Is Cocaine a Stimulant?

Cocaine is a stimulant that revs up the brain and body, causing people to feel energized and alert. Stimulants like cocaine and crack are highly addictive and can be hard to quit without treatment and rehab.
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Cocaine belongs to a class of drugs known as stimulants that elevate mood and boost alertness, energy and physical stamina. Stimulants, or “uppers,” speed up your heart rate and breathing and cause a spike in blood pressure. Crack cocaine, a cheaper rock-like form of cocaine that causes a quicker high, is also a stimulant.

Other common stimulant drugs include prescription medications such as Ritalin and Adderall, which are often used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Illegal stimulant drugs include methamphetamine and crystal meth. Caffeine and nicotine are milder, legal stimulant drugs.

What Are the Stimulant Effects of Cocaine?

Stimulant drugs have profound effects on the central nervous system. They work by disrupting levels of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters that can increase levels of activity and excitement in the body.

When a person snorts cocaine or certain other stimulants, the brain releases a flood of dopamine. Dopamine is a “feel-good” chemical that causes a euphoric rush, or high. It acts on the brain’s reward centers in ways that make people crave more of the drug. This often leads to cocaine addiction.

As dopamine and other excitatory chemicals, such as norepinephrine, build up in the spaces between brain cells, they rev up physical and mental processes in the body.

Within minutes of using cocaine, the pulse will quicken, breathing will increase, and temperature will rise. Increased energy levels and mental alertness accompany these changes in vital signs.

The stimulating effects of cocaine, combined with the euphoria, can also cause pronounced personality changes. A person who is normally shy may feel unusually confident and talkative. A depressed person may suddenly feel on top of the world.

Cocaine, or coke, also speeds up a person’s metabolism and suppresses appetite. Over time, this can lead to weight loss and even malnutrition.

Adverse Effects of Stimulants

While most stimulant drugs provide a burst of energy, they also cause a number of uncomfortable and dangerous side effects.

Cocaine has profound effects on the heart. In addition to increasing a person’s heart rate and blood pressure, it constricts blood vessels, which reduces oxygen flow to tissues and vital organs.

Coupled with low oxygen levels, these increased demands on the heart put a terrible stress on the heart muscle and can easily lead to heart damage or a heart attack. As a result, heart-related chest pain is a common complaint among cocaine users.

According to a 2010 article published in the journal Circulation, one in every four heart attacks among people between the ages of 18 and 45 involves cocaine. In addition, about 6 percent of all patients who visit the emergency room for cocaine-related chest pain experience a heart attack.

Other common stimulant effects of cocaine include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Restlessness and insomnia
  • Irritability, anxiety and paranoia
  • Sweating
  • Heart palpitations
  • Impotence

Learn more about the side effects of cocaine

Cocaine purchased on the street is never pure cocaine. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, it is often diluted, or “cut,” with sugar, anesthetics and, in recent years, opioids. The substances added to cocaine can change the side effects that a person experiences.

Drug dealers sometimes combine cocaine with other stimulants, such as caffeine, pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), methylphenidate (Ritalin) and methylamphetamine. These additives can increase the toxicity of cocaine and easily lead to a cocaine overdose.

Cocaine Crash

People who use cocaine and other stimulants often consume the drug in a crash-and-binge pattern. When under the influence of cocaine, they usually feel invigorated and invincible. But when the drug wears off a few hours later, they’ll plunge into the depths of despair.

The symptoms of a crash, or comedown, are the exact opposite of the stimulant high. This is actually the first phase of cocaine withdrawal.

The energetic rush is replaced by sudden fatigue, sluggishness, a lack of pleasure, depression and sometimes suicidal thoughts. Hunger often comes roaring back, and the individual usually experiences severe cravings for more of the stimulant. Headaches are common. Comedowns can also cause severe paranoia, anxiety and other psychological symptoms.

To avoid the agony of the crash, people will often use more cocaine, reinforcing the cycle of addiction.

Stimulant Treatment and Rehab

Cocaine is highly addictive and can be difficult to quit. People who are addicted to uppers such as coke or crack may benefit from addiction treatment.

Following the initial stimulant crash, some individuals suffer for days or weeks with uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. While it’s not always necessary to withdraw from cocaine in a medical setting, inpatient detox is particularly important for people with intense cravings, suicidal urges or other severe cocaine withdrawal symptoms.

Drug addiction is a chronic and relapsing disease, but cocaine rehab can equip you with the tools and strategies needed to resist relapse and stay on the path to long-term sobriety.

If you need help finding treatment for a cocaine addiction or want to learn about the options available to you, cocaine hotlines can connect you with resources to start your recovery journey.

Medical Disclaimer: 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.

Amy Keller, RN, BSN
Content Writer,
As a former journalist and a registered nurse, Amy draws on her clinical experience, compassion and storytelling skills to provide insight into the disease of addiction and treatment options. Amy has completed the American Psychiatric Nurses Association’s course on Effective Treatments for Opioid Use Disorder and continuing education on Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT). Amy is an advocate for patient- and family-centered care. She previously participated in Moffitt Cancer Center’s patient and family advisory program and was a speaker at the Institute of Patient-and Family-Centered Care’s 2015 national conference.

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