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How to Tell if a Loved One is Using Cocaine


How to tell if a loved one is using cocaine

While cocaine may not be quite as popular as it once was, it is still widespread. According to statistics compiled by the White House Drug Use Task Force, 36.8 million Americans aged 12 and above have used cocaine at least once. Studies show that nearly one in five eighth grade students have access to the drug. That number doubles for teenagers. Nearly one in four young adults use it, and 15,000 Americans die from using it every year. Around 17 percent of all people in prison report having committed crimes in order to feed their habit. Cocaine users are found in all socioeconomic groups, from homeless people to wealthy lawyers and politicians. The average cocaine user actually has a full time job, and often a family as well.

Cocaine is still a highly dangerous drug. Even a single use can cause addiction, and addiction all too often forms a slippery slope into crime, health problems, and death. If you suspect that a loved one is addicted to cocaine, then you need to intervene and get them the help they need before it is too late. Learn the signs and symptoms of cocaine use so that you can step in if needed.

Immediate Symptoms

Using cocaine even once creates immediate and sometimes distinctive symptoms such as:

  • Insomnia – Cocaine stimulates the heart and lungs, giving its users a boost of energy. This often makes falling asleep and staying asleep difficult.
  • Restless Body Language – The stimulating effects of the drug makes it difficult for users to keep still. A person on cocaine tends to move their legs, tap their feet, and look around all over the place. They will stand up and sit down a lot, and pace back and forth.
  • Tics and Twitches – There is a pronounced tendency for small muscles, particularly the ones around the eyes and mouth, to twitch or repeatedly spasm when a person is on this drug.
  • Loss of Appetite – Cocaine suppresses the appetite, and so a user tends to suddenly eat much less than they used to, often skipping meals. People with body image issues or weight problems are at increased risk of cocaine abuse, as some see it as a quick path to weight loss.
  • Unusual Energy and Euphoria – The most obvious initial symptom of cocaine use is a sudden increase in energy, accompanied by an unusually good mood and high hopes. The sudden drive this produces can easily cross over into the manic.
  • Depression, Anxiety, and Paranoia – After the effects of the drug wear off, the brain and body collapse into a low-energy state. The user will seem unusually lethargic, paranoid, prone to misinterpreting innocuous comments as personal attacks, and generally depressed.
  • Pupil Dilation – Cocaine dilates the pupils, making them unusually large even in bright light.
  • Elevated Temperature – Because the metabolism races on cocaine, users tend to have higher than normal temperatures. A fever without other signs of illness can be a warning sign of cocaine use.
  • Rapid Breathing – If someone that you love seems to suddenly breath rapidly for no reason, it might be a symptom of cocaine use.
  • Elevated Pulse and Blood Pressure – These are symptoms that are not easy to check without being detected, but If you have reason to suspect cocaine use, testing the pulse and blood pressure is a good idea. People on this drug have racing pulses and high blood pressure.

Long-Term Symptoms

Long-term use builds up a resistance to the drug. The addiction causes users to keep increasing their doses in order to get the same effect. These increasing doses affect the chemistry of the brain and the behavior of many of the body’s physical symptoms. Some of these are just like the symptoms of a single dose, but worse. Other symptoms are new. The most common symptoms of long-term cocaine use are:

  • Nosebleed – Cocaine is often snorted, and long-term use can damage the blood vessels in the nose, resulting in nosebleeds.
  • Frequent Mood Swings – The increasing doses of a long-term user mess up the brain’s natural balance of hormones and neurotransmitters, causing extreme, unpredictable mood swings.
  • Prolonged and Irrational Paranoia and Irritability – Long-term use exaggerates the irritability that a single use causes. If a loved one has become increasingly irritable over time, and more prone to taking offense where none was intended, it is wise to suspect possible cocaine use. This paranoia can, in extreme cases, become a psychosis.
  • Hallucinations – As the doses get ever higher, the brain chemistry of the abuser becomes increasingly messed up. This will eventually lead to both visual and auditory hallucinations.
  • Chest Pain – Prolonged high blood pressure and rapid heart rate can lead to chest pains.
  • Blurred Vision – Advanced users lose control over the muscles around their eyes, causing them to be unable to focus them.
  • Lack of Sex Drive – Long term use destroys the sex drive. A change in the sexual appetites of a long-term partner could indicate a cocaine problem.
  • Sale of Personal Items – The cocaine addict finds nothing to be more important than getting the next fix. This often results in the addict selling off personal possessions in order to buy more. This can even include highly prized items, things with a lot of sentimental value.
  • Seizures – One of the most serious warning signs of cocaine abuse is the onset of seizures without a history of epilepsy.
  • Coma – A sudden unexplained coma may be the result of cocaine abuse.

Observation and Diagnosis

No one symptom can prove cocaine or crack abuse. The best way to tell is to observe someone over a period of time. Friends and loved ones of a cocaine user are the people best placed to see the changes in mood and the coming and going of other symptoms. The people who know how a person normally behaves are the only ones who can really tell when that behavior has changed, and if it has changed in a way that is indicative of a cocaine problem. The sudden appearance of symptoms on the immediate list followed by the development of the symptoms on the long-term list is a serious cause for concern.


Office of National Drug Control Policy