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Substance use - cocaine

Substance abuse - cocaine; Drug abuse - cocaine; Drug use - cocaine

Cocaine is made from the leaves of the coca plant. Cocaine comes as a white powder, which can be dissolved in water. It is available as a powder or liquid.

As a street drug, cocaine can be taken in different ways:

Street names for cocaine include blow, bump, C, candy, Charlie, coca, coke, flake, rock, snow, speedball, toot.

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Cocaine's Effects on Your Brain

Cocaine is a strong stimulant. Stimulants make the messages between your brain and body move faster. As a result, you are more alert and physically active.

Cocaine also causes the brain to release dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that is involved with mood and thinking. It is also called the feel-good brain chemical. Using cocaine may cause pleasurable effects such as:

How fast you feel the effects of cocaine depends on how it is used:

Harmful Effects of Cocaine

Cocaine can harm the body in many ways and lead to:

People who use cocaine have a high chance of getting HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C. This is from activities such as sharing used needles with someone who is already infected with one of these diseases. Other risky behaviors that can be linked to drug use, such as having unsafe sex, can also increase the chance of becoming infected with one of these diseases.

Using too much cocaine can cause an overdose. This is known as cocaine intoxication. Symptoms can include enlarged pupils of the eye, sweating, tremors, confusion, and sudden death.

Cocaine can cause birth defects when taken during pregnancy and is not safe during breastfeeding.

Cocaine can be Addictive

Using cocaine can lead to addiction. This means your mind is dependent on cocaine. You are not able to control your use of it and need (crave) it to get through daily life.

Addiction can lead to tolerance. Tolerance means you need more and more cocaine to get the same high feeling. If you try to stop using, you may have reactions. These are called withdrawal symptoms and may include:

Treatment Options

Treatment begins with recognizing there is problem. Once you decide you want to do something about your cocaine use, the next step is to get help and support.

Treatment programs use behavior change techniques through counseling (talk therapy). The aim is to help you understand your behaviors and why you use cocaine. Involving family and friends during counseling can help support you and keep you from going back to using (relapsing) the drug.

If you have severe withdrawal symptoms, you may need to stay at a live-in treatment program. There, your health and safety can be monitored as you recover.

At this time, there is no medicine that can help reduce the use of cocaine by blocking its effects. But, scientists are researching such medicines.

Your Ongoing Recovery

As you recover, focus on the following to help prevent relapse:


Resources that may help you on your road to recovery include:

Your workplace employee assistance program (EAP) is also a good resource.

When to Call the Doctor

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you or someone you know is addicted to cocaine and needs help to stop using. Also call if you are having withdrawal symptoms that concern you.


Kowalchuk A, Reed BC. Substance use disorders. Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 50.

National Institute on Drug Abuse website. Cocaine. Updated May 2016. Accessed August 17, 2022.

Weiss RD. Drugs of abuse. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 31.


Review Date: 4/30/2022  

Reviewed By: Fred K. Berger, MD, addiction and forensic psychiatrist, Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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