The 5 Stages of Cocaine Addiction

Casual cocaine use is becoming increasingly popular in the party scene. Not only with younger generations, but also with middle-aged and older party-goers as well. But when does occasional use start to bridge into regular abuse?

Addiction is not a disease that develops overnight, and while some people may describe their addiction this way, it is highly unlikely that someone uses cocaine once and is immediately ‘hooked’.

Dependency and addiction often evolve over time, sometimes a very short time, and being familiar with the stages of cocaine addiction can help you to protect yourself and your loved ones. 

Experimental Use

The journey often begins in a social setting where someone might try cocaine because a friend recommended it to them, or encouraged them. The person uses a small amount and has quite a euphoric experience with a heightened sense of pleasure and energy. 

During this stage individuals use cocaine infrequently, often in social settings like parties, and they rarely buy the drugs themselves. While they may remember enjoying the effects, cocaine is not taking up a significant portion of their thoughts nor time. 

Use is often sporadic, and someone from the outside may not be able to notice any signs that the person has started using cocaine. There are unlikely to be any significant disruptions to the person’s life, habits, or relationships.

Someone in this category may exhibit the following behaviours: 

  • The person has not developed any level of tolerance
  • They only use in social settings, never alone
  • Their use is experimental, they are more curious about the drug’s effects than pleasure seeking
  • They can stop using without any negative side effects
  • Their cocaine use does not cause any disruptions to their daily life or relationships

Regular Use

The person has now started using cocaine as part of a routine: either to cope with stress or enhance their mood. They may even start to feel like a social event is incomplete or not enough ‘fun’ without it. 

They have started to buy cocaine themselves when they want to use it. Through their use they have started to notice that they need to take more cocaine than they used to in order to hit the same highs. 

Cravings may start to kick in, and while urges to use can still be controlled, the person using may start to avoid or fall through on certain responsibilities so that they can use more. This may look like leaving work early, or not showing up to meetings with friends the day after using. Ultimately the person still feels like they are in control of their use.

Someone in this category may exhibit the following behaviours: 

  • Cocaine has started to become a routine part of life, maybe not every day, but certainly most weeks
  • Gradual increase in tolerance, requiring larger amounts for the same effects
  • Occasionally bingeing on cocaine, using quite a lot in single sessions
  • They can fulfil their daily responsibilities, but cocaine starts to impact their efficiency in doing so
  • There may start to be some negative side effects like slight alterations to mood, occasional health concerns, or concerns from friends

Risky Use/Abuse

The person’s use has started to escalate, they are using much more cocaine than the average person and it’s starting to lead to negative side effects. They are spending an increasing amount of time obtaining cocaine, using it, and recovering from its side effects and “come-downs”

The side effects may include impacts on their physical health or psychological health. As a result of their use their relationships start to become strained and they are no longer able to fulfil their work or academic responsibilities as they should. 

Despite these negative consequences, the user may still be under the impression that they are in control of their use. They may deny the side effects, and start to become secretive about their use in order to avoid conflicts with friends and family. Even if they do attempt to reduce their cocaine use, they may struggle and even fail to cut down. 

Someone in this category may exhibit the following behaviours: 

  • Regularly consuming large amounts of cocaine in single sessions
  • Demonstrating impaired judgement and decision making in daily life
  • Withdrawing from family and friends in order to devote more time and energy to cocaine use
  • Continuing to use despite negative consequences, either with their health, their relationships, their work, or even legal consequences
  • They become defensive when questioned about their drug use


The person using cocaine has now developed a dependency. This may be a physical dependence, where they have withdrawal symptoms from not using. It may also be a psychological dependence, where they feel an inability to live life without using cocaine to cope and “get through the day”. 

At this point the individual has completely lost control of their use, however they may still be in denial about this. They are no longer able to cease using nor cut down on their use, no matter what happens, even if they wanted to. 

There is now no longer any way that the person can hide their use and dependency. Loved ones may notice that they appear physically deteriorated and sick. They may even, at this point, lose their jobs and some relationships.

Someone in this category may exhibit the following behaviours: 

  • Keeping a stock of cocaine on them, or in their home or office, so they know they won’t run out
  • Significant withdrawal symptoms if they stop or reduce their cocaine use
  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut down or quit using cocaine
  • A loss of interest in any activities that are unrelated to cocaine or cocaine use
  • Strained relationships with family, friends, or colleagues intensify

Addiction/Severe Substance Use Disorder

Cocaine use has become compulsive, completely dominating the individual’s thoughts and actions. Despite any negative consequences that occur, they will continue to use cocaine, even in situations that are dangerous for them. 

This may include using in spaces that will cause them significant legal or social harm if they were discovered, or continuing to use despite significant physical health consequences. Their mental health is likely very deteriorated as well, with anxiety, paranoia, insomnia, and depression being common in those with cocaine addictions. 

Users may still be in denial about the severity of their addiction, becoming hostile or even aggressive at those who challenge their cocaine use. Even those people who are not in denial will struggle significantly with any attempts made at reducing and stopping cocaine. They may find a lot of difficulty in seeking help and following through with treatments. 

Someone in this category may exhibit the following behaviours: 

  • Complete inability to regulate themselves and their emotions, often following patterns of intense highs and intense lows
  • May begin to engage in illegal behaviours, such as theft, in order to continue their use
  • Participating in risky behaviours, such as driving under the influence or engaging in unsafe sexual practices, while under the influence of cocaine
  • Intensification of psychiatric symptoms, such as anxiety, paranoia, or hallucinations, associated with prolonged and severe cocaine use
  • Suffering from deteriorating physical health, including weight loss, dental issues, and other health problems associated with cocaine use

When Is It Time to Seek Help for Cocaine Addiction?

Any one of these stages is a good time to seek help for cocaine addiction, dependency, or use. While support from loved ones is always key in recovery, the further along the stages someone finds themselves, the more imperative it becomes that professionals take the reins. 

People can develop “problematic use” or “problematic relationships” with substances long before they meet diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder. It is during this period, where your use is negatively affecting your life but you still have some control, that professional intervention can be most effective. 

For those in the early stages, outpatient treatment and therapeutic interventions can be an efficient way to address the key factors of problematic cocaine use. However, when repeated attempts to quit or cut down have failed then in-patient facilities (such as Clinic Les Alpes) can be an excellent stepping stone onto your recovery journey. 

It’s important to remember that you are never “too far gone” or “not bad enough” to seek professional help. Early intervention is key in preventing long-term negative outcomes and protecting your overall wellbeing. 


Addiction, at its core, is about physical dependency, ongoing substance use despite negative consequences, and the inability to stop using despite those consequences. Throughout the above stages we can see how the increasing severity of use is closely linked to the consequences of using, as well as a lack of control over cocaine itself. 

The stages of cocaine addiction can be a good benchmark to understand your use, but please remember that seeking professional help as soon as possible will be imperative to protecting your health and regaining control over your life.

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