What does cocaine addiction look like?

A 2023 World Health Organisation report states that the ‘global supply of cocaine is at record levels.’ This indicates an increase in demand for the substance and, subsequently, an increase in the number of individuals dealing with cocaine addiction. A key issue at the heart of lived addiction experience is the difficulty in identifying when we have become dependent on a substance. When living something, it can be hard to take a step back and objectively assess our situation. It can be easy to think that addiction is not something that can happen to us. But this is not the case. 

This means it is important to be aware of the facts about cocaine addiction. When does cocaine use topple over into addiction? What are the ‘signs of a cocaine addict?’ And, crucially, what interventions can help us learn how to recover from cocaine addiction?

What leads to addiction?

Addiction is a complicated, multifaceted phenomenon. It is not possible to point to one main factor. In reality, cocaine addiction can develop for a variety of reasons. These can be social, psychological or situational. Each individual struggling with addiction will have a different story. However, there are some common factors or experiences that can contribute to the development of addiction, including:

  • experience of childhood trauma 
  • experience of domestic abuse 
  • traumatic experiences 
  • growing up with heavy drinking or drug use in the family home 
  • bereavement or loss 
  • job loss
  • relationship breakdown (divorce)
  • dealing with mental health issues
  • dealing with complex physical health issues 
  • socioeconomic background 
  • exposure to peer pressure 
  • homelessness 

Addiction and difficult life experiences do not exist in a simple cause and effect relationship. The life experiences listed above can be causally linked to the development of addiction. But on the other hand, cocaine addiction can also catalyse a range of difficulties with physical, psychological and social well-being. 

Cocaine addiction symptoms 

An addiction or substance use disorder is defined as ‘a treatable mental disorder that affects a person’s brain and behaviour, leading to their inability to control their use of substances.’ This indicates that an addiction is present when there is an issue with control – when using drugs like cocaine feels compulsive, impulsive, or even obsessive. At this stage, using cocaine no longer feels like a choice but rather a necessity. This is when sustained support at a cocaine rehab clinic may be advised. But what are the core signs of cocaine addiction?

Signs of a cocaine addiction can be separated into three key categories:

  1. psychological,
  2. physical,
  3. and behavioural signs.

Psychological signs of cocaine addiction 

  • unexplained mood changes 
  • periods of euphoria 
  • periods of high confidence 
  • aggression or agitation 
  • anxiety 
  • paranoia 
  • depression 
  • lethargy 
  • hallucinations 
  • delusions 
  • difficulty relaxing
  • change in cognitive function

Physical signs of cocaine addiction 

  • sore or red eyes
  • dilated pupils 
  • damage to sinuses 
  • prominent blood vessels in the nose 
  • nosebleeds
  • weight loss
  • headaches 
  • high temperature 
  • sweating 
  • sudden changes in energy levels 
  • damage to kidney and liver 
  • cardiovascular events (stroke or heart attack) 

Behavioural signs of cocaine addiction 

  • low motivation 
  • social withdrawal 
  • reduced engagement at work 
  • reduced engagement at school
  • changes in appetite
  • disturbed sleep patterns
  • being more impulsive 
  • increased libido 
  • risk-taking 
  • hiding or lying about cocaine use 
  • spending money quickly 
  • financial issues leading to debt 
  • regularly borrowing (or stealing) money 
  • engagement in criminal activity 

It is important to note that these signs of addiction exist as more of an overview or a guide rather than as a set list or criteria for addiction. You do not need to have experienced all of these symptoms to be addicted to cocaine. Rather, they give an insight into the different ways that cocaine addiction can manifest.

Short and long-term effects 

Cocaine is a psychoactive drug. This means that it affects the central nervous system, the key regulator of the body. These effects can be short-term, or can be experienced for a longer time. 

Short-term effects of cocaine

When you first take cocaine, you may experience the following:

  • a rush of ‘good’ feeling 
  • spike in confidence 
  • increase in anxiety 
  • increase in risk-taking behaviours 
  • increased heart rate and temperature 
  • feeling sick
  • increased need to use the toilet 

Long-term effects of cocaine

If you use cocaine regularly, you may start to find that the psychoactive effects of the drug become more long-term. Cocaine use can leave a kind of imprint on both the body and mind after periods of heavy use. This can lead to:

  • cocaine psychosis 
  • depression 
  • anxiety 
  • risk of stroke
  • risk of heart attack
  • risk of seizures 
  • damage to sinuses
  • liver and kidney damage 
  • cocaine withdrawal symptoms

The social impact 

Cocaine addiction can have a devastating ripple effect. Not only can it cause psychological and physical distress, but it can also drastically impact the social, economic and professional sides of our lives. 

Cocaine addiction can be linked to:

  • engagement with criminal activity
  • relationship breakdown 
  • job loss 
  • financial difficulties 
  • housing insecurity
  • family instability 
  • isolation and estrangement from social circles


Recognising the need for intervention 

Clinicians use the following 4 question assessment tool to screen for drug addiction:

  1. Have you ever felt you need to cut down on your drug use?
  2. Have people annoyed you by criticising your drug use?
  3. Have you ever felt guilty about your drug use?
  4. Have you ever felt you need to use drugs in the morning to help you get through the day? 

If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions, it is likely you are dealing with an addiction and would benefit from some form of specialist intervention.

The formal intervention comes in the form of cocaine rehab. Cocaine rehab can be a multi-stage process that includes two key phases: detoxification and treatment. Detoxification aims to combat cravings and withdrawals, leaving you feeling more focused and in control. Following this,  you will be able to engage with therapies to learn new psychological techniques that increase your likelihood of leaving cocaine use in the past.

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