Cocaine abuse



What is cocaine abuse?

Cocaine is a type of drug that functions to increase the availability of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is associated with the generation of ‘euphoric’ emotions, the regulation of movement, and the processing of reward cues. However, it is also associated with a considerable potential for dependence and abuse. Cocaine abuse is related to an increased risk of:

  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Disease
  • Death

Cocaine is attractive as a recreational substance due to the perceived positive effects on mood, motivation, and energy. Someone abusing cocaine may smoke, snort, or take it intravenously (via injection).

How common is cocaine abuse?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of cocaine abuse?

The common symptoms of cocaine abuse are:

  • Excitability
  • Dilated pupils
  • Runny nose
  • Weight loss
  • Mood swings
  • Social isolation
  • Risky behaviors
  • Nosebleeds
  • Boost in confidence
  • Talkative habits
  • Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • White powder residue around the nose and mouth
  • Burn marks on the hands and lips
  • Deterioration in hygiene habits
  • Financial difficulties
  • Loss of interest in things that once brought joy
  • Increased need for privacy
  • Spoons, razor blades, plastic baggies and other drug paraphernalia in the person’s room or clothing pockets

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes cocaine abuse?

It is generally accepted there is no single cause responsible for any type of substance abuse.  Instead it is believed to be caused by an interaction of genetic and environmental factors.

  • Genetic: It has long been known that cocaine abuse runs in families. Individuals who have a first degree relative with this substance use disorder are at a higher risk for developing the disorder than others.
  • Brain Chemicals: There is some evidence that repeated exposure to cocaine causes changes in certain genes that lead to altered levels of a certain brain chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is associated with the rush that is experienced when an individual takes cocaine. This rush is what is largely responsible for the addiction process.
  • Brain Structures:  Certain structures and areas of the brain such as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex have been linked specifically to drug cravings including cocaine cravings. In individuals with cocaine abuse disorders these areas have been shown to display various differences compared to the same brain areas in individuals who aren’t abusing substances.
  • Effects of the Pleasure Centers of the Brain: Cocaine has been shown to have negative effects on the brain’s pleasure center by leading it to stop responding to naturally occurring pleasure related stimuli.  Thus, it begins to change until it will only respond to the presence of cocaine. In the drugs absence the individual will no longer be able to experience pleasure and will feel extremely depressed sometimes to the point of becoming suicidal. Thus, the individual continues taking the drug to avoid that negative mood state.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for cocaine abuse?

There are many risk factors for cocaine abuse, such as:

  • Social risk factors for cocaine abuse include low socioeconomic status and lower levels of education, peer pressure, easy availability of drugs, and living in an area that has high crime or drug use.
  • Family risk factors for cocaine abuse include low parental supervision, inconsistent or harsh discipline, poor family communication, high family conflicts, and divorce.
  • Individual risk factors for cocaine abuse can be male gender, Caucasian ethnicity, and late adolescent age. While men are more likely to develop cocaine abuse, women are thought to experience more cravings, depression, and social and family problems as the result of abusing cocaine. Women are more likely to seek treatment for this ailment compared to men. Early childhood aggression or other behavior problems; being the victim of abuse; and mental health, peer, or academic problems all increase the likelihood of cocaine abuse. Other individual risk factors include thrill-seeking behaviors and low recognition of the dangers of drug use.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is cocaine abuse diagnosed?

Often, the final diagnosis of someone who is abusing cocaine is not made by emergency department evaluation and may require admission to the hospital, further testing, and results of tests, which take time or are not done in a hospital emergency department.

Overall, the doctor will conduct whatever tests are necessary to evaluate the symptoms of someone with cocaine-induced conditions. In addition to a physical exam and medical history, tests may include blood and urine analysis, chest X-ray, CT scans, MRI scans, and spinal tap.

How is cocaine abuse treated?

First and foremost, the cocaine abuser must stop using the drug and other drugs that accompany its use. Not many complications of cocaine use can be treated at home. The most common complications are psychiatric in nature.

Anxiety, mild agitation, loss of appetite, insomnia, irritability, mild panic attacks, mild depression, and mild headaches could probably be treated at home by stopping the use of the drug and observing the user.

Runny noses, nasal congestion, and brief nosebleeds can be also be cared for at home by stopping the drug, increasing the humidity of the air breathed in with vaporizers and humidifiers, and direct nasal pressure for 10 minutes to stop the nosebleed. Apply a topical antibiotic such as bacitracin or petroleum jelly to help with the drying and crusting. Avoid nose picking.

The chronic cough or coughing up of black non-bloody phlegm can be treated again by cessation of cocaine smoking and other drugs such as tobacco or marijuana. Over-the-counter cough medicines containing the ingredient guaifenesin, the active compound in Robitussin, plus increased water drinking may help.

IV drug users who continue to use cocaine may lower their exposure to communicable diseases and infection by not reusing or sharing needles. Cleansing the skin properly prior to the injection also decreases the risk of infection.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage cocaine abuse?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you prevent cocaine abuse:

Prevention should start early in the preadolescent years for all children but particularly for those who are at risk. This would include children in families with a history of any addiction such as alcoholism and drug use. However simplistic the concept, teaching youngsters to say “no” to using tobacco products, alcohol, and drugs is an excellent prevention tool. If we can keep the children and our future generations from the gateway drugs of nicotine, alcohol, and marijuana, then we may be able to prevent the escalation to harder drugs such as cocaine and therefore protect people from the long-term effects of drug use.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: November 2, 2017 | Last Modified: November 6, 2017