How to help a cocaine addict

You can help a cocaine addict by addressing the problem head on. Here, we review how to identify and encourage treatment of cocaine addiction for a loved one. Then, we invite your questions at the end.

minute read
Reviewed by: Dr. Dili Gonzalez, M.D.

ARTICLE OVERVIEW: It takes a lot of time, energy, and willingness to begin to understand cocaine addiction and what an addict goes through. Whether you need help with cocaine addiction for yourself or for a loved one, the key to successful treatments for cocaine addiction is to have a combination between psychosocial support, medical assistance, and a good aftercare plan. We review what you can do to help an addict get the treatment s/he needs. And then we invite your questions about helping a cocaine addict at the end.

Table of Contents:

What Addiction Really Is

Cocaine is one of the most addictive drugs on the illicit market. This is due to the way in which it affects the brain of the user.

When the body intakes cocaine, usually through the nose, it’s immediately transferred to the reward pathway of our brains, known as the mesolimbic dopamine system. There are numerous areas of life which reinforce this stimuli, such as food and sex. Furthermore, this stimuli is also responsible for emotions and motivations.

When the mesolimbic dopamine system isn’t on drugs, it naturally produces dopamine through a neuron which binds to dopamine receptors. When you intake cocaine, the normal communication between neurons and dopamine receptors is fluctuated. Cocaine produces a dopamine of its own and attaches itself to these dopamine transporters in your brain. Int turn, this causes your brain’s natural dopamine production to give way for cocaine’s.

With this overload of dopamine in the reward system, the brain naturally feels good. In a study done on animals¹, it was discovered that exposure to cocaine over a period of time causes neuroadaptation. In other words, the animal’s brains had adapted to the drug’s chemical structure and perceived it to be “normal”.

This is ultimately what addiction is. The body and brain changes their natural flow which can affect both for a long period of time – even after the individual has quit. With this, a person’s behavior will also change. Unlike the stereotype, drug addiction isn’t a choice. No one chooses to get addicted to drugs. Rather, they choose to get high and, in turn, their body will naturally need more in order to feel this initial high. The more a person takes, the more their body adapts. And overtime, this tolerance leads into an addiction.

Dependence or Addiction?

The first thing you can do to address addiction with someone that you love is to understand the difference between drug dependence and addiction. Cocaine addiction does not necessarily overlap with physical dependence to cocaine. Addiction triggers strong cravings and loss of control over cocaine use, despite the negative consequences. And physical dependence is best described as the body’s need for cocaine to perform normally. When a cocaine dependent person does not have cocaine, withdrawal symptoms occurs.

However, a cocaine addict can be addicted to cocaine without being dependent on it. The definition of an addiction is someone who can’t stop using despite it causing negative consequences on their life. So, how can you tell the difference? There are a few questions to ask your loved one as a means of discovering whether or not they are addicted:

  • Have you ever tried to quit cocaine without having success?
  • Do you find yourself craving to use cocaine?
  • Are your responsibilities (i.e. school, work, family) at risk due to your cocaine use?
  • Have you continued to use cocaine despite it causing problems on your relationship (i.e. significant other, family, friends)?
  • Do you find yourself in risky behavior due to your cocaine use?
  • Do you spend a large amount of time thinking about, obtaining, and/or using cocaine?

Answering yes to any of the above questions is a sign of addiction rather than dependence.

Still, dependence and addiction can occur simultaneously for cocaine addicts. The bottom line is that in order to address cocaine addiction, you need to be ready to treat both physical needs of the body as well as psychological urges of the mind. And the first phase of cocaine addiction treatment is generally detox.

Helping Address Denial

It’s quite common for someone to feel a sense of shame due to their drug addiction. Through some perspectives, an addiction is a failure of self-control and responsibility. People who struggle with addiction feel this perspective and handle it through denial.

As a loved one, handling denial can be difficult. Namely due to the fact that you might not entirely understand how addiction works yourself. The first step in addressing this problem is by informing yourself of what addiction is. Preferably, through professional guidance, such as a licensed clinical psychologist or counselor who has experience with addiction. By informing yourself of how addiction is affecting your loved one you can teach yourself how to:

  • Comprehend addiction as a brain disorder.
  • Open discussions about treatment at the right time.
  • Remain safe around a person struggling with addiction.
  • Set boundaries.
  • Understand addiction as a family issue.

Still, as mentioned, cocaine is one of the most addictive drugs out there. Due to this, denial will play a key role in your loved one’s life as their brain and body has adapted to the drug to a large extent. It’s important to understand that you’re stepping onto fragile ice when handling a cocaine addiction. Many people who struggle with it often find they have mental health issues they aren’t entirely aware of. Therefore, attempting to break denial could bring on emotional devastation if handled improperly. In order to assure you reach to your loved one with the support and optimism you wish to bring, you’ll need to take measures which will guarantee a change in their perspective.

Intervention Basics

Often, interventions are one of the most efficient ways to get your concern across to a loved one. The reason for this is it forces them to admit to their addiction without having to face consequence. Many people struggling with addiction will find they won’t openly admit to their disease unless it has led them to a point of despair through an incident or accident related to the addiction. As a loved one, it’s understandable you want to avoid this at all costs.

Planning an intervention can be difficult as you need the right direction. You need to know who are the proper people to have in attendance, the communication methods you plan on using, and the preparation for consequences if things don’t go as you hope. The best way to reach a successful intervention is through a professional interventionists (such as Family First Intervention’s services). These professionals will give you exactly the advice you need on how to operate the intervention and aim it towards success – getting your loved one into recovery.

Interventions shouldn’t be a criticism circle. They should be an opening of emotions which reach out to the loved one. Emotions which affect the loved one more than their cocaine habits. It’s important to bring up critical areas (i.e. if the loved one’s cocaine abuse has negatively affected family or friends), however, make sure you keep your heart in the right place and offer condolence.

Help During Detox

Detoxification is the process during which cocaine leaves the body, including its metabolites. During this period, a cocaine addict can expect to experience withdrawal symptoms, especially extreme fatigue and continued cravings for cocaine. The psychological urge for more cocaine is repetitive and is often accompanied by depressed mood, agitation, restlessness, vivid and scaring dreams.

In fact, cocaine detox is not an easy process to facilitate. Medical supervision is highly recommended to minimize risk of relapse. General physicians, family doctors are medical professionals address the acute withdrawal symptoms as they occur. But the absence of the biochemical dopamine in the brain can cause discomfort and it will take time before the body returns to feeling “normal” again.

Keep in mind that detox is only the first step of cocaine addiction treatment. Detox is an acute period and should be followed by evaluation, stabilization and then entry into an addiction treatment program. Aftercare plans are especially important during cocaine addiction treatment, because chances for relapse are always high if cocaine addicts are not monitored for a certain period of time after they finish detox.

Help During Treatment

Detox is important for ridding the body of cocaine’s chemical structure. Psychotherapies are just as vital as they rid the brain of thoughts of cocaine. This is done through practices designed to adjust the prior abuser back into their day-to-day functioning without the conception of drugs. To teach them how to handle emotions and behaviors while attempting to reduce cravings.

People who struggle with a cocaine addiction often have much difficulty when entering treatment. Even though the body has rid itself of cocaine’s chemical structure, it can’t be forgotten how much cocaine affects the brain. The process of replacing cocaine’s dopamine with natural dopamine can take a lot of time. The general time for cocaine treatment is anywhere from 3-6 months, yet, some find themselves in it for a year or more.

People who have used cocaine for a long period of time may experience post acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) – a constellation period of symptoms. For cocaine, these symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Cravings
  • Depression
  • Mood swing

As a loved one, it’s vital you show support for your loved one throughout the longevity of their treatment process. If your loved one is facing PAWS, this could last for years. Your best course of action is to be present at family therapies and always lend a helping hand when things get too difficult. And they will get too difficult… but that doesn’t mean your loved one can’t beat addiction!

How Many People Struggle?

It’s estimated around 1.5 million people in the United States above the age of 12 abuse cocaine at least once a month (this includes crack). That’s around 0.6% of the entire population. In terms of age group, adults between 18-25 are the most likely to abuse cocaine and men are twice as likely to as women.

Luckily, cocaine use amongst high schoolers and adolescents has declined in the last 15 years and is, in fact, at its lowest since Monitoring the Future began its surveys, around 2.6% in 2014.

With this information, we know that cocaine use is still a problem within America and there are plenty who continue to abuse it. However, the amount of people abusing it now in comparison to the 1980’s and 1990’s has dropped significantly leaving us with optimism for the future.

Statistic References:

National Institute on Drug Abuse:

Referrals to Help (Where to Find Help)

Who to contact to begin the process of cocaine addiction treatment? Cocaine addiction treatment is not a simple thing to organize. You need to be well prepared and informed about all the possibilities out there within the frame of your budget. Following are some recommendations when planning for cocaine addiction treatment.

  • Talk to your family doctor or physician to get the best references for addiction treatment center in your area.
  • Research all treatment facilities in your area as well as the requirements they have for future patients
  • Get contacts and recommendations for the .best clinical psychologists to offer psychotherapy and consider visiting sessions with the whole family.
  • Read online about the variety of cocaine addiction treatments and all of their pros and cons and decide which combination will suit your loved one best.
  • Identify all support groups you or a loved one may have access to.
  • Go through the local governmental websites to check for any updates on the addiction treatment vouchers.

How to Support a Friend

1. Be informed about addiction treatment. During the course of cocaine addiction treatment, addicts usually:

  • are medically monitored and given medications when needed
  • attend individual, group and family therapy
  • attend support group meetings, such as Cocaine Anonymous
  • are invited to participate in sober recreational activities
  • are offered educational sessions about the nature of cocaine addiction
  • make a plan for relapse prevention

2. Offer support, but know that you can only do so much. Cocaine addiction treatment include elements of psychological support, psychotherapy, and/or behavioral therapies. While psycho-social support can come both from the family and friends of the cocaine addict, psychotherapy is essential to any drug addiction treatment. This is the part of treatment that you cannot facilitate; it’s up to the individual to address dysfunction in the mind and dig deeply into negative patterns. Psychotherapists use individual and group sessions to get to the root cause for cocaine use (often triggered by trauma).

3. Know that interventions might show limited results. Interventions are one of the most popularly practiced methods that family and friends use to address cocaine addiction. The final goal of an intervention is for a cocaine addict to accept admission to an addiction treatment program. However, unless an addict is internally motivated to change, interventions may be perceived as group bullying sessions.

Your Questions

Still have questions about how to help a cocaine addict get the treatment s/he needs? Make sure you post your questions or comments in the comments section at the bottom of the page. Or, if you have any advice to give for people trying to help a cocaine addict, we’d also love to to hear for you. We hope to respond quickly with a personal answer.


National Institute of Drug Abuse

National Library of Medicine

¹ Schmidt HD, Pierce RC. Cocaine-induced neuroadaptations in glutamate transmission: potential therapeutic targets for craving and addiction. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2010;1187:35-75. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.05144.x.

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
Medical Reviewers
Dr. Dili Gonzalez, M.D. is a general surgeon practicing women's focused medici...

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a licensed medical professional.


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  1. My husband has ended our marriage and admitted he has a cocaine addiction. He believes it’s beyind his control, how can I help him get better. He’s been like it for 30 plus years.

    1. Hi Hannah. The best way to help someone with a long-term cocaine addiction is to convince them and get them into treatment. Please call us to learn more about how we work and what treatment option are available for your husband.

  2. Please somebody help me figure out what to do. My boyfriend is addicted to cocaine, a lot of his friends sell it & even though they know it is ruining his life they feed it to him knowing he will take it and its easy money. He has overdosed before in the past. He came home early hours today, in tears and panicking thinking he was dying. His head was pounding and his throat all swelled up. This was at 8am, he’s been in bed since. I’ve tried so many times to help him but i don’t know what to do. Hea lost his home, his job and his family and if im honest he’s going to lose me too soon because i cant cope with the constant worry and mood swings and bike behaviour. He’s so lovely but when he has that in his system he literally doesn’t care about anyone or anything apart from his next bag and will go to extreme measures to get more. He once even beat up a dealer. Please just some advice on what i can do

    1. Hi Lauren. All illicit drugs make people act in ways that do not correspond with their original character. However, if your boyfriend is addicted to cocaine, than he should consider treatment as an option to deal with his problem. But sometimes people are not aware of their addiction and live in denial, refusing to see that they have a problem. The truth is, you can only help someone who actually wants help. Make sure not to talk to him when he is under the influence of cocaine. Approach him when he is sober and mention treatment as an option. You can call 1-888-497-6879 to discuss more options.

  3. all these stories feel like my life. I wish i would have known about his addiction before i got pregnant with our beautiful daughter. I dated him for 2 years (2010-2012) and he was the perfect boyfriend, my prince charming, i never saw it coming. shortly after our daughter arrived (2013) he went out and didnt come home til 6am drunk and drugged. i found the little green cocaine baggie when i was washing cleaning out his pockets to wash his jeans. i will never forget that feeling of desperation. I didnt know what to do, i called his brother and told him what i had found, he loves his brother and i thought his brother would help me, instead he lied to him and told him i was a lying crazy B. ever since then my life was hell. he is a functioning user, started his own business, is making good money. at first he would deny it, after a while he just admitted to it, but according to him he is not addicted, he just uses for the heck of it. fast forward to september 26,2017. he kicked me out of “his” house with out 4 year old daughter. since then it has been a big party every weekend, this weekend he failed to show up to pick up his daughter and show up to her soccer game and didnt show up to take her to school monday morning. I love him and i know 80% of our problems and arguments were over his drug use. now im the B because i do not want my daughter to be alone with him. I am scared he is going to go down hill but at this point he is done with me and hates me and said he stopped loving me over 2 years ago. he is having people over and is doing drugs in the house. Im not perfect but i can tell you that my life revolved around him and my daughter. I did everything and anything for them. I work full time, i am a full time student working on my masters, i did his accounting and bookkeeping and i was the secretary and any other position he needed i was available for him. i was the one taking my daughter to swim class, soccer, gymnastics and her activities. I just feel like im drowning right now. What can or do i do when he is done with me? what can i do about sharing our daughter? i want her to have her father in her life but when she is with him i worry. for the past month and a half i just want to cry and give up. i love him and i want my family together, but he doesnt want help and he hates me. I wish i could count on his family but they hate me because of what he had told them. During his “good” months he is wonderful and we got along great and did family vacations and enjoyed bike riding, and doing so many things. I miss that but i do not know what to do to help. 

  4. Please i need help. I’ve lost all my friends. I’ve lost my job. Im losing my hair. Im out of control.
    Somebody help me.

  5. So, here’s the story:
    I have a friend that has wrapped himself up into a life of partying and doing blow until (and honestly far past) sunrise with an increasing frequency. When once these benders would be once a week, usually weekends, they’ve become entire weekend escapades of poly-drug combinations. It’s the cocaine that’s the ever present insidious element and holds the most profound causal position in the deterioration I’ve witnessed. He dropped out of a great school he worked his ass off to get into and the incessant ego boost that comes from habitual cocaine use has resulted in him justifying his failure with some pseudo-self-realization bullshit. I want to help, but the ego is so overblown that I’m almost certain it will result in the cimplementation erosion of our friendship as he’ll categorize me as “the enemy”, the outside force that doesn’t understand, which, by the way is absolute shit, because I’ve been down the very road he’s on, I’ve stared into the eyes of the monsters that are addiction and depression and have come out alive. The other aspect is a dependence upon the lifestyle that’s metastasized around the [ab]use of this drug, it’s become a seriously ingrained element, and I have no idea if the separation is even remotely feasible at this point. How do I approach this, or do I recognize that it’s on him to affect change in his life and just walk away? Do I lead by example by getting healthy and accomplishing things in life, or what?! I’m lost and literally watching my friend die slowly… line by line.

    1. Hi E.C. Have you tried to stage an intervention? You may want to consult with an interventionist about the right approach to your friend.

  6. I can’t tell if my friend is dependant or addicted but I know it’s a problem he’s doing multiple drugs atleast 5 days out of the week. It has become apart of his everyday life. He doesn’t think he has a problem, he just does it because life is so much better on these drugs I want to help him but I don’t know where to start

  7. My boyfriend was addicted to Cocaine for many years, and then he finally got clean for 6 years from 2008-2014, He fell off the wagon and used several times from 2014 – 2016. Last week, he went on a 2-day binge, came home for 3 days, and now i havent heard from him in the last 22 hours….which is the longest he’s ever been out of touch with me. I think he probably knows this was the last straw, but i am still worried for his safety. He is 58 years old, and i am sick thinking that this time may have been too much for him and his body. He has not been back home for any belongings….only has the clothes on his back. I have no idea where he is. When he comes back (IF he comes back), i plan on telling him he cannot stay unless he gets professional help. When we spoke about it last week, he refused rehab because he said he has been so many times before, and he knows what he needs to do to get clean. However, I know he wants to be clean and its obvious that he cant do it on his own. Any suggestions for me when he comes back in shame again?

  8. Hello, my name is Cindy, my son and his girlfriend are on cocaine.i really need help to help them, they have 6 children in the house with them and I felt something was going on, but everytime that I will ask them are they on any drugs, the answer is always no until yesterday,they told me the truth that they are using..what can I do to help..

    1. Hi Cindy. I suggest that you call the Cocaine Helpline on 1-888-497-6879 to get in touch with dependable hotline professionals available 24/7. You will be talking to someone knowledgeable about cocaine abuse, rehab and recovery centers who can help you find a cocaine recovery program.

  9. Well seriously this drug addiction sucks and I know it very well as one of mine friend was suffered from this addiction. The drug addiction ruined his life and he lost all the money and yeah family too.

I am ready to call
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