Is cocaine addictive?

Learn here how addictive cocaine is, why it's so addictive, and how to get support for cocaine addiction.

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Cocaine is a powerful and dangerous stimulant drug that's usually snorted as a white powder. It can cause a wide range of effects as well as a very intense ‘high’, which can make people want to take cocaine over and over again until they develop a harmful addiction.

In this blog, we outline the effects of taking cocaine, explore why cocaine is so addictive and provide information on the specialist cocaine addiction rehab we can provide at Priory.

Why is cocaine so addictive?

There are a number of reasons why cocaine is so addictive to many people. This is mainly due to the high it gives users, especially people who use it regularly. Cocaine use causes dopamine to build up in the brain with repeated use, which produces feelings of pleasure. It can also cause users to feel an increase in confidence, and as it's a fast-acting drug, it's easy to become reliant on cocaine. We’ve outlined what makes cocaine so addictive in more detail below.

Positive reinforcement

Like many other addictions, cocaine addiction often develops because of a psychological process known as ‘positive reinforcement’. Positive reinforcement causes a pattern of behaviour to develop by offering a reward for that behaviour. In the context of cocaine, taking this drug often causes a number of effects that people find to be 'positive'. Cocaine stimulates key pleasure centres in the brain and causes the release of dopamine (the brain’s ‘happy chemical’), which can make you feel:

  • Excited
  • Wide awake
  • Energetic
  • Alert
  • Happy
  • Confident
  • Chatty
  • Euphoric

It's because of these ‘positive’ or ‘pleasurable’ effects that lots of people want to take cocaine over and over again so they can continue to experience these feelings. This can then lead them to develop an addiction to cocaine.

A brief but intense ‘high’

Taking cocaine often results in a brief but very intense high. You would normally start to feel the effects of cocaine after 5 to 30 minutes of snorting it, and these effects usually last between 20 and 30 minutes. Because the high is so intense, and the ‘positive’ effects outlined above are so strong, when these feelings subside after around 30 minutes, this can make the person want to take more cocaine to experience the pleasurable effects again, as soon as possible.

This, in turn, means that tolerance to cocaine builds very quickly and the 'comedown' or withdrawal from cocaine becomes more intense. This means that people find they need to consume more and more cocaine on a more frequent basis, in order to achieve the effects they crave. As a result, this can further fuel their cocaine addiction and make managing comedowns much worse.

Mixing with other addictive drugs

Cocaine is often taken at the same time as other substances, such as heroin, amphetamines or alcohol, all of which are addictive in their own right. This can increase the positive reinforcement you get when you take cocaine, which again, can make you want to take it over and over again until you find you’re dependent on it in order to function.

Avoiding withdrawal symptoms

Like many drugs, if you stop taking cocaine or aren’t able to get hold of it, you may experience a whole range of withdrawal symptoms. These can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Vivid nightmares
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Intense cravings for cocaine

These symptoms, which are sometimes known as a ‘crash’, can be very unpleasant and distressing, which means that people may want to carry on taking cocaine in order to avoid the physical and psychological crash they experience when they stop taking it. This ongoing cycle of abuse therefore means they’re more likely to become addicted.

What happens if you get addicted to cocaine?

If you think that you or someone you know has developed a problem with cocaine misuse, it’s important that you're able to spot the signs and symptoms of cocaine addiction.

While cocaine can cause a number of effects that may seem positive to some people, it’s also important to realise that it can also produce a number of negative symptoms and long-term effects. These can include:

  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Mood swings
  • Panic attacks
  • Insomnia
  • Risky behaviours due to being overly confident
  • Being agitated and restless
  • Feeling as though cocaine has taken over your life
  • Lying to loved ones about your whereabouts and activities
  • Stealing money to pay for cocaine
  • A high body temperature
  • Erectile dysfunction in men, leading to the abuse of drugs such as Viagra
  • Increased heart rate
  • Nausea and sickness
  • High blood pressure
  • Excessive sweating
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Frequent nosebleeds from snorting cocaine
  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Breathing problems

Cocaine addiction rehab at Priory

Cocaine addiction is a serious problem. It can have a negative impact on lots of different areas of your life, affecting you physically and emotionally. However, the good news is that cocaine addiction is treatable and it’s possible for you to take steps towards recovery – the most important step is to seek help.

At Priory, we provide expert cocaine rehab via our nationwide network of addiction hospitals, clinics and wellbeing centres.

Our cocaine addiction treatment programme offers:

  • free, no-obligation addiction assessment – this provides you with the chance to meet with one of our addiction treatment experts to discuss your individual concerns and develop an understanding of the addiction rehab journey
  • A medically assisted detoxification - this is the process by which all traces of cocaine are removed from your system in a controlled environment. We'll make sure you're as comfortable as possible throughout this process and will help you minimise the withdrawal symptoms you experience
  • Residential, day care or outpatient treatment options, depending on the level of support you need for your cocaine addiction
  • Group therapy, family therapy and individual 1:1 therapy programmes
  • A wide range of therapeutic techniques, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness
  • Access to both on and off-site 12-step support groups
  • Free aftercare for 12 months following treatment (aftercare is provided for life following treatment at Priory Hospital Roehampton)
  • Free family support for 12 months following treatment (family support is provided for life following treatment at Priory Hospital Roehampton)

For more information on the specialist addiction treatment that we can provide at Priory, please visit our approach to addiction treatment page.

Blog reviewed by Simon Wilson (PG Cert, PG Dip, MA, MBACP, FDAP), General Psychiatry Clinical Lead and Addiction Treatment Programme Therapist at Priory Hospital North London.

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