Cocaine Addiction and Treatment

Cocaine is extracted from the leaves of the coca plant, typically found in South America.  It is classified as a stimulant, which means that it increased alertness and energy, as well as blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration.  Cocaine is sold in two primary forms: powdered cocaine and crack cocaine.  The powder form is typically snorted, while crack cocaine can be smoked.  Cocaine can also be injected intravenously.

Short-term effects of cocaine

Cocaine can provide a feeling of euphoria.  The typical effects are brief, lasting about 30 minutes.  The exact effects of cocaine depend on the dosage and manner of use.  Some common short term effects of cocaine include:

  • Elevated mood
  • Increased energy/alertness
  • Feeling of grandiosity
  • Dilated pupils
  • Rapid speech
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety

Cocaine use can present risks, even in the short term.  Because it is a stimulant, cocaine increases heart rate and can cause heart attack and arrhythmia.  Additionally, cocaine can constrict blood vessels in the brain, causing a stroke.

Long-term effects of cocaine

When used in large amounts over a long period of time, cocaine can cause physical and psychological problems, including:

  • Loss of sense of smell, nosebleeds, and overall irritation of the nasal septum (when cocaine is snorted)
  • Significant weight loss
  • Malnourishment
  • Risk of HIV, Hepatitis C, and other infections (when cocaine is injected)
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety/agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Auditory hallucinations
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Gastrointestinal problems

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms can occur when one is dependent on cocaine and suddenly stops using it.  Withdrawal symptoms can persist for up to two weeks and can range from mild to severe.  The withdrawal symptoms from cocaine are typically more psychological than physiological in nature, and are rarely medically serious.  Common symptoms of cocaine withdrawal include:

  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Cravings/urges for cocaine
  • Difficulty experiencing pleasure
  • Tremors
  • Chills
  • Aches/pains

The Science Behind Cocaine

Cocaine use affect the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is a key component in the brain’s reward system.  Cocaine blocks the normal process in which dopamine is recycled back into the transmitting neuron, thus resulting in a buildup of dopamine in the synapse.  This creates the euphoric feeling that cocaine users experience.


Treatment of cocaine addiction should be comprehensive, addressing social and environmental factors, as well as possible co-occurring disorders.  Treatment typically focuses on behavioral interventions, as there are currently no medications that have been proven to treat cocaine addiction.