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Cocaine is a powerful and highly addictive stimulant drug that is derived from the leaves of the coca plant. The coca plant is native to South America, however, healthcare providers in America may use cocaine for certain medical needs – like localized anesthesia. While cocaine has a small amount of medical use, it is entirely illegal for recreational use.

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What is Cocaine?

When sold on the street, cocaine comes in the form of a fine, white, crystal powder. It is often cut with other substances like flour, talcum powder, or cornstarch to increase supply and profit. Unfortunately, some dealers mix cocaine with other stimulants or synthetic opioids, so abusing cocaine can be extremely dangerous because it is difficult to know exactly what the white powder contains.

Cocaine may also be referred to as “blow,” “coke,” “snow,” or “rock.” It may be rubbed onto the gums, snorted through the nose, smoked as “crack cocaine,” or injected directly into the bloodstream. It is popular in nightclubs, parties, and even college scenes.

Cocaine Side Effects

Cocaine is a stimulant drug that increases levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is related to reward, decision-making, and movement. When a person takes cocaine, the effects can be felt within minutes. Short-term effects include:

  • Extreme happiness
  • Energy
  • Mental alertness
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, and touch
  • Irritability
  • Talkativeness
  • Paranoia
  • Dilated pupils
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Raised body temperature and blood pressure
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle twitches and tremors

Many people report that cocaine helps them perform mental and physical tasks more quickly with focus. However, when taken in large amounts, cocaine abuse can lead to violent, unpredictable, and bizarre behaviors.

Cocaine is a short-acting stimulant drug and its effects will wear off within 15 minutes to one hour depending on how it was administered. For example, injecting cocaine produces a faster and stronger high than snorting it does, however, snorting allows the effects to last longer.

Cocaine Abuse

The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that there are approximately 1.9 million regular cocaine users. Using cocaine once causes a flood of dopamine, but using cocaine repeatedly can impair one’s ability to produce and process dopamine correctly. Over time, excess dopamine in the brain reinforces drug-taking behaviors. The brain also becomes less sensitive to the excess dopamine, therefore, requiring an even larger dose of dopamine to feel the same high as before. This may drive drug users to use increasing amounts of cocaine.

As users continue to increase their cocaine dosage, they may notice that they feel sick or agitated when not using cocaine. This is because physical dependence can occur after frequent cocaine abuse. Once dependence develops, users may continue using cocaine for the sole purpose of avoiding withdrawal.

Cocaine withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Hunger
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Slowed thinking
  • Inability to concentrate

Signs of Cocaine Overdose

Cocaine is often viewed as a social or party drug, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous. In addition to being addictive, it is possible to overdose on cocaine. An overdose happens when someone uses too much cocaine to the point where their body experiences adverse or life-threatening side effects.

Symptoms of a cocaine overdose include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • High blood pressure
  • High body temperature
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Irregular heart rhythm
  • Seizure
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

Although cocaine overdose is more likely when mixing cocaine with alcohol or opioids, overdose can happen on a person’s first use of the drug. If the heart reacts adversely and goes into shock, a person’s blood vessels can become so constricted that they experience a sudden and life-threatening heart attack. If treated quickly, emergency room doctors can provide monitoring and supportive care to help treat the symptoms of a cocaine overdose.

While opioids continue to stand in the spotlight, causing hundreds of overdoses each day, more than 16,000 people suffered a fatal cocaine overdose in 2019.

Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Abuse

People who abuse cocaine or become addicted to it may experience chronic and severe side effects. People who snort cocaine may lose their sense of smell, experience frequent nosebleeds, or have problems swallowing. Smoking cocaine can lead to chronic cough, asthma, pneumonia, and respiratory distress. Lastly, injecting cocaine can increase the risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis C, and other infections. IV drug use can also lead to scarring, abscesses, soft tissue infections, and collapsed veins.

Other potential long-term effects of cocaine abuse include:

  • Malnourishment
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Severe paranoia
  • Auditory hallucinations
  • Mood swings
  • Heart disease, heart attack, and stroke
  • Lung damage
  • Headaches
  • Intracerebral hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain)

Long-term cocaine users who get sober are also thought to be at very high risk for relapse, even after extended periods of sustained abstinence.

Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine is a highly addictive drug that is difficult to remain in control over. It wears off quickly and creates such a powerful high that many users will go on cocaine binges where they use a lot of the drug over a short period of time. When the effects of cocaine wear off, users may feel irritable and begin craving more of the drug.

It is easy to give in to these cravings, especially since cocaine produces a flood of dopamine in the brain. As people continue to give in to cravings, develop a tolerance, and become physically dependent on cocaine, an addiction will rapidly develop.

Addiction is a disease characterized by compulsive, habitual, and dangerous substance abuse. People who are addicted to cocaine may lie about their drug use, steal money to pay for their habit, struggle to maintain a job, and have difficulties within their personal relationships. They may experience drug cravings that are so strong that they make using cocaine their top priority above other things like work, school, or family.

It can be difficult to overcome any kind of addiction without professional help. And, cocaine is so mentally and physically powerful, that some people may find it impossible to stop using the drug on their own.

Treatment for Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine addiction is best treated at an inpatient drug and alcohol rehab center. Once patients have detoxed and are medically stable, they will participate in various behavioral therapy techniques. Common therapies that are used to treat cocaine abuse and addiction are:

Although there are no FDA-approved treatment medications for cocaine, a combination of counseling, behavioral therapy, and peer support can help teach patients how to live sober and put a life of cocaine abuse behind them.

what is cocaine


Even though cocaine has become far too normalized in American society, it is a drug that nobody should ever risk using. It is so powerful that many people find it difficult to stop using once they are hooked – even when they ask for help. As a result, it’s important to have access to effective, evidence-based treatments that really work.

Here at Elevate Recovery Center, our Massachusetts addiction treatment program uses cutting-edge therapies facilitated by some of the most experienced addiction experts in the state. We can help you overcome your addiction to cocaine – no matter how long you’ve been hooked.

Don’t wait any longer. Call today to find a cocaine rehab in Massachusetts.


Valerie Tecci, Program Director

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