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Cocaine Dependence

Last updated May 20, 2018

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Cocaine is an illegal drug stimulant and a highly addictive substance derived from the leaves of the erythroxylon coca plant. The plant is commonly grown in Peru or Columbia. Cocaine Dependence refers to the necessity of a higher dose than previously needed, to feel the same effects of the drug. Also, the user typically feels symptoms of withdrawal, when cocaine use is stopped.


What are the other Names for this Condition? (Also known as/Synonyms)

  • Cocaine Addiction

What is Cocaine Dependence? (Definition/Background Information)

  • Cocaine is an illegal drug stimulant and a highly addictive substance derived from the leaves of the erythroxylon coca plant. The plant is commonly grown in Peru or Columbia
  • Cocaine intoxication occurs after ingestion of cocaine when the central nervous system (brain) is directly affected. Cocaine is a powerful stimulant and user feels happy, energetic, and talkative
  • Cocaine Dependence refers to the necessity of a higher dose than previously needed, to feel the same effects of the drug. Also, the user typically feels symptoms of withdrawal, when cocaine use is stopped
  • Dependence can be both physical and psychological and the condition should not be taken lightly. A dependence typically indicates that the user is addicted to that substance or drug
  • Significant complications associated with Cocaine Dependence include heart attack, high blood pressure, and stroke. Death may result in severe cases of cocaine use
  • The condition is typically treated with rehabilitation programs tailored to the users’ specific needs. A proper and consistent treatment along with support from family and friends can help individuals overcome the condition

Who gets Cocaine Dependence? (Age and Sex Distribution)

  • Any individual who engages in cocaine use is likely to become dependent on the drug. However, college students and young adults have a higher risk of Cocaine Dependence
  • According to a 2005 study, the risk of an individual becoming addicted to cocaine after just one use is 5%, and this risk increases with each subsequent use

What are the Risk Factors for Cocaine Dependence? (Predisposing Factors)

Risk factors associated with Cocaine Dependence include:

  • Habitual, regular use
  • Heavy use
  • Peer pressure
  • Poor family support

It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean that one will get the condition. A risk factor increases ones chances of getting a condition compared to an individual without the risk factors. Some risk factors are more important than others.

Also, not having a risk factor does not mean that an individual will not get the condition. It is always important to discuss the effect of risk factors with your healthcare provider.

What are the Causes of Cocaine Dependence? (Etiology)

  • The mechanism of Cocaine Dependence is not fully understood, because it affects each individual differently (and sometimes, not at all)
  • Repeated use can result in dependence, as the user will, over time, need more cocaine to achieve the same desired effects
  • After cocaine use is stopped the characteristic “crash” will follow, typically leaving the user craving more. As this cycle continues, Cocaine Dependence will occur

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine Dependence?

Signs and symptoms of Cocaine Dependence include:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Compulsive behavior to seek and find the drug
  • Drastic mood changes
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Tolerance to typical effects of the drug
  • Criminal behavior
  • Hallucinations
  • Withdrawal symptoms when the use of cocaine is stopped

How is Cocaine Dependence Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of Cocaine Dependence is made using both the individual’s personal history and the DSM-IV criteria (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

  • According to the given criteria, Cocaine Dependence is characterized by the loss of control to abstain from the drug, regardless of the negative effects observed by the user
  • If the user is physically addicted to cocaine, then there is a remarkable possibility that they are psychologically addicted as well

Many clinical conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to rule out other clinical conditions to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

What are the possible Complications for Cocaine Dependence?

Cocaine Dependence can cause a multitude of complications. Some include:

  • Chest pain
  • Heart attack
  • Abdominal pain
  • Headache, nausea
  • HIV contraction through sharing needles
  • Runny nose, nosebleeds
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stroke 
  • Seizure
  • Severe cocaine use is linked to sudden death.

How is Cocaine Dependence Treated?

Cocaine Dependence is typically treated with rehabilitation programs tailored to the users’ specific needs. Each case is different and is considered separately. There are a wide variety of treatment options for those struggling with drug abuse. In combination to counseling, other methods may be used to reduce the effects of the cocaine drug and these include:

  • Using saline to clean nasal passageways
  • Drinking adequate water to rehydrate
  • Headache medication
  • Anti-anxiety medication
  • Medication to help with cough
  • Applying Vaseline to nose to reduce cracking

How can Cocaine Dependence be Prevented?

The only way to prevent Cocaine Addiction is by refraining from cocaine use.

What is the Prognosis of Cocaine Dependence? (Outcomes/Resolutions)

  • A steady treatment plus a dedicated individual committed to sobriety will result in a positive outcome of Cocaine Dependence
  • Only about 20% of the dependent users show a chronic pattern of relapse after treatment
  • Individuals, who remain abstinent for 2 years or more, show a 90% chance of remaining substance-free in 10 years

Additional and Relevant Useful Information for Cocaine Dependence:

Other than alcohol, cocaine is the most common cause of acute drug-related emergency department visits in the United States.

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?


References and Information Sources used for the Article:


Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:


Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: May 27, 2015
Last updated: May 20, 2018