cognitive defects.
  • Organ failure: Organs that might be affected by substance dependence include the lungs, kidneys, and liver.
  • Nosebleeds: Particularly common amongst people who snort cocaine. Can lead to complications such as collapse of the septum and nasal infections.
  • Mental and behavioural disorders: Including hallucinations, anxiety, paranoia, delusions and aggression.

Some of the negative health effects caused by cocaine may be reversed once you stop using. Asides from the health risks, there are other aspects of cocaine abuse to be aware of, primarily that dealing or using cocaine for recreational purposes is illegal. If you’re caught in possession of the substance, you could end up in jail.

Confronting the Cocaine User

A well organised intervention is the best way to confront a cocaine addict and convince them to start down a treatment pathway. Addicts can be highly sensitive and defensive, so you’ll need to choose your words carefully to avoid pushing them away. Tone and demeanour can also make or break an intervention.

It’s important to keep the following in mind when confronting someone about drug abuse in an intervention:

  • Stay calm whatever happens. Drug users are often on edge, so you need to stay calm in order to keep them at ease. It’s also important that the conversation doesn’t turn into a shouting match or an excuse simply to vent frustrations destructively. Try to avoid being drawn into an argument by the addict.
  • Avoid aggression. Being attacked naturally draws defensive reactions. Keep in mind that drug abuse is very similar to a disease and you need to show compassion when trying to convince the addict to get help.
  • Try to communicate how the addict’s condition is affecting family and friends. Addicts often have restricted focus, failing to recognise the damage they are causing to themselves or their loved ones. You can help the addicted person get past denial by showing clear examples of how their actions have negatively impacted those around them.
  • For best results, confront a loved one about substance abuse during moments of sobriety. If they aren’t high or strung out, they’ll be better able to focus on what you have to say.
  • Don’t do it alone. Confronting a drug user alone could be unsafe, and may not be constructive. An intervention is more powerful when the most important people in the life of the cocaine user are gathered to tell them the truth but also offer support and demonstrate that they care.

Other tips that can help with an intervention include:

  • Listen to the drug user’s side of the story. Sometimes, there is an underlying cause for a person’s drug dependence. By identifying what led the person to drugs in the first place, you will have a better idea of what triggers to avoid and how to tackle underlying problems. Giving an addicted person room to speak makes them more relaxed, less defensive and more open. Interventions don’t always work at first, but don’t give up. Make sure your story stays the same at all subsequent interventions.
  • Be firm and assertive. Whilst being sympathetic and compassionate, you must also let an addict know that there will be consequences for their continued drug use. Make sure you aren’t simply bluffing though, because if the promised consequences don’t occur, the addict will be less likely to take you seriously in the future.

Cocaine and other Drugs

A vast range of psychoactive and intoxicant drugs, ranging from hallucinogens to stimulants and tranquillisers are legally prohibited, although there are a few legal intoxicants and psychoactive drugs which can be bought over the counter in a pharmacy or via a doctor’s prescription.

Cocaine has clinical applications in medicine, but its use is tightly controlled and recreational use is illegal.

Other types of pharmaceutical drugs that are abused recreationally include: Alprazolam, Dextropropoxyphene (Adderall), Amobarbital, Alprazolam, Zolpidem, Zopiclone, Clonazepam, Diazepam, Ketamine, Pethidine, Oxycodone, Methylphenidate, Hydrocodone, Tramadol, Codeine, Eszopiclone, Methamphetamine, Chlordiazepoxide, and other variations of Benzodiazepine. These drugs include antidepressants, sedatives and attention deficit treatments.

Alcoholism is another form of substance abuse that is recognised worldwide for its devastating effect on the health and social life of the addict. Poly-drug abusers tend to combine their use of cocaine with any of the aforementioned substances to achieve a greater high or to even out the effects of their drug use.

Treatment Withdrawal and Next Steps

Compared to alcohol and benzodiazepines (which have severe physical withdrawal symptoms), the symptoms of cocaine withdrawal are mostly psychological, although this does not diminish the severity of symptoms or the challenges they pose. Some of the psychological symptoms of cocaine withdrawal include:

  • Exhaustion and incessant fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Inability to feel pleasure (anhedonia)
  • Diminished sex drive
  • Intense anxiety or depression
  • Increased craving for cocaine
  • Very little appetite or greatly Increased appetite
  • Nightmares or other vivid dreams
  • Slower thinking and response time

These symptoms usually come alongside physical ones such as tremors, chills, nerve pain and muscle aches.

It is strongly recommended that addicts are closely monitored and supervised during withdrawal. Risk of suicide is increased during withdrawal, partly linked to the imbalance in brain chemistry, especially mood-regulating neurotransmitters, that results from cocaine addiction.

To prevent the recovering abuser from self-harming, close monitoring is important. Medical detoxification may also be required in certain circumstances.

Quitting Cocaine: Professional Help and the Road Ahead

Quitting cocaine or any addictive substance is not easy, but the benefits are immense. The first and most important step to addiction recovery is admitting you have a problem.

Trying to quit cocaine addiction on your own is not impossible, but it’s best to have the help of professionals who understand what you are going through. Accredited, highly-trained and experienced professionals can help to ensure you suffer less during withdrawal, and reduce your risk of relapse. Look for a clearly defined process for rehabilitating cocaine addicts and tailored programmes that best fit your unique circumstances. What can you expect when you choose to go through rehab?

Before Rehab

Before being taken into rehab, you’ll first undergo assessment to determine the level of your addiction. Based on the expert’s findings, they can recommend the clinic most suited to your personal treatment needs.

Once you have selected a rehab clinic, it should work with you to arrange an admission date of admission that best suits you. You can then reserve your place pending your arrival. Reserving with a deposit is proof that you intend to showing up on the agreed date.

When you arrive at the clinic, you‘ll receive a full briefing on what to expect during your stay. This will be followed by a doctor’s assessment of your physical and mental wellbeing. It is important that information provided during your assessment is accurate and honest, as it will be the basis for your prescribed treatment. Treatment programmes are constantly reviewed to ensure they match your current status.

During Rehab

Detoxification and rehabilitation are not the same thing. Rehab is the process that follows detox and it’s designed to deal with the psychological aspects of addiction. If you don’t go through rehab, your chances of relapse are greatly increased .

The key goals of rehab include:

  • Identifying and taking care of the real issues behind your addiction. Such issues can include low self-esteem, depression, anxiety or trauma
  • Prevention of a relapse
  • Coaching towards a healthier and better lifestyle
  • Giving you the tools to understand your addiction and move on
  • Introducing you to a more holistic and spiritual approach to life
  • Helping to challenge damaging and irrational thought processes
  • Building up your self-esteem
  • Training to cope better with stress and emotions
  • Show you how to build healthier relationships
  • Helping you to give voice to your emotions – both negative and positive
  • Show you how to better control your impulses and make more reasonable decisions
  • Teach you to accept responsibility for your actions

Keep in mind that everyone’s rehab process is different and dependent on their own unique needs. A regular review and update of your rehab plan is often necessary as you progress on the road to recovery. The shortest rehab program can last for as little as 28 days. Remember that the longer you are in the programme, the better the results.

After Rehab

After Rehab services should be standard for all rehabilitation programmes. After Rehab services ensure you get comprehensive treatment, but you can decide to opt out of the service if you so choose.

After Rehab might not be compulsory, but it is strongly recommended. This is because your first year after recovery is when you are most likely to suffer a relapse. With After Rehab care, your chances of staying addiction-free are greatly improved.

Support Groups

Mutual support groups like Cocaine Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are of proven benefit. Teens suffering from drug abuse can access specific support groups such as Al-Anon/Alateen. Support groups for cocaine addicts often work with the same 12-step principles as Alcoholics Anonymous.

Once rehab is over, a post-rehab plan that involves participation in a support group is often recommended. A support group can help you achieve long-term recovery in various ways, including:

  • Providing emotional support and giving you a sense of personal responsibility.
  • Reducing the stress of adjusting to a new life of sobriety
  • Combatting loneliness. In a support group, you won’t feel alone with the challenges you face
  • Helping to build meaningful relationships with other members of your support group


Pharmacological approaches to aid in the recovery of cocaine addiction are currently in development, but none have yet been approved for public use.

However, there are behavioural treatments that can be used to overcome cocaine addiction. A form of behavioural therapy which is proven for addiction treatment is Contingency Management (CM), also referred to as Motivational Incentives. The treatment is based on a reward system which has proven effective in helping patients achieve initial abstinence from cocaine. Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is effective at preventing relapses. It teaches patients to identify and avoid situations that lead to cocaine use, and cope with a variety of related issues. A variation of CBT is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), which focuses on individual psychotherapy and group skills training classes.

Therapeutic Communities (TCs) or Sober Living Houses are another form of treatment. They consist of drug-free residences where people can recover from substance use disorders and assist one another in changing for the better.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET)uses counselling to help cocaine abusers overcome doubts about treatment. The therapy aims to boost the addict’s internal motivation to achieve sobriety.

Also popular are 12-step programmes to overcome cocaine addiction. The 12-step model – if properly adhered to – provides a framework to help you let go of your addiction, properly process your experience, and move ahead into a better life.

The 12-step programme usually consists of the following:

  • Acknowledging your powerlessness over cocaine addiction
  • Developing a belief that a higher power can help with your addiction
  • Choosing to hand yourself over to that higher power
  • Taking a personal inventory
  • Confessing to yourself, the higher power, and someone else the wrongs that you’ve done
  • Being prepared to let the higher power rectify your character flaws
  • Asking the higher power to take away your flaws
  • Being willing to make amends for the wrongs you’ve done to others in the past
  • Getting in touch with those that have been hurt by your past actions, unless doing so will harm that person
  • Continuing to take personal inventory and admitting when one is wrong
  • Looking for enlightenment and connecting with the higher power through meditation and prayer
  • Sharing the 12-step message to others in need

Because not everyone is comfortable with the 12-step model, alternatives have been developed, such as SMART Recovery and Moderation Management, which are similar to the 12-step model in that they use a peer-sharing framework.

Ultimately, the important thing is to access the treatment that best suits your unique health circumstances.


Rehab occurs after detoxification has been completed. Rehabilitation seeks to effect mental and physical healing in a peaceful and therapeutic setting.


Many people imagine that detox is the scariest part of overcoming cocaine addiction. While it is true that detoxification can be unpleasant, it is also a vital part of breaking free of addiction.

Detoxing at a specialised clinic is advisable from a medical point of view and to ensure the most comfortable detox possible. How long detox will take depends on factors such as:

  • How long you have been abusing cocaine
  • Your age and general health
  • Your mental health
  • Prescription medication you need to be on for health reasons
  • How you were using cocaine (snorting, injecting or smoking).

You will be monitored closely and your detox regimen will be reviewed by the doctor as necessary. Eating healthily and getting lots of rest is also important during these periods. To ensure you are sticking with the detox regimen, your urine and saliva are frequently tested.

During detox, you may experience a wide range of withdrawal symptoms, including: sweating, shaking, insomnia, sleepiness, agitation, nausea, restlessness, anxiety, seizures, cramps, headache, confusion, memory loss, runny nose, blurred vision, poor concentration, exaggerated emotions, panic and anger. It is also possible, however, that you won’t experience any of these symptoms. Each person is physiologically unique and will respond to detox differently. Remember: detoxification at an addiction rehab clinic with a medically assisted detox plan is the safest way to detox.

Where else can I find Help?

Aside from rehab clinics, you can get help with cocaine addiction from support groups like Cocaine Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Al-Anon/Alateen. You can also look to your family or friends for support, or talk to your doctor for recommendations on the best addiction treatment centres in your area. Sober living communities are also a great option.

You can also seek help from experts in clinical psychology who can help with psychotherapy, psychiatric assessment and treatment of mental and behavioural disorder linked to substance abuse.

How People Overcome Cocaine Addiction

People who have successfully overcome cocaine addiction display common characteristics and behaviours, including:

  • Deciding to quit and sticking with the decision: Once you choose to quit, you must commit, body and soul, to staying cocaine free. With professional help and the right support, you can accomplish this.
  • Staying busy: Idleness exacerbates cravings. Keeping busy gives you less time to think about taking cocaine.
  • Enrolling in counselling sessions: One-on-one counselling will help you understand the roots of your cocaine addiction, and help you understand that cocaine isn’t the solution to your problems.
  • Building a support network: Trying to quit addiction by yourself isn’t the best bet. A support system of family and friends can motivate and support you, and provide positive reinforcement.
  • Abstinence: Keeping away from not only from cocaine but also other types of stimulants, including alcohol and cannabis. Complete abstinence is essential, because using any substance can lower your mental resistance to cocaine cravings.
  • Visiting a treatment facility: Professional drug rehab provides access to experts with the competence to help achieve drug-free goals.
  • Identifying triggers: Knowing what factors trigger cravings for cocaine makes it easier to avoid and resist them.
  • Managing stressors: With healthy, stress-relieving activities, such as relaxation exercises, meditation and yoga.

Get Answers to Your Questions (FAQs)

What is Cocaine Abuse?

Direct consumption of cocaine in any quantity is an abuse of the drug. Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant that interferes with dopamine regulation in your brain, leading to short-term euphoria and long-term dependence.

What is Addiction?

Addiction can be described as a brain disease which manifests in the form of compulsive substance use without regard for consequences.

What Are the Risks and Effects of Cocaine Abuse?

Risks associated with cocaine abuse include:

  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Damage to tissues in the nose including the nasal septum
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain
  • Tooth decay
  • Kidney and liver damage
  • Lung damage (especially if cocaine is smoked)

Who Does Addiction Affect?

Regardless of social class or age, anyone can become an addict. Addiction doesn’t only affect the addict: it can impact everyone associated with the addict, including family, friends, co-workers, and society at large in a variety of ways.

What Are Some Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine Abuse?

Symptoms of cocaine abuse include:

  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Anxiety, paranoia or panic attacks
  • Nose bleeds
  • Mania and hyperactivity
  • Rapid talking
  • Rapid pulse and breathing
  • Confusion and hallucinations
  • Dilated pupils
  • Tremors
  • Runny nose
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