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What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine, also known as coke, C, snow, flake, or blow, is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant. It produces short-term euphoria and a temporary boost in energy, talkativeness, and confidence, in addition to potentially dangerous physical effects like increased heart rate and blood pressure.

Cocaine can take the form of a powder that is inhaled through the nose (snorted) or dissolved in water and injected into the bloodstream. It also can be sold as crack (sometimes called “freebase”), a form of cocaine that has been processed into a rock crystal that can be smoked.

Since the high from cocaine lasts such a short time, people often use it in a binge pattern.

The high from snorting cocaine lasts about 15 to 30 minutes; the high from smoking or injecting the drug produces a more intense high that lasts five to 10 minutes.

Effects of Cocaine Use

Since the high from cocaine lasts such a short time, people often use it in a binge pattern, taking the drug repeatedly at increasingly higher doses. This practice can lead to addiction, a chronic disease that is characterized by uncontrollable drug-seeking no matter what the consequences are. People who are addicted to cocaine often put their drug use ahead of other concerns, like family and career, making them susceptible to damaged relationships and financial difficulties.

In addition, repeated use can cause changes in the brain that lead to tolerance—the need to take more and more of a drug to achieve the same effect. This can make the user less able to experience pleasure from other things and experiences. As dosages or frequency of use increases, so does the risk of adverse psychological effects, such as panic attacks, paranoia, and hallucinations.


“At the beginning the coke made me feel really social, but eventually it isolated me from everyone. Recovery was a long road, but was totally worth it.”

Anaïs, Phoenix House Alum

Read my story

Physical effects depend on how the individual uses the drug. Regularly snorting cocaine can lead to loss of sense of smell, nosebleeds, and an overall irritation of the nasal septum, whereas ingesting cocaine can cause severe bowel gangrene. Injecting the drug can bring about severe allergic reactions and increased risk for contracting HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases. People who use cocaine by any method can suffer heart attacks, strokes, and seizures—all of which can result in sudden death.

Signs that Someone Needs Treatment for Cocaine Addiction

Here are questions to ask if you’re concerned that you or someone you love may have a problem with cocaine.

  • Do they frequently disappear and then return in a different mood?
  • Have they lost their appetite and seem to be uninterested in food?
  • Do they often have a runny nose or nosebleeds, when they didn’t before?
  • Do they experience bouts of paranoia or panic attacks?
  • Have they become so preoccupied with the drug that they no longer seem to care about their family, career, education, or activities they used to enjoy?
  • Do they find it difficult to feel happy without it?
  • Do they need more and more of the drug to achieve the same effect?
  • Have they ever tried to quit but couldn’t?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” the person you’re concerned about may have a problem; if the answer to more than one question is “yes,” it’s highly likely that a problem exists.


At Phoenix House, we treat the whole person, not just the addiction. Our withdrawal management and stabilization services (commonly known as “detox”) not only help clients safely discontinue their drug use while minimizing withdrawal symptoms, but also connect individuals to the next level of care—outpatient, residential, or sober living services—depending on their needs.

All of our residential and outpatient programs (both for teens and adults) provide counseling as well as family support, using the latest research-tested treatment methods to give our clients the tools for lasting recovery. Many of our locations also have vocational and educational services, and most offer Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and 12-step groups. We offer aftercare and ongoing recovery services for those who have finished treatment and feel they could benefit from continued support.

We Can Help

If you’re concerned about your loved one’s cocaine use or your own, we encourage you to reach out to us. Our caring, compassionate team can give you a comprehensive, confidential evaluation to help you and your family determine next steps. We offer safe, affordable treatment at a variety of locations. Call us anytime: We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Source for What Is Cocaine? and About Cocaine Problems: National Institute on Drug Abuse