What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a fine white powder that can be snorted, rubbed into the mouth or gums, or dissolved to create a powder and then injected. It can also be processed to make a rock crystal and smoked (called "freebase cocaine"). This form of cocaine is called “crack,” which refers to the crackling sound of the rock as it is heated.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) states that there are currently an estimated 1.5 million cocaine users. Cocaine overdose deaths reached 13,942 in 2017, leaving no doubt that abusing this drug can have fatal consequences.

Can You Overdose on Cocaine?

A cocaine overdose can happen when a person snorts, ingests, smokes, or injects more cocaine than their body can handle. Cocaine acts on the central nervous system, increasing heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and body temperature. Therefore, the amount of cocaine that can cause an overdose varies from person to person. Those who have an underlying health condition, especially heart issues and hypertension, are most at risk for an overdose. This leaves no question about the danger and severity of cocaine addiction.

Recognizing the Signs of Cocaine Use

If you suspect someone is abusing cocaine, you may be familiar with the manifestation of symptoms from this illegal drug. Cocaine's intense effects appear almost immediately. The fast-paced high of this drug is followed by a debilitating crash.

Warning signals that an individual is using cocaine include:

  • Unnatural euphoria, extreme happiness, and energy
  • Hyper mental alertness and sensitivity to sounds and touch
  • Unusual overconfidence
  • Irritability and even paranoia and hallucinations
  • Decreased appetite
  • Abnormal sleep patterns
  • Dilated pupils and eyes that are overly sensitive to light
  • Runny noses or nosebleeds for those who snort the drug
  • Needle marks if the cocaine is injected

The signs with long-term abuse are even more staggering. Chronic abuse may result in physical and mental deterioration, as well as depression, agitation, nervousness, and tiredness with the inability to sleep. Large amounts of cocaine can lead to bizarre, unpredictable, and possibly aggressive behavior.

As with other drugs, repeated use of cocaine can cause lasting changes in the brain.  As cocaine use continues, the body adapts to the drug and, over time, stronger and more frequent doses are required to obtain the same high. This cycle can easily lead to cocaine addiction.

Street Names for Cocaine

Cocaine has accumulated its fair share of aliases. Cocaine is also known on the street as Coke, C, Snow, Powder or Blow, Bump, Candy, Charlie, Crack, Flake, Rock, Snow, and Toot. Those who use nicknames may be doing so in an attempt to make their cocaine use much less conspicuous. Teens may try to hide cocaine use from their parents by using less common terminology that they might not be familiar with. But no matter what it is called, it doesn’t change the negative effects of the drug.

Street dealers often dilute (or “cut”) it with non-psychoactive substances such as cornstarch, talcum powder, flour, or baking soda to increase their profits.

However, the drug may also be sold when mixed with heroin, referred to as a "Speedball". Many addiction experts believe that some cocaine overdose deaths may be related to modified or tampered forms of the drug.

Cocaine is usually sold in small, tightly wrapped plastic bags. However, larger stocks of the drug are sold in heavyweight rectangular units referred to as “bricks.”

As one of the most costly drugs on the market, cocaine addiction is a very expensive habit. Documents show that the compulsion to get this illegal substance may lead those struggling with addiction to do just about anything to get their hands on more cocaine, including stealing, lying, and committing crimes.

The Challenges of Withdrawal

The addictive nature of cocaine is primarily due to the effect it has on the brain. When used regularly, it can change the brain’s chemical makeup, making it challenging to quit using the drug without significant help.

Unlike some other drugs that have devastating physical signs during withdrawal, cocaine detox has mostly psychological symptoms.

Indicators of Cocaine Withdrawal:

  • Difficulty concentrating and slowed thinking
  • Fatigue, even exhaustion
  • Depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Insomnia and vivid nightmares
  • Chills, tremors, muscle aches, and nerve pain

Perhaps the most concerning issue of withdrawal is the powerful, intense cravings for wanting to use cocaine.

Overcoming Cocaine

It is very common to find that family and friends of an addict realize their loved one requires help, even if the addict can’t see it themselves.

But it is also possible that the addicted person knows deep inside that they need professional assistance. Frequently, if a proper intervention is done, they will accept the opportunity to get treatment.

Types of Treatment

Currently, there are no FDA-approved medications for cocaine addiction. However, there are many different programs available. They range from 24-hour facilities to outpatient care.

Cocaine addiction is a complex disease involving a wide range of social, familial, and other environmental factors. Rehabilitation must take all these aspects into consideration.

In-Patient Care

If the addiction and accompanying withdrawal symptoms are severe, or the cocaine user requires constant monitoring, a live-in treatment program may become the best option. In-patient rehabilitation programs are designed to deliver around-the-clock mental health and medical support for addicted individuals seeking to live a sober life. They are structured and comprehensive in the services they deliver.

In-patient programs vary in the supervision, care, and the amenities they provide. Most, however, offer the following:

  • One-on-one counseling
  • Group therapy
  • 12-step or alternative programs
  • Relapse prevention education
  • Nutritional guidance
  • Holistic healing such as art, fitness, meditation classes
  • Aftercare planning

The majority of clients remain at an inpatient facility for 30 to 60 days. Many centers offer options for an extended stay to allow for additional time to engage in the healing process.


A qualified therapist provides an unbiased support system that can assist addicts to learn new skills in coping with their sober lifestyle.  For many, it may be the first time in years they are facing daily life without using drugs or alcohol. Regular and consistent appointments with a professionally trained addiction counselor are indispensable in the path to success.

  • Behavioral therapies address the reasons, motivations, and underlying psychological issues associated with a person's substance abuse. Research indicates that behavioral therapy techniques are particularly effective in patients affected by cocaine abuse and dependence.

  • Contingency management (CM) can be an effective form of behavioral treatment to end cocaine use. Also referred to as "motivational incentives," this type of treatment provides rewards for desired behaviors, such as clean drug tests and abstinence. Some professionals, however, question the continuing effects, as it appears the process may lose its effectiveness over time.

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to be an effective approach for preventing relapse. This type of counseling helps patients develop skills that support long-term abstinence. Learning the ability to recognize (and avoid) situations in which they are most likely to use cocaine is part of CBT.

Group Therapy

Research has demonstrated that “group therapy is a powerful therapeutic tool for treating addiction. One reason for this efficacy is that groups reduce isolation and enable members to witness the recovery of others…and these qualities draw clients into a culture of recovery."

Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, and similar organizations provide meetings with others who are working on conquering their addictions.  This free support is usually anonymous and allows for the individual to interact with, learn from, and engage in mutual support while surrounded by others who are also struggling with substance abuse.  It provides an ongoing source of support at all stages of the recovery process.  The encouragement received from these meetings is a vital part of maintaining sobriety.

Friends and Relatives

The role of family and friends in breaking an addiction to cocaine should not be underestimated. The long-term success of recovery from drug addiction requires continued awareness of how the disease affects the entire family. A sober support community provides an environment for the person to recover without temptations or triggers that make them want to use cocaine again.

Published scientific studies clearly state that “substance abuse treatment that includes family therapy works better than substance abuse treatments that do not. It increases engagement and retention in treatment, reduces the (patient’s) drug use, improves both family and social functioning, and discourages relapse.”

Avoiding Relapse

Symptoms of withdrawal usually disappear over time, but make no mistake about it, cocaine addiction is difficult to treat, and relapse can occur.  Statistics suggest that 40%-60% of drug addicts will relapse from their plan of treatment.

A 5½ year ground-breaking study revealed that individuals addicted to cocaine are most vulnerable for relapse between one and six months after treatment.

But the concern over relapsing from cocaine or any other drug does not stop after just a few months. Current research now demonstrates that addiction, like any chronic disease, requires lifelong treatment with counseling and maintenance therapy.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) promotes the concept that, “long-term follow-up (is necessary) to prevent relapse.” They state, “Remaining in treatment for an adequate period of time is critical…Most patients require on-going or repeated care to achieve the ultimate goal of sustained abstinence and recovery of their lives.”

Getting Help Now

Friends and family members may initially be unaware of a person’ addiction. But early intervention and recognition of the signs of use or abuse of cocaine can be essential to getting someone on the right path toward recovery.

It’s true that the temptation to return to cocaine can linger long after formal treatment programs are complete. But that doesn’t mean that cocaine addiction is permanent. People can, and do, recover from this addiction.

It is essential to provide additional assistance to people when they are most vulnerable to, and perhaps least aware of, their risk of relapse.

 If you or a loved one has been struggling with cocaine addiction, don't delay another day. Seek help and get treatment so that you can begin your journey toward recovery and sobriety.

There is hope and we are here to help.