Cocaine is a powerful stimulant that can quickly become addictive. It is known by many street names including Charlie, Coke, Blow, Dust and Snow, but it is usually seen as a white powder that has a bitter, chemical taste and smell.

It can be consumed in three ways:

  • Snorting lines of it up the nose.
  • Smoking it as crack cocaine or freebase using a pipe or glass tube.
  • Mixing it with water and injecting it.

Cocaine is a controlled substance and it can be extremely dangerous. It is also often mixed (“cut”) with sugar, laxatives, livestock dewormer or other drugs, and consuming these can also be hazardous.

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Cocaine is psychologically addictive because it can produce an intense feeling of pleasure and a powerful ‘high’; a rewarding stimulus in parts of the brain which addicted individuals are compelled to replicate.

It is also physically addictive and becoming dependent upon it can happen so quickly it often takes those who use it by surprise. Tolerance begins to build after using it just once and, because this tolerance builds rapidly, addicted users can soon find that they are taking it in increasingly large amounts to achieve the same effect as the earlier experiences. Long-term use can have a serious effect on someone’s ability to function in society and can also lead to other health problems in the heart, brain, kidneys and stomach. However, long-term users often feel the need to continue taking cocaine anyway to avoid withdrawal symptoms, which can include depression and suicidal thoughts.

There are no definite ‘rules’ when it comes to causes of cocaine addiction. One person may develop an addiction when another person does not despite being in similar circumstances and even though both are at high risk of developing an addiction. However, a number of factors that may make someone more vulnerable to developing a cocaine addiction have been identified, such as environment, psychology, genetics and brain chemistry.

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Cocaine abuse – and, indeed, drug abuse of any kind – is different to cocaine addiction.

Drug abuse is often the first step on the road to addiction, and cocaine abuse can make it difficult for people to handle their usual responsibilities at work and at home. It may also lead people to behave in a way they wouldn’t usually and develop physical side effects.

Addiction means the user has a strong urge to take a drug, regardless of the consequences. An addiction develops once someone becomes more tolerant of the drug – which can happen easily with cocaine – and needs to take more to achieve the same results and/or suffers from withdrawal symptoms without it.

Addiction also means that, despite understanding that a drug has harmful effects, the person continues to take it.