Select Page


Cocaine use and cocaine addiction treatment have a long history. The leaves of the coca plant, the source of cocaine, have been used for at least a thousand years in certain regions of South America for medicinal purposes, particularly for helping individuals to tolerate high-altitude environments such as the Andes Mountains. However, about 160 years ago, cocaine was isolated from the coca leaves through chemical processes and soon became used as a panacea for a multitude of disorders, as well as for recreation. Cocaine also became a commonly used anesthetic, and, despite what many believe, it is still commonly used as a legally prescribed medical agent today. However, even during the early days of its usage, doctors and others became aware that some individuals developed intense cravings for this substance, necessitating early attempts at cocaine addiction treatment to help these individuals “kick the habit” of addictive cocaine abuse.

The Initial Appeal of Cocaine Use

Since cocaine is a stimulant, causes euphoria, and is readily available, its addictive potential is great. Due to this fact, many of those who use cocaine recreationally or casually will ultimately require cocaine addiction treatment in an inpatient or residential drug rehab. The use of lesser amounts of cocaine can increase task performance, increase endurance, improve one’s mood, and decrease fatigue. But, in larger doses, the user begins to crave more and more of the drug, and he/she becomes less productive, with a significant amount of time being spent thinking about, obtaining and using cocaine. In fact, the effects of cocaine are initially so gratifying to users that some family members even use the drug together. In such cases, sometimes family members will even simultaneously attend separate drug rehabs to end the family cycle of addiction.

old illustration of 19th century ad for cocaine toothache drops

How Cocaine Works in the Brain

The brain’s dopamine system or reward pathway is stimulated by many reinforcing stimuli, such as: food, sex, and many drugs of abuse, including cocaine. In addition to regulating rewards, this pathway also regulates emotions and motivation (a key component of addiction). Dopamine is released by a neuron into the small gap between two neurons where it binds to dopamine receptors on the neighboring neuron, carrying a signal from neuron to neuron. After this occurs, a dopamine transporter removes dopamine from the synapse to be recycled for further use. However, after cocaine use, cocaine binds to this dopamine transporter, blocking the recycling of dopamine. This causes dopamine to accumulate in the system at much higher levels, causing the euphoria commonly experienced immediately after ingesting cocaine.

How Cocaine is Ingested

Individuals requiring cocaine addiction treatment may use the drug in a variety of different ways, all of which are addictive and dangerous. Cocaine can be snorted into the nasal passages in powder form or injected in liquid form. It can also be smoked in a solid, freebase form, commonly called crack cocaine. If the high from snorting powdered cocaine isn’t powerful enough for the abuser, they may switch to smoking crack cocaine. Although the high from smoking crack cocaine is greater than that obtained by snorting this dangerous drug, the high obtained from smoking only persists for a few minutes. Thus, repetitive smoking is necessary to maintain the crack cocaine high over a period of time.

Cocaine and Other Drugs: Alcohol

Cocaine is often ingested in combination with other drugs. For many users the first of these combinations is with alcohol, as individuals consuming alcohol (with its inhibition-lowering effects) decide to consume cocaine in an effort to “keep the party going” in spite of alcohol’s depressant effects over time. Cocaine provides the energy boost to overcome alcohol’s depressant qualities so that the individual can keep drinking and partying into the early morning hours. In this way alcohol’s ability to lower one’s inhibitions makes it easier for individuals to take the first step into cocaine use while drunk even if they would not have considered it while sober. Alcohol also mitigates some of the negative effects of cocaine use such as jitteriness, making the cocaine seem more appealing than it would have otherwise.

Many celebrities over the years have died as a result of Speedball abuse, bringing publicity to this incredibly dangerous combination of cocaine and other drugs.

Cocaine and Other Drugs: The “Speedball”

If alcohol and cocaine are the typical first “cocaine cocktail” that users experiment with, the “Speedball” is a deadly example of the “end-game” of mixing cocaine and other drugs. Much like in the case of mixing alcohol and cocaine, the Speedball attempts to amplify the euphoria created by two substances while minimizing their respective negative side effects. However, with the Speedball the two substances are cocaine and heroin, making their combination even more dangerous and potentially life-threatening. The intent of the Speedball mixture is for the heroin to prevent the anxiety, restlessness and high blood pressure that is caused by cocaine use, while the cocaine prevents the depressant effect (nodding off, sleepiness) that is created by taking opiates. Unfortunately, the net effect of these two drugs together can convince the speedballer to believe that they are less intoxicated than they are, causing them to take more of each substance than they would otherwise. This can then result in heart attacks, strokes, and overdoses in alarming numbers. In addition, the recent emergence of fentanyl adulteration of heroin has led to a new and even more deadly version of the Speedball that we refer to as “Speedball Z.” [2]

When is Cocaine Addiction Treatment Necessary?

Cocaine addiction and hence the need for cocaine addiction treatment can develop insidiously or rapidly, depending on one’s life circumstances and environmental and genetic influences. Either way, it is not difficult to determine when one is habitually using cocaine. Not only are their lives unmanageable, but the unmistakable signs and symptoms of use are often readily apparent. Once these signs become apparent, cocaine addiction treatment should be considered immediately, as this drug is dangerous and potentially deadly in both the immediate and long term. Short-term health consequences such as a racing heart rate may seem minor, until it intersects with an unknown underlying heart condition that results in a potentially deadly heart attack. Many cocaine abusers have lost their lives while they or their loved ones debated whether they actually had a “serious problem” with the drug. That’s why keeping a close eye out for the symptoms of cocaine addiction can be a critical and potentially life-saving decision.

Signs & Symptoms of Cocaine Addiction

  • Powder on person’s nose or belongings and in other unlikely places
  • Nose bleeds, sniffing, runny nose and repetitive wiping of the nose
  • Paraphernalia found in person’s belongings, in the car, or around the house
  • Track marks
  • Red eyes
  • Pupillary (pupil) dilation
  • Excessive happiness, giddiness, mood swings
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom with a mood change afterwards
  • Jitteriness
  • Sweating and excessive energy
  • Fast heart rate
  • Paranoia, delusions, and frank hallucinations
  • Aggressive and loud behavior
  • Weight loss and poor appetite
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Serious financial problems unrelated to other issues

Effects of Long-Term Cocaine Use

The negative effects of long-term cocaine use are many and varied. Some have to do with the specific way that the user ingests cocaine. Users who frequently snort cocaine can experience a loss of their sense of smell, nosebleeds, problems with swallowing, hoarseness, and a chronically inflamed, runny nose. Long-term snorting of cocaine can even cause the septum between a user’s nostrils to collapse, requiring plastic surgery to repair. Addicts who smoke crack cocaine regularly can damage their lungs and greatly aggravate existing asthmatic conditions. Those who typically inject cocaine develop track marks on their skin, suffer vein collapse, and greatly increase their chances of contracting diseases such as HIV or Hepatitis C.

Whatever their method of cocaine use, addicts are also at risk for a number of other medical conditions. By reducing blood flow in the gastrointestinal tract, chronic cocaine abuse can lead to tears and ulcerations throughout the digestive system. Oftentimes, chronic cocaine users lose their appetite and experience significant weight loss and malnourishment. Cocaine also causes chest pain that feels like a heart attack, causing users to make unnecessary emergency room visits – and potentially making them ignore genuine heart attack symptoms if they later occur. In addition, long-term cocaine use is linked with increased risk of stroke, inflammation of the heart muscle, deterioration of the ability of the heart to contract, and aortic ruptures. [3]

infographic showing male anatomy and how cocaine addiction adversely affects it

Interventions Can Spur Cocaine Addiction Treatment

Despite all the above-mentioned signs and symptoms, many of those who abuse cocaine and most of those who are addicted to cocaine will continue to use the substance without an appropriate intervention. If a cocaine addict is in severe denial or is unwilling to seek help on his/her own, a substance abuse intervention is appropriate. Hopefully, a successful intervention will occur before it must be a legal intervention, such as one by the courts or a child abuse/neglect agency. The intervention can be done by almost anyone who cares about the patient, including family members and loved ones, clergy, employers and coworkers, and neighbors. However, you should always follow professional guidance when attempting an intervention. A hastily planned and poorly executed intervention can actually make it less likely that an individual will seek cocaine addiction treatment, so you want to make sure that you perform one in a way that is most likely to achieve the result you want: the cocaine abuser committing to participate in immediate cocaine addiction treatment.

Staging an Intervention

An intervention usually begins with each member of the group (typically consisting of individuals closest to the addict like friends and family) sharing the ways that the cocaine addict’s addiction has affected their lives. A child might talk about how their mother or father rarely comes to their school events like plays or parent/teacher conferences, while a friend might discuss how the addict’s behavior negatively impacts social gatherings or get-togethers among friends. After discussing the negative impact of the addiction on their lives, these individuals must share specific things that they will do differently if the addict refuses treatment. They will then strongly encourage the addict to seek treatment, making it seem like the most convenient option by “sticking to their guns” and enforcing consequences if the addict is non-committal or rejects cocaine addiction treatment entirely.

“Sticking to your guns” is often the most difficult aspect of an intervention, as it is natural for loved ones to weaken in their resolve as they see their friend or family member suffer from the consequences of rejecting treatment. However, it is a critical step to ensuring that the subject of the intervention makes the right choice for their long-term health and well-being. Sometimes, some short-term pain is necessary for an individual to make the decision to pursue a long-term path toward recovery and a happier and healthier life. [4]

How Cocaine Addiction Treatment Starts

Unlike many other drug addictions such as those to opioids or even alcohol, a long period of drug detox is usually not necessary for individuals undergoing cocaine addiction treatment. This is because cocaine addiction lacks many of the physical withdrawal symptoms that make withdrawal from opioids or alcohol so unpleasant and dangerous. Most of the negative consequences of quickly stopping chronic cocaine abuse are psychological in nature, rather than physical. This does not mean, however, that quitting chronic cocaine abuse is easy or should be attempted without professional help and supervision.

Common Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Increased hunger
  • Cravings for the drug
  • Nightmares
  • Chills, nerve pain, muscle aches


Cocaine Addiction Treatment Works

For many cocaine addicts, cocaine use has become an almost hard-wired response to any kind of stress in their lives. In drug rehab, the cocaine addict will learn how to deal with life stressors, cravings, and how to be happy and get euphoria without using cocaine. For example, social and leisure activities will be used to replace using drugs. Drug education will help them understand how cocaine has hijacked their brain’s reward system – and how they can gain control of it again. And, counseling in group and individual sessions will give them a feeling of support and enable them to probe some of the potential root causes of their addiction, including underlying and untreated mental illness.

Another important component of residential drug rehab is learning how to deal with life on life’s terms and not react to one’s circumstances by using cocaine, but rather by using adaptive coping skills. For this process to be effective, many must first deal with mental health and emotional issues. Regardless of whether a mental disorder occurred prior to chronic cocaine abuse or after, dealing with mental health issues at the same time as substance abuse issues is critical for the success of both efforts. Fortunately, facilities such as Behavioral Wellness and Recovery are staffed with professionals who have expertise in all of these areas, enabling you to have the best chance of success in your cocaine addiction treatment.

Don’t Wait Another Day for Help

If you or a loved one is in need of cocaine addiction treatment, delay is not an option. Each day you wait will only make the problem worse and risk serious and potentially permanent harm. Call BWR’s experienced staff today at 800-683-4457 to get the help you need!


Behavioral Wellness & Recovery is a Joint Commission accredited program. The Joint Commission recognizes excellence in health care organizations and programs.


Behavioral Wellness & Recovery is a Joint Commission accredited program. The Joint Commission recognizes excellence in health care organizations and programs.

Your decision to regain your life helps and heals your entire family. Do it for them. Do it for you.


1301 Wrights Lane East, Ste. 103
West Chester, PA 19380
Serving Philadelphia, PA, Lancaster, PA and Wilmington, DE