Is Cocaine an Opioid?

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Over the past two decades, drug use, addiction, and overdose rates have climbed throughout the United States. Men and women of all ages, demographics, and personal backgrounds have been deeply affected by what is now known as a nationwide opioid epidemic.

In 2021, 1.1 million people aged 12 and older reported using heroin in the past 12 months.

Additionally, cocaine is similar to heroin as it is a powerful drug that can lead to dependency, overdose, and death. Because people feel an intense high immediately, it creates a desire to have more. In 2020, 5.2 million people aged 12 and older reported using cocaine in the past 12 months.

So you may wonder, since cocaine is similar to heroin, is cocaine an opioid? Although similar in that it is a dangerous and highly addictive drug like heroin and other opioids, cocaine is not classified as an opioid but a stimulant made from the coca plant in South America.

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What Classifies as an Opiate

Opioids are a classification of drugs produced from the opium poppy plant. Opioids work in the brain to create various effects, including pain relief.

Opioid drugs include prescription pain medication and illegal drugs. Some people use opioids because of the euphoria or high they can produce. Opioid drugs can cause addiction, also known as opioid use disorder.

Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance produced from the pod of the opium poppy plants grown in southeast and southwest Asia, Mexico, and Colombia. Heroin can be a white or brown powder or a black sticky substance known as black tar heroin. People inject, snort, or smoke heroin. All ways of use can quickly enter the bloodstream, instantly causing a person to feel high. This intense high is what leads to heroin being very addictive.

Natural Opioids

Natural opioids are produced from the opium poppy plant. Examples of natural opioids include morphine and codeine.


Semi-Synthetic is a classification of drugs that combine both natural and synthetic substances. Examples of semi-synthetic opioids include oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, and oxymorphone.

Synthetic Opioids

Synthetic opiates are made in a laboratory and do not contain the natural substances of opium. Examples of synthetic opiates include methadone, tramadol, and fentanyl.


Endogenous opioids are endorphins primarily produced in the brain and have multiple actions throughout the body. Opioid endorphins act at opioid receptors, and opioid antagonists can.

Common Opioid Drugs

Common types of opioid drugs include prescription drugs such as oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine, and methadone. Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate and has been approved for treating pain in severe types of cancer. Finally, heroin is an illegal opioid and a significant part of the opioid epidemic we are facing in our country.

Heroin is a powerful drug that can lead to dependency, overdose, and death. Because people feel an intense high immediately, it creates a desire to have more. In 2020, more than 13,000 people died from an overdose involving heroin in the United States. This equals more than four deaths for every 100,000 Americans. The number of heroin overdose deaths was seven times higher in 2020 than in 1999.

Cocaine & Other Stimulants

Stimulants are a class of drugs that speed up messages traveling between the brain and body. They can make a person more awake, alert, confident, or energetic.

Examples of stimulants include caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines, and cocaine. Large doses can cause over-stimulation, resulting in anxiety, panic, seizures, headaches, stomach cramps, aggression, and paranoia. Long-term use of strong stimulants can have adverse effects.

A well-known drug that is a stimulant is cocaine. Cocaine use has significant short and long-term effects. Taking small amounts of cocaine makes the user feel alert, awake, more talkative, and confident. They might experience a reduced appetite and need for sleep.

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Differences Between Cocaine & Opioids

To understand the difference between cocaine and opioids, one may examine the differences between cocaine vs. heroin.

Although heroin and cocaine are similar in terms of addiction, danger, and associated risks, there are differences in use, effects of the drug, and types of long-term risks each drug may present.


One of the most common ways a person uses heroin is by injecting heroin with a needle. There are various ways a person may use heroin, such as by injecting, smoking, or snorting.

Cocaine can be snorted, gummed, injected, or smoked. If using crack cocaine, it can only be smoked.

Effects of Cocaine & Other Stimulants

Short-term effects of cocaine use include restricted blood vessels, dilated pupils, increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. Large amounts of cocaine can lead to erratic or even violent behavior. Additionally, a person may experience tremors and muscle twitching.

Severe medical complications can occur with stimulant use. Examples include cardiovascular effects, headaches, seizures, strokes, and coma. In rare instances, sudden or unexpected death can occur.

Stimulants have substantial effects on the heart and cardiovascular system. Specifically, cocaine use is linked with an increased risk of stroke.

The brain also is negatively impacted by long-term stimulant use. Examples include Parkinson’s disease and cognitive impairments of memory, judgment, impulse, and motor functioning.

Side Effects of Depressants

Depressants induce sleep, relieve anxiety and muscle spasms, and prevent seizures. Common depressants include alcohol and benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax. Finally, Quaaludes used to be widely used and is a well-known depressant drug.

Once heroin enters the brain, it is converted to morphine. People who use heroin typically report feeling a surge of pleasurable sensations. With heroin, the rush is accompanied by warm skin flushing, dry mouth, and a heavy feeling in the arms and legs. Nausea, vomiting, and severe itching may also occur.

After the initial effects, users will usually be drowsy for several hours; mental function is clouded; heart function slows; and breathing is slowed, sometimes enough to be life-threatening. Slowed breathing can also lead to coma and permanent brain damage.

Additionally, heroin impacts the brain in specific ways. Here are the following ways heroin affects the brain and nervous system function.

How Heroin Affects Brain & Nervous System:

  • Heroin depresses breathing and heart rate.
  • Heroin reinforces drug-taking behavior by altering activity in the limbic system, which controls emotions.
  • Heroin can block pain messages transmitted through the spinal cord from the body.


Heroin and cocaine are identified as among the 5 most addictive substances in the world. However, according to NIDA, heroin was the most addictive substance out of any other substance in the world. In addition to the dangerous level of addiction, the amount of heroin that can kill someone is only 5x greater than the amount used to achieve a high.

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At Guardian Recovery, we remain dedicated to providing our clients with a comprehensive program of cocaine detox — one that focuses on much more than physical stabilization. In addition to emphasizing physical recovery, we tackle mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. While we prioritize a safe and pain-free cocaine withdrawal, we offer individualgroup, and family therapy sessions, case management services, relapse prevention training, and aftercare planning.

Contact us today if you or your loved one is ready to begin an entirely new way of life and commit to long-term recovery. As soon as you call, we start developing a plan of action that begins with an initial pre-assessment. This assessment helps us determine which level of care is the most appropriate for each unique case. We identify potential coverage options if our medically monitored detox program is a good fit. We work closely with most major regional and national insurance providers. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation insurance benefit check.


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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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