Cocaine and Crack Addiction

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Part of the complete guide to understanding addiction

Cocaine, a derivative of the coca plant native to western South America, is a naturally occurring stimulant. Long before anyone had heard of cocaine addiction, the coca plant was traditionally used to overcome hunger, fatigue, and pain, as well as featuring in Andean and Peruvian religious ceremonies.

German chemist Albert Neiman first isolated cocaine from the coca plant in 1859. It gained widespread acceptance in the medical community as an anesthetic some twenty years later, with Sigmund Freud as one of its chief proponents. Freud himself used the drug extensively and went as far as to call it a “magical” substance in his 1884 paper “Uber Coca” (“about coke”) shortly before the appearance of coke in coca cola.

As use of cocaine grew and its harmful effects became increasingly evident, efforts began at the federal level to criminalize its sale and possession. By the 1950s the cocaine battle was considered over, and its use faded to a niche background.

And then Hollywood made it relevant again.


Cocaine Addiction Reborn Again

Cocaine became associated with the entertainment community in the 70s and gained renown as a “glamor drug” used and abused by the rich and famous. Although initially restricted to the party lifestyle of wealthy celebrities, due to prohibitive costs, it eventually trickled down to the general population. With the advent of crack – a base form of cocaine that is far cheaper to produce – it became accessible even to the impoverished. The American cocaine epidemic was underway and has ebbed and flowed ever since. Recent statistics have shown rising coke abuse, leading some observers to sound the alarm on a modern-day cocaine resurgence.

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Crack Cocaine Street Names

Cocaine street names include but are not limited to:

  • Coke
  • Blow
  • Big C
  • Dust
  • Line
  • Rail
  • Snow
  • Powder
  • Stash
  • Pearl
  • Bump

Crack street names include but are not limited to:

  • Candy or rock candy
  • Base
  • Ball
  • Rocks
  • Nuggets
  • Grit
  • Hail
  • Dice
  • Sleet
  • Chemical
  • Tornado


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What Does Cocaine Look Like? What Does Crack Look Like?

Cocaine is most commonly produced as a white-ish powdery substance. Many dealers will dilute cocaine with sugar or local anesthetics, both to increase profits and vary potency. Crack, on the other hand, comes in a rock-like form.

What Does Cocaine Smell Like? What Does Crack Smell Like?

Cocaine smells metallic and bitter due to the chemicals used to extract it from the coca plant, though it has a natural floral fragrance. Crack smells like burnt plastic or rubber when smoked.

What Does Cocaine Taste Like? What Does Crack Taste Like?

Crack cocaine typically tastes bitter. A cocaine abuser will often place the drug into their mouth not to taste-test, but to ascertain its level of purity. As mentioned, much of the cocaine on the market is “cut”, or mixed, to raise profit margins or lower potency. When fillers like talcum powder or baking powder are added, crack can taste powdery in addition to bitter. 

How are Cocaine and Crack Abused?

Cocaine is most commonly snorted or rubbed on the gums. It can also be dissolved in water and injected, or in the case of crack, smoked. What happens when you smoke crack? When smoked, it reaches the brain in mere seconds and creates intense and instant euphoria, known as a “rush” in drug abuse parlance. Its “high” has a relatively short lifespan and can last less than 10 minutes.

When snorted or rubbed, cocaine’s journey to the brain is slower, and the euphoria it induces is milder and longer-lasting. Initially, it can cause increased energy and alertness and a reduced need for sleep. It will invariably lead to heightened irritability, paranoia, and many other debilitating repercussions.

A common sport in drug circles is that of combining cocaine with heroin. Known on the street as “speedballing”, this practice is particularly dangerous and consistently causes tragic outcomes.

In a desperate effort to maintain the rapidly cycling euphoria, the cocaine addict will binge while continuously increasing dosage levels. The crash comes hard on its heels and is characterized by complete mental and physical exhaustion and strong depression. Eventually, the crash runs its course, acute cravings follow, and the vicious cycle begins anew. Cocaine’s strong addictive properties have earned it its reputation as a hard drug.

How Does Cocaine Work?

Dopamine is a pleasure-inducing chemical naturally produced in the human body and transported throughout the brain via the nervous system. Among other things, it provides attraction and motivation towards activities which provide the reward of pleasure.

Cocaine triggers the release of dopamine to the brain at an unnatural speed and in abnormal quantities. This creates sudden feelings of euphoria and stimulation, and in turn triggers an intense physical craving to recreate that enormous overload of pleasure.

Is Cocaine Addictive?

Cocaine raises the body’s tolerance and threshold for dopamine, causing it to require ever-higher levels of the chemical to reach euphoria, and eventually to just feel normal. In a cruel irony, cocaine heightens the level of dopamine necessary for basic living, while simultaneously inhibiting natural dopamine production. Particularly at times of abstinence, this causes severe depression.

The brain has now rewired its dopamine process and the user has moved from recreation to full-blown addiction.

Symptoms and Physical Signs of Cocaine Addiction

There are many signs of cocaine addiction that one can be on the lookout for, especially if a loved one is struggling with Substance Use Disorder (SUD). They include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Long periods of wakefulness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Overconfidence
  • Overexcitement
  • Paranoia
  • Runny nose or frequent sniffling
  • Depression
  • White powder around nostrils
  • Legal issues
  • Consistent absence or lateness to work
  • Financial problems
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability


Health-related side effects of cocaine abuse include an increased risk of heart failure, stroke, severe migraines, lung damage, convulsions, seizures, and bowel decay. Additionally, it can harm the nerve receptors in the nose and result in a loss of the sense of smell if snorted regularly.

Overdose and Fatality Rates

Overdose deaths involving cocaine continue to spiral upwards. The most recent statistics (May 2019) released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) [1] reported that in 2017 there were 13,942 cocaine-abuse-linked deaths, a staggering increase of over 34% from just the year before. Fatality rates rose in every age, ethnic group, and region in the United States. The most notable spike occurred in females aged 15 to 24.

A common and tragic drug-dealing practice is the lacing of cocaine with potent opioids such as Fentanyl. It has led to users ingesting substances without actually knowing what they contain, heavily contributing to the skyrocketing overdose numbers. Nearly three-quarters of cocaine-related deaths in 2017 [2] involved an opioid combination.

Risk Factors for Cocaine Addiction

How addictive is cocaine? Very! And anyone can become addicted to cocaine at any stage of their life. However, the following factors can increase one’s chances of developing a cocaine addiction.

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A. Genetics

If you have a family history of cocaine addiction, this puts you at a higher risk of developing it yourself. Or you can develop an “addictive personality” through your family experiences. For example, if your parents are alcoholic, you might choose not to drink but instead use other habit-forming substances, like cocaine.

B. Environment

On a related note, our environments also influence our addiction risk. Children and teens experiencing parental neglect or abuse are at a higher risk of using drugs to cope with the lack of their reality. Peer pressure can also result in addiction.

C. Age at First Use

Using cocaine at a young age can not only impair brain development but also lead to mental health disorders in adulthood. Compared to alcohol or marijuana, cocaine is already more addictive for adults, so the long-term health consequences for children are magnified.

Detox Treatment

Entering a detox facility is the first step for a cocaine user to get clean. Withdrawal can cause painful physical symptoms such as nausea, fever, altered heartbeat, depression, and heightened stress levels. In some cases, hallucinations and extreme paranoia have been experienced by recovering users. Understandably, detox must be overseen by competent medical professionals.

Once the residual toxins of the drug have left the system, the addict must enter treatment. It is vital to investigate your options thoroughly and find a trustworthy rehab provider. Most health plans today cover treatment for drug rehabilitation; identify the facility that works best both with you and for you.

The industry is rife with opportunistic, greedy merchants who view your loved one’s addiction as a chance to make a quick buck. Keep your eyes open and ask questions - be wary of those offering a quick fix or a two-week vacation. Your loved one’s life is at stake.

Recover from Cocaine Addiction With Avenues Recovery

Understanding that cocaine addiction is treatable is the first step in recovery. One does not need to go through any addiction alone. Avenues Recovery, leaders in addiction rehabilitation, have proven success treating a wide range of substance use disorders. We offer a variety of treatment programs and resources to help those struggling with addiction. If you or a loved one are experiencing signs of cocaine addiction or struggling with any other type of addiction, reach out to us to get the help you deserve. Start your journey to recovery today!




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