Cocaine: Dangers of Addiction

Cocaine, a stimulant substance which could harm or kill an individual, comes from a plant.1,2 To get the stimulant impact from coca leaves, they have been chewed and consumed by individuals for centuries.1 Currently a Schedule II substance, individuals undergoing some operations might be given cocaine as a local anesthetic.1,3

Cocaine abuse does occur, and it is sold on the street.1 Whitish little chunks (these might be called “crack”) as well as white powder are possible cocaine forms.1,2,4

Some ways an individual might use the drug include via dissolving then injecting intravenously, via smoking (for crack), or via snorting.1,2,4

Cocaine Addiction


One cocaine hazard is it’s very addictive.2

Cocaine is able to induce an accumulation of a lot of the neurotransmitter dopamine in between neurons, yet acclimation to these greater amounts and lowered sensitivity can occur.2

A stimulant use disorder in which cocaine is the drug used is a cocaine use disorder.5

For a stimulant use disorder, there are multiple possible symptoms, including:5

  • Due to use of stimulant, decreasing doing or no longer doing things that are important and are related to recreation, are social, or are related to work
  • Frequently using more stimulant or using stimulant for more time than intended
  • Craving stimulant
  • In circumstances where using stimulant is dangerous physically, using it repeatedly
  • Experiencing stimulant withdrawal* (and/or to alleviate or evade symptoms of withdrawal, using stimulant or using another substance that is similar)
  • Trying to control or lessen use of stimulant but not succeeding, or persistently wanting to control or lessen use of it
  • Experiencing tolerance* (still using a consistent stimulant amount has significantly reduced impact, and/or getting the effect wanted or becoming intoxicated requires significantly more stimulant)
  • Even though stimulant’s effects brought about or made worse interpersonal or social issues that repeatedly occur or are lasting, still using stimulant
  • Expending a large amount of time doing things that are needed for using or getting stimulant or for recuperating from stimulant’s effects
  • Even though knowing stimulant probably brought about or made worse a mental or physical issue that repeatedly occurs or is lasting, still using stimulant
  • Not fulfilling responsibilities at home, school, or work that are important due to repeated use of stimulant

*If an individual is only using stimulant medicines under medical oversight that is suitable, neither withdrawal nor tolerance are considered symptoms of a stimulant use disorder.5

Possible Cocaine Effects

Cocaine, through binding to a certain kind of protein that’s known as a dopamine transporter, is able to obstruct them from taking dopamine out the space that two neurons have in between each other.6,7 Additionally, norepinephrine and serotonin can have their transporters obstructed due to cocaine.7

If an individual uses cocaine, it might trigger things including:2

  • Being alert
  • Having a heartbeat that is not regular
  • Having a heart rate that is quick
  • Being irritable
  • Being nauseous
  • Having a lot of energy
  • Shaking
  • Having enlarged pupils
  • Being very happy
  • Having an elevated temperature
  • Being paranoid
  • Having blood vessels that are constricted
  • Having an elevated blood pressure
  • Being overly sensitive to noises, touch, and seeing
  • Being restless
  • Acting violently, oddly, and/or unpredictably
  • Dying

Cocaine is able to worsen judgment; the likelihood of an individual getting hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS might be elevated because of using needles someone already used and/or sexual activities that are risky.2,8

If an individual uses cocaine for a while, the individual might suffer from issues including:2

  • Issues with breathing (if used via smoking)
  • Movement disorders
  • Serious deterioration of bowels (if taken orally)
  • Nosebleeds (if used via snorting)
  • Not being adequately nourished
  • Trouble smelling things (if used via snorting)
  • Getting an infection (e.g., of skin if used via injecting or pneumonia if used via smoking)
  • Nose running often (if used via snorting)
  • Hallucinating
  • Trouble swallowing (if used via snorting)
  • Veins collapsing (if used via injecting)

A cocaine overdose could kill an individual.2 If an individual might have overdosed on cocaine, call 911 immediately.

An individual who overdoses on cocaine may have issues such as:2

  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Having seizures
  • Heart not beating regularly
  • Having hallucinations
  • Having heart attack
  • Trouble breathing
  • Being anxious
  • Elevated temperature
  • Having stroke
  • Being agitated


An individual might experience symptoms of withdrawal, possibly including:2,9

girl with head in hands

  • Being irritable
  • Being depressed
  • Larger appetite
  • Being agitated
  • Being fatigued
  • Being restless
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Cravings

An individual might become suicidal.9 Immediately call 911 or a suicide hotline if you or someone else is suicidal.

An individual might overdose.9 Immediately call 911 if you or someone else might have overdosed.


Consult a healthcare provider if you may have an addiction to a drug.10

For treatment, an individual with addiction to cocaine might participate in CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) and/or might participate in another type of behavioral therapy.2



  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Cocaine: What is cocaine?.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2018). DrugFacts: Cocaine: What is cocaine?.
  3. (2019). Controlled substances: Alphabetical order.
  4. Drug Enforcement Administration; U.S. Department of Justice. (2017). Drugs of abuse: A DEA resource guide: 2017 edition.
  5. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Cocaine: How does cocaine produce its effects?.
  7. Sarlin, E. (2019). Disruption of serotonin contributes to cocaine’s effects.
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Cocaine: Why are cocaine users at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS and hepatitis?.
  9. A.D.A.M., Inc. (2019). Cocaine withdrawal. In A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.
  10. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Step by step guides to finding treatment for drug use disorders.


About The Contributor

Sophie Stein, MSN
Sophie Stein, MSN

Clinical Editor

Sophie Stein received her master’s of science in nursing from Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. She previously worked as an advanced practice registered nurse at an outpatient psychiatric practice providing mental health care for children,... Read More

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