Recognizing Signs of Cocaine Abuse

man setting up line of cocaine

Cocaine use is serious— it can tear apart families and ruin lives. While often romanticized in movies and media as the rock star’s drug of choice, in real life it’s a costly and debilitating habit that does irreparable harm to its users’ bodies and their minds. If you’re worried that somebody you love is developing a cocaine habit, look for these telltale signs of cocaine abuse:

Physical Signs of Cocaine Use

Let’s get the easy one out of the way first, in case you’re utterly unfamiliar with cocaine: it’s an addictive, expensive white powdered stimulant that is most commonly snorted through the nose. The smoking gun is noticing white smears around the suspected user’s nostrils.

Several other popular drugs are also taken this same way—many painkiller abusers snort their painkillers, and students abusing “study drugs” such as Adderall and Ritalin will often crush them up and snort them. Cocaine, though, has a much shorter duration of action on the body and needs to be re-upped every fifteen to thirteen minutes to maintain a high, often resulting in a crusty buildup around the nose. Over time, the acidic properties of the powdered cocaine itself, combined with other chemicals it may have been “cut” with, will begin to destroy the flesh around the nostrils, causing constant sudden nosebleeds and eventually eats away at the tissue in the nose and nasal cavity.

Other physical tells during the period of intoxication include:

  • Excessive sniffling.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Fidgeting and inability to sit still.
  • Sweating.

Later, after the user has come down and is experiencing the “hangover” of withdrawal symptoms, they may display:

  • Fatigue.
  • Anxiety and irritability.
  • Suspicion and paranoia (after excessive use).

Behavioral Signs of Cocaine Abuse

Often, more pronounced than the physical tells of sniffling, fidgeting, and dilated pupils, are the changes cocaine intoxication can have on a user’s personality. Their experience is one of artificial excitement and false creativity, and that is likely to show in their behavior. Introverts can become extroverted, and self-confidence may suddenly increase. Users are more likely to think their ideas are interesting and obsess over sudden business ideas, artistic endeavors, plans for mischief, and other impulsive diversions. Look for these telltale behavioral signs that someone may be abusing cocaine:

  • Levels of excitement and enthusiasm for unusual experiences that are not normal for the individual.
  • Speaking faster and louder than normal.
  • Bathroom breaks every 15-30 minutes, often with the same friend.

Lifestyle Signs of Cocaine Abuse

The following changes in lifestyle behaviors can also be signs of cocaine abuse:

1. Being Short On Cash

Cocaine is unique among hard drugs in that it’s simultaneously one of the cheapest and most expensive drug habits, depending on if the user is developing a habit based around powdered cocaine or “crack” cocaine (a form of the drug that is cooked into smokeable crystals for wider distribution). Powdered cocaine that hasn’t been cut is often bought by the “eight ball” (an eighth of an ounce) for $300 or more, whereas crack’s model of distribution by individual crystals lends itself to being sold in units as small as one “hit” for $15-20.

Socioeconomically speaking, powdered cocaine is popular among the white people and affluent people, whereas the use of crack is concentrated in poor neighborhoods of color. According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, of 34 million white people who had ever used cocaine in their life, 21% had used it in crack form, whereas of 3 million people of color, nearly half were using crack. Either way, the habit can burn through the wallet of the user very quickly, scaled to what their socioeconomic means might be.

2. Lying About Whereabouts & Friends

Addicts lie—a lot. Knowing that their friends and family will disapprove of their unwise and hurtful choices, they may begin to concoct excuses for missed work and unexplainable whereabouts. Be on the lookout for sudden shifts in their peer group, as well; as an addict begins to want to spend more of their time using and less of it sober, they may push away from traditional friends and spend more time in a new social circle where using is cool.

It’s Never Too Late to Get Help

If you suspect that somebody you care about is developing a cocaine habit, there’s no such thing as “too far gone” for them to turn it around. Reach out to our team of trained professionals to learn more about how our team of medical professionals can assist you in planning an intervention and seeking help for your loved one.

“DrugFacts: Cocaine”. National Institute on Drug Abuse. National Institute of Health, June 2016. Web. Accessed 9/13/2016. “Cocaine intoxication”. Medline Plus. US National Library of Medicine, 4/13/2015. Web. Accessed 9/14/2016. “Cocaine withdrawal”. Medline Plus. US National Library of Medicine, 4/13/2015. Web. Accessed 9/14/2016. Hartney, Elizabeth Ph.D. “What Does A Cocaine High Feel Like?”  VeryWell., 8/27/2016. Accessed 9/15/206. “2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health”.  Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.  Table 1.29A and Table 1.34A. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. Web (PDF). Accessed 9/15/2016.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.