Cocaine Addiction

Understanding Cocaine Addiction and Recovery

“The problem is I’m an addict and one is too many and a thousand is not enough,” says Mark G., in his frank and moving post about addiction and recovery. “It didn’t take long for things to escalate to the point where I was causing emotional and spiritual pain for my wife and children. I put the drugs before the welfare of my family, myself, my job, my friends, everything. Insanity personified in all areas of my life. I was oozing self-pity and the drugs became harder and using was a full-time job.”

Right now in Canada, more than 2 million people are facing an addiction to alcohol and drugs like prescription pills, opioids, heroin, and cocaine.

For these people, addiction makes it hard to lead any semblance of a normal life. It can harden the hearts of your family members, friends, and employers toward you as your addiction rages its way through your relationships, finances, and personal life, with often devastating consequences.

With the right treatment program however, thousands recover.

We know that getting help for addiction can be hard. Admitting you have a problem with a drug like cocaine is a difficult first step. Choosing quality, affordable rehab that you can trust to work can be confusing. But the right help can save your life and lead to lasting recovery and healing.

In this article, we explain what cocaine addiction is, when and how to get the right help, and why Renascent has been a leading addiction treatment choice for people, families, and their doctors for 50 years.

The road to recovery starts here.

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a stimulant drug derived from the coca plant. In South America, native people used to chew the leaves of the coca plant for more energy while working in the fields. It was also once used as a local anesthetic and as a treatment for conditions like depression and other addictions.

The importation, manufacture, sale and possession of cocaine has been banned in Canada since 1911. Yet its use became “mainstream” in the 1970s and early ’80s, when it was known as a “rich people’s drug” and considered “not physically addictive” because of its high cost, rarity, and lack of the strong physical withdrawal symptoms characterized by other hard drugs such as heroin.

Today, we know much more about this drug and its dangers.

Cocaine can be snorted, injected, or freebased (cheaper, crack cocaine). It is also known by several street names: blow, C, coke, crack, flake, freebase, rock, and snow. As a stimulant, cocaine can make people feel more alert, energetic, or euphoric. ​

Cocaine is highly addictive: with a rush lasting just two to five minutes, a user needs to use almost continuously to try to maintain their high. In experiments done on mice, cocaine was found to be so addictive that mice will repeatedly choose it over food and water, until they die.

Cocaine Use in Canada

According to the Global Drug Survey 2019, a survey of more than 130,000 people across 36 countries, Canadians are the second-most frequent users of cocaine, reporting using the drug 10 times on average each year, with the global average being six times per year. Canadians in the study also reported using half a gram of cocaine, which matches the average worldwide.

Meanwhile, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health reports that a 2009 survey of Ontario students in grades seven to 12 found that 2.6 per cent had already used cocaine and 1.1 per cent had used crack at least once in the past year.

The danger of course is that with regular use, people become tolerant to the euphoric effects of cocaine. Users need to take more and more of the drug to get the same desired effect.

What is Cocaine Addiction?

A cocaine addiction makes you lose control over your use of the drug. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health says that once a person has become addicted to cocaine, it can be one of the hardest drug habits to break. But how do you know if you, or someone you love, has an addiction to cocaine?

It’s important to recognize that if questions like “Is this becoming a problem for me?” are already in your mind, it’s a subject worth investigating, not dismissing. You probably wouldn’t be thinking it at all if your substance use wasn’t causing any negative consequences in your life, or the life of someone close to you.

Addiction and users come in all shapes and sizes, from the novice experimenter to the functioning user to the chronically addicted unemployable person, and likewise there isn’t a single question that will definitively determine whether or not you are addicted. But there are signs that can help you determine whether cocaine use is manageable in your life, or whether things have gotten out of hand.

Signs of a Cocaine Addiction

There are serious side effects from cocaine. It’s a powerful stimulant that causes the heart to beat faster and blood vessels to constrict, which can lead to heart attacks. Cocaine overdose can also lead to strokes, and habitual use can cause high blood pressure, weight loss, lung damage, and kidney failure.

Despite its lack of physical withdrawal symptoms (such as the vomiting and sweating associated with opiate withdrawal), cocaine withdrawal is very painful. Cocaine withdrawal symptoms include intense cravings, severe depression, anxiety, fatigue, irritability, anger, mood swings, and sleeplessness. It’s little wonder the relapse rate for cocaine is high.

Specifically, you might need help for a cocaine addiction if you are:

  • Feeling a strong need or craving for cocaine, and find yourself using it even after you’ve decided you won’t;
  • Feeling that getting and using cocaine is the most important thing in your life;
  • Using cocaine more, and more often;
  • Bingeing on coke to avoid a “crash” – the feeling of being high and then suddenly distressed;
  • Having physical withdrawal symptoms when you don’t use coke, such as tiredness, changes in your sleep quality, hunger, irritability, depression, or suicidal thoughts.

These signs of addiction, along with changes to your normal behaviour, are strong warnings that all is not well by outside standards. Yet what really matters in terms of seeking help is whether you feel these problems are serious enough to take a real look at how the substance is affecting your life, and consider modifying your behaviour.

If you think you might have an addiction, we understand and we can help.

Cocaine Addiction – A Chronic Mental Health Disorder

Many of us have unfortunately been raised to believe that admitting to a drug or alcohol problem can seem like weakness or even failure. It’s no surprise then that many people who have become addicted to cocaine find it so hard to admit they need help, despite all the signs of a problem.

In fact, substance use disorder is considered a chronic disorder by the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). That means that if you’re experiencing problems as a result of drug or alcohol use, it doesn’t make you bad, wrong, stupid, unlucky, self-destructive, selfish, crazy, or all the other labels you or others may have applied.

In their post about mental health and addiction, Scott Kellogg and Andrew Tatarsky call on all health professionals to follow the DSM-5 and treat addiction as a psychiatric mental health disorder, recognizing that many, if not most, people who experience addiction also have additional psychiatric issues such as PTSD, depression, anxiety disorders, psychosis, ADHD, and various personality disorders.

“With or without a diagnosable condition, people use substances for reasons that need to be respected and addressed,” say the authors in their post, as they also make a strong case for how to fully integrate mental health and addiction treatment for better recovery and lasting healing for more addicts.

Addiction is a serious disorder, for which effective help is available. Finding and attending an accredited and experienced addiction treatment and rehab centre can be the solution.

The Science Behind Addiction

In Bruce Goldman’s post, he explains in detail the science behind our current understanding of the addicted brain. In short, it’s now thought that addiction is a type of physiological learning, which is why it is so hard for our bodies to unlearn drug and alcohol dependency. Willpower is important to quitting, but not enough, and the evidence is piling up for just why short-term detox programs don’t lead to lasting recovery from addiction.

Goldman also explains how addictive drugs mimic natural rewards such as food and sex by reinforcing the network of our brains linked to enjoyment, known as our reward circuitry. But addictive drugs fire up our reward circuitry in a more powerful way that natural rewards can’t, and even once the enjoyment is gone, the long-lasting changes that make you crave that drug are set.

On the outside, we can see the physical symptoms of withdrawal and addiction, such as nausea and cramps. But inside the addicted brain, according to Goldman, the neurological wiring has been changed to make the user “crave, seek and use a drug again and again because of the learned memory of it being more wonderful than anything else, and because your brain has been rewired so that, when exposed to anything that reminds you of the drug, you will feel rotten if you don’t get some.”

At Renascent, our addiction rehab programs work because we use an abstinence-based treatment model that integrates 12-step facilitation with evidence-based programs, up-to-date clinical and medical best practices, and the highest quality standards of care.

And while medical science can’t fully explain why some people develop issues with addiction and others don’t, we do know that alcohol and drug abuse are linked to several risk factors including:

  • Genetics/Family history of addiction
  • Social environment
  • Trauma (particularly in childhood)
  • Other mental health concerns
  • Stressful life events or losses
  • Substance availability

Having one or more of these risk factors does not mean you will become an alcoholic or an addict; the relationship is not cause and effect, but rather something to be aware of.

Treating Cocaine Addiction

In Canada, our publicly funded healthcare systems means everyone has access to some help. Talking to your doctor, going to a walk-in clinic, seeing a public health nurse — any of these healthcare settings can help you and refer you to a reputable addiction treatment centre with a good record. Many of these treatment centres, including Renascent, have financial need pricing if affordability is an issue.

Most importantly, we know that recovery from cocaine addiction is possible. Quitting cocaine is hard, but people can and do recover with the right treatment for their coke addiction.

There is no magic pill, quick fix, or single technique to help someone recover from cocaine addiction. You can change your life and recover from addiction and be happier than you ever were before; it’s just a matter of doing the work.

It begins with taking the first step: admitting that help is needed and accepting that help. Sometimes a cocaine addict has to be badly battered by the drug before they will take this step. But once taken, the journey to recovery from cocaine addiction has already begun. In cocaine addiction, the first step of being honest about your addiction is to be able to say: “I admit that I am powerless over cocaine, and that my life has become unmanageable.”

From there, a successful treatment plan for cocaine addiction will include:

  • Education – understanding the nature of your cocaine addiction and its physical, emotional, social, and spiritual effects.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy – practicing techniques to change the behaviour patterns that led you to reach for cocaine in the first place
  • 12-step facilitationproven steps and principles for recovery that act as a blueprint for a new, sober way of life.
  • Personalized and group therapy – additional therapies personalized to your individual needs and situation, including reality therapy, person-centred therapy, solution-focused therapy, mindfulness principles, and art therapy.

Which Treatment is Right for Me?

We’re here to help match you with the support you need. Call us anytime for a confidential assessment, and one of our trained experts will connect you with the best program for you.

If You Are:We Might Suggest:
Looking for one-on-one supportA one-on-one counselling session with one of our addiction experts
Seeking a community who understandsInpatient treatment with group counselling, or AA/NA/CA/OA meetings
Struggling with relapse42-days of Inpatient Treatment, followed by active participation in our Continuing Care program.
In recovery, but looking to connect with informal supportGetting involved with Renascent’s Alumni Care community. There are regular meetings, engaged committees, and events for everyone. We’re here for life!
Concerned how addiction in your family might be impacting your childrenSafe programs geared for kids and parents/caregivers, such as Children’s Healthy Coping Skills
Worried about your family member or loved one, including siblings, close friends, and partnersOur Essential Family Care Programs, particularly the Introduction to Family Care
A parent in active recoveryA weekend course like Parenting in Recovery, to help you boost your parenting skills
Concerned addiction is affecting your work or workplaceOur Corporate Complete Care Advantage, designed to support employees and employers as they navigate addiction and recovery in the workplace.
Worried about life after treatmentOur Continuing Care Program, to support you as you re-integrate into your daily home life.
Looking for housing after treatmentOne of our many Community Partners who offer post-treatment housing. Call us at 1-866-232-1212 and we can put you in touch.
Looking to get “clean” or detox.The ConnexOntario Helpline, 1-866-531-2600, can connect you with Withdrawal Management Services. If you are interested in treatment following detox, call 1-866-232-1212 and we’ll coordinate this.

Don’t see what you need? Contact us anytime for a confidential assessment where we can match you with the support you’re looking for.

Navigating your Options

During our confidential telephone consultations, our qualified staff help people with questions about their addiction treatment choices, and which options will work best for them. For example, people often ask:

  • How much should I pay? Cost doesn’t always indicate quality, but in general, better programs will have some cost to deliver treatment that work. But in this unregulated market, more expensive does not mean better. Rather, look for accredited centres with professional, experienced staff, and a reliable track record. Not-for-profit centres like Renascent can offer reduced fees and even financial need pricing programs.
  • How many days do I need to commit to? The length of a treatment program varies from person to person, but we recommend a minimum of 28 days for real recovery. And you can always extend your stay if needed to meet your recovery goals.
  • Do I need a residential program? Many people do benefit from removing themselves from triggers for their addiction. A residential program can offer you support and a community of like-minded people if you don’t have a strong and healthy support system at home. On the other hand, some people are not ready for inpatient treatment. An initial assessment will help you determine what type of care best meets your current needs.
  • What about a women’s only program? Many people dealing with addiction are also dealing with trauma and abuse. Being in a safe place makes recovery more successful. Reputable treatment centres offer gender-specific treatment programs where everyone can feel safe to be themselves.
  • Should I go on a waiting list? If you’ve taken the first step of admitting you need help, it’s ideal to start treatment as soon as possible. Renascent’s paid programs offer immediate access, while if affordability is an issue, there might be waiting lists for financial need pricing. Outpatient programs and 12-step Cocaine Anonymous meetings can help you while you wait for your spot to come up.

Facing the Stigma: Am I an Addict?

It’s hard to admit you have a cocaine addiction and can be even harder to step out of your life, work, and community for a month or longer. But you don’t have to tell everyone the details. You will likely want to tell your immediate family and closest friends where you are and why, but for everyone else, you can feel free to keep it private.

Tell people at school, work, or in your broader circle of friends and family that you’re going on an extended medical leave, and provide a note from your doctor or therapist to support your leave. If you need to tell your boss or professors more detail, you can simply tell them you are getting treatment for a condition or disorder affecting your life. In Ontario, addiction is recognized as a disability in the Human Rights Code, and so you are protected against discrimination based on your addiction.

Most importantly, don’t be dissuaded from treatment by labelling questions like “Am I an addict?” or “Are you an addict?” You might be, but whether you’re addicted or not, you’re always a person first, and many people experience addiction. Those same people can experience recovery that lasts a lifetime, and so can you.

At Renascent, all our counsellors have lived experiences of addiction and long-term recovery, so you’ll have the understanding and support you need at every step of your treatment.

Steps to Lasting Recovery

People can and do recover from cocaine addiction. Lasting recovery is possible. However, a certain mindset is generally necessary in order for your addiction treatment to work and lead to life-long recovery. True healing happens when you are willing to surrender to certain principles.

First, you need to have a willingness to admit there is a problem. As with addiction to other drugs, cocaine addiction often leads to denial. Users shrink from confronting what is actually going on, the toll the drug is taking on their lives and relationships, and the severity of the problem. Admitting the truth about the impact of your addiction is an overwhelming experience, but it is essential to accepting help and ultimately recovering. Friends and partners, old and new, will need to know you are in recovery; being upfront makes everything easier.

You also need to have a sincere desire to stop using cocaine. A person must not merely pay lip service to the idea of getting clean and sober; it doesn’t work that way. Of course, you may not feel enthusiastic about having to give up cocaine, indeed you may be terrified at the prospect, but one must be willing to put cocaine aside in order to give treatment a fair shot.

And, you will need a willingness to consider complete abstinence as a means to successful cocaine addiction treatment. Someone with a cocaine or crack problem may not believe they have a problem with alcohol or any other drug, but generally speaking those who are entirely abstinent have a much better chance of recovering from cocaine addiction because alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs can be considered gateway drugs to cocaine.

It’s also important to follow your doctor’s instructions for any medicines prescribed to you for help in your treatment. And talk to your doctor if you think you need to make a change in how much medicine you’re taking, or for how long.

And finally, though challenging, you’ll have to find the strength to resist quitting when the work gets hard; that’s when the real healing begins. Trust that your counsellors and peers will support you through the hard times. And if you feel you need more time to reach lasting recovery at the end of your inpatient treatment, you can always talk to your counsellors about extending your stay. Once you leave inpatient treatment, stay connected to your recovery community — they’ll have your back and be able to understand what you’re going through in a way no one else will.

Staying connected in addiction treatment and recovery

Once you’ve made the decision to get help, and begun your journey to recovery, you’ll also need a supportive, empathetic community around you. We simply need others around us who we can relate to. Some will be fellow recovering addicts who have come from their own individual isolation into a community dedicated to healing. Others may be co-workers, mentors, fellow students, or anyone else we learn to trust and rely on for companionship and community. We need to share our experiences with others, and avoid the old patterns and behaviours.

Try these suggestions for staying connected and supported during your treatment:

Pick your (new) friends. You may need to leave old friends who are still using behind as you move into your new sober life. You can stay in touch, but day-to-day it’s important to surround yourself instead with people who share your interests and support your drug-free lifestyle.

Reach out to an old support. How long has it been since you dropped your first counsellor a note to say how you were doing? How about the woman at detox who practically saved your life those first few days? Or the first speaker in recovery you ever heard, who seemed to be telling your story? Staying in contact helps us stay connected.

Be of service. It doesn’t have to be in the 12-step rooms, although that’s a great place to start; serving others out of a genuine desire to be helpful will increase your sense of connectedness, no matter where in the community you decide to serve.

Find a healthy hobby. Joining a running club or a knitting circle or taking riding lessons or learning tai chi will automatically throw you in with a group of like-minded people with whom you can form new — and hopefully lasting — connections.

Why You Can Trust Renascent

Our team of doctors and counsellors are qualified, certified, and genuinely care for each and every client that walks through our doors. All of our counsellors have lived experiences of addiction and long-term recovery, making them compassionate and committed supporters along your entire treatment journey — something that sets Renascent apart from other addiction treatment centres.

Renascent is one of Ontario’s largest residential addiction treatment providers, and a national leader in the field of addiction treatment. We have maintained a steadfast commitment to our values and vision: to guide all people affected by substance addiction with hope, tools, and living examples to achieve a life of physical, mental, and spiritual health.

Our Boards and leadership team are guided by experts in the field of addiction and recovery, all of them dedicated to ensuring Renascent continues to offer the quality treatment and support needed for long-term healing:

“With over 40 years of experience, and over 45,000 people helped, Renascent has played a historic role in breaking down barriers and helping Canadians find recovery from this disease. Today and in the future, we are committed to bringing the best treatment to those who need it.”

Laura Bhoi, Chief Executive Officer

“Renascent’s abstinence-based treatment through the 12-step modality is extremely well-suited for our Aboriginal clients, encouraging them to honour their own spiritual and cultural framework in recovery.”

Dennis James, Director of Programs

“[Our clients] reach out to us at the most vulnerable point in their lives — we take that trust seriously and honour it every step of the way.”

Tania Archer, Director, Business Development

Read more from our leadership team.

Your Road to Recovery Starts Here

Your addiction recovery journey begins with “I need help.” We’ve helped over 50,000 people recover from addiction. We can help you too.

For a free and confidential consultation with one of our counsellors, call 1-866-232-1212 anytime, day or night, or Contact Us Today.

About the Authors

Dennis James M.Sc
Dennis James M.Sc ( Director of Programs )
Dennis joined Renascent in 2012, following his tenure as Deputy Clinical Director, Addictions Program, at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). He holds a Masters degree in Psychology from the University of Missouri and has worked for more than 40 years in the field of mental health and addictions as therapist, educator, program director, and senior manager.

About the Authors

Sunil Boodhai MSW (RSW), BEd.
Sunil Boodhai MSW (RSW), BEd. ( Manager, Family Programs )
Sunil is the manager of Family Programs at Renascent. His is currently the lead therapist in the Children’s Program and provides individual counselling sessions for those with substance addictions, their family members and loved ones, families, couples, and children. Sunil did his undergraduate work and MSW at Ryerson University, as well as a Humanities degree and Bachelor of Education degree at York University. He has been working as an addictions counsellor for over 12 years.

About the Authors

Dr. Vera Tarman
Dr. Vera Tarman ( Medical Director )
Dr. Tarman, MD, FCFP, ABAM, is the Medical Director of Renascent. As an addiction specialist, she also works as consultant for Salvation Army’s The Homestead and The Harbourlight treatment programs. She has worked in the field of addiction medicine since 1992 and is committed to her patients’ care and full recovery. Dr. Tarman is a strong advocate for recovery from all addictions and has a special interest in promoting a better understand of food addiction. She is author of “Food Junkies: The Truth about Food Addiction” and has been instrumental in launching Renascent’s ground-breaking Food Addiction Program.