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How Long Does It Take to Get Addicted to Cocaine?

It is crucial for those experiencing substance use and addiction and their loved ones to understand the timeline and risk factors associated with becoming addicted to cocaine. Cocaine is a highly potent and addictive stimulant derived from the coca plant. Cocaine affects the brain’s chemistry and leads to addiction relatively quickly. Answering “How long does it take to get addicted to cocaine?” is complex. Various factors are involved, including frequency of use, dosage, and individual susceptibility.

The Immediate Side Effects of Cocaine Use & Short-Term Risks

Immediate Physical Risks and Side Effects of Cocaine Use

  • Euphoria and energy: Individuals experience a surge in energy and feelings of intense happiness.
  • Increased alertness: Individuals experience a heightened sense of awareness and alertness, often accompanied by increased talkativeness.
  • Physical changes: Cocaine causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

Immediate Mental Health Risks and Side Effects of Cocaine Use

  • Mental health effects: Individuals may experience immediate feelings of paranoia or anxiety, which may lead to panic attacks in some individuals.
  • Risk of a negative experience: While some find the initial experience euphoric or energizing, others may find it unsettling or dangerous.

Why Do People Use Cocaine?

Reasons Behind Cocaine Use

  • Social and recreational use: Cocaine is often used in social settings for its euphoric and energizing effects.
  • Coping mechanism: Some individuals use cocaine as a way to cope with stress, anxiety, or other mental health concerns.

cocaine use leads to addiction and dependence

Dangers of Repeated Cocaine Use

  • Addiction and dependence: Prolonged use can lead to addiction and a host of health and lifestyle problems.
  • Physical and mental health risks: Continued use can cause severe mental and physical health issues, affecting all areas of life.

What Makes Cocaine Highly Addictive?

Cocaine is recognized as a highly addictive substance. Even short-term use creates challenges for individuals. The addictive qualities of cocaine stem from several key factors:

Impact on the Brain’s Reward System

  • Dopamine release: Cocaine causes a significant release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, which leads to a profound sense of euphoria.
  • Reward system alteration: Regular use of cocaine can alter the brain’s natural reward system (1); this makes the substance increasingly necessary for the user to feel pleasure or a sense of normalcy.
  • Rapid onset of effects: Cocaine’s effects are almost immediate and become faster with different consumption methods such as snorting or smoking it as these methods enable it to reach the bloodstream faster. This rapid onset contributes to cocaine’s addictive potential.

Physical Dependence and Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Tolerance development: With continued use, individuals develop a tolerance to the effects of cocaine. Individuals then require more of the drug to achieve the same effects.
  • Withdrawal symptoms: Discontinuing cocaine after frequent use leads to withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, depression, increased appetite, insomnia, and vivid or unpleasant dreams.
  • Psychological dependence: Cocaine also creates a strong psychological dependence due to its intense effects on mood and energy.

Cocaine Addiction vs. Dependence

When discussing cocaine use, it is important to understand the difference between addiction (2) and dependence.

cocaine addiction and dependence and disrupt personal life

Signs of Cocaine Addiction

  • Compulsive use: This is an overwhelming desire within individuals to regularly use cocaine despite understanding the negative consequences.
  • Continued use despite harm: The individual persists in using cocaine even when it causes significant problems in their personal, professional, or social life.
  • Lifestyle revolves around cocaine: The individual spends a substantial amount of time obtaining and using cocaine and recovering from the effects.
  • Risky behaviours: The engagement in risky or harmful activities to obtain cocaine, or while under the influence of cocaine.

Signs of Cocaine Dependence

  • Physical symptoms: This includes experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using cocaine, and indicates a physical reliance on the substance.
  • Increasing tolerance: Individuals may need increasing amounts of cocaine to feel the same effects.
  • Difficulty in reducing use: Persistent desire to cut down or control cocaine use, or unsuccessful attempts to do so. 

Both addiction and dependence have severe implications for an individual’s health and well-being. Recognizing these signs is the first step towards seeking help and beginning the journey to recovery.

Cocaine FAQs

How Long Can it Take before Cocaine Use becomes Fatal?

The risk of fatal cocaine overdose is significant, even for first-time users. This is due to its immediate and severe impact on the heart and respiratory system. Understanding these risks is crucial, as outlined by the CCSA’s Canadian Drug Summary on Cocaine (3).

How Long Does it Take for Cocaine to Cause Heart Problems?

Cocaine’s effects on the heart can be immediate and severe, leading to risks like heart attacks and arrhythmias (4). These risks, especially when compounded with chronic use, can cause long-term heart damage.

How Long Does It Take for Cocaine Use to Cause Brain Damage?

Cocaine quickly affects brain function, leads to cognitive impairments, and leads to potential long-term changes in brain structure. While some effects may be reversible with cessation and treatment, the damage can be significant.

How Long Does it Take for Cocaine to Cause Physical Problems?

Cocaine use quickly manifests as various physical health issues, from respiratory problems to increased risk of infections. These effects are exacerbated with long-term cocaine use which only underscores the importance of early intervention and treatment.

How Long Does it Take for Cocaine to Cause Liver Problems?

The impact of cocaine on liver health can be significant. This risk is particularly concerning for regular users and highlights the need for prompt medical attention in cases of prolonged use. Cocaine is especially damaging to an individual’s liver when mixed with alcohol consumption (5)

Side Effects of Cocaine Use

Cocaine, particularly in its highly addictive crack form, can lead to immediate and intense effects, which is a major factor in substance use.

  • Euphoria and energy surge: Users often experience a rush of euphoria and increased energy. These effects can be particularly appealing to younger users. In Canada, there was a reported 9.0% prevalence of cocaine use in 2019 among those aged 20-24, as noted in the Canadian Drug Summary on Cocaine (3).
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure: These physiological changes, along with heightened senses of euphoria, are immediate effects, all of which affect the heart. Plus, cocaine restricts how much oxygen the heart receives (5)
  • Mental health impacts: The onset of agitation, paranoia, psychosis, anxiety, and/or depression, are among the warning signs or symptoms of cocaine use, as noted by The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (6).

Long-Term Effects

Long-term effects of cocaine, especially from regular use, include a range of physical and mental health concerns.

  • Physical health risks: Chronic cocaine use, particularly when smoking crack cocaine, leads to significant weight loss, cardiovascular problems, and damage to the brain’s glutamate receptors. 
  • Cognitive and mental health issues: The long-term effects on mental health from cocaine use include depression, paranoia, anxiety, delusions, psychosis, and a heightened risk for erratic behaviour. Cocaine’s impact on the neurotransmitter dopamine is a critical factor in these changes.(7)
  • Risk of infectious diseases: The risk of bloodborne diseases (8) such as HIV and Hepatitis C is heightened in those who inject cocaine. This highlights the importance of substance use research and mental health administration in addressing these health concerns.

long term cocaine use can lead to depression

Are You Considering Trying Cocaine?

If you are contemplating using cocaine, it is crucial to understand the risks associated with this highly addictive substance. Do not underestimate cocaine’s potential for addiction and the harm it can cause to your health and life.

  • Informed decisions: It is essential to educate yourself about the immediate and long-term effects of cocaine use. The risks range from short-term health dangers to long-term physical and mental health concerns to fatal overdose.
  • Risk of addiction: Understanding that cocaine is a highly addictive substance can help in making an informed decision. The risk of developing substance use disorder or experiencing negative consequences from use is significant.

Where You Can Get Help

If you or a loved one grapple with the challenges of cocaine use and its triggers, it is important to know that help is readily available. Professional treatment facilities like 1000 Islands Addiction Treatment Centre, specializes in addressing the unique aspects of drug use and substance use disorders. 

1000 Islands is fully accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities and adheres to the highest standards in recovery care. We offer a holistic treatment approach while simultaneously addressing underlying and concurrent disorders. We create a supportive environment through comprehensive care including medically supervised detox services.

Talk to our team today and take the first step towards seeking help and recovery care. This is a brave and essential move towards recovery. You are not alone in this journey; allow us to help you regain control over your life.


(1)   Tompkins, D., Sellers, E. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto Addiction and the brain: the role of neurotransmitters in the cause and treatment of drug dependence (2001) MORE RECENT PUBLICATION?

(2) Canadian Mental Health Association Substance use and addiction

(3) Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction Canadian Drug Summary on Cocaine

(4) University of Ottawa Heart Institute Arrhythmias (Heart Rhythm Disorders)

(5) The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Cocaine and Crack

(6) The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Do you know: Cocaine (2013)

(7) Health Canada Cocaine and crack

(8) DeBeck, K., Kerr, T., Li, K., Fischer, B., Buxton, J., Montaner, J., Wood, E., CMAJ Smoking of crack cocaine as a risk factor for HIV infection among people who use injection drugs (2009)

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