What You Should Know About Cocaine Abuse

Most of us are familiar with the most commonly discussed dangers of cocaine. However, there are many dangerous consequences of cocaine use that are often overlooked–from hidden ingredients to who is at greatest risk for addiction to why the mind-altering effects may be more even dangerous than the physical. If you suspect your loved one is abusing this drug, you certainly have reason to be concerned.

A Dangerous Mix

Street cocaine is rarely pure. It is often cut with several ingredients intended to increase the dealer’s profits or make the drug more addictive and potent. In some cases, these fillers may make up to 80% of the product sold.1 Additionally, users may themselves choose to mix other drugs with cocaine.

Psychoactive Ingredients – Cheaper stimulants such as caffeine are commonly used to cut cocaine, as are amphetamines, crystal meth, methylphenidate, ergotamine, and aminophylline. One of the most dangerous drugs to be cut into cocaine is fentanyl, which is far more potent than cocaine on its own. 2

Poisonous Ingredients – A study on the purity of drugs sold illicitly online found that “nearly 40% of cocaine contained levamisole, an anthelmintic medication used to destroy and expel parasitic worms in animals that is not available in the United States.” Poisons such as strychnine and arsenic are sometimes cut with cocaine as well.3

Anesthetic Ingredients – Because cocaine has a natural numbing effect, cheap local anesthetics like procaine (Novocain), lidocaine, tetracaine, and benzocaine are often cut with it to give the impression that it is high quality. In fact, “lidocaine was found in more than 66% of cocaine samples seized.” 4

Other fillers – Cocaine is also cut with ingredients that include talc, flour, cornstarch, different types of sugars, baking soda, thiamin, and magnesium silicate, or sulfate.

Cocaine and Xanax – It is becoming more common for users to combine cocaine (an upper) with Xanax (a downer), which is often used to treat anxiety and as a sleep aid. Users believe the combination can help counteract some of each drug’s adverse side effects as they interact in a push-pull way. However, masking the impact of each creates a higher risk of overdose, not to mention a greater risk of addiction to one or both drugs.

Who is More Likely to Abuse Cocaine?

The attraction of cocaine for recreational purposes is tied to its ability to  heighten energy levels, mood, and concentration while reducing inhibitions. However, for many users, any positive effects are soon replaced by far greater negatives:

  • Intense depression
  • Edginess and a craving for more
  • Inability to sleep
  • Feelings of paranoia
  • Increased risk of heart attack or stroke
  • And many more, including sudden death

Approximately 10% of people who begin using cocaine will almost immediately progress to severe and heavy drug use. One of more of the following factors can put you at higher risk for addiction:

  • Genetics
  • Childhood experiences
  • Past trauma
  • Existence of inappropriate social relationships
  • Previous drug use
  • Availability of and access to drugs
  • Socioeconomic status

In addition, research suggests that “women may be more vulnerable to the reinforcing (rewarding) effects of stimulants, with estrogen possibly being one factor for this increased sensitivity.” 6

Cocaine Abuse and Co-Occurring Conditions

Research has shown that cocaine users tend to have higher rates of antisocial personality disorder, depression, anxiety, and multi-substance abuse than the general population. When a person experiences a mental illness and drug addiction simultaneously, it’s known as a co-occurring condition or dual diagnosis.

Cocaine dependency, in particular, is frequently associated with a personality disorder of some sort. For example, an estimated 11% to 20% of people with a cocaine dependency also have antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). 7

Why is this? Cocaine works by affecting the brain’s dopamine system, which controls movement, pleasure, and reward, essentially throwing off the balance in the neural processes, which may cause or worsen anxiety and depression.

Overdose isnt the Only Concern

Overdose may be only one of your worries for a loved one when it comes to cocaine abuse. While drug overdoses jumped to nearly 71,000 in 2019 in the US, partially fueled by an increase in cocaine-related deaths, the fatal toll does not stop there. For each death caused directly through cocaine intoxication, eight more deaths related to it are caused by homicide, suicide, and motor vehicle collisions as a result of the drug’s mind-altering properties. 8

The reason for this heightened danger is that when the mind-altering properties that lead to euphoria wear off, the user can become severely depressed, agitated and violent.

In addition, cocaine is particularly dangerous when driving, as its effects include poor decision-making, more impulsiveness, risk-taking, and an altered state of perception and awareness. There’s also the risk of cardiac arrest or stroke while driving.

Our Treatment Approach

If you suspect your loved one is abusing cocaine, we at Heather R. Hayes & Associates can help. Not only do we have a wealth of dual diagnosis experience, but our treatment approach for cocaine abuse is also grounded in a Trauma-Informed Responsive Intervention™, which has been proven to result in better long-term recovery and healing. We work directly with families to develop a customized plan for cocaine abuse intervention, placement, and Respectful Therapeutic Transport Protocol™ to the treatment facility.

Our master’s level clinical team provides case management during and after treatment and help with post-treatment recovery companions and coaching. As experts in cocaine abuse treatment, we will guide your loved one through each step of the recovery journey while also giving your family much needed support and peace of mind.

For more information on cocaine abuse treatment with Heather R. Hayes & Associates, call 800-335-0316 or email info@heatherhayes.com today.


  1. Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy; https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0891061817300030?via%3Dihub
  2. Journal of the American Medical Association; https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2665787
  3. International Journal of Drug Policy; https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S095539591630130X?via%3Dihub
  4. Journal of the American Dental Association; https://jada.ada.org/article/S0002-8177%2814%2960061-1/fulltext
  5. Cocaine Addiction: Theory, Research, and Treatment; https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674001787&content=toc
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse; https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/substance-use-in-women/sex-gender-differences-in-substance-use
  7. Psychiatry Research; http://www.ub.edu/geav/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/2016_Comin-Redondo-Daigre-Grau-Casas-Roncero.pdf
  8. National Center for Health Statistics; https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/drug-overdose-data.htm?source=email#nature_sources_of_data
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