Effects of Cocaine Use

Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use

Cocaine is a powerful and addictive stimulant drug that produces intense effects. Even short-term cocaine use can be deadly, but the effects of long-term abuse are often devastating for the brain and body.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Cocaine?

Cocaine use can cause widespread effects on the brain, heart, and organ systems. In the next few sections, we’ll review how long-term cocaine use affects each of these vital parts of your body.

Long-Term Side Effects of Cocaine on the Heart
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Long-Term Side Effects of Cocaine on the Heart

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Long-Term Side Effects of Cocaine on the Heart

Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant that causes an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature, as well as a narrowing of the blood vessels throughout the body (vasoconstriction).[1]

With chronic use, cocaine can damage the cardiovascular system, leading to chronic high blood pressure (hypertension), an irregular heart rate (arrhythmia), or chest pain from the tightening of the blood vessels (angina).[2]

Cocaine use can also cause blood clots leading to a heart attack, stroke, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), or pulmonary embolism – all of which can be fatal.[3]

Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use on the Respiratory System
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Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use on the Respiratory System

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Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use on the Respiratory System

Snorting is a common method of use for cocaine. Over time, snorting cocaine can cause mucous membrane damage in the sinus cavities, throat, and upper respiratory system.[4] Cocaine constricts the blood vessels in the nasal lining, leading to death of the tissue, sores in the lining and septum, loss of supporting cartilage, scarring, and eventually, collapse of the nose, known as “cocaine nose.”[5]

As awful as this sounds, smoking crack cocaine produces more devastating respiratory effects. Smoking cocaine exposes the lungs directly to the drug and the other combustion materials, increasing the risk of complications like pulmonary hypertension, burning in the throat, emphysema, inflammation of the lungs (pneumonitis), chronic cough, respiratory distress, and an increased risk of infections like tuberculosis and pneumonia.[6]

Smoking crack cocaine is associated with eosinophilic pneumonitis, or “crack lung,” a condition that includes symptoms like:

  • Pain
  • Black sputum
  • Cough
  • Wheezing
  • Increased white blood cells
  • Elevated body temperature[7]
Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use on the Brain
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Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use on the Brain

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Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use on the Brain

Long-term use of cocaine has a profound impact on the brain, including an increased risk for strokes and seizures. Years of cocaine use can increase the risk of bleeding in the brain or movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease.[8]
Along with the physical effects, cocaine impairs cognitive functions and mood. People who abuse cocaine over the long term may have impairments in memory, decision-making, motor function, attention span, and impulse inhibition.[9]

With cocaine binges, which is when cocaine is used repeatedly and at increasingly higher doses, people experience more irritability, restlessness, paranoia, panic attacks, and possible psychosis with hallucinations. As cocaine use increases, the risk of adverse psychological effects increases.

Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use
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Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use on Other Organ Systems

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Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use

The long-term effects of cocaine on the cardiovascular system and reduced blood flow have wide-reaching effects on the rest of the body. Several organ systems, including the stomach and intestines, can be indirectly damaged over time.

The short-term effects of cocaine abuse may include reduced appetite, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and constipation. With chronic use, these effects can become more persistent and potentially lead to long-term gastrointestinal issues.

People who use cocaine are more likely to experience ulcers and develop conditions like ischemic colitis, which happens when blood flow is reduced to part of the large intestine. Without treatment, ischemic colitis can cause tissue damage or tissue death.[10]

The kidneys receive 20% to 25% of cardiac output to function properly.[11] Because cocaine restricts blood flow, chronic cocaine use can damage the kidneys.[12] Cocaine use can also cause muscle injury, including rhabdomyolysis, a breakdown of the muscle tissue.[13] With this condition, damaged muscles release proteins and electrolytes into the blood, damaging the heart and kidneys.

Cocaine Addiction

One of the greatest risks of cocaine is that it’s highly addictive. The intense high that cocaine produces is short-lived, only lasting between five and 30 minutes, depending on the method of use. This causes people to take more and more cocaine to sustain their high, leading to tolerance and dependence. Eventually, addiction occurs.

Though cocaine is a highly abused drug and a difficult addiction to overcome, substance abuse treatment can be effective for yourself or a loved one.

If you tried to cut back or quit cocaine use and experienced extreme withdrawal that caused you to relapse, medical detox can help manage your symptoms while the drug clears your system. While there aren’t medications specific to cocaine use, they can be used to alleviate withdrawal symptoms like insomnia.

Every treatment is individualized, ensuring you get the ideal combination of therapies for your needs. If you need intensive treatment, inpatient or residential programs are ideal and provide 24/7 staff support. If you need to manage your day-to-day responsibilities without putting your treatment on hold, outpatient programs offer flexibility that works with your schedule.

With both inpatient and outpatient, the therapies are often a combination of traditional therapies like individual counseling and peer groups with behavioral therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).[14] This therapy focuses on the problematic thoughts and behavioral patterns that contribute to substance abuse, replacing them with healthier options.

Frequently Asked Questions

01

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Cocaine?

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The effects of long-term cocaine use can include damage to the brain, heart, and multiple organ systems. It can also cause psychological effects, such as irritability, paranoia, panic attacks, and psychosis.

02

What Are the Risks of Cocaine Use?

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Cocaine has short-term risks that occur immediately after use, such as abdominal pain, anxiety, dizziness, irritability, nausea, paranoia, tremors, and violent behaviors.[15] There are also indirect risks, such as violent or reckless behaviors that lead to injury or death. Cocaine users are at an increased risk of contracting infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis from sharing needles or developing sexually transmitted infections from unsafe sexual activities.[16]

With chronic use of cocaine, long-term effects such as brain damage, organ damage, addiction, and increased risk of overdose are more likely.

03

What’s the Most Dangerous Method of Cocaine Use?

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No method of cocaine use can be considered “safe.” Each method carries the broad risks and side effects of cocaine use and unique complications. With snorting, there’s a risk of nasal and sinus damage or infections in the lungs.[17] Smoking crack cocaine produces an intense high that may drive binging and increase the risk of overdose. Inhaling smoke can also lead to burns on the lips, mouth, throat, airway, and lungs.[18]

There are a variety of dangers associated with injecting drugs, including cocaine.[19] Using and potentially sharing needles or dissolving powder cocaine in contaminated water exposes people to a variety of bacterial and viral infections. The injection site is also susceptible to infection and abscesses. With repeated use, injecting drugs can cause vein collapse.

Overall, injecting cocaine is associated with the most complications inherent to injection drug use. However, there’s no indication that any method is more likely to cause the long-term adverse effects of cocaine. This is because most of the long-term effects are associated with how cocaine acts on the brain and body, which is similar regardless of the method of use.[20]

Sources
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[01]

Cardiovascular effects of cocaine | circulation. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.110.940569 on 2023, July 8.

[02]

Cardiovascular effects of cocaine | circulation. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.110.940569 on 2023, July 8.

[03]

Cardiovascular effects of cocaine | circulation. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.110.940569 on 2023, July 8.

[04]

Di Cosola, M., Ambrosino, M., Limongelli, L., Favia, G., Santarelli, A., Cortelazzi, R., & Lo Muzio, L. (2021, July 23). Cocaine-induced midline destructive lesions (CIMDL): A real challenge in diagnosis. International journal of environmental research and public health. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8345435/ on 2023, July 8.

[05]

Di Cosola, M., Ambrosino, M., Limongelli, L., Favia, G., Santarelli, A., Cortelazzi, R., & Lo Muzio, L. (2021, July 23). Cocaine-induced midline destructive lesions (CIMDL): A real challenge in diagnosis. International journal of environmental research and public health. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8345435/ on 2023, July 8.

[06]

Pulmonary complications from cocaine and cocaine-based substances … (n.d.-b). Retrieved from https://pubs.rsna.org/doi/10.1148/rg.274065144 on 2023, July 8.

[07]

Dolapsakis, C., & Katsandri, A. (2019). Crack Lung: A case of acute pulmonary cocaine toxicity. Lung India : official organ of Indian Chest Society. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6625241/ on 2023, July 8.

[08]

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021, July 9). What are the long-term effects of cocaine use?. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-are-long-term-effects-cocaine-use on 2023, July 89.

[09]

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021, July 9). What are the long-term effects of cocaine use?. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-are-long-term-effects-cocaine-use on 2023, July 8.

[10]

G;, G. G. (n.d.). Gastrointestinal manifestations of cocaine addiction. International journal of clinical pharmacology and therapeutics. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8205375/ on 2023, July 8.

[11]

Kidney blood flow. Kidney Blood Flow – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/kidney-blood-flow#:~:text=Renal%20blood%20flow%20(RBF)%20approximates,autoregulation%20of%20renal%20blood%20flow on 2023, July 8.

[12]

Goel, N., Pullman, J. M., & Coco, M. (2014, December). Cocaine and kidney injury: A kaleidoscope of pathology. Clinical kidney journal. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4389131/ on 2023, July 8.

[13]

Selvaraj, V., Gollamudi, L. R., Sharma, A., & Madabushi, J. (2013). A case of cocaine-induced myopathy. The primary care companion for CNS disorders. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3795579/ on 2023, July 8.

[14]

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020, June 11). How is cocaine addiction treated?. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-treatments-are-effective-cocaine-abusers on 2023, July 8.

[15]

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021a, June 13). What are the short-term effects of cocaine use?. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-are-short-term-effects-cocaine-use on 2023, July 8.

[16]

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020b, June 11). Why are cocaine users at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS and hepatitis?. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/are-cocaine-abusers-risk-contracting-hivaids-hepatitis-b-c on 2023, July 8

[17]

Di Cosola, M., Ambrosino, M., Limongelli, L., Favia, G., Santarelli, A., Cortelazzi, R., & Lo Muzio, L. (2021, July 23). Cocaine-induced midline destructive lesions (CIMDL): A real challenge in diagnosis. International journal of environmental research and public health. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8345435/ on 2023, July 8.

[18]

Pulmonary complications from cocaine and cocaine-based substances … (n.d.-b). Retrieved from https://pubs.rsna.org/doi/10.1148/rg.274065144 on 2023, July 8.

[19]

Potential health complications of injection drug use. National Harm Reduction Coalition. (2020, September 1). Retrieved from https://harmreduction.org/issues/safer-drug-use/injection-safety-manual/potential-health-injections/ on 2023, July 8.

[20]

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021, July 9). What are the long-term effects of cocaine use?. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-are-long-term-effects-cocaine-use on 2023, July 8.

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