Cocaine Abuse: Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

Cocaine can spell danger after a single use. Over time, this drug can destroy someone's life in every imaginable way. There are no related health benefits to speak of, despite its early misguided use in elixirs and medicine. Identifying a cocaine habit in a friend or family member demands prompt attention in order to get them the help they need. If you know what to look for, spotting the signs of cocaine use early on can help you intervene before tragedy strikes. Cocaine abuse signs, symptoms and side effects will only become more apparent over time, but recognizing them means nothing unless you take action and get involved.
The first signs of cocaine abuse may be minor compared to more blatant cocaine addiction behavior. The physical and psychological symptoms inevitably escalate along with the behavioral signs and consequences. Getting a loved one to break free from cocaine abuse is easier in the early stages; once addiction takes over, reversing the damage can take months or even years. Worrisome signs may indicate a cocaine problem, if not a similarly dangerous issue, so early intervention can go a long way in resolving whatever the problem may be. Some basic signals that your loved one is abusing cocaine include:

  • Strange and unusual behavior
  • Keeping secrets or giving suspicious answers to questions
  • Leaving early, showing up late, or missing obligations entirely
  • Increased impulsivity
  • Financial troubles
  • White stains on clothes, belongings or skin

Cocaine is not cheap. In order to fund a cocaine habit or addiction, many go to extreme lengths to pay for the next bump. This can mean repeatedly asking for money, stealing from friends or family members, taking on extra jobs, taking out loans, selling their possessions, or beginning to sell drugs themselves. It’s not uncommon for those who are addicted to cocaine to empty their savings accounts or retirement funds in the process of feeding their addiction. As cocaine misuse progresses, it can result in a series of life-altering outcomes that should be red flags and prompt immediate attention. These can include:

  • Quitting or getting kicked out of school
  • Leaving or getting fired from a job
  • Bankruptcy or serious debt
  • Lost friendships and relationships
  • Trouble with the law

On top of all this — and often simultaneously — cocaine addiction may cause physical and mental harm that can land someone in the emergency room at any moment. Cocaine has an enormous effect on a person’s well-being. The following are some of the tell-tale symptoms:

  • Paranoia
  • Emotional swings
  • Insomnia, followed by hypersomnia, or prolonged periods of sleep
  • Anxiety
  • Short attention span
  • Hyperstimulation and energy levels
  • Bursts of elevated mood and euphoria
  • Lethargy and introversion
  • Irritability
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of appetite

A common thread among those who habitually misuse cocaine is the unpredictable and extreme variance in mood, caused by a chemical imbalance. A loved one who develops a cocaine addiction can become distant and unrecognizable from the person you used to know. This can make it difficult to observe minute details or confront the situation. The more these symptoms pile up, though, the more urgent the problem becomes.

cocaine hallucinations
The physical effects of cocaine misuse can range from minimal to severe. Not everyone who uses cocaine reacts to the drug the same way, but any indication of a possible cocaine problem deserves attention. Ignoring these symptoms may be the difference between life and death for your loved one. Some of the common physical symptoms of cocaine abuse include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Twitching or shaking
  • Sniffing
  • Runny or bloody nose
  • Hoarseness
  • Darkened circles around the eyes
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Increased body temperature
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Impotence
  • Headaches and migraines

Between uses of the drug, withdrawal side effects can characterize a physical addiction. The symptoms of cocaine withdrawal can include depression, fatigue, intense cravings, and extended periods of interrupted sleep. In the most severe cases, cocaine withdrawal can cause heart issues and seizures.  

Cocaine is extremely potent, and the physical side effects can vary wildly based on the amount taken, the size and body chemistry of the person using it, and any other chemicals mixed in the cocaine or taken with it. Overdose and sudden death are very real possibilities after just one use. Every day of 2012, approximately 1,800 Americans aged 12 and older tried cocaine for the first time, opening themselves to many undesirable outcomes.

The longer someone is exposed to cocaine, the greater their chances are of severely impacting brain functions and physical health. A serious addiction is just one of the long-term hazards associated with a cocaine habit. Treatment specialists often have to address a host of other issues when a new patient is admitted to rehab for a cocaine problem. This may demand outside help from other doctors, specialists, or therapists, along with any number of medications and rehab programs. For an unfortunate number of people who misuse cocaine, some of the health effects caused by the drug are irreversible.

Long-term health effects can include:

  • Chronic impotence and sexual dysfunction
  • Infertility
  • Other reproductive complications
  • Difficulty breathing and swallowing
  • Lung damage and disease
  • Seizures and convulsions
  • Damage to the septum, nose and airways
  • Lost sense of smell
  • Extreme weight loss and malnourishment
  • Chronic nosebleeds
  • Gastronomical problems and bowel decay
  • Movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease

The unhinged lifestyle and lapse in judgment that many experience can lead to numerous additional health risks. These might include:

  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Unwanted pregnancy
  • Prenatal cocaine exposure in unborn babies
  • Blood-borne illnesses due to sharing needles, such as HIV and hepatitis C

There are approximately 750,000 cocaine-exposed pregnancies in the U.S. each year. Abusing cocaine during pregnancy can lead to spontaneous miscarriage, difficult delivery and numerous other complications leading up to and during delivery.  

Intense psychological distress is also observed with long-term cocaine abuse, including chronic paranoia and auditory hallucinations. Studies also show that general cognitive abilities, such as memory and motor tasks, are impaired with prolonged use. Cocaine drug effects can end in heart failure or death at any point during misuse. Signs of chronic cocaine abuse may be few at first, but will eventually become too many to ignore.

A tolerance to cocaine develops in the early period of use and strengthens over time. This is among the most troublesome side effects related to addiction. Those who misuse cocaine constantly need to take larger amounts to feel the same familiar effects. Though no amount of cocaine is “safe” to take, the drug is exponentially more dangerous in larger doses. Someone can easily overlook the amount they are consuming in order to catch a buzz. In the blink of an eye, they can take a fatal or otherwise life-threatening dose.

By simply inhaling cocaine, you can immediately become at risk for an overdose. The amount of cocaine it takes to overdose varies based on a number of factors, including physiology and any other substances that are involved. An overdose requires immediate treatment in urgent care, and you can die from overdosing on cocaine in a very short amount of time. Symptoms of cocaine overdose can include:

  • Convulsions
  • Seizures
  • Shock
  • Panic
  • Delirium and delusions
  • Hyperthermia
  • Respiratory failure

Cerebral hemorrhage, kidney failure, coma and stroke are all potential symptoms of a cocaine overdose. If not treated immediately, the risk of heart failure or death greatly increases. Statistics show a large correlation between cocaine overdoses and interactions with other substances. In 2015, more than half of the overdose cases involving cocaine in the U.S. also involved opioids. Approximately 37 percent of overdose deaths related to cocaine also involved heroin. Similarly, 1 in 5 heroin overdose deaths involved cocaine. Alcohol involvement is also extremely common in cases of overdose.

If you suspect a loved one is abusing cocaine or any other lethal substance, immediate intervention is required. If you notice one or more signs of a potential overdose, contact 911 immediately.

cocaine overdose
CESAR (Center for Substance Abuse Research). “Cocaine.” CESAR (Center for Substance Abuse Research), 29 Oct. 2013, Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.

Drug War Facts. “Overdose.” Drug War Facts, Accessed 11 Mar. 2017.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). “DrugFacts: Cocaine.” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), June 2016, Accessed 11 Mar. 2017.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). “Overdose Death Rates.” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Jan. 2017, Accessed 11 Mar. 2017.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). “What is Cocaine?” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 2016, Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.

SAMHSA. “Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings.” SAMHSA, Sept. 2013, Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.

Cocaine Signs & Symptoms

Cocaine Abuse: Side Effects, Signs and Symptoms
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