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What makes cocaine addictive?

Posted on July 18, 2022

What makes cocaine addictive?

Cocaine is a recreational substance used for the ‘high’ that it creates, making individuals feel excited, happy, and confident.

However, it is also a highly addictive substance with several factors contributing to its ability to trigger harmful behaviour.

Individuals can be at a higher risk of developing cocaine addiction due to genetics or social life, but effective treatments are available.

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What is cocaine?


Cocaine – otherwise referred to as ‘crack’ or ‘coke’ – is a drug that stimulates the central nervous system and acts as an anaesthetic.

While it is common for some to use it in a recreational format, using its effects to achieve a brief ‘high’ that alleviates worries and makes individuals feel excited and happy, cocaine is highly addictive.

Why do people become addicted to cocaine?

Unlike substances such as alcohol or heroin, cocaine addiction does not involve the body becoming reliant on the presence of the substance in order to function correctly. Instead, it impacts the brain and how an individual thinks.

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Psychological dependency

Instead of developing a ‘physical dependency’, individuals who take cocaine regularly develop what is known as ‘psychological dependency’; they believe they cannot function without taking it. This dependency develops as a result of several factors.

Taking cocaine influences the brain’s limbic system, triggering dopamine release, which is strongly associated with feelings of pleasure [1].

As a result, taking cocaine makes individuals feel happier, calmer, or more excitable.

With consistent use, the brain begins to develop an association between cocaine and these feelings.

As a result, individuals feel a growing impulse to use cocaine when they feel sad or want to feel good, and this positive reinforcement pushes them further into this cycle.

After such consistent use, individuals reach a point where their brain no longer thinks that taking cocaine is a good idea but instead believes cocaine to be essential for them to function normally.

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Dual diagnosis

For many, the desire to take cocaine comes from a need to self-medicate against mental health difficulties like anxiety, depression, or trauma. When this is the case, it is known as dual diagnosis.

Dual diagnosis contributes to the development of cocaine addiction because it can act as their initial and ongoing motivation for wanting the ‘high’ provided by the substance.

Someone with anxiety, for example, might take cocaine to ease their worrying and stress.

When the effects wear off, they will want to take it again, over time developing such a dependency that they crave cocaine as soon as they experience the slightest bit of anxiety.

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Developing a tolerance

Cocaine addiction does not involve individuals taking small doses of the drug regularly. Instead, like alcoholism, cocaine addiction involves consuming excessive quantities, which means the individuals take more and more over time.

Individuals will increase the quantity of cocaine because the body naturally becomes used to cocaine’s effect.

With it being taken more often, its effect on the brain becomes less and less, prompting the brain to crave more of it to achieve the same level of ‘high’.

As a result, individuals feel inclined to take higher quantities of it, and consumption continues to increase as psychological dependency develops and the body continues to adjust.

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The impact of withdrawal

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Cocaine addiction is also fuelled by the adverse effects that arise when it is not taken, just as much as it is motivated by the pleasurable sensations felt in the brain after use.

Just like physical dependency, psychological addictions involve individuals suffering from intense withdrawal symptoms when they do not have access to a particular drug.

Despite not being felt physically, they can be incredibly uncomfortable and dangerous.

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Cocaine withdrawal symptoms include:

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  • Insomnia and resulting fatigue/restlessness
  • Nightmares or poor sleep
  • Intense anxiety and/or depression
  • Mood swings
  • Paranoia
  • Unbearable cravings for cocaine

When individuals experience these cravings, they will act in whatever way necessary to curb them.

Usually, they will try to do anything they can to get some cocaine, but this can cause them to act recklessly or dangerously.

If cocaine is unavailable, individuals can also experience suicidal thoughts or impulses.

Please call our 24-Hour Helpline: 0800 088 66 86.

Can I be at a higher risk of cocaine addiction?


Addiction is a condition that does not result from just one single factor. Instead, individuals develop it because of the combination of several factors in their life. These include:

  • Genetics – some people are biologically more likely to develop cocaine addiction, inheriting this through genetics.
  • Social pressures – the family and friends an individual interacts with can seriously influence their perception and interaction with cocaine.
  • Upbringing – how we are raised has a significant impact on how we see the world, and those who are brought up to see cocaine as something to be consumed commonly or regularly are more likely to develop an addiction.

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What risks come with cocaine addiction?

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While taking cocaine can seem like a good idea in the short term, given its immediate pleasurable effects, becoming addicted causes much more harm than good.

First and foremost, taking cocaine can have severe impacts on physical health. While the addiction the substance causes is not physical, it doesn’t mean that there are no consequences for the body.

The physical effects of cocaine addiction include:

Old man holding his face in distress.

  • Heart complications, including increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Damage to major organs, such as the liver and kidney
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Erectile dysfunction in men
  • Frequent vomiting or nausea
  • Increased risk of stroke and heart attack

Cocaine’s impact on the brain additionally means that there are implications for mental and emotional health due to consuming so much of it for a prolonged period of time.

These include an increased risk of developing:

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  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Panic attacks
  • Problems with concentration and memory

Finally, there are social and societal impacts to consider. Those addicted to cocaine are more likely to behave in socially unacceptable ways to fund their habit.

For example, they can steal money, act aggressively, or take risks that put them in physical danger.

These behaviours can put them in direct conflict with the law, and individuals can also cause upset and conflict with friends and family members.

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Treating cocaine addiction

Cocaine addiction is not easy to tackle, so those who struggle are strongly encouraged to seek medical help as soon as they notice a problem with their consumption.

Treating the condition is very doable, but delaying the process can cause issues.

Cocaine addiction therapy

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Because cocaine addiction does not involve the development of physical dependency, treating it does not require any form of detox.

Instead, treatments targeting the mind are needed, which come in the form of behavioural therapy [2].

These treatments work to help individuals identify the way their brain and thought processes influence their behaviour.

For example, a therapist guides discussion around addictive triggers and addictive tendencies to help them understand how their condition has developed.

Following this, behavioural therapies provide individuals with skills and techniques for better handling their cocaine addictions in the future.

The specific support offered will depend on the type of therapy an individual receives.

For example, those who receive Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) will learn to identify harmful thought processes.

Therapy will support them in recognising what thoughts compel them to take cocaine, what triggers these thoughts, and how they can better manage them.

Please call our 24-Hour Helpline: 0800 088 66 86.

How can Rehab Recovery help?

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Cocaine addiction can be really dangerous, and those who suffer are strongly encouraged to seek help as soon as they can and access rehab services.

At Rehab Recovery, we understand that this is not an easy thing to do. Doubt and fear can make recovery seem scary and daunting.

If you need help or know someone who does, reach out to us and let us help you get the recovery process started. We can provide support every step of the way, so give us a call on 0800 088 66 86.






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