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Cocaine Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, and Long-term Effects

By Neha Kashyap
Medically Reviewed by Arpan Parikh, MD, MBA on July 08, 2021
Learn more about the signs, symptoms, and long-term effects of cocaine addiction.

According to a 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 5.5 million Americans aged 12 and older might have used cocaine or crack cocaine in the past year. Considering the risk of addiction and deadly overdose that accompanies the drug, it’s important to know the signs and long-term effects of cocaine addiction.

Cocaine Use Symptoms

Cocaine/crack is a stimulant drug that makes a person more alert and euphoric. It’s also one of the world’s most addictive drugs. Cocaine is a powder that can be snorted, injected, or swallowed, while crack cocaine is sold in rock form and can be inhaled. When a person uses cocaine, they might feel:

  • Upbeat and energetic
  • Sensitive to touch, light, or sound
  • Restless
  • Irritable
  • Paranoid

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, physical and behavioral signs of cocaine use include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Higher body temperature and blood pressure
  • Faster heartbeat
  • Loss of appetite
  • Erratic behavior

Symptoms of cocaine overdose include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Confusion, seizures, tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Paranoia

Drug addiction means compulsively using a drug despite the risks and consequences. Lin Sternlicht, LMHC, an addiction specialist in New York City, tells WebMD Connect to Care that signs of cocaine addiction include:

  • Sleep pattern changes
  • Ignoring hygiene
  • Secrecy
  • Lying
  • Risky behavior
  • Mood swings
  • Paranoia
  • Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
  • Financial problems

Individuals addicted to cocaine may frequently [go] from a sense of mania and euphoria when they are high to feeling low and irritable when they are withdrawing,” Sternlicht says. 

Withdrawal is the body’s reaction to the absence of a substance it’s addicted to. Cocaine withdrawal may include:

  • Intense cravings
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Irritability
  • Fever

How difficult cocaine withdrawal is depends on the severity of a person’s habit. But if someone is going cold turkey, doing so at a detox center can help ease the symptoms.

In addition to a higher chance of death or complications from a drug overdose, cocaine abuse can also cause significant long-term health damage.

Long-term Effects 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the long-term effects of cocaine abuse can depend on the method of consumption and may include:

  • Nosebleeds
  • Loss of smell
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Asthma 
  • Respiratory infections
  • Higher likelihood of infections like pneumonia, HIV, Hepatitis C, and airborne diseases

Additionally, there is evidence that long-term use of cocaine can have negative consequences for your heart. A 2014 study published by the Journal of Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance compared the cardiac functions of study subjects who had abused cocaine for a number of years to those of a similar age who had not and were generally healthy. The study found that 30% of those with a history of cocaine use showed signs of myocardial damage, as well as increased indicators of poor heart health in comparison to the healthy group. 

Cocaine use can impact your brain as well. “With respect to the brain, cocaine use can contribute to long-term mental health problems such as depression,” Sternlicht says. “It can also lead to [an] increased risk of dementia.”

If you suspect a loved one might have a cocaine addiction, Sternlicht advises approaching them with gentle care and concern.

Don’t judge them, criticize them, or berate them,” Sternlicht says. “Oftentimes addicted individuals feel isolated, alone, helpless, and hopeless. Let them know that you are able to help them find the support they need.”

Don’t Wait. Get Help Now.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.