Cocaine Addiction

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Many people think of cocaine as a remnant of the 1980s. However, the drug remains a serious problem in the U.S. According to a 2019 survey conducted by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, around 671,000 people age 12 and older tried cocaine for the first time that year.¹ That’s despite years of drug education efforts and depictions in popular media of the devastation it causes.

If you find yourself caught up in a vicious cycle of cocaine abuse, it is possible to find a path to recovery with the right treatment program. Northbound Treatment Services provides a variety of services designed to help people through their struggles with addiction.

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What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a drug classified as a stimulant. It gets extracted from the Erythroxylon coca Lam, a coca plant species cultivated in South America in the Andean region.² Various groups living in that area chewed the plant’s leaves to alleviate hunger pains and enjoy a mild stimulant effect.

Scientists figured out how to extract cocaine from coca plant leaves in the 1850s. At the time, it was thought of as a wonder drug and incorporated into various medicines and health tonics, even Coca-Cola. Cocaine remained legal in the U.S. until 1914, where it was finally outlawed by the U.S. government when they passed the Harrison Narcotics Act. 

Cocaine is currently classified as a Schedule II substance, meaning the federal government still views it as a vehicle for misuse and dependency. The drug can be prescribed for restricted medical use as an anesthetic. Restrictions put on by the government haven’t stopped the pervasiveness of cocaine abuse in the U.S.

Over 85 million people aged 12 years and older admitted to using cocaine at least once per week in 2019.¹ The numbers were similar among younger people between the ages of 12 and 17, with over 78 million taking cocaine with the same frequency.  

How Do People Abuse Cocaine?

There are many different street names used when referencing cocaine, including:

  • Blow
  • Coke
  • Flake
  • Nose candy
  • Powder
  • White dust

Stimulants like cocaine speed up the functions of different body systems.³ There are three types of cocaine commonly sold on the street and consumed by individuals. One form resembles a white crystallized powder of a fine consistency. When you buy cocaine from a dealer, they have likely mixed it with other substances like hydrochloride to stretch the supply and make more profits.

Another form of cocaine gets dissolved and directly injected into a vein. Some people mix in heroin to create an injectable combination called a Speedball. Crack cocaine is a form of cocaine processed into a rock crystal. Crack cocaine gets its name from the “crackling” sound it makes when it is heated. People usually snort, swallow, or inject powdered cocaine, while crack cocaine gets smoked. Crack cocaine also provides a shorter high compared to powdered cocaine.⁴ ⁵

There has been controversy around the sentencing disparity for people convicted of possessing or selling crack cocaine versus the powdered form. There is not much difference between the two on a chemical level. Despite the similarity, having five grams of crack in their possession could cause a person to end up with a five-year minimum sentence. In comparison, you would need to be convicted of possessing 500 grams of cocaine to receive a similar sentence.

Even with changes made to sentencing guidelines, people convicted of crack cocaine possession are still more likely to receive harsher sentences.⁵ People of color tend to receive higher penalties since they are more likely to end up convicted of offenses related to crack cocaine.

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Can You Become Addicted to Cocaine?

Using cocaine causes an increase in dopamine production, which affects circuits in the brain that control the brain’s reward and movement responses.⁴ The neurotransmitter usually gets recycled by the nerve cell responsible for releasing it, which cuts off that signal to other nerve cells. Cocaine stops the recycling of dopamine, causing it to build up between two nerve cells.  

When the dopamine doesn’t get recycled, it starts building up between nerve cells and interfering with regular communication. That leads to dopamine flooding the brain’s reward circuits. The sensation leads to feelings of intense pleasure, which causes people to continue abusing cocaine to repeat the highs.

Continued cocaine use causes the body to build up a tolerance to the excessive dopamine over time. When the brain stops providing a reward, people start taking larger and more frequent doses to replicate the original sensation.

Cocaine produces various short-term effects, including:

  • Feelings of extreme happiness
  • Lots of energy
  • Heightened mental alertness
  • Becoming sensitive to visual stimuli, sounds, and touch
  • Increased irritability
  • Paranoia

Taking cocaine can also cause other physical side effects in the body like:⁶

  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased heart rate
  • Heightened blood pressure

The effects of cocaine typically wear off within an hour. The intensity of the high varies depending on how a person took the drug. People tend to feel high more quickly when they smoke or inject cocaine. However, the high doesn’t last as long as it does when snorted.

People typically do not become addicted to cocaine after using it once. It often takes prolonged use for that to happen. People who use cocaine are more likely to use other illegal substances to enhance the drug-taking experience. Those other drugs can be what drives people to develop an addiction.⁷

How Dangerous is a Cocaine Addiction?

People tend to quickly develop a tolerance to cocaine. Once an addiction forms, you are prone to taking larger amounts of cocaine at more frequent intervals. You may find yourself feeling physically and mentally exhausted. A dependency on cocaine can lead to long-term health consequences like:⁶

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Loss of appetite
  • Ischemic heart conditions
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Convulsions
  • Stroke
  • Death

Chronic cocaine snorting can cause erosion in your upper nasal cavity. People who inhale cocaine repeatedly can develop a respiratory syndrome. Taking cocaine while pregnant can slow fetal growth but does not impact a child’s long-term development.⁸

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How Can I Treat My Cocaine Addiction?

Treating an addiction to any substance can be a long and complicated process. Many people are unwilling to ask for help because they fear the judgment that comes with being labeled an addict. Northbound Treatment Services emphasizes that addiction is a disease, not a sign of character weakness. Treating the illness requires the same care and compassion you would give someone diagnosed with a disease like cancer.

You may find yourself feeling withdrawal symptoms once you decide to stop your cocaine abuse. Signs that you might be going through cocaine withdrawal include:

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Feelings of sadness or depression
  • Lethargy
  • Erratic sleep patterns
  • Anxiety
  • Constant craving for cocaine

Cocaine withdrawal may set in within a few hours after your last dose. One way of managing the symptoms is by admitting yourself to a drug detox program. There, medical professionals can provide you with 24-7 care while the cocaine works its way out of your system.

Once you are in a clearer state of mind, you can start thinking of long-term options for treating your cocaine addiction. Many people decide to participate in a residential treatment program. That involves living at a facility for an extended period and adhering to a structured schedule that includes regular daily therapy sessions like:

People whose schedule or lifestyle may not fit into a residential treatment program may benefit from Northbound’s intensive outpatient program. You get the chance to participate in the same therapeutic services while still having the ability to go to school, attend work, or take care of family obligations.

The curriculum laid out in all of Northbound’s treatment programs is based on our proprietary Vivo model. We understand that life can’t be lived in a bubble. Clients receive education on the skills required to function without cocaine once they are back in the real world. They learn how to navigate difficult situations without relapsing.

What Happens After I Receive Treatment?

Northbound’s support for clients continues once they are fully immersed in their newly sober lives. We believe that the period after completing a residential or outpatient treatment program is one of the most critical times for a person new to recovery.

Our addiction support services teach clients about different relapse prevention techniques to maintain a long-lasting recovery. Northbound connects its graduates to other recovery resources they can turn to when they face challenges. They can also continue attending therapy services to explore the issues that played a part in their cocaine abuse.

Many of our counselors have gone through the same experiences as our clients. That helps create a bond of solidarity and understanding that can prove critical when things get difficult. Northbound wants to make sure that its clients have someone to turn to when they feel lonely or unmoored in their new life.

One phone call can start you on the road to overcoming your cocaine addiction. Call Northbound at (888) 978-8649 if you’re ready to take that first step toward a life of sobriety.


¹Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) (2019). Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Graphics from the Key Findings Report.

²Drug Policy Alliance. What is cocaine?

³United States Drug Enforcement Administration (2020). Stimulants.

⁴National Institute on Drug Abuse. What is cocaine?

⁵Drug Policy Alliance. What is the difference between cocaine and crack?

⁶Department of Justice/Drug Enforcement Administration (2020). Cocaine.

⁷Drug Policy Alliance. Can you become addicted to cocaine after using it once?

⁸Drug Policy Alliance. Does crack use during pregnancy cause “crack babies”?





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