Causes of Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine addiction and overdose are common problems in the U.S. Learn more about the causes of cocaine addiction in this article.

Cocaine Addiction Overview

The history of cocaine goes way back. Cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug derived from the leaves of the coca plant. It is typically sold as a white powder that people usually take by snorting it through the nose. It’s also common for people to be seen smoking cocaine. Cocaine is also liquified, injected, or rubbed onto the gums.

Regardless of how it is consumed, the cocaine side effects set in quickly, yet the impact of the initial dose of cocaine fades just as rapidly as the onset of the drug. This leads many people to start taking higher doses of the drug to maintain the high for longer. Unfortunately, this practice can lead to overdoses and fatalities.

Cocaine addiction and overdose are all too prevalent in the United States. However, you can work to prevent or minimize the likelihood of a cocaine addiction when you are aware of the causes of cocaine addiction.


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Understanding Cocaine Addiction

Addiction to cocaine is a widespread issue spanning the entire nation. Each year, thousands of people die from a cocaine-related overdose. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that more than 16,000 people died in 2019 alone as the result of a cocaine overdose.1

Other data suggest that up to six million people in the United States have used cocaine in the past year.2
Cocaine remains the second most commonly abused drug that is also linked to fatal overdoses in the United States. People are diagnosed with a cocaine addiction after someone struggling with cocaine use seeks treatment or medical assistance.

Most people seek treatment from a cocaine rehab to detox and overcome their addiction. When someone begins withdrawing from cocaine, they will experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms, when reducing or stopping cocaine use, are another indicator of cocaine addiction.

Causes of Cocaine Addiction

Research regarding cocaine addiction has not resulted in a specific cause of cocaine addiction. Many studies indicate that several contributing factors could likely increase one’s susceptibility to cocaine addiction. The most common causes include genetics, physical factors, and various environmental factors, all of which your healthcare provider will consider if you receive a cocaine addiction diagnosis.3


Do you ever find yourself wondering, “What causes drug addiction?” Well, genetics can be a major main player. Someone with a first-degree relative, like a parent or a sibling, who has an addiction is at an increased risk of developing an addiction.

On the contrary, someone who does not have a genetic connection to substance use disorders has a lower chance of developing a cocaine addiction themselves, though an addiction is always a possibility regardless of genetics. Although there is limited research that specifically defines the relationship between genetics and addiction, researchers believe genetics contributes to addiction development.

Physical Causes of Cocaine Addiction

There are also physical cocaine addiction causes that play role in addiction development. Some people are born with specific predispositions that make them susceptible to an addiction to drugs, including cocaine. It is also possible that these individuals turn to cocaine and other drugs to self-medicate the underlying symptoms of their medical conditions.

Environmental Causes of Cocaine Addiction

Another category of drug addiction causes is environmental factors. Individuals born into families where drug or alcohol addiction is common are more likely to develop an addiction as a way of managing stressors or other life challenges. Also, people who grow up in an environment where substance use is common are more likely to begin experimenting with cocaine and other drug use early in life, leading to addiction. 

Cocaine Addiction Effects and Risk Factors

Cocaine is a stimulant, and therefore, its initial effects energize the body. However, these cocaine effects are short-lived. Cocaine addiction increases the concentration of a chemical known as dopamine, a naturally occurring neurotransmitter, in the brain.

Side Effects of Cocaine Addiction

The elevation in dopamine levels as the result of a cocaine addiction causes feelings of pleasure, satisfaction, and euphoria. The chemicals within cocaine prevent dopamine and the other naturally occurring neurotransmitters of including norepinephrine and serotonin from being absorbed by the brain.

This process allows large amounts of neurotransmitters to accumulate in the brain and stimulate the surrounding nerve cells, which heightens the feeling of temporary euphoria. When someone struggles with cocaine addiction, they will struggle with a combination of physical and psychological long-term effects of cocaine.

The physical symptoms of drug addiction are typically the easiest to recognize because they are visible from the outside. Although addiction looks different from one person to another, many symptoms of addiction are shared among people who experience an addiction.

These common symptoms include dilated pupils, excitability, increased energy, changes in appetite, increased sociability, sniffles, and runny noses. Psychological symptoms that often arise soon after cocaine use begins include paranoia and improved concentration.

Cocaine Overdose and Withdrawal

Causes of Cocaine Addiction

When someone struggling with cocaine addiction stops or reduces the amount they use, they will experience withdrawal symptoms. The intensity, severity, and duration of these symptoms will vary from person to person based on the specifics of their addiction.

Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms

Although detox from substances including alcohol, opioids, and benzodiazepines can involve severe physical and psychological symptoms, cocaine symptoms generally involve mostly psychological challenges. These often include nightmares, problems with concentration, cognitive challenges, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and difficulties feeling joy or pleasure.

In addition to psychological challenges, some people will experience physical and behavioral withdrawal symptoms as well. Common examples of these include chills, tremors, nerve pain, and muscle cramps. 

Withdrawal Timeline

Cocaine is a powerful drug. However, it has a short half-life. This means that cocaine does not remain active in the body for a long period of time. It also means that the time it takes for withdrawal symptoms to set in is also very short.

Cocaine addiction statistics show that withdrawal from many other drugs starts within eight to twelve hours after not consuming the drug. On the other hand, cocaine withdrawal effects can start as soon as ninety minutes after one’s last dose.4 For most people, symptoms of withdrawal from cocaine will subside within seven to ten days after the withdrawal process begins.

It is important to remember that withdrawal does not look the same for everyone. Factors including co-occurring medical or mental health conditions, polysubstance abuse, and addiction severity will affect how long the withdrawal process lasts.

How To Stop Cocaine Addiction

How To Stop Cocaine Addiction

Detoxing from cocaine generally does not produce the same intense and overwhelming physical symptoms as detoxing from alcohol or opioids. Even so, the psychological withdrawal symptoms of cocaine addiction can be powerful and difficult to manage without professional treatment.

It is important to seek help at a professional treatment center to learn how to manage cocaine cravings and triggers safely and successfully after detox. In most rehabs, cocaine addiction therapy focuses on helping addicts change their harmful and destructive behaviors through behavioral therapies.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

The most widely used behavioral therapy for cocaine addiction and other types of drug addiction is cognitive behavioral therapy. Also known as CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy sessions encourage participants to examine their negative thoughts and actions to help them better understand how their addiction developed.It also teaches them how change the behaviors that contribute to their chronic addiction.

Addiction Therapies

In addition to CBT, other possible addiction therapies for cocaine addiction include contingency management, peer support groups like the 12-Step program, and other motivational therapies. Many addiction treatment programs use a combination of therapy and medication to help people navigate the stages of recovery, but this is not the case with cocaine addiction treatment.


To date, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not authorized any specific medications for cocaine addiction rehab. Depending on one’s specific withdrawal symptoms, it is possible that antidepressants or antipsychotic drugs can be used to help reduce the intensity of specific mental health symptoms that are worsened by withdrawal.

Inpatient Care

Although cocaine addiction can be managed in both inpatient and outpatient settings, the best outcomes are usually achieved with inpatient treatment as the first course of therapy. At an inpatient program, you can safely detox under medical supervision. You’ll complete a cocaine addiction treatment program in the same location with the same treatment staff you have grown to trust.  

Outpatient Care

Although cocaine addiction can be managed in both inpatient and outpatient settings, the best outcomes are usually achieved with inpatient treatment as the first course of therapy. At an inpatient program, you can safely detox under medical supervision. You’ll complete a cocaine addiction treatment program in the same location with the same treatment staff you have grown to trust.