Addiction Drug Use Cocaine What to Know About Cocaine Use By Buddy T Buddy T Facebook Twitter Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. Learn about our editorial process Updated on June 20, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Steven Gans, MD Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Sebastian Leesch / EyeEm / Getty Images Cocaine is a highly addictive drug that can heighten activity in the body, including heart rate, blood pressure, alertness, and energy. The most commonly used form of the drug is a white powder which is found in the leaves of the Erythroxylon Coca plant and has been used in South America for hundreds of years. It was first introduced in the United States in the 1880s as a surgical anesthetic. In the early 1900s, cocaine was the active ingredient in many of the tonics and elixirs that were marketed at the time to treat a variety of conditions and illnesses before its side effects and addictive properties were fully understood. It was classified as a Schedule II drug in 1970. In the United States, recreational cocaine use is illegal. Also Known As: Common street names for cocaine are sometimes based upon the substance’s appearance, effects, place of origin, or to disguise its nature. A few of the more commonly used terms include powder, rock candy, blow, crack, sleet, and snow. Drug Class: Cocaine is classified as a stimulant. It increases activity in the brain and temporarily elevates mood, alertness, and energy levels. Common Side Effects: While cocaine can produce short-term feelings of euphoria, it also comes with a number of side effects including decreased appetite, paranoia, extreme sensitivity, irritability, headaches, mood changes, and an increased risk of stroke and heart attack. How to Recognize Cocaine Cocaine is mostly sold on the street illegally as a fine white powder. It is often mixed with other substances like cornstarch, talcum powder, or sugar to dilute its purity. Sometimes it is mixed with amphetamine or heroin in what is known as a "speedball." Cocaine is also sold on the street in a freebase form known as crack cocaine. Cocaine looks like white powder or rocks. It is often stored loose in baggies or packed into tight bricks. What Does Cocaine Do? Cocaine can be swallowed, snorted, injected, and inhaled. Except for approved medical use, there is no safe way to use cocaine in any form. All methods of use can lead to absorption of toxic levels of cocaine, possible acute cardiovascular or cerebrovascular emergencies, and seizures. Any of these can lead to sudden death. Cocaine begins working almost immediately except when taken orally. Even small doses of the drug have a temporary stimulating effect on the body, which can make a person feel euphoric, energetic, talkative, and mentally alert. Cocaine works by interfering with the normal communication process in the brain. Cocaine use blocks the removal of dopamine from the synapse causing an "amplified" signal to be sent to the receiving neurons. This amplified signal is what people perceive as an initial euphoria or high. The method by which cocaine is used can affect how high a person feels and how long the high lasts. For example, snorting cocaine does not produce as intense a high as smoking it, but the high lasts longer. A high from snorting may last 15 to 30 minutes, while a high from smoking cocaine might last only 5 to 10 minutes. The faster the drug is absorbed into the bloodstream, the more intense the high, but the shorter the duration. What the Experts Say Cocaine presents a risk of both addiction and overdose. Because it impairs judgment, it can also lead to other risky behaviors such as engaging in needle sharing or unprotected sex. The National Institute of Drug Abuse's Cocaine Research Report states that cocaine use impairs the immune system, making people more susceptible to HIV or hepatitis infection. There are a number of reasons why people choose to use cocaine in spite of the risks. Although some people find that using the drug helps them perform simple intellectual and physical tasks more quickly, others report that cocaine has the opposite effect. Some people report heightened sensitivity to sight, sound, and touch. They can also experience a decreased need for food or sleep, at least temporarily. Approved Uses While cocaine is illegal as a recreational drug, it does have legitimate medical uses. It has both anesthetic and vasoconstrictive properties, which make it ideal for some medical purposes. Cocaine can be effective: As a local anestheticFor use during upper respiratory proceduresFor topical use in the form of cocaine hydrochloride Does Cocaine Have Medical Uses? Common Side Effects Cocaine use can result in both physiological and psychological side effects. Physiological effects of cocaine can include: Constricted blood vesselsDilated pupilsIncreased body temperatureIncreased heart rateIncreased blood pressureWeight lossNauseaAbdominal painTremorsVertigo Psychological effects of cocaine use can include: PanicAggressionIrritabilityAnxietyDepressionRepetitive behaviorsPoor judgmentHallucinationsParanoia Although it is rare, sudden death can occur on the first use of cocaine or unexpectedly with later doses of the drug. Cocaine-related deaths are often a result of cardiac arrest or seizures followed by respiratory arrest. Combining cocaine with alcohol can also increase the strain on the heart and the risk of sudden death. Signs of Use The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that 14.7% of all Americans over the age of 12 have used cocaine at some point in their lives. Some signs that someone you know might be using cocaine include: The presence of drug paraphernalia such as syringes, razor blades, pipes, and small plastic baggiesUnplanned weight lossExtreme mood swings and behavioral changesAvoidance of social situationsNeedle marks on the bodyFrequent nosebleeds or runny nosesChanges in personal hygieneFinancial problemsSigns of withdrawalLying or stealing Overdoses can occur unexpectedly, even on the first use. The risk of overdose can increase if cocaine is combined with other drugs or alcohol. Signs of overdose can include vomiting, tremors, and difficulty breathing. If you suspect someone has overdosed on cocaine, call 911 immediately. Common Questions While the use of this substance is sometimes referred to as an epidemic, evidence shows that its use has largely been on the decline since its peak in the 1980s. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), in 2017, 2.2% of people aged 12 or older reported using cocaine in the past year. Some people also wonder about the effects of cocaine on athletic performance. Studies have shown that cocaine diminishes an athlete's strength, endurance, and overall performance. However, because cocaine can distort a person's perception, many athletes believe the drug is actually enhancing their performance. Tolerance, Dependence, and Withdrawal Prolonged or chronic use of cocaine causes havoc with the brain's natural reward system to the point that using cocaine no longer produces its initial pleasurable effects. Frequent cocaine use can cause people to develop increasingly higher tolerance. This means that it takes higher doses or more frequent doses for the brain to try to achieve the same level of pleasure experienced during the initial use. This cycle of increasing cocaine doses to get the same high can lead to addiction. How Long Does Cocaine Stay in Your System? It is very difficult to determine an exact detection window for how long cocaine can stay in someone's system. The length of time it remains in the system depends on many different factors including body mass, metabolism, and hydration levels. Cocaine can be detectable for 24 hours (by blood test) or up to three months (by hair follicle test). Addiction Cocaine addiction can involve both a physical craving for the substance as well as a mental desire to experience the drug's euphoric effects. One of the most dangerous consequences of using cocaine is its powerful addictive qualities. People have been known to become addicted after just one use. Once someone becomes addicted to cocaine, quitting without relapse is extremely difficult, even after long periods of abstinence. Research has shown that even after not using cocaine for long periods of time, exposures to triggers associated with cocaine—or even memories of past cocaine experiences—can set off tremendous cravings and relapses. Withdrawal As the effects of cocaine begin to wear off, people can experience a number of withdrawal symptoms, including irritability, aggression, restlessness, anxiety, insomnia, depression, or paranoia. Because of these unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, many people report difficulty in "coming down" from the drug. It is not uncommon to experience depression immediately after the drug's effects wear off. Consequently, some people will take then more cocaine to avoid the unpleasant withdrawals—another reason cocaine is considered so highly addictive. People don’t just use cocaine to get high; they also use it to avoid the unpleasant side effects of not using it. How to Get Help Cocaine addiction can be a complex condition that can lead to a wide variety of personal problems. Treatment for an addiction to cocaine, therefore, needs to be comprehensive and address the individual’s social, family, and other environmental problems. Effective treatment often involves addressing cocaine misuse as well as other co-occurring addictions. It is not uncommon for people who misuse drugs to also have other mental health issues—such as depression or anxiety—that also require treatment. There are several behavioral approaches used in residential and outpatient settings that are effective in the treatment of cocaine addictions. Currently, they are the only approved and evidence-based treatments available for those who use cocaine or crack cocaine. Some of these behavioral treatments include: Motivation incentives (contingency management) Cognitive-behavioral therapy Therapeutic communities (residential programs) Support groups (such as Cocaine Anonymous) There are currently no approved medications to treat cocaine addiction. However, medications such as antidepressants may be used to treat symptoms of depression or anxiety. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. Symptoms of Stimulant Use Disorder 15 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Cocaine Research Report. Favrod-Coune T, Broers B. The Health Effect of Psychostimulants: A Literature Review. Pharmaceuticals (Basel). 2010;3(7):2333-2361. doi:10.3390/ph3072333 Havakuk O, Rezkalla SH, Kloner RA. The Cardiovascular Effects of Cocaine. 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Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Avois L, Robinson N, Saudan C, Baume N, Mangin P, Saugy M. Central nervous system stimulants and sport practice. Br J Sports Med. 2006;40 Suppl 1:i16-i20. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2006.027557 Hadland SE, Levy S. Objective Testing: Urine and Other Drug Tests. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2016;25(3):549-565. doi:10.1016/j.chc.2016.02.005 Sinha R. The clinical neurobiology of drug craving. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2013;23(4):649-654. doi:10.1016/j.conb.2013.05.001 Liu Y, Ball JD, Elliott AL, Jacobs-Elliott M, Nicolette G. Diagnostic sequence of cocaine use disorder in relation to other mental health conditions among college students. J Am Coll Health. 2019:1-4. doi:10.1080/07448481.2019.1583657 Kampman KM. The treatment of cocaine use disorder. Sci Adv. 2019;5(10):eaax1532. doi:10.1126/sciadv.aax1532 Additional Reading American Society of Addiction Medicine. The Definition of Addiction (Long Version). 15 August 2011. By Buddy T Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Get Treatment for Addiction Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.