What You Need to Know About Cocaine

Cocaine is a powerful drug that is making a comeback. If you need help—or have a friend or family member in need, it’s important to know exactly what the substance is, how it affects people and the warning signs that indicate addiction.

A Few Facts:

  • Cocaine is the second most illegally used substance in the world. (Cannabis is the first).
  • Between 14 and 21 million people use the drug each year.
  • In 2013, more than 419 kilograms were produced legally (the equivalent of almost 1,000 pounds or 1/2 ton).
  • In 2013 cocaine use directly resulted in 4,300 deaths, up from 2,400 in 1990.
  • In 2014, the CDC reports that cocaine was responsible for the second-most drug-overdose deaths in the country.
  • In 2015, 6,784 people died of a cocaine-involved overdose.

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant with a high potential for both addiction and overdose. It is made from the coca plant which is typically found in South America. The drug is processed by mashing the plant, adding chemicals like hydrochloric acid, and drying it out. Additives are often thrown in before it hits the streets for sale. This can include everything from laxatives to aspirin, and cornstarch.

Physically, cocaine appears as a white, crystalline powder and goes by many names on the street:

  • Coke
  • Blow
  • Snow
  • White
  • Nose Candy

Cocaine is ingested by a variety of means (some more popular than others). This includes:

  • Insufflation – Known colloquially as “snorting,” “sniffing,” or “blowing,” this is the most common method of ingestion and usually involves cutting the drug into a “line” and snorting it with a straw or rolled up bill.
  • Injection – A more dangerous form of ingestion, cocaine is usually ingested with other hard drugs in this form. Typically referred to as a “speed ball,” a dangerous mixture of heroin and cocaine has been leading to the rise of overdose deaths involving cocaine in the United States.
  • Inhalation – Also known as “smoking,” this form of ingestion provides the highest levels of drug entering the blood stream in the shortest amount of time. This is also the method users choose when ingesting Crack, a solidified form of cocaine.
  • Other – Oral ingestion and suppositories are lesser common forms of ingestion, but also methods used by addicts.

Cocaine is strongly addictive because it affects the reward center of the brain. It prevents dopamine from being recycled, thereby creating a buildup in the brain’s synapses. This in turn amplifies the effect of the dopamine and disrupts the normal communication of the brain.

Cocaine abusers typically feel a sensation of euphoria and/or superiority, combined with increased energy. Like most stimulants, cocaine can also elicit feelings of restlessness, anxiety, paranoia, and nervousness to the point of panic. The effects generally last up to an hour depending on the potency and method of ingestion.


Another form of cocaine that is popularly abused is “crack”. Crack is a concentrated, extra-potent cocaine product, made when the regular powder is mixed and cooked with other ingredients and then allowed to dry. It is then broken up into smaller crystalline pieces. Crack cocaine is particularly dangerous because it is much cheaper— and therefore, much more popular— than powdered cocaine.

Smoking crack allows the drug’s effects to reach the brain much faster than snorting. A crack user may feel the euphoria of the “rush” almost immediately, but the effects will last no more than 10 minutes. Thus addicts must partake more frequently than regular cocaine users.

Crack is said to be one of the most highly addictive drugs in existence. Some abusers have reported feeling addicted after the very first use. While the stimulating effects may last for hours, the euphoric sensation is very brief, prompting the user to smoke more immediately.

The Role Cocaine Plays in Society

Although cocaine isn’t as prevalent as it once was in the 80s, it is still very much a detriment to society as a whole. That’s because, like many drugs on the market, it has evolved. It is now being produced in stronger strains and cut with different ingredients.

One immediate threat is the fact that cocaine overdose deaths are on the rise in direct relation to the opioid epidemic the country is facing. Without the use of opiates, cocaine overdose-related deaths are relatively stagnant. When you introduce drugs like heroin, oxycodone, and fentanyl, we see a spike in cocaine use.

What You Need to Know About Cocaine

Cocaine in the United States

North America is the number one user of cocaine in the world. Because cocaine is considerably more expensive than other stimulants such as methamphetamine, abuse of the drug had temporarily diminished. It is again on the rise in the country, however, due to the opioid epidemic and is now playing out in society as a poly-substance issue. Some disturbing facts about cocaine in America include:

  • The CDC reports that 6,784 people died of a cocaine related overdose death in 2015, with 2,565 also having heroin in their system as a contributing cause of death and 1,077 had a prescription pain reliever. In 1,542 cases, fentanyl contributed to the cause of death, and some of these drugs overlapped, meaning that about 63% of cases involved an opioid.
  • The illegal market for cocaine is now between 100 to 500 billion USD each year.
  • It is estimated that over 1 in 8 Americans will try cocaine at some point in their lifetime.
  • There are approximately 1.5 million cocaine users aged 12 or above in the United States.

Cocaine in California

Although the use of cocaine is generally down in California, as it is in the rest of the country, it still maintains a strongly-detectable presence in the state.

  • In 2013, 8% of male arrestees in San Diego tested positive for cocaine— a marked increase from 6% in 2011.
  • In Los Angeles County, admissions for primary cocaine treatment accounted for 6.8 % of overall treatment admissions in 2013.
  • In the five San Francisco Bay Area counties, cocaine ranked fourth behind alcohol, methamphetamines, and heroin for treatment additions, accounting for approximately 14% of the total.

Symptoms of Cocaine Abuse

Like any and every drug in the world, the symptoms of abuse generally present themselves through behavior first, with the end result of symptoms physically affecting the body. Cocaine, as a stimulant, brings with it a number of noticeable symptoms and warning signs that can alert someone as to when their loved one may be abusing the drug.


When someone is abusing a drug, it generally presents itself first in a person’s behavior. The following are some behaviors that may indicate abuse of cocaine:

  • Excessive talking / Chattiness
  • Recklessness
  • Lack of judgment
  • Fidgety / Restlessness
  • Bizarre behavior

Mental / Emotional

Once an individual begins to lose control, cocaine can start to affect their mental and emotional functions. This can be evident with symptoms such as:

  • Intense euphoria or elation
  • Agitation
  • Loss of contact with reality
  • Paranoia
  • Air of superiority
  • Invincibility
  • Wild mood swings


Once a drug has infiltrated the mind of a person, eventually, it will take a physical toll on their bodies. It can also have instant effects as well. Physical signs of cocaine use (both immediate and extended) can include:

  • Sweating
  • Large pupils
  • Heightened energy level
  • Muscle twitches
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature
  • Rapid unexplained weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Constant runny nose
  • Nosebleeds, sometimes to the point of nasal perforation

Do you have a cocaine problem?

Click here to take this quiz to determine if cocaine is a problem for you.

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