Cocaine Addiction Treatment


Cocaine is a short-acting, addictive stimulant made from leaves of the coca plant, which is native to South America. While the drug is available in several forms, the most common is a white powder that a person either snorts or injects to get high.

If a person suffers from cocaine addiction, they can face many serious and potentially deadly health complications. Keep reading to learn more about cocaine addiction in the United States and how doctors treat it.

Other Names for Cocaine

People may call cocaine different names on the street. Examples of these names include:1






Cocaine Use and Abuse

Cocaine sold as a powder may be snorted or rubbed on the gums. The body absorbs it, and a high is achieved. Other people may purchase cocaine as a rock crystal. They use this by heating the rock crystal and breathing the smoke, which causes a high.

Cocaine works primarily by causing a flood of dopamine to the brain.2 Dopamine is a chemical known to trigger certain effects in the brain, including feelings of increased alertness and euphoria. In addition to the “high” of cocaine, it also triggers a sense of compulsion to use the drug again, causing addiction on a cellular level in those who abuse it.

Doctors have studied for years why some people use cocaine and become addicted while others use it and don’t have the same cravings. One of the main risk factors is if a person has a family history of drug or alcohol addiction.

Acute Effects

In addition to the euphoria a person achieves when they use cocaine, they may experience other effects to varying degrees. Examples of these include:



Sensitivity to Light and Sound


Reduced Appetite

Sensitive to Touch

Because cocaine is a short-acting drug, these effects may go away quickly until a person tries to get their next fix.

Health Risks

Cocaine abuse can be dangerous on many levels. A person can use cocaine only once and overdose and die because it can cause changes to the heart, such as constricting blood vessels that restrict blood flow or causing strange heart rhythms that lead to sudden cardiac death. These effects can occur in a young person as well as a person with a history of heart problems.

Other risks due to cocaine abuse include:

  • Affected sense of smell
  • Bowel decay
  • Collapse of the nasal passages
  • Convulsions
  • Headaches
  • Lung damage
  • Mood changes and mood disorders
  • Seizures
  • Stroke

If a person injects cocaine, they are also at risk of side effects from IV drug use. These include greater risks for HIV or hepatitis as well as a severe heart infection called endocarditis.

Being addicted to any substance also causes other risks to a person’s overall well-being. A person who is addicted is focused on their next high. They may start to neglect their responsibilities to family and friends as well as work or school. They lose their ability to enjoy the activities they once loved. Addiction overtakes their entire life.


Cocaine exists in the body for a short time, usually about 90 minutes.3 As a result, a person can start to experience withdrawal symptoms from it quickly. If a person uses cocaine frequently and stops using it, they usually experience withdrawals in three phases. These include:

First Phase

The first phase is known as the “crash” phase. Withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, feeling extremely fatigued and exhausted, and increased appetite. A person in this phase will also often have strong cravings for a drug.

Second Phase

During the second phase, a person may experience symptoms such as poor concentration, irritability, and feeling as if they are in a constant fog. This phase usually lasts about one to 10 weeks. 

Third Phase

During the third phase, a person’s cravings are usually intermittent and not as constant. A person who struggled with cocaine abuse will usually always be in some cycle of the third addiction phase. The most acute phase lasts about 28 weeks.

Unfortunately, many people who struggle with cocaine addiction are also addicted to other substances. For example, many people are addicted to both cocaine and alcohol. Being addicted to more than one substance can complicate a person’s withdrawal experience and require harder treatments.


According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), an estimated 6 percent of all treatment admissions to drug rehabilitation programs are due to cocaine abuse.4 An estimated 68 percent of these individuals smoke crack or are addicted to more than one substance.

Individuals in Treatment for Cocaine that are also Addicted to Other Substances

While cocaine addiction treatments may vary based on a person’s unique health history and treatment goals, there are some common approaches that researchers have found to help a person successfully treat their addiction.

Most of the therapies that are successful and most studied for cocaine addiction involve behavioral interventions. These include methods like counseling and support groups.

Contingency Management

According to NIDA, one of the methods that has proven particularly successful in treating cocaine addiction is contingency management. This approach involves using a prize- or motivation-based system to encourage a person to maintain their sobriety. For example, in return for a drug-free urine test, a person may receive movie tickets or gift cards to local restaurants. Researchers have found this approach has helped many abusers stay in treatment and maintain their drug abstinence.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Another approach to treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. This approach involves helping a person recognize the thoughts and behaviors that led to their addiction as well as the thoughts and behaviors that can keep them drug-free.

Sober Homes

Sometimes, after a person has completed a drug rehabilitation program, they may benefit from living in a therapeutic community. These are residences where a person lives for a half- to whole-year with others who have struggled with addiction to cocaine and other substances and are dedicated to their sobriety.

Support Groups

When a person struggles with addiction, they must continually engage in maintaining their sobriety. Participating in groups like Cocaine Anonymous can also help a person stay sober long-term. These meetings help a person find community support.


Currently, the FDA hasn’t approved any medications to treat cocaine addiction successfully. Researchers are conducting trials on potential drugs that affect the neurotransmitters it is known to stimulate, particularly dopamine. These even include research into a vaccine that helps to reduce a person’s cravings for cocaine. However, they haven’t found any medicines to be particularly effective in helping a person overcome their addiction.

Misconceptions about Cocaine

People Don’t Abuse Cocaine as Much Anymore

Cocaine reached significant popularity in the 1980s. Governmental crackdowns and more information about its health risks made the drug less-abused. However, an estimated 1.5 million people in the United States abused cocaine in the last month, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.5 The most significant group of cocaine users is those ages 18 to 25 years old. An estimated 1.4 percent of young people in this age group have used cocaine in the past month.

Cocaine Isn’t’ Addictive

This may be because cocaine is so short-acting that people don’t believe it remains in the system long enough to cause problems. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 913,000 Americans were dependent or addicted to cocaine in the United States in 2014. Cocaine use or misuse was also responsible for 505,225 visits of the 1.3 million visits to the emergency department for drug-related problems. These statistics show that addiction to cocaine is not only real but that it is also dangerous.

Stay Sober and Get Your Life Back

Cocaine addiction represents a significant health risk to a person, both in the immediate time after they use it and if they use it long-term. Also, drug dealers are using methods to try to increase the volume of cocaine they sell. This includes practices such as adding “fillers” like cornstarch or other powders to it. Some people also may add other drugs to increase the high, such as fentanyl. This means a person truly doesn’t know what they are getting when they purchase cocaine, and the results can be deadly.

If you or someone you love is addicted to cocaine, it’s important to seek treatment. A doctor can help the person understand their withdrawal symptoms and use research-based practices to help a person achieve sobriety and stay drug-free. Doing so can truly give a person their life back from the hold cocaine has over them.