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Cocaine FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

January 18, 2019

Cocaine is a highly-addictive street drug that can have short and long-term effects on the brain and body. Treatments for cocaine abuse and addiction include inpatient drug detox and residential rehab programs for substance abuse.

Cocaine is a highly addictive drug that can have a severe impact on both the mind and body. Struggling with an addiction, or seeing it in a person you love, can be difficult.

Having an understanding of cocaine and effective treatments for cocaine addiction can help guide you in the way of seeking help for yourself or a loved one. The most frequently asked questions about cocaine are listed to provide you with a better understanding of the drug and its effects.

What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a substance that originates from leaves of the coca plant, which is native to South America. It was first introduced to the United States in the early 20th century as a local anesthetic for surgical use. In recent decades, it has become notorious for its harmful properties as a powerful and highly-addictive substance.

Although cocaine has been used for medical purposes, recreational use of the drug is illegal. The type of cocaine sold for recreational use can come in the form of a fine, white powder or liquid. Powdered cocaine may also be mixed with other substances, including cornstarch, flour, and amphetamines.

What Is Crack Cocaine?

Crack cocaine is a type of cocaine that is is sold on the street as a freebase form of the drug. This freebase form is produced by processing powdered cocaine with ammonia or baking soda, and water. This creates a smokeable form of the drug, that can then make a crackling sound as it burns.

What Are The Common Names For Cocaine?

Several slang terms may be used to refer to cocaine. The most common names that are used to describe the drug include:

  • coke
  • crack
  • blow
  • charlie
  • speedball
  • snow
  • dust
  • powder

Slang terms that may be used to refer to crack cocaine specifically include:

  • rock candy
  • rocks
  • nuggets
  • base
  • sleet
  • hail

How Do People Use Cocaine?

Cocaine has been used within some medical settings as a local anesthetic, but may also be abused recreationally as a street drug. There are a few different methods in which a person can use cocaine.

These methods for cocaine use are:

  • snorting the powder through the nose
  • rubbing the powder onto the gums of the mouth
  • smoking (i.e. when using ‘freebase’ or crack cocaine)
  • injection, by dissolving the powder in water and injecting it into a vein

Cocaine may also be mixed with other drugs, like heroin, and then injected into the vein — a method known as speedballing.

Tampered forms of cocaine, where the drug is mixed with other substances, can pose additional health risks, including increased risk for overdose.

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What Are Cocaine’s Effects On The Brain?

Depending on the method of use, cocaine can begin having effects on the brain within seconds (injection or smoking) or within a half hour (snorting). As a stimulant, cocaine creates an increase in brain activity. It can also cause a buildup of the ‘feel-good’ brain chemical, dopamine, which regulates mood and cognitive function.

The short-term effects cocaine can have on the brain are:

  • rapid ‘high’ (euphoria)
  • increased energy
  • increased sociability
  • feeling more alert and in control
  • irritability
  • increased sensitivity to light, sound, and touch
  • paranoia
  • feeling decreased need for sleep
  • loss of appetite

Cocaine use can also reinforce a person’s need to use more of it once its effects have worn off, resulting in repeated use. As the brain adapts to the drug, those who use it can also become less sensitive to the effects of the drug, which is known as developing a tolerance. This tolerance can quickly lead to addiction as a person takes higher or more frequent doses of the drug in order to feel the same effects.

What Are Its Effects On The Body?

The effects of cocaine on the body can occur almost immediately. As the drug is absorbed into the bloodstream, it can cause a constriction of your blood vessels and dilation of the pupils. Cocaine can also cause increases in heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature.

Taking multiple or large doses of cocaine can pose even greater harm. The effects of excessive cocaine use include:

  • tremors
  • violent behavior
  • vertigo
  • muscle twitches
  • convulsions
  • seizures
  • stroke
  • heart attack

In some rare cases, use can also result in sudden death — even in those using it for the first time. Sudden death can also occur unexpectedly a short time after cocaine use.

What Are The Medical Consequences Of Cocaine Use?

Medical consequences can occur through both short and long-term use of cocaine. Some of the most severe complications that can occur with cocaine use involve the heart, such as irregular heart rhythm, chest pain, and heart attacks.

Additional medical complications of cocaine include:

  • Respiratory Problems: Cocaine can have a negative impact on the respiratory system, causing a buildup of fluid in the lungs. This can lead to having trouble breathing or respiratory failure.
  • Bone Loss/Damage: Long-term or excessive use of cocaine can cause the bone and cartilage around the nose to breakdown. This can lead to holes or fissures in the septum, the area of the nose that divides the nostrils.
  • Neurological Effects: Cocaine’s effects on the nervous system can cause increased blood pressure and body temperature. It can also cause headaches, seizures, and strokes.
  • Additional Organ Damage: Cocaine can cause damage to the kidneys, as well as a rupture of the lungs.
  • Pregnancy Complications: Cocaine can cause complications during pregnancy, including birth defects, premature delivery, and vaginal bleeding. It is also unsafe to use cocaine while breastfeeding.
  • Increased Risk For HIV/AIDS And Hepatitis B And C: Sharing needles, through cocaine injection, can put a person at an increased chance of getting HIV/AIDS, and hepatitis B and C. Other risky behaviors associated with cocaine use, such as unsafe sex, can also put a person at greater risk for sexually transmitted infections and disease.

What Are The Long-Term Effects Of Cocaine Use?

Long-term and excessive use of cocaine can have lasting and potentially permanent effects on person’s health.

The long-term effects of cocaine use include:

  • increased aggressive or violent behavior
  • respiratory (breathing) problems
  • sleeping problems
  • nerve damage
  • hallucinations
  • depression
  • memory loss
  • poor nutrition
  • weight loss
  • severe paranoia
  • development of movement disorders (e.g. Parkinson’s disease)

Some additional long-term effects can depend on the method of drug use:

  • Snorting: frequent runny nose, loss of smell, nosebleeds, perforated nasal septum (holes or fissures in the membrane dividing the nostrils), trouble swallowing
  • Injection: increased risk for HIV, hepatitis, fungal brain infections, scarring, collapsed veins, skin infections
  • Smoking: asthma, cough, increased risk for infections, breathing troubles

Can You Overdose On Cocaine?

Yes, it is possible to overdose on cocaine.

Overdose, or cocaine poisoning, can occur when a person takes too much of the drug or has mixed it with other drugs. This can lead to harmful and life-threatening effects. It is also unsafe to drink alcohol while using cocaine, or mix cocaine with other drugs, as it can increase the risk of overdose.

Cocaine poisoning can be fatal and result in death after the first use of the drug, or unexpectedly a short time after. If you notice signs of a cocaine overdose in someone you know, it is important to seek help immediately.

Symptoms of cocaine overdose can include:

  • difficulty breathing
  • seizures
  • hallucinations
  • extreme agitation
  • enlarged pupils
  • confusion
  • tremors
  • sweating

How Addictive Is Cocaine?

Cocaine has a high risk for addiction. This means there is a high risk that those who use cocaine may become dependent on it and feel the need to continue using it to function in their daily lives.

What Are The Signs Of Cocaine Addiction?

As an illicit drug, there is no legal way to get access to cocaine for recreational use. Those that use cocaine may have to sneak around to get and use the drug. They may also lie about their use, or manipulate situations where they have been caught using or buying the drug.

Cocaine addiction can have several effects on a person’s behavior, as well as changes to their physical health and emotional well-being. Recognizing the signs of cocaine addiction can help you to find the proper treatment for yourself or a loved one so that they may recover from their problem.

Behavioral signs of cocaine addiction include:

  • increased paranoia
  • showing less interest in activities they used to find pleasurable
  • social withdrawal from friends and family
  • neglecting their personal hygiene (e.g. not showering, not brushing teeth, appearing ill-groomed)
  • talking fast and hyperactivity
  • engaging in risky behaviors and activities

Physical and mental signs of cocaine abuse include:

  • unexplained weight loss
  • signs of malnutrition (from a poor diet)
  • “track marks” on the forearm (from injection)
  • a runny nose
  • tremors
  • confusion
  • anxiety
  • hallucinations
  • rapid heartbeat
  • dilated pupils
  • bloody nose

What Are The Withdrawal Symptoms Of Cocaine?

Long-term use of cocaine can lead to certain changes in the brain that can cause you to become dependent on the substance. When you have become dependent, or addicted, to cocaine you may experience symptoms of withdrawal upon stopped use.

Symptoms of cocaine withdrawal can include:

  • fatigue
  • increased appetite
  • depression
  • insomnia and nightmares
  • headaches
  • strong drug cravings
  • decreased concentration
  • mood swings

How Do You Treat Cocaine Addiction?

There are a variety of treatment modalities that may be used to treat cocaine addiction for a comprehensive recovery.

Treatment for cocaine addiction may include:

  • inpatient detox
  • residential rehab program
  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • contingency management
  • dual-diagnosis
  • aftercare support
  • outpatient therapy
  • community-based support groups

How Much Does Drug Rehab Cost?

The cost of rehab for cocaine addiction can vary depending on several factors:

  • Location: The cost of rehab can vary depending on where a person is seeking treatment.
  • Type of treatment: Costs can vary for different programs, including detox, residential programs, partial hospitalization programs (PHP), outpatient support, and more.
  • Payment method: Health insurance plans may offer partial or full coverage for certain drug rehab programs. Those without health insurance may be able to pay out-of-pocket, or contact programs directly to inquire after low-cost or state-funded rehab options.
  • Program length: Treatment costs will vary depending on the length of the program. Inpatient and residential facilities may offer 30-day, 10-week, and up to 90 to 180-day programs for addiction treatment.
  • Amenities: Facilities can differ in what amenities they offer their patients. These can include certain therapeutic activities, such as nutritional counseling and massage therapy, as well as access to a swimming pool or gym.

Detox programs (30-days) for safe drug withdrawal in the United States can cost between $250 to $800 a day out-of-pocket. Some medical detox programs may cost up to $1700 per day for care.

Standard residential rehabilitation programs (30-day) can cost between $2000 and $25,000. Some luxury rehab facilities may cost more based on location and amenities offered. Long-term residential care, lasting between 90 and 180 days, may also have higher pricing.

Outpatient care is often needed for individuals who have discharged from an inpatient or residential program. Costs for outpatient care can depend on the type of support available in your area, including individual counselors and community-based care providers. Some low or no-cost support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA), may also be beneficial for additional outpatient support.

Addiction can place people on a difficult path, but recovery is possible. Contact us today to learn more about treatment options for cocaine abuse.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - DrugFacts: Cocaine

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)

National Institutes of Health - Substance use - Cocaine

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - Insurance and Payments

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