In this guide, we will be helping you identify cocaine addiction symptoms, whether you’re using cocaine or know someone who is, it’s important you have all of the facts before talking to them about it, or getting help yourself.
Addiction can feel extremely lonely so, if while reading this page you begin to recognise any cocaine addiction symptoms in yourself or someone you know, it’s important to keep in mind you’re not alone and, with the right support, you can free yourself from this destructive cycle.
When describing the symptoms of cocaine addiction you wouldn’t be alone in assuming these are purely physical. However, most signs and symptoms of cocaine addiction manifest behaviourally or psychologically first.
Behavioural changes in people addicted to cocaine
The difference between someone addicted to cocaine and a recreational cocaine user is their inability to put down the drug after a period of use. In someone with a cocaine addiction, the need to find and use cocaine has an increasing influence on your day-to-day life. This overwhelming desire will almost certainly lead to changes in your usual behaviour, and it’s often those closest to you who pick up on this before you’ve become aware of it yourself.
The obsession to use cocaine hits you the moment you open your eyes in the morning – if you’ve managed to sleep at all – and doesn’t subside until you get your fix. You’re soon experiencing overwhelming feelings of guilt, shame and self-loathing because you told yourself that you would stop after the last time. You can’t cope with these emotions and you’re desperate to be relieved of them. You escape from them the only way you know how. The obsession to use consumes you all over again and the cycle continues.
It’s difficult to make plans because everything depends on whether or not you’re able to score. If you have made plans you may rarely show up, choosing instead to lock yourself away so you can use without being disturbed.
The symptoms below often indicate cocaine addiction rather than recreational use:
- You notice you’re starting to lie more to cover your tracks in some way, in order to hide your cocaine use,
- Cancelling plans because you’re out scoring or have failed to score and can’t face socialising without cocaine,
- Ongoing feelings of aggression and agitation,
- Stealing, or borrowing from others in order to fund your addiction,
- Engaging in reckless activities,
- Isolating from friends and family.
Psychological changes in people addicted to cocaine
When you use cocaine, you are flooding your brain cells with the naturally occurring chemical, dopamine. This is what creates the euphoric feeling you get from your first hit. However, since the excess dopamine has nowhere to go, it blocks your brain cells from communicating, and after prolonged use, you’ll need larger amounts of cocaine to produce that initial high.
As a result of this, you may start experiencing:
Physical changes in people addicted to cocaine
Physical symptoms are often noticed last, as they are usually a result of ongoing use and serious addiction. The most common physical signs include:
- Dramatic weight loss
- Excessive sweating
- Respiratory issues if smoking
- Damage to the nose if snorting
- Poor oral hygiene
Above all, you’re probably feeling exhausted – because addiction is exhausting. You’re likely to be tired of trying to keep on top of all the lies you’ve told. Tired of always running from people you owe money to. Tired of being in a constant state of anxiety and paranoia, and tired because you’re barely able to sleep.
How to spot and approach someone suffering from cocaine addiction
Watching someone going through addiction is difficult and, if you’re concerned about a loved one, spotting these signs early on can be crucial in helping them. You must remember that cocaine addiction symptoms will vary from person to person so, even if you’ve noticed characteristics which aren’t included in these lists, it’s still worth pursuing if something doesn’t feel right.
Please remember if approaching someone about the subject – addiction is often a coping mechanism used to deal with some form of physical or psychological pain so, while someone’s behaviour may have been extremely hurtful, it’s important to avoid being judgmental and putting blame on them. You’re more likely to get a better response if you’re as sympathetic as possible.
Early warning signs of cocaine addiction
Addiction is unfamiliar territory for many people, so trying to understand addiction and recognise it in someone else isn’t always easy. A few of the more obvious cocaine addiction symptoms to look for include:
- Poor timekeeping – As time goes on you may notice someone using is always late if they turn up at all. This is often because they are waiting on a dealer, or have recently used and are in no fit state to attend – their use of cocaine is impacting their daily life.
- Excessive perspiration – Cocaine increases the body’s metabolism, thus raising its temperature. If you notice they always seem to be sweating with no obvious reason, it’s likely they may be abusing cocaine.
- Pupil dilation – While this can be an indicator for general cocaine use if you notice someone’s pupils are constantly dilated, this may point to regular cocaine use.
- Mood swings – As gradual changes to the brain occur, you might notice more frequent and sudden mood changes.
- Bursts of hyperactivity followed by episodes of depression – The initial cocaine high produces extreme hyperactivity in people. However, those who have already built up a tolerance will only experience a brief high, followed by long bouts of depression. This is also referred to as ‘coming down’.
- Isolation – Addiction causes people to disconnect from those around them. They prefer to stay away from others in order to use cocaine undisturbed.
Short-term effects of cocaine addiction
The symptoms of cocaine addiction become more noticeable when the person has been using for a long period of time. However, there are more immediate symptoms that could imply that your loved one is suffering with addiction rather than engaging in occasional use. These can include:
- Reckless and sometimes violent behaviour
- Hallucinations, that create the illusion of bugs crawling under the skin
- Convulsions and seizures
- Anxiety and paranoia
- Panic and psychosis
Long-term effects of cocaine addiction
For someone who is unfamiliar with the effects of addiction, it can often take a certain period of time for them to realise there is a problem, with long-term effects causing more obvious physical deterioration such as:
- Damage of tissues in the nose if sniffed
- Infectious diseases
- Malnutrition/Severe tooth decay
- Weight loss due to lack of appetite
- Damage to blood vessels of heart and brain
- High blood pressure, leading to heart attacks, strokes, and sometimes death
- Damage to vital organs such as the kidney, liver and heart
When does drug abuse become an addiction?
Earlier in this article, we mentioned isolation. If you’re using cocaine recreationally, you would often do so in a social setting, i.e. raves, bars, and clubs, but you’ll find this isn’t the case when it comes to addiction.
Like many others, your habit may well have started off that way, but soon you found yourself buying cocaine on more than one occasion during the weekend, and then several times on weekdays. You may have found yourself sneaking off to the toilets to use in private so none of your friends would notice.
You begin to build up a tolerance to cocaine the longer you abuse it. This means you require more in order to achieve the same high you felt when you first started using. Tolerance eventually leads to dependence, both physical and mental, and at this stage, you are unable to stop using. This is when cocaine abuse becomes an addiction.
What causes cocaine addiction?
Addiction is complex and it can’t be blamed on one single cause. There have been many studies surrounding the causes of cocaine addiction, and while there is no definitive answer, there is some evidence to suggest that genetics, peer groups, trauma and environment can all contribute to someone becoming an addict.
The dangers of cocaine abuse
You may have already experienced the damage that cocaine addiction can cause physically, psychologically and financially. However, as your mental health deteriorates, so will your relationships with those around you. When engaging in reckless behaviour, we often forget about the impact it has on those closest to us. While the physical addiction directly affects you, the damage spreads far beyond yourself. Addiction is a lonely place, so having support around you is necessary.
When is it time to seek help for cocaine addiction?
People often talk about ‘rock bottom’ when discussing addiction. The fact is, rock bottom means different things to different people. For some, it’s losing family members, while for others it might be financial ruin. There is a chance you’ve not yet experienced any of these things because you believe you’re still in control of your using, and it’s for this reason that many high-functioning users tend to ignore the signs and avoid asking for help.
So, although you might be fortunate enough to have held down a job and maintained a social life, it’s important to remember that addiction is a progressive disease, meaning that it will always get worse if left untreated. To put this into perspective, if you were to be diagnosed with any other chronic disease such as cancer or diabetes, you would get help immediately to prevent your condition from deteriorating.
Addiction is no different and should be addressed as early as possible to avoid irreversible damage.
How to get help for cocaine addiction
When it comes to getting help for addiction it’s often difficult to know where to begin. Although you’ve reached breaking point and feel you can no longer continue living in this way, the thought of reaching out and asking for help can also feel scary and overwhelming. But, by searching for answers like this page, you’ve already taken the first steps in the right direction. Keep making those positive steps.
There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to treating cocaine addiction, and there are various options available to you, whether you choose to join your local drug and alcohol service or you decide to go for residential rehab. Ultimately, you need to choose which route to recovery is best for you, and you should only seek help when you’re ready to take it.
Similarly, you can’t force a loved one into treatment if they’re not ready. Watching someone struggling with addiction is truly heartbreaking but, unless they have a desire to make changes themselves, forcing them to get help won’t necessarily speed up the process. Instead, look for times when they might be more receptive to your suggestions – e.g. after a particularly bad comedown or a period of destructive behaviour.
Some of the most commonly used forms of help include:
Speaking to your GP
You might not associate GPs with the treatment of drug abuse but, while there are addiction treatment services your GP simply can’t provide, they are able to refer you to professionals who can help, such as addiction treatment centres, counsellors and community resources.
Staging an Intervention
If your loved one is suffering from addiction, then staging an intervention might motivate them into seeking help. Joining forces with others can also make it seem less daunting for you and means you won’t have to take this on alone. There are many addiction support charities and organisations that offer help and support to families of people suffering with addictions.
Attending support groups
Being able to talk to people who have experienced addiction themselves is incredibly powerful. Local support groups such as Cocaine Anonymous and Smart Recovery can play a big part in helping you stay clean and sober. Keeping connected with others in the recovery community can help with feelings of loneliness, which is often a trigger for drug use.
Addiction is more than a physical dependence on drugs or alcohol. Even after detox, when your body is no longer dependent, there is still a risk of relapse. Certain psychological and social factors can be powerful triggers, and seeing a counsellor can help you learn how to deal with these situations.
Residential rehab is considered to be very effective when it comes to treating addiction because you’re completely removed from your environment and access to cocaine. You’re given 24-hour care and a range of therapies and tools to help you maintain your sobriety.
Real-life stories of cocaine addiction and recovery
The first time I started to worry I was addicted was more a combination of moments because I thought I was addicted to crack cocaine which I figured out pretty fast because it destroys a lot fast. It took me some time to realize that I am also addicted to alcohol because it is so normal for people to drink. The moment I figured that I am also addicted to alcohol came because I realized it also ended in a bad night with drugs, but the alcohol was always the initiator. The moment I accepted that I am also an alcoholic gave me more peace of mind.
At some point when I was rock bottom my mom pointed out that there was this clinic in Scotland (Castle Craig) and that they could maybe help me. To be honest I was very sceptical of going in the beginning because I could not think of something they could do to help me. Luckily I made an appointment for admission in Amsterdam and after two appointments I was advised to go to Castle Craig for 18 weeks. It was pretty scary and very weird to hear this but I am very happy and thankful I went because it gave me my life back and every day I am very thankful and grateful for that.
Page last reviewed and medically fact-checked | September 10, 2021