Cocaine is one of the most dangerous and addictive substances out there. It can have severe physical, psychological, and financial effects on the user, and the consequences of addiction can last a lifetime.
In terms of addictive potential, cocaine is on the same level as heroin and crystal methamphetamine. It is not a “harmless” drug — about 21% of people who try cocaine will become addicted.
Cocaine is an illegal stimulant drug that's derived from the leaves of the coca plant. It's a white powder that can be snorted, smoked, or injected into the bloodstream.
Cocaine increases the levels of dopamine in the brain, causing a feeling of euphoria and intense pleasure. Because of this, it's highly addictive, and it can be difficult to stop using it once you start.
Cocaine is not quite the same as crack. Crack, or crack cocaine, is a form of cocaine that is designed to be easy to smoke. The high only lasts about a minute, and it’s much more intense than regular cocaine.
Generally speaking, crack is far more addictive than cocaine and causes far more damage to users and their lives. However, regular cocaine is still highly addictive and highly damaging.
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Cocaine addiction can have a range of physical, psychological, and financial effects.
In the short term, it can cause:
It can also cause a feeling of alertness, energy, and euphoria. However, these effects are usually only temporary, and they can be followed by a "crash" that can last for days, even if you only used cocaine a single time.
In the long term, it can cause serious health problems, including:
Long-term use of cocaine can also cause damage to the brain, lungs, and nose (if you’re snorting the drug).
However, this doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s possible to overdose on cocaine, which can lead to chest pain, delirium, heart attacks, and even death.
The short-term effects of cocaine use are usually obvious to those around you, which can lead to its own set of problems. If your boss sees that you’re high on cocaine, you might lose your job. If your spouse sees it, they might leave.
As addiction progresses — and yes, cocaine is very psychologically addictive — users can become isolated and withdrawn as they become more and more focused on obtaining and using the drug.
While cocaine is not technically physically addictive, it might as well be — the cravings that come with cocaine withdrawal can be just as intense as those a heroin user has.
One of the biggest dangers of cocaine addiction has nothing to do with the health effects.
For many cocaine users, as mentioned, the drug is far too expensive to use regularly. On top of that, like with any drug, your tolerance goes up as you continue to use, meaning you need more and more of the drug to get the same effect.
And over time, the drug becomes less and less effective.
This can lead users who are unwilling to seek help in one of two directions:
Switching to crack cocaine can be devastating. For many users, this is when their addiction takes a turn for the worst. As mentioned, crack is more intense, lasts a very short amount of time, and ultimately, costs a lot more money and takes a much stronger hold of the user than regular cocaine.
For many users, this is where their path to job loss and homelessness begins.
The other thing that happens is that users start using other types of drugs with their cocaine to get the high they seek.
This is actually quite common with cocaine users. They’ll end up adding other, more dangerous drugs, like heroin or fentanyl, into the mix. Mixing these drugs with cocaine is incredibly dangerous — mixing any drug with any other drug is incredibly dangerous.
This increases the risk of overdose and sudden death enormously.
And even if they’re somehow able to stay employed during all this, the sheer financial cost of these drugs (and the quantities necessary to use them continuously and avoid withdrawal symptoms) often drives them into debt and leaves them unable to pay their mortgage or rent.
If you or a loved one is struggling with cocaine addiction, there are a few signs and symptoms to look out for.
There are a few common misconceptions about cocaine addiction.
First, it's not true that cocaine addiction is only a problem for people with weak willpower. In fact, anyone can become addicted to cocaine, regardless of their personal strength or character.
It's also not true that cocaine addiction can be cured with willpower alone. Treatment is necessary in order to successfully overcome addiction.
If you or a loved one is struggling with cocaine addiction, there are a range of treatment options available.
Aftercare is an important part of the recovery process for cocaine addiction. Without a plan in place to avoid relapse, it’s much more likely to happen.
This may include attending support groups, seeing a therapist, avoiding situations or people that may trigger a relapse, or getting into sober living.
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Cristal Clark, LPC-S, is the Medical Reviewer for ASIC Recovery Services. She reviews all website content for quality and medical accuracy. She is a master’s level Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and graduated from Liberty University in 2011. She has worked in the behavioral and mental health field for over 12 years and has a passion for helping others. She has been clinical director and CEO of a 200 plus bed facility, PHP, and IOP, with experience managing a team of counselors, individual/group/and family therapy, and coordinating continuum of care. Cristal is trained in EMDR and certified in non-violent intervention. She is a member of American Counseling Association and American Association of Christian Counselors.