What Is the Difference Between Cocaine and Meth?

Cocaine and meth are dangerous and addictive substances. While they share a few similarities, there are also some important distinctions between them. When you know what is the difference between cocaine and meth, you will be better prepared to take appropriate action if someone that you care about begins abusing or becomes addicted to either of these drugs.

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Basic Facts About Cocaine and Meth

Before we discuss what is the difference between cocaine and meth, it can be valuable to take a few moments to discuss each of these substances separately.

Cocaine is a stimulant that is derived from the coca plant, which is native to South America. The drug typically appears as a white powder or as small crystals or rocks. 

People who abuse cocaine often snort the drug in powder form or smoke the crystals by heating them and inhaling the vapor. It can also be taken orally or dissolved into a solution and injected. 

Cocaine binds to dopamine receptors in the central nervous system, which prevents that neurotransmitter from being reabsorbed. The excess dopamine causes effects such as increased energy and alertness, elevated heart rate, and improved mood.

Meth, which is short for methamphetamine, is also a stimulant. As with cocaine, meth can be smoked, snorted, injected, or swallowed. 

The effects of meth abuse are also similar to what a person experiences when they use cocaine, except they last much longer. When these effects wear off, a person can go through a physical and psychological “crash.” 

To maintain their high and avoid the crash, it’s common for people to go on meth binges, which can include using the drug multiple times over several days. During this period, they may sleep very little or not at all, which can increase their disorientation.

The potential long-term effects of meth use include cognitive deficiencies, severe dental damage, a propensity for violence, and psychosis.

What Is the Difference Between Cocaine and Meth?

Now that we’ve reviewed some fundamental facts about each substance, let’s turn our attention toward what is the difference between cocaine and meth.

Here are five important distinctions:

  • Cocaine’s effects are much shorter than those of meth. The euphoric boost that occurs when someone uses cocaine typically lasts no more than 30 minutes. After the initial rush of ingesting meth, the resultant high will last for several hours, in some cases up to 12-14 hours or even longer.
  • Meth remains in the body longer than cocaine does. The half-life of cocaine (the amount of time it takes for 50% of the drug to be eliminated from the body) is about one hour. The half-life of methamphetamine is 10-12 hours.
  • Cocaine is usually imported from South America, where the coca plant is abundant. Meth is often produced in the United States in small “meth labs” in abandoned houses, basements, garages, sheds, and even bathtubs.
  • Meth is more likely to contain impurities and adulterants. Cocaine is derived from a plant, while meth is entirely synthetic. Some dealers or manufacturers may cut cocaine with laxatives, caffeine, or even laundry detergent. But the list of potentially toxic substances that may be included in a meth batch include ammonia, battery acid, pseudoephedrine, antifreeze, sulfuric acid, drain cleaner, and gasoline.
  • Cocaine remains more popular among recreational drug users in the United States. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), about 4.8 million Americans aged 12 and above used cocaine in the past 12 months. NIDA data indicates that about 2.5 million people in the same age range abused meth over the same period of time.

Symptoms of Addiction to Cocaine or Meth 

Addiction is one of the many negative outcomes that a person can experience if they begin to abuse cocaine or meth. Once a person develops an addiction, they will find it difficult or virtually impossible to control the amount and frequency of their substance abuse. This, in turn, can increase their risk for serious physical, psychological, and social harm.

If you suspect that someone in your life has become addicted to cocaine or meth, keep an eye out for the following signs and symptoms:

  • They spend significant amounts of time seeking, acquiring, and using cocaine or meth (as well as recovering from the effects of these drugs).
  • When they can’t acquire or use cocaine or meth, they become angry, agitated, or irritable.
  • They are failing to meet their personal, academic, or work-related responsibilities because of their drug use.
  • They have begun to use meth or cocaine in especially hazardous ways. This can include combining these drugs with other dangerous substances or driving while under the influence of cocaine or meth.
  • They have continued to use cocaine or meth even after incurring harm (such as physical damage, job loss, or being arrested) as a result of their prior use of the drug.
  • Smaller amounts of cocaine or meth don’t have the same effect on them anymore, so they need to take larger or more potent doses to achieve the sensation they’re seeking. This is known as developing tolerance.
  • They have begun to pull away from friends and family, and they no longer take part in hobbies or other activities that used to be significant to them.
  • They have become secretive or deceptive about how they spend their time and who they associate with.
  • When they try to stop using either cocaine or meth, they experience physical and psychological distress. This is known as withdrawal, and it is one of the classic signs of addiction.

Remember: An addiction to cocaine or meth is a behavioral health disorder that should be diagnosed by a professional. If a friend or family member has been exhibiting signs such as the ones we’ve listed above, they may be in crisis. The best first step is for them to be assessed by a qualified healthcare provider. 

Once your loved one receives an accurate diagnosis, they can begin to explore their options for treatment. Though addictions to cocaine or meth can be devastating, the good news is that they are treatable conditions. With proper care and a concerted effort, your loved one can end their abuse of these dangerous drugs and begin to live a healthier life in recovery.

Find Addiction Treatment in Massachusetts 

If someone that you care about has become addicted to cocaine or meth, please know that help is available. Lake Avenue Recovery is a leading provider of compassionate, affordable treatment for adults whose lives have been disrupted by substance use disorders. We also serve patients whose struggles with addiction are accompanied by anxiety, depression, and other dual diagnosis disorders.

When your loved one chooses our drug rehab in Massachusetts, they will be cared for by a team of highly skilled professionals. We understand the many ways that addiction can impact a person’s life, and we’re prepared to provide the personalized services that will help your friend or family member make sustained progress toward a much healthier and more hopeful future.

To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call us today.

More: What Are The Effects of Methamphetamine on the Brain and Body?