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The Relationship Between Cocaine Use And Violence

Dr. Alan Weiner MD

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Alan Weiner, MD

February 18, 2019

Cocaine is a highly addictive substance that has strong connections to risky behavior and violence. Seeking treatment for cocaine use can help individuals who have experienced violence receive the help they need to overcome their substance abuse.

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant that can have a significant impact on perception, feelings, and behavior. Some effects of cocaine and cocaine withdrawal, such as increased agitation and anxiety, can lead to acting out in aggressive or violent ways.

Drug addiction can also put a person in situations where they may be more vulnerable to becoming victims of violence. Similarly, people with a history of childhood violence, abuse, or neglect may be more likely to abuse illicit drugs like cocaine later on in life.

How Can Cocaine Use Lead To Violence?

Cocaine affects both the central nervous system and the brain, which can cause changes in mood and perception. These changes can make a person feel stronger, more confident, and more likely to engage in risky behaviors.

These effects on mood and behavior can make a person more prone to harmful situations. This includes situations of violence, such as criminal activities or abuse.

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Effects Of Cocaine On The Brain

Cocaine is known to have effects on certain chemicals in the brain, which can stimulate both feelings of pleasure and rage.

Cocaine’s effects on brain chemicals like serotonin and norepinephrine can cause feelings of paranoia, aggression, and impair judgment. Taking large doses of cocaine even further increases the likelihood of erratic behavior, which can include violent outbursts.

In addition, once the effects of the drug have worn off, some may also feel more agitated and have strong drug cravings. This state of high anxiety and agitation may lead a person to act in violent ways.

Cocaine And Psychiatric Symptoms

Cocaine has been known to both produce symptoms seen in psychiatric disorders, and worsen symptoms in those with co-occurring mental disorders.

These include symptoms that can range from restlessness and anxiety, to hallucinations and psychosis. When a person experiences more severe or intense symptoms, they may behave in ways they normally would not. One study, for instance, found that more than half of its respondents with cocaine-induced psychiatric symptoms also reported engaging in violent behaviors.

Cocaine Abuse And Domestic Violence

Much of the violence linked with illicit drug use occurs within a home environment. Those dependent on drugs like cocaine may often lash out at those closest to them, including children, siblings, roommates, and intimate partners.

Drug-related violence can look different from household to household. The different forms of domestic violence that can occur with cocaine use include:

  • child neglect and maltreatment
  • physical violence
  • emotional and verbal abuse
  • physical threats
  • destruction of property
  • sexual violence

As seen above, not all drug-related violence may be physical. In some cases, experiences of violence may be more harmful on an emotional or psychological level — e.g. when a parent who is cocaine-dependent is unable to take adequate care of their child.

Cocaine use also has a strong association with domestic abuse against intimate partners. Cocaine use can both cause violent behavior, and put those who use the drug at higher risk of experiencing violence from a partner.

Having a history of abuse or witnessing violence can also be a risk factor for hard drug use later in life.

Cocaine And Sexual Violence

Cocaine, and other drugs such as marijuana and GHB, are often involved in situations of drug-fueled sexual assault and violence. This includes instances of sexual harassment, sex trafficking, and unwanted sexual attention.

Research also shows that individuals, and women in particular, with a history of sexual abuse or assault may be at higher risk for using drugs like crack cocaine. One explanation is that cocaine may be used as a means of coping with past trauma. Some short-term effects of cocaine, such as euphoria, may be used as a release or escape from memories of abuse.

Consequences Of Cocaine-Related Violence

Violence that occurs as a result of cocaine use can be traumatic and have lasting effects. These effects can include negative results on someone’s physical and emotional wellbeing, and those involving the criminal justice system.

Effects On Children

Children who grow up around parents or others in a household that use illicit drugs often report harmful and lasting effects on their wellbeing later in life.

Children of drug-dependent parents may be more likely to experience neglect or maltreatment, which can put them at higher risk for mental health problems like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Childhood violence can also increase the risk for cocaine use later in life. One study found that people who had experienced physical or sexual abuse in childhood or neglect were 1.5 times more likely to use illicit drugs in adulthood.

Legal Trouble

Violence linked to cocaine use can also lead to consequences with the criminal justice system.

Recreational use of cocaine itself is illegal in the United States and considered by the Bureau of Justice to be a drug-defined offense. However, this is not the only offense recognized by the legal system that has been linked to cocaine.

Cocaine can cause effects on behavior often linked to violent crimes, including reduced inhibition, erratic behavior, and aggression. Some research has found that as many as 95 percent of the crimes committed by those who use cocaine are violent.

Those addicted to cocaine may also steal in order to fund their drug use, or encounter violent situations with drug dealers.

Cocaine Abuse And Suicide

Suicide is another form of violence linked to cocaine dependence. One study examining suicides within a one-year period in New York found that between 18 and 22 percent involved recent cocaine use.

One potential reason to explain this association is cocaine’s ability to cause feelings of depression. While those who use cocaine may often experience a ‘high’, depression is also commonly found in those who abuse the drug.

The experience of addiction itself can also have a devastating impact on a person’s mental wellbeing. Substance abuse can have a severe impact on all areas of a person’s life, including their personal relationships and the ability to work. Addiction can cause individuals to feel out of control and stuck in a destructive cycle of drug use.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among those with substance abuse disorders (SUD), and those with co-occurring mental illness are at even greater risk.

The most effective way for individuals struggling with cocaine use and suicidal behavior to get the help they need is to seek professional treatment.

Getting Help For Cocaine Abuse And Addiction

Cocaine use disorder is a serious illness associated with violent behavior, including violence towards one’s self. Those who are cocaine-dependent may first need to enter inpatient detox to withdraw from the drug within a safe environment.

Treatment within a residential rehab program may also be needed following detox to address the emotional and psychological aspects of drug addiction. Within this safe and structured setting, patients may receive certain behavioral therapies shown to be effective for treating cocaine use.

If you are struggling with cocaine addiction, you deserve the treatment that can help you overcome your problem and pursue a more balanced and fulfilling future.

To learn more about treatment options for cocaine addiction, contact one of our specialists today.

World Health Organization - Interpersonal Violence and Illicit Drug Use

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Cocaine

The American Journal of Psychiatry - Characteristics of Cocaine-Dependent Patients Who Commit Suicide

U.S. Department of Justice: Bureau of Justice Statistics - Drug-Related Crime

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