Increasing Deaths by Cocaine

Man considering insurance treatment

America has a huge issue with drug use and addiction. Within the last several years, opioid addiction has been an epidemic, given the alarming number of overdoses and increasing addiction rates. However, cocaine use has also reached new heights.

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug that has a high potential for abuse [2]. Cocaine provides users with a euphoric effect. This is because it allows the brain to produce more dopamine [2].

The Effect of Dopamine

Dopamine is a chemical that the human brain naturally produces. Dopamine has a feel-good effect that is activated when we do something pleasurable. This pleasure response reinforces behavior. Positive reinforcement is a reward. Rewards make someone more likely to do a behavior again.

For example, dopamine is released when we eat. Dopamine essentially rewards us for eating, making it more likely that we will continue to do so. This is important because it helps increase our chances of survival, given that eating is necessary for life.

This is an oversimplified explanation of how dopamine works, but it can help explain how this chemical functions because it plays a role in addiction [2]. Similar to how we are rewarded with pleasure when we eat, high levels of dopamine are released while under the influence of cocaine [2].

This is how dopamine plays a key role in addiction development—the drug makes someone feel good, so they keep doing it. Cocaine is one of the drugs that have the most impact on dopamine levels in someone’s brain [2].

Over time, cocaine use is shown to negatively impact the brain’s ability to produce dopamine [2]. This sets someone up to become addicted because their brain essentially relies on the substance in order to release the chemical [2]. This means that during times someone isn’t using, they are more likely to feel bad.

Cocaine and it’s Severity

Girl struggling with an addiction to cocaineSubstance abuse of any kind is a serious problem because of its impact on someone’s life. However, some substances are riskier to use than others. Given the higher risk for contracting HIV or Hepatitis C or the impact on the brain, cocaine is a very risky drug to use.

Unfortunately, within the last five years, the number of people who have died from a cocaine overdose has tripled [2]. Researchers have been trying to understand why more people are overdosing and dying from cocaine use.

Some possible explanations are that there is an increased amount of the coca plant. This has made the prices of cocaine drop significantly, making this drug habit more affordable compared to other substances. Also, cocaine is often laced with fentanyl [1]. Fentanyl is another powerful stimulant drug, and this combination can increase the risk of overdose.

While investigating the reasons behind the increase in cocaine-related deaths, researchers have also suggested ways to help prevent overdoses. Some ways to help include drug prevention, substance use treatment, and support throughout the recovery process [1].

Drug prevention programs can include screening for substance use at healthcare centers. Prevention programs can also include community education about the impact of drugs and how to recognize that someone may be struggling.

Treatment for substance abuse may look different for each individual, depending on how severe their addiction is. Someone may need 24-hour care, while someone else may need less. Regardless of the severity of an addiction, treatment often includes a mental health professional and a medical doctor.

In addition to prevention and treatment, it is important for people to have support during the recovery process. This includes while they are taking steps to recover and afterward so they can maintain their progress. Support can come from a mental health professional, 12-step programs, or loved ones. Regardless of where the support comes from, it’s a really important part of the healing process.


[1] HealthDay. (2020, October 7). Overdose deaths from cocaine rising dramatically.

[2] Maté, G. (2008) In the realm of hungry ghosts. North Atlantic Press.

About the Author:

Samantha Bothwell PhotoSamantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on December 16, 2020
Reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 16, 2020
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