What Makes Cocaine Addictive?

As a powerfully addictive stimulant drug, cocaine can cause a physical and psychological dependency after just a handful of uses.

This is due to a number of factors including increased tolerance levels, physical changes in the brain and the combination of cocaine with other addictive substances including alcohol and ecstasy.

This blog post will examine the habit-forming properties of cocaine and the various factors that have resulted in this substance being classed as one of the most addictive in the world.

What makes cocaine so addictive?

Although cocaine is often viewed as a party drug, this white powdered substance has the potential to trap users in a vicious cycle of addiction that can have noticeable and severe impacts on their quality of life, physical and mental health and future work and travel prospects.

So what is it about cocaine that makes it so irresistibly addictive to so many people?

Physical changes in the brain

When dopamine is released naturally due to a pleasurable experience, it is then recycled back into the system and the brain automatically ceases to produce this chemical until the next pleasurable experience arises.

Cocaine forces the brain to produce excessive amounts of dopamine and then prevents it from being recycled, causing an extremely large amount of this chemical to enter the brain and resulting in intense euphoria.

If the individual continues to take cocaine, requiring the brain to repeat this process multiple times, physical changes can occur and the brain may be unable to produce dopamine naturally without the presence of cocaine. [1]

As a result, people who use cocaine may have trouble finding pleasure in activities and experiences that they previously enjoyed unless they are under the influence of cocaine, potentially leading to addiction as they attempt to recapture that initial euphoria and joy.

Building up a tolerance

When an individual frequently takes cocaine, they may begin to notice that the effects are not as noticeable and begin to wear off at a faster rate over time.

This is because the body becomes used to this substance and develops a tolerance, requiring a larger amount and more frequent ingestion to achieve the same euphoric effects.

It is thought that cocaine users build up a tolerance fairly quickly due to the short and intense high that cocaine provides.

The effects can be felt as soon as 5-10 minutes after ingestion and will continue for up to 30 minutes, resulting in many people taking cocaine multiple times over the course of a few hours in an effort to reproduce the initial high.

As a result, an addiction to cocaine can form due to the frequent dosage and this can be very difficult to break.

Combining cocaine with other substances

Although cocaine is an extremely powerful stimulant drug, it is common for people to combine it with other addictive substances such as alcohol and heroin.

This can increase the intensity of cocaine’s effects while also avoiding the uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal, as cocaine has the ability to leave the body extremely quickly.

While mixing cocaine with other addictive substances can be extremely dangerous due to the unpredictable and often extremely intense side effects, it can also increase the risk of long-term addiction and should be avoided.

Avoiding withdrawal symptoms

The comedown from a cocaine high can be physically and psychologically intense, with many people experiencing symptoms such as anxiety, paranoia, depression and insomnia.

These sensations can be extremely unpleasant and can lead many people to continue taking cocaine in an effort to avoid the inevitable crash that comes with the withdrawal symptoms.

However the amount of time that cocaine is taken for will generally reflect the severity of the withdrawal symptoms, and eventually, the individual will ‘crash’ and potentially experience suicidal thoughts in severe cases.

As cocaine withdrawal can begin as soon as 90 minutes after the last dosage, many people become trapped in the cycle of addiction as they attempt to avoid the often distressing systems of withdrawal.

Who is more likely to become addicted to cocaine?

While anyone can become addicted to cocaine or any other substance, there are certain risk factors that can make it more likely for specific individuals to develop an addiction. [2[

Common risk factors for cocaine addiction include:

  • A family history of addiction
  • Low self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Any co-occurring mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety
  • Early use of cocaine during teenage years
  • Excessive peer pressure from friends and acquaintances
  • Exposure to substance addiction during childhood

While the above factors can increase the chances of developing an addiction, it is still possible to become dependent on cocaine even if you do not relate to any of them.

Cocaine is an extremely addictive substance that can cause physical changes in your brain, making it difficult to function without the presence of this drug in your system.

Spotting the signs of addiction within yourself can be difficult, but it is important to be honest and self-aware about your behaviour and mindset around cocaine.

What are the common symptoms of cocaine addiction?

While many people struggling with a cocaine addiction will attempt to hide it from family and friends, there are a number of physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms that can indicate a dependency on this substance.

Some individuals will outwardly appear to be high-functioning, holding down a stable job and raising a family, but internally they will likely be dealing with intense cravings for cocaine and other unpleasant effects.

Physical symptoms of cocaine addiction include:

  • Frequent nosebleeds and a runny nose
  • Increased heart rate
  • Lack of appetite
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Bursts of energy followed by lethargy and fatigue
  • Dilated pupils
  • Insomnia, trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Increased body temperature

Psychological symptoms of cocaine addiction include:

  • Bursts of overconfidence and euphoria
  • Feeling restless and agitated
  • Frequent mood swings and irritability
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor judgement and decision-making

Behavioural symptoms of cocaine addiction include:

  • Becoming withdrawn and isolated
  • Borrowing or even stealing money and possessions to fund cocaine use
  • Displaying dishonest and secretive behaviours including lying about activities and whereabouts
  • Increased sexual appetite – viewing pornography excessively and/or hiring prostitutes
  • Behaving dangerously and recklessly, including unprotected sex and driving under the influence

If you or someone you know is displaying some of the above symptoms and also use cocaine, it’s possible that the addictive effects of this substance have begun to impact their health and lifestyle.

What are the long-term risks of cocaine addiction?

Over time, regular cocaine use and subsequent addiction can have a detrimental impact on your physical and mental health as well as your quality of life. [3]

As cocaine is an illegal substance, possession and use can result in a large fine and/or a prison sentence which can make it more difficult to find employment in specific fields and even travel to certain countries.

While you may currently view your cocaine use as merely social in nature, it can impact your lifestyle and quality of life for years to come.

Long-term risks of cocaine addiction include:

  • Higher chance of suffering from a heart attack, blood clot or stroke
  • Loss of smell
  • Damage to the structure of the nose
  • Respiratory problems when cocaine is smoked
  • Increased risk of brain damage
  • Memory loss
  • Kidney and liver damage
  • Financial problems including fines and debt to family or loan companies
  • Strained relationships with family, friends and colleagues
  • Loss of employment
  • Legal problems including arrest and imprisonment
  • Increased risk of suicidal thoughts and ideation
  • Increased chances of contracting an infectious disease such as HIV or hepatitis when cocaine is regularly injected

Remember that it’s never too late to seek treatment for cocaine addiction, no matter how long you have been struggling.

Do I have a cocaine addiction?

If you use cocaine on a regular basis and have started to notice an increased tolerance and more frequent cravings, you may be concerned that you have developed a physical or psychological addiction to this substance.

If you relate to some of the following statements, you may be dealing with a cocaine addiction and should seek professional guidance and support in order to begin your recovery.

Some questions to ask include:

  • I have experienced negative consequences due to my cocaine use but I continue to take it
  • I have attempted to reduce or completely stop my cocaine use but have been unable to
  • Other people have raised concerns with me about my cocaine use
  • I spend a large amount of time thinking about, obtained, using and recovering from cocaine
  • I experience withdrawal symptoms when I stop taking cocaine
  • I would prefer to not attend events or occasions where I will not be able to take cocaine
  • I no longer have interest activities or hobbies that were once important to me
  • I neglect my responsibilities at work, home or school
  • I am dishonest and secretive about my cocaine use
  • I need to take larger amounts of cocaine on a more frequent basis in order to experience the same effects
  • I attempt to avoid the withdrawal effects of cocaine by combining it with other substances or simply by continuing to take more

There is no shame in struggling with cocaine addiction – many of our team have been in your shoes and know exactly how it feels to be addicted to cocaine and other substances.

Give us a call today to discuss your treatment options and start your recovery in a supportive and non-judgemental environment.


[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2851032/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5843961/

[3] https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-are-long-term-effects-cocaine-use