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Signs of Cocaine Use

Posted in Cocaine Addiction Treatment on January 30, 2017
Last modified on May 11th, 2019

Cocaine is one of the most dangerous illicit drugs. The effects of cocaine abuse can cause serious damage to people’s health. If you’re concerned a loved one is using cocaine, learn more about signs of cocaine use and how you can help.

Short-Term Signs of Cocaine Use

The effects of cocaine happen almost immediately after a single dose. They disappear within a few minutes to one hour. Small amounts of cocaine can make people:

  • Euphoric
  • Energetic
  • Less self-conscious
  • Talkative
  • Mentally alert
  • Sensitive to sight, sound and touch
  • Feel less need for food
  • Feel less need for sleep

Physical symptoms of cocaine use may include a runny nose and dilated pupils.

Long-Term Signs of Cocaine Abuse

It’s a slippery slope from cocaine use to cocaine abuse. Cocaine is extremely addictive and can cause cravings with continued use. Cocaine users can quickly develop a substance use disorder. The effects of cocaine abuse can have long-lasting health consequences.

Warning signs of cocaine addiction include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Poor concentration and focus
  • Restlessness and increased movement
  • High body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure
  • Involuntary movements (muscle tics)
  • Narrow blood vessels
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Abdominal pain and nausea
  • Inflammation of the heart
  • Rupture of the aorta, the major artery leading from the heart
  • Kidney damage
  • Loss of smell
  • Nosebleeds
  • Nasal damage
  • Swallowing problems
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss
  • Cocaine withdrawal without the drug

Heart Problems

Cocaine abusers are at greater risk for heart issues. Cocaine can affect chemicals in the body that help keep the nervous system operating correctly. Cocaine causes the chemicals to send signals that make the heart beat faster and more forcefully. The heart must work extremely hard. Cocaine also limits blood flow and oxygen to the heart. This puts cocaine abusers at risk for:

  • Heart attacks
  • Heart disease
  • Other cardiovascular issues

Nasal Problems

Cocaine is known for the nasal issues it causes. This makes sense because the nose is usually the way people get the drug into their body. Sometimes people inject cocaine or smoke crack cocaine.

Chronic cocaine abuse by snorting can cause:

  • Inflamed sinuses
  • Irritation and bleeding of the nasal membranes
  • Holes in the the membrane that divides the two nostrils
  • Inflamed blood vessels

The effect of cocaine on blood vessels is perhaps the biggest factor leading to nose damage. When cocaine first enters the body, it revs up a part of the nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system. It greatly narrows blood vessels throughout the body. This includes impact to nerves sending blood to nasal tissues. Without enough blood supply, the tissues in the nose suffer damage. This affects normal nose functioning and overall health.

Contributors to chronic nasal problems in cocaine abusers include:

  • Irritation from cocaine crystals and additives
  • The traumatic effect of snorting cocaine at high speed and quantities
  • Recurring nasal infections

Snorting cocaine irritates the nasal membranes. Over time, repeated irritation of these membranes leads to long-term damage. Cocaine typically contains large amounts of other substances such as:

  • Talc
  • Borax
  • Levamisole

The latter is in an estimated 70% of all cocaine in the U.S. It’s used both as a stimulant enhancer and bulking agent. It’s thought to be responsible for some cases of cocaine-related vasculitis.

Diagnosing Cocaine Addiction

The DSM-5 classifies cocaine use under stimulant-related disorders. Symptoms and signs of cocaine abuse include:

  • Cocaine cravings
  • Unsuccessful attempts to quit cocaine
  • Using cocaine despite negative effects with work, school and personal life
  • Using increasing amounts of cocaine over time
  • Needing more cocaine to get the same effect
  • Spending a great deal of time and energy getting cocaine
  • Cocaine withdrawal symptoms after stopping or reducing use. These may include:
  • Fatigue
  • Vivid dreams and nightmares
  • Sleep problems
  • Increased appetite
  • Problems controlling movement

Effective Cocaine Addiction Treatment

An addiction to crack cocaine is difficult to overcome, but very possible with the right substance abuse treatment and motivation. The National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends cocaine treatment include:

Mental Health Treatment

When people have an addiction and a mental illness it’s known as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders. People that abuse cocaine often have co-occurring disorders. Common ones include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Major depression
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • PTSD
  • Panic attacks

Effective cocaine addiction treatment addresses these psychiatric issues. Substance abuse treatment should also attend to other reasons for drug abuse. These often include:

  • Emotional pain
  • Relationship issues
  • Low self-esteem
  • Challenging childhoods
  • Poor coping skills

Many drug rehabs offer proven approaches to help addiction and mental health issues like:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Contingency management
  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Psychiatrist appointments


Cocaine upsets the balance of feel-good chemicals in the brain. Without the proper amount of these chemicals, people are at risk for mental health disorders. Sometimes people in recovery from drug abuse need medication to help the brain start producing these chemicals on its own again. Researchers are currently exploring “cocaine vaccines.” The hope is that these medications will help prevent relapse.

Continuing Care

Recovery is a lifelong journey. People still need support after they leave drug and alcohol rehab. Most treatment centers offer aftercare planning. This connects people with long-term support. Typical aftercare resources include:

  • Counseling
  • Support groups
  • Medication management
  • Sober-living options
  • Family therapy

If someone you love is showing signs of an addiction to cocaine, you can help. Learn tips to effectively support them. Explore cocaine treatment center options. It’s possible for people to recover from substance abuse and live a full and rewarding life.

Editorial Staff

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Editorial Staff

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