Recognizing the Signs of Cocaine Addiction


According to the latest survey produced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “In 2022, 48.7 million people aged 12 or older (or 17.3%) had a substance use disorder (SUD) in the past year, including 29.5 million who had an alcohol use disorder (AUD), 27.2 million who had a drug use disorder (DUD), and 8.0 million people who had both an AUD and a DUD.” This includes people currently struggling with cocaine addiction.

It is now widely understood and agreed upon that addiction is a “family disease” and thus needs a “family solution.” Yes, one of the hardest experiences a family may ever go through is helping a loved one get the recovery help they need for cocaine addiction. However, there is a solution. But first, you need to know what signs to look out for.

Better Understanding Stimulant Use Disorder

Many people are unaware that illicit stimulants represent a specific type of addiction referred to as stimulant use disorder. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “Stimulant use disorder describes a range of symptoms associated with the use of stimulant drugs, including methamphetamine, cocaine, and amphetamines, but not including caffeine or nicotine. A diagnosis of stimulant use disorder is made when a clinician identifies a pattern of use of an amphetamine-type substance, cocaine, or other stimulant that leads to clinically significant impairment or distress, including an inability to reduce or control consumption…”

These stimulants are represented by a broad range of substances. However, one of the primary ones is cocaine. According to SAMHSA, “Stimulant use disorders are a major public health concern in the United States, with more than 5 million people age 12 and older reporting past-year cocaine use, nearly 2 million reporting methamphetamine use, and almost 5 million reporting prescription stimulant misuse in 2019.” Also, “Overdose deaths from stimulants have been increasing over the past 20 years, especially deaths attributable to stimulants taken with either synthetic opioids (e.g., fentanyl) or semisynthetic opioids (e.g., heroin).”

This last point about synthetic opioids and cocaine is critical because it represents a new level of danger that now comes along with untreated cocaine addiction. The good news is there are signs that can be detected to help your loved ones from falling deeper into cocaine addiction.

Better Understanding Cocaine Addiction

One of the most insidious aspects (of many) of cocaine use is its relatively quick potential for addiction. According to the peer-reviewed journal Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, “Among cocaine users, about 20% will meet the criteria for CUD at some point in their lifetime. Among individuals who report cocaine use (including even just once), approximately 15% are estimated to progress to CUD within the following 10 years – a rate of progression higher than those found for cannabis (8%) and alcohol (12–13%). Additionally, the speed of progression from first cocaine use to CUD is much faster than the speed of progression from the first use of alcohol to alcohol use disorder…”

Many people who use cocaine do so, intending to only try it once. The issue is that there is no guarantee that that individual does not possess the characteristics that make them more susceptible to becoming addicted. This includes genetic predisposition.

Recognizing the Signs of Cocaine Addiction

Being able to spot the signs of cocaine addiction in a loved one can mean the difference between short-term side effects and long-term consequences. This is because spotting the signs early (before more severe symptoms of addiction occur) means getting a loved one the help they need early.

It is important not to minimize the early signs of addiction, especially cocaine addiction. Just because an addiction was caught early does not mean that treatment isn’t necessary. Addiction is a chronic disease, and as with other chronic diseases (such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes), it will almost certainly get worse without some type of professional intervention. Simply stopping is often not enough. In fact, simply stopping is not the objective of recovery. Staying stopped is the objective.

The Physical Signs of Cocaine Addiction

Signs of cocaine addiction can be broken down into three distinct categories. These are the physical, mental, and emotional signs of addiction. However, it is important to remember that rarely will anyone experience one category of symptoms. The symptoms of cocaine addiction are symbiotic and are a devastating combination.

Perhaps the most recognized signs of addiction are the physical ones. The following are just a few of the physical signs of cocaine addiction:

  • An inability to sit still, including repetitive movements of the hands and feet
  • Clenching the jaw and grinding one’s teeth
  • Extreme weight loss and a lack of appetite
  • Sweaty and “clammy appearance” (appearing pale)
  • Speaking excessively and excessively fast
  • Having trouble communicating
  • Trouble sleeping (including insomnia followed by prolonged sleep periods)
  • Are extra sensitive to light and loud noises
  • Complains of gastrointestinal problems

Of course, some of these physical signs cannot be separated from the mental ones. For example, having trouble communicating is also due to one’s mental difficulties in putting thoughts together (cognitive disruptions).

The Mental Signs of Cocaine Addiction

Many of the mental and emotional signs of addiction can also be classified as behavioral. This makes them somewhat hard to distinguish, but there are delineations between the two. The following are just a few of the mental signs of cocaine addiction:

  • Trouble with both short and long-term memory
  • Difficulties connecting thoughts
  • Has racing thoughts followed by a “crash”
  • Is overly paranoid
  • Experiencing trouble in school or at work
  • Becomes delirious
  • May experience cocaine-induced hallucinations

Cocaine addiction could also lead to other co-occurring issues of mental health. According to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, “Additional psychiatric disorders can accompany the diagnosis of cocaine dependence and can include cocaine intoxication, cocaine withdrawal, cocaine intoxication delirium, cocaine-induced psychotic disorders with hallucination and/or delusions, cocaine-induced mood disorder, cocaine-induced anxiety disorder, cocaine-induced sexual dysfunction, and cocaine-induced sleep disorder.” Detecting the signs early can help to avoid these later state mental health issues.

The Emotional Signs of Cocaine Addiction

While the physical and mental side effects may be more visible, the emotional side effects of cocaine addiction are just as detrimental – potentially more so. The following are some (but certainly not all) of the emotional signs of cocaine addiction:

  • Feels overly elated at one moment and upset and depressed the next
  • Struggles with heightened levels of stress and anxiety
  • Isolates away from family and loved ones
  • Has a poor self-image and lacks self-esteem
  • Exhibits little self-control
  • Experiences extreme mood swings and becomes easily agitated
  • Feels the need to self-harm
  • Expresses suicidal ideations

As one can see, all of the various signs of cocaine addiction represent a serious problem that needs serious attention right away. If any, many, or all of these signs are present, it is highly recommended that professional help be sought as soon as possible. The good news is there are currently many evidence-based and effective ways to treat cocaine addiction.

Getting Help for Cocaine Addiction

The first step to getting a loved one the help they need for cocaine addiction is to openly address the problem. Of course, this can be particularly scary for people as they don’t want to “offend” a loved one or push them away. However, it is important to remember that you are doing this for the good of everyone involved, especially the individual who is struggling.

It is often the case that the person with the cocaine addiction is looking for some type of intervention but is not at a place physically, emotionally, or mentally to admit it. Their life often feels like it is in chaos, so having someone come in and offer help is quite often readily received.

However, some individuals are not ready to accept help and will push back. In this instance, it is important to remember that while you can help a loved one get sober, you cannot make them get sober. They must make the decision on their own. But, you can set some boundaries that will show them how serious you are about the situation.

These boundaries may include not letting the individual into the home if they have been using, denying access to loved ones if they are using, cutting them off financially, and refusing to offer legal assistance if they get into substance-related trouble. While this may seem harsh, it is important to remember that the ultimate goal is saving their life and healing your family.

How Is Cocaine Addiction Generally Treated?

While there is no “cure” for cocaine addiction, it is highly treatable. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Yes, addiction is a treatable disorder. Research on the science of addiction and the treatment of substance use disorders has led to the development of research-based methods that help people to stop using drugs and resume productive lives, also known as being in recovery… Treatment enables people to counteract addiction’s disruptive effects on their brain and behavior and regain control of their lives.”

Cocaine addiction is primarily treated via an assortment of therapies. These therapies help an individual learn to live without cocaine and live a substance-abstinent lifestyle. Some people who struggle with the more severe stages and symptoms of cocaine addiction also require a safe and secure, medically supervised detox. Also, some people have comorbidities of mental illness that may be addressed. This may require an individual to choose an inpatient treatment plan to begin with. However, for many individuals, day treatment is the best option for recovery.

Utilizing Day Treatment for Cocaine Addiction

Day treatment can be ideal for people who are still able to function in their day-to-day lives but also need some intensive structure when it comes to recovery. Many people misunderstand day treatment as a less involved form of recovery. With the right recovery center, this is certainly not the case.

A quality day treatment program is going to consist of six-hour days of in-person treatment, at least five days a week. Depending on the needs of the individual, this type of treatment may last a few weeks up to a few months. The objective is to get an individual to a place where they feel comfortable enough in their recovery so that they can fully engage in their everyday lives. This includes feeling well enough to navigate certain “triggers” that could lead to a potential relapse.

Relapse in the U.S. is more common than many people may think. According to the peer-reviewed journal Current Psychiatry Reports, “It has long been known that addictive disorders are chronic and relapsing in nature. Recent estimates from clinical treatment studies suggest that more than two-thirds of individuals relapse within weeks to months of initiating treatment.” Also, “For 1-year outcomes across alcohol, nicotine, weight, and illicit drug abuse, studies show that more than 85% of individuals relapse and return to drug use within 1 year of treatment.” An effective day treatment plan that utilizes individual therapy is going to help people avoid being one of these statistics.

Individual Therapy for Cocaine Addiction

A critical part of treating cocaine addiction is getting to the underlying causes of the addiction. These are also known as the “root/core” causes.

Individual therapies, especially psychotherapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), can help get to these root/core causes. For example, CBT helps an individual better understand how they may negatively perceive themselves and the world around them. Someone with cocaine addiction may have been using the substance as a coping mechanism for these perceptions.

Once these underlying issues are detected, then they can be worked on and worked through to adjust and amend one’s negative addictive behaviors. CBT is also highly beneficial in giving people the coping skills that they need to manage triggering situations in the moment. Also, group therapy is highly effective at doing this.

Group Therapy for Cocaine Addiction

People with cocaine addiction often feel isolated and alone. This is one of the symptoms of the disease that has been mentioned previously. Attending group therapy is an exceptional way to combat this loneliness and isolation.

Group therapy in day treatment allows people with “shared experience” to work through their issues together while also being guided and supported by an addiction specialist. It is also a great way for individuals to connect to other people in recovery who they may one day rely upon if they run into a situation in which they feel like they may relapse. This is also known as establishing a quality “sober network.”

A 12-Step Track for Cocaine Addiction

While individuals may have to make the choice to get sober themselves, they don’t have to go through the process of recovery alone. This is a big tenet of 12-Step recovery.

There is a chapter in the primary text of 12-Step recovery (commonly referred to as the Big Book) entitled “Working With Others.” The chapter states, “Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking [and using substances] as intensive work with other [people in recovery]. It works when other activities fail… You can help when no one else can.”

Connecting with a recovery community (such as a 12-Step community) is an excellent way to both attain sobriety and maintain long-term recovery. Day treatment that has 12-Step recovery, as well as individual and group therapy, has been shown to be highly effective at helping people get sober and achieve their recovery goals.

The Importance of Long-Term Success at NorthStar Recovery Center

Here at NorthStar Recovery Center, we understand how daunting it can feel when trying to get a loved one the help they need for cocaine addiction. That is why we have a professional and caring staff that is going to ensure that each client gets the individualized and comprehensive care that they need.

The iconic American author and philosopher Joseph Campbell once said, “We must let go of the life we have planned so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” That new life is waiting; the key is to take the first step toward it and ask for help.

Cocaine addiction is very serious and can even be deadly. This is why it is vital to recognize the signs and symptoms of the disease. Being able to do so can help minimize any lasting effects that cocaine addiction may cause. If you feel like you or a loved one are struggling with cocaine or any other type of substance addiction, we can help get you on the right road to long-term recovery right away. Addiction doesn’t have to win. Life can get better, but it takes work. For more information on the benefits of day treatment and how to recover from cocaine addiction, please reach out to NorthStar Recovery Center today at (888) 902-4234.