Can Cocaine Abuse Cause Stereotypic Movement Disorder?

Stereotypic movement disorder or SMD is a motor disorder that causes repetitive, purposeless behavior such as head banging, hand-flapping or body rocking. While commonly considered a childhood disorder, certain conditions can bring on SMD in adults, one of which being cocaine abuse.

In effect, stereotypic movement disorder develops out of neurological abnormalities. With frequent, ongoing and/or chronic cocaine abuse, the potential for developing SMD increases the longer a person continues to abuse the drug.

If you or someone you know abuses cocaine on a regular basis, understanding how cocaine’s effects bring on stereotypic movement disorder can help you in determining whether there’s a need for drug treatment help.

For information on cocaine rehab treatment options, call our toll-free helpline at .

Stereotypic Movement Disorder

Stereotypic Movement Disorder

Nail biting is a self-harming form of stereotypic movement disorder.

Stereotypic movement disorder develops out of neurological impairments within the motor cortex, the area of the brain that allows for voluntary movement. According to the journal of Frontiers in Neurology, SMD can take different forms depending on the areas of the cortex most affected.

The most common forms of this disorder include:

  • Tremors
  • Repetitive tics
  • Dyskinesias, which are slow or random tics
  • Myoclonus, which causes muscle groups to twitch or jerk

Someone who’s developed stereotypic movement disorder will display symptoms for a minimum of four weeks. Also, symptoms must be pronounced to the point where they interfere with his or her normal daily functioning.

Cocaine’s Effects in the Brain

As one of the most powerful stimulant drugs in existence, cocaine works by speeding up chemical activities throughout the brain and central nervous system. With regular, ongoing cocaine abuse, these effects start to disrupt motor cortex functioning.

More specifically, cocaine stimulates dopamine level increases in the brain. Dopamine, a primary neurotransmitter chemical, plays a central role within the motor cortex region and has a direct impact on movement behaviors, according to the journal of Current Drug Abuse Reviews.

With ongoing cocaine abuse, dopamine levels become depleted while the brain regions that rely on adequate dopamine supplies start to break down. Stereotypic movement disorder develops out of these conditions.

Repetitive vs. Self-Harming Behaviors


Stereotypic movement disorders can be broken down into two main categories: repetitive behaviors and self-harming behaviors.

According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, cocaine’s effects in the brain stimulate motor activity in general. People who engage in cocaine abuse on a regular basis can start to develop repetitive behaviors, some of which include:

  • Blinking
  • Hand-flapping
  • Tapping the ears
  • Finger-snapping
  • Scratching

Oftentimes, these behaviors become more pronounced when a person is under stress.

Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine Induced Psychosis


With chronic cocaine abuse, symptoms of stereotypic movement disorder may become increasingly severe to the point where self-harming behaviors take shape. Like repetitive behavior displays, self-harming behaviors tend to increase in frequency during periods of stress or emotional turmoil.

Self-harming behaviors typically take the form of:

  • Cuticle picking
  • Nail biting
  • Biting one’s skin
  • Hair-pulling
  • Burning one’s skin
  • Skin picking

Ultimately, the longer a person engages in cocaine abuse the more damage done to the motor cortex, and the more pronounced symptoms of stereotypic movement disorder become.

If you’re struggling with a cocaine abuse problem and need help finding treatment that’s right for you, call our helpline at to speak with one of our addiction counselors.

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