Understanding the triggers of cocaine addiction

Between 2022 and 2023, 2.4% of adults living in England and Wales reported using powder cocaine. Amongst young adults, this number rose to 5.1%. Cocaine has become one of the most commonly used drugs in the UK, with levels of cocaine use across the nation being the second highest in the world. This indicates that cocaine is somewhat embedded into the drug culture of the UK. But how has that become the case? There are a range of factors and circumstances that may trigger a cocaine addiction. Understanding these triggers can be a form of empowerment, both for the individual coping with cocaine addiction, as well as for their loved ones. This knowledge can offer a helpful starting point in the journey to learning how to get off cocaine.

Effects of cocaine addiction

To understand what leads to addiction, we first need to know what signs of a cocaine addiction look like. These signs can be physical, psychological and behavioural.

Physical signs of cocaine addiction

  • Lethargy
  • Feeling tired but struggling to sleep
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Soreness in the nose and sinuses
  • Headaches
  • Feeling stick
  • Upset stomach
  • Pain or aches in the muscles
  • Slurred speech
  • Swinging or grinding of the jaw
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased heart rate
  • Issues with homeostasis
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Complications with the heart
  • Risk of stroke and heart attack
  • Cravings

Psychological signs of cocaine addiction

  • Periods of aggression
  • Periods of euphoria
  • Unpredictable moods
  • Dramatic peaks in energy and sociability
  • Panic attacks
  • Appearing anxious or irritable
  • Instances of hallucinations
  • Instances of delusions

Behavioural signs of cocaine addiction

  • Social withdrawal
  • Being more sexual in behaviour
  • Appearing more confident
  • Generally appearing to have fewer inhibitions
  • Reduction in attention to personal care
  • Reduction in attention to household management
  • Reduction in attention to childcare
  • Difficulty going to (or struggling to maintain the pressures of) work
  • Difficulty going to (or struggling to maintain the pressures of) school
  • Financial difficulties
  • Strain on relationships
  • Engagement with criminal activity
  • Lying about drug use and related activity
  • Hiding drug-related paraphernalia
  • Instances of violence

A lot of these effects can be generally unpleasant. If that is the case, some people may ask, ‘Knowing the impact of cocaine, why would you continue to use it?’ The important thing to remember here is that continued use of cocaine is often due to dependency rather than a choice. However, the initial use of cocaine is typically done voluntarily. It can be important to investigate why individuals may be likely to begin to use cocaine and, subsequently, develop an addiction to it. This can act both as an informative and preventative measure. Knowing the potential triggers of addiction can, in some cases, act as a kind of harm prevention.

What leads to cocaine addiction?

For decades, researchers have been fascinated by figuring out the relationship between nature and nurture. Scientists have conducted thousands of studies to try and identify what has a more powerful effect on us: how we are raised and what we experience in our lives, or the body, brain and genetic makeup we are born with. More recently, researchers have begun to think more holistically, introducing what is now known as the ‘diathesis-stress model.’ The diathesis-stress model suggests that it is not just genes or environment that lead to the development of certain experiences – such as addiction. Rather, addiction (as well as a range of other experiences) occurs due to an interaction between both our biology and our circumstances.

This model has been celebrated for rejecting reductionist stereotypes that may risk making harmful generalisations around addiction and, for example, suggesting that every individual who experiences addiction must have experienced some form of childhood trauma. Whilst a high percentage may do, it is important to consider the lived experience of cocaine addiction from all sides.

The potential triggers of cocaine addiction, therefore, can be separated into a range of factors. Broadly, these are:

  • Social factors
  • Psychological factors
  • Situational factors
  • Genetic factors

It is important to remember that these factors can interact with one another and that with cocaine addiction, there is no one-size-fits-all.

Triggers of addiction: Social factors

One of the big areas of research in addiction studies focuses on the impact of childhood. This side of research attempts to investigate if the experiences we have as children can be linked with the development of addiction later on in life. Common social factors associated with the development of addiction include:

  • childhood neglect
  • experience of sexual abuse
  • experience of psychological abuse
  • experience of verbal abuse
  • experience of emotional abuse
  • familial substance abuse
  • difficult parent-child relationships
  • growing up in care or foster situations

These tend to focus on what happens in the family. However, there are social predictors for addiction outside of the home, such as:

  • association with ‘deviant peers’
  • peer pressure
  • bullying
  • gang affiliation

Triggers of addiction: Psychological factors

A high percentage of individuals dealing with addiction have a diagnosis of a mental health condition. This is known as a dual diagnosis. Between 20 and 37% of individuals are thought to have a dual diagnosis.

Common dual diagnosis experienced by individuals with cocaine addiction (and substance use disorders more generally) include:

  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
  • Depression
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Schizoaffective Disorder

Cocaine addiction can arise out of an attempt to cope with difficult symptoms associated with mental health conditions. However, these attempts can be counterintuitive, leading to the development of cocaine addiction, which can lead to the worsening of the symptoms above.

Triggers of addiction: Situational factors

Sometimes life can appear to be going smoothly – our childhood felt safe, we are not struggling without mental health – but then, suddenly, something big happens that feels like it changes everything. Examples include:

  • Bereavement
  • Relationship breakdown and divorce
  • Loss of a job
  • Loss of a home
  • Debt and financial difficulties
  • The development of an illness (in yourself or a loved one)

These huge life changes can throw us into a loop and can lead to us turning to drugs like cocaine for comfort. However, this can then lead to the burgeoning of cocaine addiction.

Triggers of addiction: Genetic factors

Finally, it is important to consider genetic factors. Some researchers have suggested that addiction to drugs can be up to 70% heritable. It is important to note that these types of studies may sometimes struggle to separate genetics from the environment, remembering that when it comes to addiction, our genes and environment work in a complex interplay that cannot be reduced to one sole factor.

Getting help for cocaine addiction

You may find yourself identifying some of the factors included above. Some of these experiences may resonate with you and your relationship with cocaine. However, relating to these factors does not mean that addiction is a given. It is possible to break away from a cocaine addiction no matter your situational, emotional, sociological or genetic predisposition. Everyone deserves to feel happy, safe, and healthy in the absence of drugs. With cocaine rehab, we can help you start to attain that – no matter what your social, personal or medical history may be.