Signs of Cocaine Use and Intoxication

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What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine

Cocaine is a stimulant drug derived from the leaves of the coca plant which is native to South America. According to a 2022 study, close to 25 million people around the world use cocaine.

The powdered form of cocaine (also known as coke, coca, blow, snow, or flake), is snorted through the nose, rubbed into the gums, or injected via a needle; whereas the rock form (known as crack), is smoked through a cigarette or pipe.

Cocaine is an addictive substance that triggers the brain to release a chemical called dopamine, which produces a euphoric high. This high can be addictive, causing people to consume more and more of the substance in order to achieve it.

Recreational use of cocaine is illegal because it is dangerous and can lead to severe health consequences, including stroke, heart attack, and overdose. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 100,000 people in the United States died in 2021 as a result of drug overdose.

This article lists the physical, behavioral, and psychological signs of cocaine use, as well as the symptoms of cocaine intoxication. It’s important to be aware of these signs, symptoms, and health effects of cocaine use, in order to break the habit and get treatment for it, if needed.

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.

Signs of Cocaine Use

Listed below are some of the physical, behavioral, and psychological signs of cocaine use.

Physical Signs

These are some of the physical signs of cocaine use:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Dilated pupils
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid or rambling speech
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle tremors or twitches
  • Raised body temperature
  • Hypersensitivity to light, sound, and touch
  • Changes in appetite
  • Insomnia or unusual sleep patterns
  • Altered physical appearance
  • Neglected personal hygiene

Psychological Signs

These are some of the psychological signs of cocaine use:

  • Excitement, euphoria and excessive confidence while using the drug
  • Increased energy and alertness while using the drug
  • Depression after the high wears off
  • Fear, anxiety, or paranoia
  • Unexplained changes in attitude and personality
  • Irritability or restlessness
  • Sudden mood swings or angry outbursts
  • Impaired judgment

Behavioral Signs

These are some of the behavioral signs of cocaine use:

  • Neglected responsibilities
  • Poor attendance and performance at work or school
  • Changes in routine, hobbies, acquaintances, and hangout spots
  • Risky or unsafe behavior
  • Secretive or suspicious behavior
  • Bizarre or unpredictable behavior
  • Aggressive or violent behavior
  • Trouble with the authorities for activities like driving under the influence or disorderly conduct

Long-Term Effects

In the long-run, cocaine use can lead to health issues such as:

  • Malnourishment and weight loss, since people who use cocaine generally have a reduced appetite
  • Movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease, which are caused by dopamine irregularities in the brain
  • Impaired cognitive functioning, which can cause difficulties with attention, memory, decision making, impulse inhibition, and motor tasks
  • Psychosis, which is a mental condition characterized by hallucinations (seeing and hearing things that aren’t real) and delusions (believing things that aren’t real)
  • Pregnancy complications, such as premature delivery, low birth weight at delivery, and issues with concentration and self-regulation in the child

Some of the long-term effects of cocaine can vary depending on the way it is consumed:

  • Snorting cocaine can cause nosebleeds, lack of smell, runny nose, nasal damage, hoarseness, and difficulty swallowing
  • Smoking crack cocaine can cause asthma, cough, breathing difficulties, lung damage, and increased risk of respiratory infections like pneumonia
  • Injecting cocaine can cause scarring in the arms or collapsed veins, and increased risk of hepatitis C, HIV, skin infections, soft tissue injuries, and bloodborne diseases
  • Consuming cocaine orally can cause severe bowel issues

Signs of Cocaine Intoxication

Cocaine intoxication is a state where someone is not just high on cocaine but also develops other physical symptoms that make them ill.

Cocaine intoxication can occur as a result of:

  • Consuming too much cocaine
  • Taking an overly concentrated form of cocaine
  • Doing cocaine in extremely hot weather, as dehydration can exacerbate the side effects of the drug
  • Mixing cocaine with alcohol
  • Mixing cocaine with other drugs, such as heroin
  • Consuming an adulterated form of cocaine, which means the cocaine has been mixed with other substances, contaminants, or drugs

These are some of the signs and symptoms of cocaine intoxication:

  • Euphoria and excitement
  • Jumbled speech, sometimes about bad things that might happen
  • Extreme confusion and anxiety
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Muscle tremors, often in the face and fingers
  • Dilated pupils that don’t contract even when a light is shined into the eyes
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Pallor or bluish-colored skin
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Sweating 
  • Lack of awareness of surroundings
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Rapid or restricted breathing

Severe cocaine intoxication can cause permanent damage that leads to:

  • Seizures, stroke, or paralysis
  • Severe mental health disorders like anxiety or psychosis
  • Reduced cognitive ability and mental functioning
  • Reduced heart function and other heart problems
  • Kidney failure, which may require dialysis
  • Muscular atrophy, which may require amputation
  • Death

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), cocaine overdose occurs when a person consumes enough of the drug to cause serious adverse effects, life-threatening symptoms, or even death. NIDA also notes that a cocaine overdose can be intentional or unintentional, and can occur even on the first occasion of use, or at any time thereafter.

A Word From Verywell

Cocaine use affects the brain and body in several ways beyond just the high it provides. If you are using cocaine, or if you suspect a loved one is, it can be helpful to recognize the signs, symptoms, and health effects in order to stop using the substance and seek treatment, if required.

11 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.
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