If a person starts exhibiting strange new behaviors, those around them are likely to notice. But this doesn’t always mean it’s treated with the seriousness it may deserve. Sudden changes in mood, behavior or physical health may hint at an underlying mental or behavioral health condition. Here, we’ll discuss what you’ll notice when a friend or loved one is using cocaine — from occasional nosebleeds and increased excitability to cocaine psychosis.
Signs of Cocaine Use
Imagine you go to a party with a friend and they appear to be acting normal before excusing themselves to use the restroom. When they return, they’re acting … different. They have more energy all of a sudden. Maybe their eyes are a little more bloodshot than they were before they left, and they’re talking faster. Are you confident you’d recognize the signs of cocaine use?
Every day, people use drugs and alcohol without the knowledge of their friends and loved ones. Whether they’re trying to hide it or not, understanding what to look for can prevent many of the long-term consequences of using illegal (and dangerous) substances.
Cocaine rewires the brain’s risk-reward system and causes a flood of dopamine — a chemical that produces feelings of pleasure — when used. Here are some of the most common signs of cocaine use:
Spurts of Energy and Overexcitement
Since cocaine’s effects begin almost instantly after the drug is consumed and the effects are relatively short-lived, cocaine use is difficult to hide. If someone you know is exhibiting sudden energetic behavior or fluctuating levels of excitement and irritability, they may be using cocaine.
Unless a person using cocaine is particularly adept at hiding their use, these shifts in mood and excitement will coincide with them disappearing from the group and coming back or excusing themselves for a short period of time.
Sudden Anger and Temper Issues
Using cocaine is like riding an emotional roller coaster. The highs are extremely high, but the come-down can be rough. This is why users need to use more and moreover a short period of time to keep the high going. Once they run out of cocaine, or the night is over, a user’s mood can shift quickly.
If you have a friend who seemed perfectly fine just minutes ago but is now reacting to things harshly, it might be a warning sign. If they’re quick to jump to anger, arguments, accusations or even violence — seemingly out of nowhere — they may be using cocaine.
Dilated Pupils and Runny or Bleeding Nostrils
Cocaine use causes a number of physical effects, some of which are difficult to hide. Stimulants typically cause pupils to dilate and breathing to quicken with an uptick in heart rate. These may not be easy to notice, but there are other physical manifestations of cocaine use that are. People using cocaine may tense their muscles (especially in the face) and grind their teeth.
In the short term, cocaine can cause nosebleeds, and when used over a longer period of time, the drug can have serious effects on the physical structure of the sinuses.
Legal and/or Financial Issues
Cocaine is illegal in all 50 US states. So is cocaine paraphernalia — the devices used to use cocaine. While cocaine powder is typically inhaled through the nostrils, crack cocaine can be smoked from a bowl. In rare cases, cocaine can be turned into a solution and injected directly into the bloodstream.
It’s typically hard to hide that you’ve been arrested or cited for cocaine possession, but if your friend or loved one is busy with mysterious “appointments,” it may mean they’re trying to hide legal trouble from you.
Even if a cocaine user is able to stay out of trouble with the law, a cocaine habit isn’t cheap. Since cocaine’s effects last for such a short period of time, users typically go through a large amount in one session, even if they’re not using it frequently.
Having to purchase cocaine adds a significant expense to a person’s budget. This may lead to them asking you for money or cause them to steal from their loved ones.
Insomnia is part of a group of cocaine use signs that precede more serious consequences, such as cocaine psychosis. It’s also something that persists once cocaine psychosis sets in.
Because cocaine is a stimulant, it speeds up the metabolic processes of the human body. Heart rate increases, as does blood pressure. These things cause a person to feel “wired,” which may make them unable to fall asleep without the help of medication.
If someone you know is exhibiting some of the above behaviors and is also using a sleep aid, it may be a sign of cocaine use.
Hallucinations and Cocaine Psychosis
While cocaine isn’t often thought of as a psychoactive drug, it does make you paranoid, and long-term cocaine hallucinations are common. These may accompany a serious condition called cocaine psychosis, where cocaine dependence manifests in violence, delusions and hallucinations.
Most of the signs listed above can be present regardless of whether a person has used cocaine for a long time. Cocaine psychosis, however, typically comes with chronic cocaine use.
If a friend or loved one shows symptoms of cocaine psychosis, you’ll definitely notice. But is this a surefire sign that they’re using cocaine?
Don’t Make Assumptions
It’s important that even when you do notice one or more of the listed signs you don’t jump to any conclusions. It’s extremely difficult to diagnose a mental or behavioral health condition if you don’t have proof.
Additionally, many people’s cases are more complex than having a drug problem or a mental health condition. Behavioral changes can sometimes be due to both — SAMHSA estimates that 9.2 million Americans have co-occurring mental and behavioral health conditions.
What Should Your Next Steps Be?
When you notice someone close to you exhibiting any signs of cocaine use, you should start by taking a deeper interest. Don’t accuse them of anything, and don’t talk about it with anyone else they’re close to until you have sufficient evidence of a problem.
Whatever happens next, it’s important to be supportive. If your friend or loved one is using cocaine, they may not realize the consequences of their actions yet. They may only be experiencing less severe signs of use without progressing to more severe symptoms — like cocaine psychosis.
Most importantly, it’s essential to have options for treatment. If you suspect someone close to you is using cocaine, reach out to us at FHE and learn about the available options.