Cocaine Addiction and Abuse

Modified: 22nd Jul 2019

Cocaine is a white, powdery substance, commonly known for its stimulating effects. While many associate cocaine addiction and abuse with economic privilege due to its high price tag, cocaine’s habit-forming properties and harmful side effects make it one of the more dangerous street drugs in common use.

Reasons for using may include the ability to temporarily overcome social anxiety, or the need to maintain energy during long nights of partying. Some use cocaine for both its energy-boosting qualities and the belief that it enhances their performance, which results in cocaine addiction when they associate cocaine use with the ability to accomplish difficult tasks or overwhelming workloads. As physical dependency develops, so does the feeling that one cannot achieve successful outcomes without relying on cocaine to give them a boost.

Cocaine Effects and Abuse

As with most addictive substances, those who become dependent on cocaine are generally drawn to the effects of using. Such effects include increased energy and a strong sense of alertness. Many also feel more confident when using cocaine, and will approach activities with greater excitement. Those who use in social settings will become more talkative and outgoing.

Like many street drugs, cocaine can be abused in multiple ways. Most commonly snorted, it can also be smoked or injected. Those who become addicted to cocaine will often prefer one route of administration to others, to the point that many become as addicted to the act of taking the drug as they do to the drug itself.

The route of administration may also impact the frequency of use. Snorting is a fast-acting yet short-lived route of administration, which means that users may need to do several lines per night in order to keep up their energy. Smoking, or freebasing, lasts an even shorter amount of time yet is also more intense. The same can be said of intravenous injection, which is particularly intense although also incredibly dangerous. Those who wish for a stronger high or who only seek to be high for a short period may freebase or inject. Others will cut lines and snort them regularly throughout the night.

Cocaine Abuse Statistics

Rates of cocaine addiction appear to have declined somewhat in recent years, although not by much. While approximately 913,000 Americans aged 12 or older suffered from cocaine use disorder in 2014, the National Survey on Drug Use and Healthindicates that this number dropped to about 867,000 in 2016. Rates of general cocaine abuse were much higher, with 1.9 million users. Whether addicted or not, any misuse of cocaine can become dangerous. According to research reports, cocaine was responsible for approximately 40% of drug-related emergency department visits in 2011 and more than 5,000 overdose deaths in 2014. The majority of at-risk users are aged between 18 and 25, and many may be prone to mixing cocaine with other drugs.

Common Cocaine Drug Combinations

Mixing cocaine with other mind-altering substances may increase the risk of overdose. Unfortunately, the practice is not uncommon. In fact, well over half of those who receive emergency medical services as a result of cocaine addiction are found to have other drugs in their system at the time of complication. Some of those who require medical care are first-time users who were simply unaware of the dangers involved when mixing cocaine with other drugs.

Typically, overdoses by first-time users occur when mixing cocaine and alcohol. This is especially common when using in the context of social gatherings such as clubs and college parties. Mixing a stimulant with a depressant can lead to irregular heart rhythm and other symptoms associated with cocaine overdose. The other primary drug combination is cocaine and heroin. Known as “speedballing,” this practice is incredibly dangerous. It not only greatly increases the risk of overdose, but also the risk of developing cross-addictions to multiple substances.

Article Reviewed by Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPA

Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPADr. Keerthy Sunder, MD is an accomplished and internationally recognized expert in the field of addiction. He has earned diplomates from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the American Board of Addiction Medicine, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.