• Cocaine is made from the leaf of the coca plant. It often comes in the form of a white powder that some people inhale through their nose. Another form of cocaine, known as crack, can be smoked.

  • Activity Three


    The student will learn and share interesting and unusual information about the effects of cocaine, amphetamines, and caffeine on the brain and behavior.


    Divide the students into three groups (cocaine, amphetamines, and caffeine), and assign each group the task of researching their assigned drug in order to develop a "Did You Know" poster for each type of drug. Encourage each group to discover some "surprising" information to include on their poster, and ask that each poster contain a minimum of 10 new and/or unusual facts. Students will use the local public library, the Internet, other multimedia materials, and any other sources to obtain this information. They will then work together to develop the graphics and text. Display the finished posters.

  • All materials appearing in the ​Research Reports series are in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission from NIDA. Citation of the source is appreciated.

  • Hi, my name’s Sara Bellum. Welcome to my magazine series exploring the brain’s response to drugs. In this issue, we’ll investigate the fascinating facts about the drug cocaine, which is considered a stimulant.

    Have you eaten any chocolate or drunk any soda lately? If you have, there’s a good chance you gave your body a dose of a stimulant—caffeine, which is also in coffee.

    Eating or drinking a large amount of caffeine can make you feel jittery, nervous, or energetic. That’s because caffeine—like any stimulant—changes the way your brain works.

    But caffeine is just a mild example of a stimulant. Many other stimulant drugs are much stronger—and some are illegal and very dangerous.

    Cocaine is made from the leaf of the coca plant. It often comes in the form of a white powder that some people inhale through their nose. Another form of cocaine, known as crack, can be smoked.

  • Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America. It produces short-term euphoria, energy, and talkativeness in addition to potentially dangerous physical effects like raising heart rate and blood pressure.

    Cocaine pile

    How Is Cocaine Used?

    The powdered form of cocaine is either inhaled through the nose (snorted), where it is absorbed through the nasal tissue, or dissolved in water and injected into the bloodstream.

    Crack is a form of cocaine that has been processed to make a rock crystal (also called “freebase cocaine”) that can be smoked. The crystal is heated to produce vapors that are absorbed into the blood-stream through the lungs. (The term “crack” refers to the crackling sound produced by the rock as it is heated.)

    The intensity and duration of cocaine’s pleasurable effects depend on the way it is administered. Injecting or smoking cocaine delivers the drug rapidly into the bloodstream and brain, producing a quicker and stronger but shorter-lasting high than snorting. The high from snorting cocaine may last 15 to 30 minutes; the high from smoking may last 5 to 10 minutes.

    In order to sustain their high, people who use cocaine often use the drug in a binge pattern—taking the drug repeatedly within a relatively short period of time, at increasingly higher doses. This practice can easily lead to addiction, a chronic relapsing disease caused by changes in the brain and characterized by uncontrollable drug-seeking no matter the consequences.

    How Does Cocaine Affect the Brain?

    Cocaine is a strong central nervous system stimulant that increases levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in brain circuits regulating pleasure and movement.

    Normally, dopamine is released by neurons in these circuits in response to potential rewards (like the smell of good food) and then recycled back into the cell that released it, thus shutting off the signal between neurons. Cocaine prevents the dopamine from being recycled, causing excessive amounts to build up in the synapse, or junction between neurons. This amplifies the dopamine signal and ultimately disrupts normal brain communication. It is this flood of dopamine that causes cocaine’s characteristic high.

    With repeated use, cocaine can cause long-term changes in the brain’s reward system as well as other brain systems, which may lead to addiction. With repeated use, tolerance to cocaine also often develops; many cocaine abusers report that they seek but fail to achieve as much pleasure as they did from their first exposure. Some users will increase their dose in an attempt to intensify and prolong their high, but this can also increase the risk of adverse psychological or physiological effects.

    What Are the Other Health Effects of Cocaine?

    Cocaine affects the body in a variety of ways. It constricts blood vessels, dilates pupils, and increases body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. It can also cause headaches and gastrointestinal complications such as abdominal pain and nausea. Because cocaine tends to decrease appetite, chronic users can become malnourished as well.

    Most seriously, people who use cocaine can suffer heart attacks or strokes, which may cause sudden death. Cocaine-related deaths are often a result of the heart stopping (cardiac arrest) followed by an arrest of breathing.

    People who use cocaine also put themselves at risk for contracting HIV, even if they do not share needles or other drug paraphernalia. This is because cocaine intoxication impairs judgment and can lead to risky sexual behavior.

    Some effects of cocaine depend on the method of taking it. Regular snorting of cocaine, for example, can lead to loss of the sense of smell, nosebleeds, problems with swallowing, hoarseness, and a chronically runny nose. Ingesting cocaine by the mouth can cause severe bowel gangrene as a result of reduced blood flow. Injecting cocaine can bring about severe allergic reactions and increased risk for contracting HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases.

    Binge-patterned cocaine use may lead to irritability, restlessness, and anxiety. Cocaine abusers can also experience severe paranoia—a temporary state of full-blown paranoid psychosis—in which they lose touch with reality and experience auditory hallucinations.

    Cocaine is more dangerous when combined with other drugs or alcohol (poly-drug use). For example, the combination of cocaine and heroin (known as a “speedball”) carries a particularly high risk of fatal overdose.

    Learn More

    For additional information on cocaine, please refer to the following sources on NIDA’s Web site:

  • Cocaine changes the way the brain works by changing the way nerve cells communicate. Nerve cells, called neurons, send messages to each other by releasing special chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are able to work by attaching to key sites on neurons called receptors.

    One of the neurotransmitters affected by cocaine is called dopamine. Dopamine is released by neurons in the limbic system—the part of the brain that controls feelings of pleasure.

    Normally, once dopamine has attached to a nerve cell’s receptor and caused a change in the cell, it’s pumped back to the neuron that released it. But cocaine blocks the pump, called the dopamine transporter. Dopamine then builds up in the gap (synapse) between neurons.

    The result: dopamine keeps affecting a nerve cell after it should have stopped. That’s why someone who uses cocaine feels an extra sense of pleasure for a short time.

  • Although cocaine may make someone feel pleasure for a while, later it can take away a person’s ability to feel pleasure from natural rewards, like a piece of chocolate or a good time with friends. Research suggests that long-term cocaine use may reduce the amount of dopamine or number of dopamine receptors in the brain. When this happens, nerve cells need more dopamine to function normally—or more drug to be able to feel pleasure.

    If a long-term user of cocaine stops taking the drug, the person feels tired and sad, and experiences strong craving for the drug. These feelings can last for a long time, until the brain (and the person) recovers from addiction.

  • Cocaine causes the body’s blood vessels to become narrow, constricting the flow of blood. This is a problem. It forces the heart to work harder to pump blood through the body. (If you’ve ever tried squeezing into a tight pair of pants, then you know how hard it is for the heart to pump blood through narrowed blood vessels.)

    When the heart works harder, it beats faster. It may work so hard that it temporarily loses its natural rhythm. This is called fibrillation, and it can be very dangerous because it stops the flow of blood through the body.

    Many of cocaine’s effects on the heart are actually caused by cocaine’s impact on the brain—the body’s control center.

  • Photo courtesy of the Waletzky family.
    Jeremy Waletzky, M.D.

    Every year since 2003, NIDA has honored a young career scientist with the Society for Neuroscience Jacob P. Waletzky Memorial Award for Innovative Research in Drug Addiction and Alcoholism. This award would not be possible without the generosity of the Waletzky family, who, in memory of their son Jacob, wanted to recognize research contributions in this area. We have asked his father, Dr. Jeremy Waletzky, to share some thoughts about their family’s experience with the disease of addiction.

    My son Jacob, age 29, graduated from Yale, and at Columbia University he finished his Master of Fine Arts in writing fiction (stories and novels). Jacob won a literary prize for his work. Ironically, the prize was established to honor the memory of a former student who died from a heroin overdose. I remember telling Jacob, “You better not follow in his footsteps!”

    Jacob had everything going for him. But for more than five years, he was plagued by a speedball (cocaine and heroin) addiction.

    Jacob completed a four-week inpatient program at Hazelden Addiction Center and was drug-free for five months. He was proud of his sobriety.

    That all ended May 20, 2001—the worst day of my life. A call from Jacob's girlfriend: “Dr. Waletzky, I've got some horrible news. Jacob is dead.” I heard myself saying, “Maybe he's just asleep and he’ll wake up.” She said, “No, he's dead. I'm waiting for the medical examiner.”

    I got on the next plane to New York, and when I arrived, Jacob was lying on the floor of his apartment covered by an old blanket. I didn't lift it. I didn't want to see his dead face.

    The night before the memorial service, 30 of Jacob's friends were invited to attend a dinner we hosted. That evening, seven friends claimed him as their best friend. More than 400 people attended his service.

    Jacob's mother and I wanted to do something positive to commemorate his life. I knew that if there had been a treatment that worked, Jacob would have used it. He’d had several treatments that helped some—but he was still dead. I’m a psychiatrist and an expert in using medication for people who are depressed or anxious. I think we might improve treatment for drug abuse with neuroscience: the scientific study of nerves, and especially how nerves affect learning and behavior.

    We decided to establish an award in Jacob's name, in hopes it would make more people aware of addiction research. In 2003, the Society for Neuroscience began to give out the award every year to a young scientist who has already made important discoveries that improve our understanding of drug addiction.

    Dr. Nora Volkow, director of NIDA, has invited the award winner to speak at the Society of Neuroscience each year. When she introduces the winner, Nora shows Jacob’s photograph to the audience on big screens. I always start to cry.

    In a dream one night, Jacob appeared to me and said everything would be all right. As time has passed, I can focus less on the day he died and celebrate his birthday instead. I know that the award has helped me accept his death, because something useful has come from the tragic end to his life.

    Get more information on the Jacob P. Waletzky Award from the Society for Neuroscience website.

    Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.
  • Fortunately, scientists have figured out how cocaine works, which will help them discover treatments for cocaine addiction. Right now, there are talk therapies that can help, but someday there may be medications as well.

  • The NIDA Blog Team

    The Super Bowl is only a few days away. From the game itself to the halftime show to the commercials (of course!), the event has something for everyone. Most people who tune in, however, won’t realize that behind the scenes, a different competition is going on: the National Football League (NFL) vs. drug use.

    Some NFL players may abuse prescription drugs to cover up the pain that can result from football-related injuries. Or they may take performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), like anabolic steroids, trying to make themselves stronger and (they hope) play a better game.

    The NFL’s drug policy—which it developed along with the NFL Players’ Association (NFLPA)—takes a stand against PEDs as well as other substances. But the policy doesn’t score with some critics, who think it isn’t strict enough.

    No illegal kicks

    The League bans players from using, possessing, or distributing drugs like cocaine, marijuana, painkillers such as opioids, MDMA (Molly or Ecstasy), and PCP. Amphetamines are also banned unless the player has a genuine, proven need to use them for a medical condition. The policy also covers alcohol use that’s associated with breaking the law: for instance, failing an alcohol breath test.

    In 2014, the NFL and NFLPA agreed on a separate policy for PEDs. It bans players’ use of anabolic steroids, stimulants, human or animal growth hormones, and related PEDs.

    NFL players are tested for drugs at certain points throughout the season, and again at other times if a player fails a drug test, or is arrested in connection with drug use, or shows signs of drug abuse.

    Time to move the goalposts?

    If a player violates the NFL’s drug policy once, he receives 90 days of treatment and the unannounced testing. Second-time violators get two years of treatment and testing, plus a four-game suspension if they don’t stick with the treatment or they test positive. Three-time offenders who don’t stay with treatment or who have a positive test for marijuana get a 10-game suspension, and a year-long ban from the League for using other drugs.

    People who think the NFL drug policy should be tougher point to players like Josh Gordon, the Cleveland Browns’ 24-year-old wide receiver, who has already faced four suspensions (two of them lasting a year each). And in 2014, there were 41 drug-related suspensions in the League—an all-time record—and the current season may break that record.

    A lot of people look up to the players, and critics worry that when so many NFL players are violating drug policy, it sends a bad message. The League may or may not “move the goalposts” for players who use drugs—but either way, the consequences for those players are a reminder that using banned or illegal drugs for any reason is a losing game.

    Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.
  • There’s still a lot that scientists don’t know about the effects of cocaine on the brain. Maybe someday you’ll make the next big discovery. Until then, join me—Sara Bellum—in the other magazines in my series, as we explore how drugs affect the brain and nervous system.

    Mind Over Matter is produced by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health. These materials are in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission. Citation of the source is appreciated. NIH Publication No. 03-3857. Printed 1997. Reprinted 1998, 2000, 2003.

  • For teachers: Background information and classroom activities for use with the Cocaine Student Booklet.

    Stimulant drugs such as cocaine, "crack," amphetamines, and caffeine are substances that speed up activity in the brain and spinal cord. This, in turn, can cause the heart to beat faster and blood pressure and metabolism to increase. Stimulants often influence a person to be more talkative and anxious and to experience feelings of exhilaration.

    Use of cocaine and other stimulants can cause someone's heart to beat abnormally fast and at an unsteady rate. Use of these drugs also narrows blood vessels, reducing the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart, which results in "starving" the heart muscle. Even professional athletes whose bodies are well-conditioned have succumbed to cocaine's ability to cause heart failure. Researchers currently have no way to detect who may be more susceptible to these effects.

  • Mechanism of Action

    heart drummer

    Cocaine acts on the pleasure circuit to prevent reabsorption of the neurotransmitter dopamine after its release from nerve cells. Normally, neurons that are part of the pleasure circuit release dopamine, which then crosses the synapse to stimulate another neuron in the pleasure circuit. Once this has been accomplished, the dopamine is picked up by a transporter molecule and carried back into the original neuron. However, because cocaine binds to the dopamine transporter molecule, it prevents the reabsorption of dopamine. This causes a buildup of dopamine in the synapse, which results in strong feelings of pleasure and even euphoria. The excess dopamine that accumulates in the synapse causes the neurons that have dopamine receptors to decrease the number of receptors they make. This is called down regulation. When cocaine is no longer taken and dopamine levels return to their normal (i.e., lower) concentration, the smaller number of dopamine receptors that are available for the neurotransmitter to bind to is insufficient to fully activate nerve cells. During "craving," the addict experiences a very strong need for the drug to get the level of dopamine back up. Cocaine also binds to the transporters for other neurotransmitters, including serotonin and norepinephrine, and blocks their reuptake. Scientists are still unsure about the effects of cocaine's interaction with these other neurotransmitters.

    Cocaine has also been found to specifically affect the prefrontal cortex and amygdala, which are involved in aspects of memory and learning. The amygdala has been linked to emotional aspects of memory. Researchers believe that a neural network involving these brain regions reacts to environmental cues and activates memories, and this triggers biochemical changes that result in cocaine craving.

    Amphetamines, such as Methamphetamine, also act on the pleasure circuit by altering the levels of certain neurotransmitters present in the synapse, but the mechanism is different from that of cocaine. Methamphetamine is chemically similar to dopamine. This similarity allows Methamphetamine to fool the dopamine transporter into carrying Methamphetamine into the nerve terminal. Methamphetamine can also directly cross nerve cell membranes. Once inside nerve terminals, Methamphetamine enters dopamine vesicles and causes the release of these neurotransmitters. The excess dopamine is then carried by transporter molecules out of the neuron and into the synapse. Once in the synapse, the high concentration of dopamine causes feelings of pleasure and euphoria.

    Methamphetamine also differs from cocaine in that it can damage neurons that contain dopamine and even kill neurons that contain other neurotransmitters. This cell damage can occur in the frontal cortex, amygdala and the striatum, a brain region that is involved in movement. This may account for the dramatic decrease in dopamine levels seen with brain imaging techniques in both humans and animals. These decreases in dopamine are seen even after short-term exposure to Methamphetamine and they persist for many years, even after Methamphetamine use has been terminated.

    For more information on how Methamphetamine acts in the brain, see the last chapter which is devoted entirely to Methamphetamine.

    The following activities, when used along with the magazine on stimulants, will help explain to students how these substances change the brain and the body.

  • Activity One


    The student will learn that cocaine affects neurotransmission in the mesolimbic dopamine system, sometimes referred to as the pleasure center.


    Remind students that cocaine activates the brain's pleasure center, which involves the brainstem, limbic system, and frontal cortex. Students will then produce colorful diagrams of the system, labeling important parts, and provide a brief written description of the different structures.

  • The NIDA Blog Team

    Q: What do cocaine and bacteria have in common?

    A: They both contaminate our cash.

    While most of the dollar bills you come into contact with would test positive for cocaine, that doesn’t mean that they were used to snort cocaine. In fact, less than 1 percent of people age 12 or older even use the drug.  

    It happens because cocaine is a very fine powder that easily transfers from bill to bill. One bill with cocaine on it can contaminate an entire cash drawer or ATM. It’s a little like someone with a cold—if he or she sneezes on you, the chances are good that you’ll catch what the individual has.

    Graphic of text saying, "Q: What do cocaine and bacteria have in common? A: They both contaminate our cash.”  Below that, text says, “Nearly 9 out of 10 dollar bills in the United States test positive for cocaine residue. The amount of cocaine found on money is usually minuscule—a nanogram to a milligram.” Beside the text is a graphic of 10, one-dollar bills with 9 of them containing red marks. Below that, text says, “Yet, less than 1% of people age 12 and older are using cocaine.” Beside the text is a graphic of 100 people and only 1 is colored red. Below that is a graphic of a person at an ATM with text beside it that says, “Cocaine is a very fine powder that easily transfers from one bill to another. It only takes one dollar that has any trace of cocaine to contaminate an entire ATM.” Below that, text says, “Researchers have identified more than 3,000 different types of bacteria on dollar bills.” Beside the text is a graphic of a one-dollar bill with a close-up of bacteria. Below that, text says, “Just another good reason to wash your hands!” Beside the text is a graphic of hands washing and a red check-mark.

    But don’t worry. Your stash of cash has only a tiny amount of cocaine on it—not enough to get you high or cause you to fail a drug test.

    And What About Bacteria?

    Well, germaphobes beware—researchers from New York University found hundreds of different bacteria on dollar bills. In all, they identified over 3,000 different types of bacteria that caused pneumonia, food poisoning, and staph infections. 

    Want To Know What’s in Your Pocket?

    Where’s George? allows users to enter and track dollar bills. It shows how far money can travel while it is in circulation. 

    So, the bottom line here is that money is dirty. And while cocaine is not likely to get on your skin from handling money, germs will. So, we suggest washing your hands frequently.







    Sources for Infographic:

    Biello, D. (2009 Aug 16). Cocaine contaminates majority of U.S. currency. Scientific American. Retrieved November 3, 2014, from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/cocaine-contaminates-majority-of-american-currency/.

    Carlton, J. (2014).  The Dirty Money Project.  Mapping NYC’s MetaGenome: A Research Project at New York University.

    Oyler, J., Darwin, W.D., & Cone, E.J. (1996 Jul/Aug). Cocaine contamination of United States paper currency. Journal of Analytical Toxicology, 20(4):213–216. Retrieved November 3, 2014, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8835657.

    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014 Sept). Results From the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-48, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4863: Rockville, MD: SAMHSA. Retrieved November 3, 2014, from http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUHresultsPDFWHTML2013/Web/NSDUHresults2013.htm.

    Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.
  • Activity Two


    The student will learn the way in which dopamine is related to the sensation of pleasure.

    The student will learn how stimulants interfere with dopamine re-uptake.


    Describe how cocaine ultimately reduces pleasure by interfering with dopamine re-uptake. Students will be assigned to groups and will first script and then act out this process. They will then perform their skits with students assuming roles such as neurons, cocaine, transporters, receptors, dopamine, pleasure, and addiction.

  • What is cocaine?

    Also known as: Coke, Coca, C, Snow, Flake, Blow, Bump, Candy, Charlie, Rock, and Toot

    A pile of cocaine

    Cocaine is an addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America. Cocaine comes in two forms:

    • Powder cocaine is a white powder (which scientists call a hydrochloride salt). Street dealers often mix cocaine with other substances like cornstarch, talcum powder, or sugar. They also mix cocaine with active drugs like procaine, a local anesthetic (a chemical that causes you not to feel pain in a specific area of the body), and with other stimulants like amphetamines.
    • Crack is a form of cocaine that has been processed to make a rock crystal that people smoke. The term “crack” refers to the cracking sound the rocks make when they are heated. To make crack, the powder cocaine is mixed with ammonia or baking soda and water and then heated to produce the crystal.
  • How is cocaine used?

    Powder cocaine can be snorted up the nose or mixed with water and injected with a needle. Sometimes, powder cocaine is rubbed onto gums or other tissues in the body. Crack is smoked in a small glass pipe. The crystal is heated to produce vapors that are absorbed into the blood through the lungs.

    In order to keep the “high” going, people may take the drug repeatedly within a short period of time, at increasingly higher doses.

  • How does cocaine affect the brain?

    All drugs change the way the brain works by changing the way nerve cells communicate. Nerve cells, called neurons, send messages to each other by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters attach to molecules on neurons called receptors. (Learn more about how neurotransmitters work.) Drugs affect this signaling process.

    There are many neurotransmitters, but dopamine is the main one that makes people feel good when they do something they enjoy, like eating a piece of chocolate cake or playing a video game. Normally, dopamine gets recycled back into the cell that released it, thus shutting off the signal. Stimulants like cocaine prevents the dopamine from being recycled, causing a buildup of the neurotransmitter in the brain. It is this flood of dopamine that causes cocaine’s high. The drug can cause a feeling of intense pleasure and increased energy.

    With repeated use, stimulants like cocaine can disrupt how the brain’s dopamine system works, reducing a person’s ability to feel  pleasure from normal, everyday activities.  People will often develop tolerance, which means they must take more of the drug to get the desired effect.  If a person becomes addicted, they may take the drug just to feel “normal.”

    After the "high" of the cocaine wears off, many users experience a "crash" and feel tired or sad for days. They also experience a strong craving to take cocaine again to try to feel better.

    Learn more about  how the brain works and what happens when a person uses drugs. And, check out how the brain responds to natural rewards and to drugs.

  • What are the other effects of cocaine?

    The surge of dopamine in the brain affects the body in a variety of ways:

    • constricted blood vessels and dilated pupils
    • higher body temperature
    • higher blood pressure and faster heartbeat
    • feeling sick to the stomach
    • restlessness
    • decreased appetite and, over time, a loss of weight
    • inability to sleep
    • increased risk of heart attack or stroke due to high blood pressure
    • increased risk of HIV because of impaired judgment leading to risky sexual behavior
    • strange, unpredictable behavior, panic attacks, or paranoid psychosis (losing touch with reality)

    How cocaine is used leads to different physical problems, including:

    • snorting: hoarse voice, loss of the sense of smell, nosebleeds, and a constant runny nose
    • taken by mouth: reduced blood flow in your intestines, leading to bowel problems
    • needle injection: higher risk of getting HIV, hepatitis C (a liver disease), and other diseases transmitted by blood contact
  • Can you get addicted to cocaine?

    Yes, repeated cocaine use can lead to addiction. Addiction is a devastating brain disease in which people can’t stop using drugs even when they really want to and even after it causes terrible consequences to their health and other parts of their lives.

    Because a cocaine high usually doesn't last very long, people take it again and again to try to keep feeling good. Once addicted, people who are trying to quit taking cocaine might experience withdrawal symptoms, including:

    • depression
    • feeling very tired
    • increased appetite
    • bad dreams and trouble sleeping
    • slowed thinking

    The right treatment, however, can help an addicted person control their cravings and stop using cocaine.

  • Can you die if you use cocaine?

    Yes. In 2014, more than 5,400 people died from a cocaine overdose. Males are much more likely to die in this way than are females. In 2014, 3,900 males overdosed on cocaine, as compared with 1,500 females.1

    Cocaine can be deadly when taken in large doses or when mixed with other drugs or alcohol. Cocaine-related deaths often happen because the heart stops (cardiac arrest), then breathing stops. Using cocaine and drinking alcohol or using other drugs increases these dangers, including the risk of overdose. For example, combining cocaine and heroin (known as a “speedball”) puts a person at higher risk of death from an overdose.

    In rare instances, sudden death can occur on the first use of cocaine or soon after.

    1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2014 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released 2015. Available at http://wonder.cdc.gov.

  • How many teens use cocaine?

    For the most recent statistics on cocaine use among teens, see the results below from NIDA’s Monitoring the Future study.

    Swipe left or right to scroll.

    Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Various Drugs for 8th Graders, 10th Graders, and 12th Graders; 2015 (in percent)*


    Time Period

    8th Graders

    10th Graders

    12th Graders







    Past Year





    Past Month




    Crack Cocaine






    Past Year





    Past Month




    * Data in brackets indicate statistically significant change from the previous year.

    Source: University of Michigan, Monitoring the Future Study

    For more statistics on teen drug use, see NIDA’s Monitoring the Future study.

  • What should I do if someone I know needs help?

    If you, or a friend, are in crisis and need to speak with someone now, please call:

    • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (they don't just talk about suicide—they cover a lot of issues and will help put you in touch with someone close by).

    If you need information on treatment and where you can find it, you can call:

    For more information on how to help a friend or loved one, visit our Have a Drug Problem, Need Help? page.

  • For More Information on Cocaine