If you’re worried that someone you love may be struggling with addiction to cocaine but aren’t able to pinpoint any specific evidence, educate yourself about cocaine addiction and express your concerns to your loved one. At Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, we provide evidence-based, individualized care for a range of substance use disorders, including cocaine addiction. We want you to have the tools to recognize a potential substance use disorder and get help for yourself, your friend, or a family member. 

Things to Know About Cocaine

Knowing a bit about cocaine may make it easier for you to identify if someone you know is using it:

  • Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug that acts on the brain’s limbic system, which regulates pleasure and motivation, causing it to build up high levels of the “feel good” chemical dopamine to produce an intense euphoric feeling. The limbic system also includes memory centers that reinforce our brain’s connection between our actions and feeling good. This can increase the inclination to continue pursuing a drug even after we begin to experience negative consequences from it.
  • It may be referred to under a variety of different names, such as blow, coke, crack, flake, snow, or rock. 
  • It usually looks like a white powder or irregularly shaped white chunks or rocks. 
  • Cocaine may be smoked, snorted, or dissolved into water and then injected.
  • It is sometimes used in combination with other drugs, including marijuana, tobacco, or opiates.

Signs of Cocaine Use

When a person uses cocaine, their behavior is likely to be described as alert, excited, restless, irritable, anxious, and paranoid. Their body may show the following signs of use:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Decreased appetite
  • Less need for sleep

As their rush from the drug wears off, the person may crash and develop a headache or runny nose, sweat or sleep excessively, appear confused, or seem depressed for several days.

Signs of Cocaine Dependence 

As with any addictive substance, people who use cocaine may find it difficult to stop, developing a dependence on the drug. Signs of cocaine dependence include:

  • Increased tolerance and needing to use more to achieve the same effect
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not using cocaine: fatigue, insomnia, agitation, depressed mood, nightmares, chills, and difficulty focusing 
  • Spending a lot of time and effort getting, using, and thinking about cocaine
  • Committing crimes and stealing from loved ones in order to obtain cocaine or the money to purchase it
  • Struggling to fulfill personal, professional, and academic obligations due to cocaine use
  • Inability to decrease cocaine use, despite personal, medical, legal, financial, or professional consequences 

Risks Associated with Cocaine Use

Cocaine can cause a number of concerning and even life-threatening medical issues:

  • Anemia
  • Seizures
  • Heart problems and strokes
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Damage to lungs, kidneys, and other organs
  • Bloodborne diseases including HIV and hepatitis as a result of sharing needles

Cocaine use can also result in frightening mental health symptoms:

  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Violent behavior
  • Depression
  • Anxiety and panic

Signs of Overdose from Cocaine

The most common signs that someone is overdosing as a result of cocaine use are:

  • High body temperature and sweating
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shaking, tremors or seizures
  • Psychosis – anxiety, paranoia and hallucinations

If you believe someone is overdosing from cocaine or any other drug, call 911 and get them immediate medical attention. 

Treatment Options for Cocaine Addiction

Before treatment can begin, the person must be assessed and diagnosed with a substance use disorder. Once a diagnosis is determined, the person may receive treatment, which generally includes:

  • Detox, where the person stops using with the help of medical care and support
  • Individual, group, and family therapy
  • Recovery groups like Narcotics Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery, and SMART Recovery
  • Substance abuse counseling to help the person stay drug-free
  • Medications for co-occurring mental health issues, if applicable. (Research is also underway to develop medications that help people manage cocaine cravings and/or block the euphoric effects of cocaine.) 
  • Different levels of care, based on the severity of a person’s addiction, which can include residential and outpatient options

At Safe Harbor Recovery Center, we offer residential, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient treatment to help our patients recover from addiction to cocaine and other drugs. After they successfully complete treatment, our alumni are eligible for ongoing support through our alumni groups and events, the CaredFor app, and our continuing care program.