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Cocaine Abuse Statistics

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

Medically reviewed by

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

April 2, 2019

Cocaine is an addictive street drug that affects more than 1.5 million people in the U.S. Cocaine abuse can lead to addiction, overdose, and cardiovascular problems in people of all ages.

Cocaine is a dangerous stimulant that can quickly result in dependence and addiction. In 2014, more than 1.5 million Americans were currently abusing cocaine.

Cocaine abuse can cause serious heart and respiratory problems. This stimulant is also linked to an increasing amount of fatal overdoses — since 2014, drug overdose deaths involving cocaine have been on the rise.

What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a natural stimulant found in the South American coca plant. For thousands of years, field workers in South America have chewed coca leaves to increase their stamina and energy levels.

When the coca leaf is purified, a substance known as cocaine hydrochloride results. This chemical powder is commonly referred to as the stimulant street drug, cocaine.

Cocaine has several additional street names, including:

  • coke
  • flake
  • C
  • coca
  • bump
  • toot
  • snow
  • blow
  • powder
  • white girl
  • crack (cooked cocaine)
  • rock (crack cocaine)

Who Abuses Cocaine?

Nearly two million people in the U.S. currently struggle with cocaine abuse. People aged 18-25 are most likely to abuse cocaine, and it’s estimated that 260,000 young people are currently abusing this addictive drug.

Although cocaine abuse peaked in the 1980s and 1990s, it is still a dangerous problem today. Cocaine abuse tends to be more common among white and Hispanic males.

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Cocaine abuse even affects minors, as more than 172,000 high school students report using this drug. Young people that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are more at risk for cocaine abuse.

Why Do People Abuse Cocaine?

People may abuse cocaine for a number of reasons. While some may be curious about the drug’s effects, others might feel peer pressured to try this substance.

The most common way to abuse cocaine is through insufflation or snorting the powder. When a person snorts cocaine, they experience a rush of pleasure and well-being. This is due to the way cocaine interacts with the brain’s limbic system.

The limbic system is closely linked to the reward system, which regulates pleasure and motivation. It is responsible for emotions, memories, and arousal (stimulation) in the brain.

When a person abuses cocaine, they experience a rush of dopamine. This hormone release causes a feeling of euphoria, along with a desire to repeat the experience. Dopamine releases are powerful and can cause a person to crave another dose of the drug.

Repeated exposure to cocaine changes a person’s nerve cell structure. The more a person abuses cocaine, the more difficult it may be to stop using. A person struggling with cocaine addiction may continue to abuse the drug, even if it costs them their job or personal relationships.

Health Risks Of Cocaine Abuse

Cocaine abuse can cause permanent damage to a person’s heart, lungs, and respiratory system. Snorting cocaine can also result in seizure or stroke.

Many people who struggle with cocaine abuse are not aware of the risks associated with this drug. Even one instance of abusing this stimulant can result in life-threatening medical conditions.

Cocaine abuse is linked to serious side effects, including:

  • convulsions
  • heart disease
  • heart attack
  • seizure
  • irregular heart beat
  • difficulty breathing
  • nausea
  • muscle twitches
  • damage to nasal passages
  • elevated body temperature
  • sexual dysfunction
  • death

A person’s mental health can be severely altered by cocaine, especially when the drug is in cooked form (crack cocaine). Crack cocaine abuse can cause a person to suffer permanent psychological damage.

Cocaine abuse can lead to additional mental impacts that include:

  • anxiety
  • psychosis
  • depression
  • memory loss
  • sleeping issues
  • feeling like someone is out to get you
  • auditory and tactile hallucinations (hearing and seeing things that are not there)
  • violent behavior

Signs And Symptoms Of Cocaine Overdose

Although rates of abuse have stayed relatively steady over the last ten years, cocaine overdoses are on the rise. In 2017, nearly 14,000 people died from an overdose involving cocaine.

Cocaine is associated with polydrug use, which refers to a person who uses multiple drugs at the same time. When cocaine is used with drugs like opioids or benzodiazepines, the risk of overdose spikes.

Signs of a cocaine overdose include:

  • seizure
  • extreme sweating
  • labored breathing
  • bluish skin, lips, or fingernails
  • coma, or period of unconsciousness

If you see a person exhibiting signs of a cocaine overdose, call emergency services immediately.

Cocaine Addiction, Withdrawal, And Detox

When a person abuses cocaine, the drug causes an immediate pleasurable effect in the brain. This addictive substance then results in a brief, intense high. The rewarding feelings caused by cocaine can cause a person to experience dependence, tolerance, and addiction.

People who abuse cocaine may also experience dependence, which occurs when a person needs the drug in order to feel “normal.” Dependence can result in strong physical and mental cravings.

When a person does cocaine regularly, their body builds a tolerance. Having a tolerance means that a person needs larger or more frequent doses to experience the same high.

If a cocaine-dependent person stops using the drug suddenly, they may experience acute withdrawal symptoms. As the body clears itself of traces of cocaine, a person may feel agitated and uncomfortable.

Additional symptoms of cocaine withdrawal include:

  • fatigue
  • strange dreams
  • mental focus on the drug
  • depression
  • change in appetite
  • lack of energy

Many people trying to quit cocaine find it difficult to manage withdrawal symptoms. They may end up using the drug again, even if they want to stop (called relapse).

Medical detox programs provide support during withdrawal and help people through the drug detoxification process. Detox programs also provide medication-assisted treatment to those suffering from cocaine withdrawal, in order to help prevent relapse.

Treatment For Cocaine Abuse

Only about 6 percent of people who seek treatment for drug addiction are abusing cocaine. While many may think this drug is no longer an issue in the U.S., cocaine abuse statistics argue otherwise.

Addiction rehab centers exist to help those struggling with cocaine abuse. Inpatient treatment programs provide on-site detoxification and cutting edge behavioral therapies. Outpatient programs offer 12-step support and group counseling.

To learn more about cocaine abuse statistics, or to find a rehab center near you, contact one of our treatment specialists today.

National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse - Cocaine

National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse - Overdose Death Rates

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - The Truth About Cocaine

U.S National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus - Cocaine intoxication

U.S National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health - Illicit Drug Use in the United States

U.S National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health - The limbic system

U.S National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health - The Neurobiology of Cocaine Addiction

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