Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant used recreationally causing a rush of euphoria in users, which commonly leads to drug dependency. Because the “high” of the drug comes and goes so quickly, there’s an immediate craving to receive those feelings of pleasure again and again.
The effects you feel when coming down from your high can be a stark contrast and result in aggressive behavior, feelings of depression, or even bouts of paranoia. Although some drugs, like heroin, result in more physical symptoms, such as vomiting, cocaine long-term effects are more emotional and mental.
While cocaine negatively affects your entire body, the heart and brain are affected the most. Because of the way that the drug is ingested, it immediately infiltrates the bloodstream and goes directly to the brain. It may be hard to imagine a life without cocaine but just remember that sobriety is within reach.
Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use on the Brain
The way cocaine affects you varies. You may experience several of the listed side effects or only show symptoms of one or two. There’s no accurate way to tell how you are going to react to the drug. Even if you are a chronic user, there’s still an unpredictability to account for when using cocaine. Various factors contribute to the way your body is able to process and react to the substance.
Sometimes the physical damage to your body is not instantaneously visible. But the long-term effects of cocaine use can alter the way you think, act, and feel permanently. If you are a chronic cocaine user, you may experience:
“Nobody has ever regretted getting sober or trying to get sober. Nobody says to themselves, man… I wish I never got sober.” – McKay, Above It All Drug Rehab Program Graduate 2012
Damage to Blood Vessels
Cocaine use can cause constriction of blood vessels in the brain, which can result in complications as serious as a stroke or heart attack. The blood flow within the brain decreases with the increased use of cocaine.
If you’ve begun using cocaine, this is one of the major concerns. Due to its addictive nature, it’s easy for you to become dependent on the drug. Infrequent use doesn’t mean there are less side effects and symptoms to be wary of. Any time you use cocaine, you are susceptible to dependency and future addiction. Additionally, once the body becomes “tolerant” of the drug, it will require more of it in order to achieve the same high. This dependence is what makes going through detox and withdrawal at an evidence-based treatment facility so important. A team of medical professionals can help you work through this challenging time in a safe environment that will set you up for a successful long-term recovery.
Cocaine affects the dopamine levels in the brain, which leads to high highs and low lows. The emotional long-term effects of the drug are some of the most typical that you may experience. These can range from intense mood swings to paranoia to trouble sleeping or disruptive dreams. Here are a few of the other emotional side effects you can watch out for:
- Aggression: When someone uses cocaine, you may notice their behavior shift into “high gear.” They may all of a sudden become super talkative and animated. They may act like the life of the party, but once they come down from that high, their personality may shift to becoming extremely aggressive. This happens because the brain can’t regulate the stress of the chemical disruption caused by cocaine.
- Anxiety: Anxiety is also not uncommon in loved ones using cocaine. Due to how the increased amounts of dopamine alters their brain, they may have trouble processing the different stimuli to regulate feelings of fear or anxiety.
- Depression: Deficiencies in dopamine can lead to depression, but also, your loved one suffers from mental disorder tendencies even without drug use, cocaine may only heighten these feelings and make them more prevalent. Since cocaine can lead to other negative aspects in their life, it can make them feel withdrawn from friends and family, which can further attribute to apathetic or depressive feelings.
- Paranoia: The destabilization caused in the brain caused by cocaine abuse can result in paranoia and could eventually lead to hallucinations or delusions with long-term use. If your friend or loved one decides to withdraw from cocaine use and receive treatment, these may subside over time, but is a highly common long-term effect of cocaine use.
No one is immune to experiencing one or all of these symptoms. It’s enough to make anyone want to quit. But if you have developed a dependency on the drug you may struggle with withdrawal due to the painful symptoms associated with that process.
It’s true, cocaine withdrawal side effects can be less than pleasant, but they are often short-lived. The discomfort and pain associated with withdrawal is not something anyone should have to experience alone. The medical attention and support of a trained facility staff can help you experience withdrawal as comfortably and safely as possible.Speak with a treatment specialist today.
Factors That Contribute to Long-Term Side Effects of Cocaine
The way everyone processes cocaine varies, which means the side effects of use will differ from person to person. It’s highly dependent on factors such as how often you use cocaine, how it’s ingested, and your physical attributes. Your height, weight, metabolism, and overall health are all parts of what contributes to the cocaine side effects on a long-term basis.
- Frequency of Use: If you have been using cocaine for a long time you are most susceptible to negative side effects of cocaine for a longer period of time. That’s not to say if you’ve been been using for a lesser period of time you won’t feel the intense side effects, it just may not be as severe as someone who has been using for years. Because cocaine has such an extreme impact on the brain, this use is stored up over time and creates long-term hits to your health.
- Methods of Use: There are three ways cocaine is ingested and each method can have its own set of side effects separate from the ones already mentioned. For example, if you snort cocaine in a white powder form, depending on its potency, this can have the most enduring side effects.
Again, due to the direct distribution of the drug to the brain, snorting cocaine can unfortunately lead to overdose. In the short term, it can result in frequent nosebleeds and eventually can cause you to lose their sense of smell.
When injecting cocaine, the powder must first be mixed with water to create a liquid form. This particular method can result in collapsed veins, bruising at the entry point of the needle, and other health risks associated with needle use, such as blood-transmitted diseases.
Finally, if you decide to smoke cocaine, the inhalation directly hits the lung, travels to heart, and then the brain. Smoking tends to create the high more quickly, which makes it a preferred method of use. But regardless of the way the drug is administered, it puts you at risk for any and all associated long-term side effects.
- Individual Factors: Cocaine use and side effects don’t look universally the same. If you already experience certain health conditions or abuse other substances at the same time, this influences the effect of the drug as well.
Everyone who uses cocaine will have it affect them at different times in different ways, but the bottom line is that it will most always cause long-term effects to your physical and mental health.
How Cocaine Physically Affects the Body
The primary focus of cocaine’s long-term effects centers around the disruption in the brain, which is then relayed to behavioral and mood disorders and symptoms. But cocaine is equally hard on your physical health. While being mindful of the stress cocaine has on your heart and brain, know that it also is affecting other parts of your body as well.
Cocaine is known for suppressing the appetite, a factor that can result in malnourishment. When you are not following a healthy diet, this can trickle down into a host of other problems. First, it can cause a decrease in your bone density and muscle mass.
High blood pressure is also a physical side effect of cocaine use. This may fluctuate between use, but over time, it may become a more permanent state. High blood pressure is hard on the heart and the body. And, it can cause irreversible damage and stress that further causes your health to deteriorate.
Cocaine use can even affect your dental health. Tooth decay is a side effect of cocaine use. Not from the direct administration of the drug, but due to the side effect it causes in users. Since the drug may result in anxiety or other stress-related disorders, teeth grinding may be a problem, especially in the long run. Grinding the teeth breaks down the tooth enamel leading to broken teeth, decay, and other oral health care problems.
Do These Long-term Effects Occur in Everyone?
As with any drug, the effects on you will vary. There’s no way to know for certain how much it will affect you. For example, if you try cocaine for the first-time with minimal use, these side effects may never occur. It doesn’t make the drug safer if not used as often, but it may affect how long the effects last or if they happen at all.
However, the majority of those addicted to cocaine will likely experience at least a few of these long-term effects. When addiction is the only life you know, it can be challenging or even scary to switch to another lifestyle. But there’s always an opportunity to seek help and create a healthier future. It’s never too late to receive treatment for cocaine addiction and learn ways to change your lifestyle to live drug-free.
With treatment, the transition is often slow and steady. The first step is to withdraw from using drugs in a safe way. This process should be in a treatment facility, so your health can be monitored closely by medical professionals.
Your body adapts to drug use, so a sudden withdrawal can have a negative affect and may be unpredictable for how it changes the body. If you attempt to go through the withdrawal process alone you may find difficult to maintain and end up going through relapse. You don’t have to go through it alone. There is help available to you.
Finding Treatment That Works for Me
The process of detox, treatment, and recovery follows a certain organized plan, but this plan can be adjusted to be personalized for everyone who goes through it. It wouldn’t be as successful to have everyone follow the exact same path. It has to make sense for you; it can’t be a cookie-cutter approach.
Questions to consider include: Where will treatment be most successful? Is outpatient care the answer? Is inpatient care a better choice? Because treatment is something you’ll want to fully dedicate yourself to, the environment you are in is especially important in the early stages of recovery.
Negative influences and temptations at this beginning stage may seem more intense because breaking habits of any kind is hard. Having a space where you feel comfortable and can focus on your health is the key. This might mean a certain time period set aside when you are concentrated only on your recovery and nothing else. In other cases, it might mean introducing this new lifestyle into your current day to day life little by little.
If you are a loved one who is concerned about your friend or family member, researching different treatment options ahead of time can reduce some of the stress that might come with all the decisions that need to be made. Present the availability of a lighter path. Be positive when offering the choices at hand. It’s ultimately up to your loved one to want help, but having support of friends and family in place can make it a little easier to take the first step.Find hope. Find recovery from substance abuse. Begin a commitment to lifelong recovery today – for yourself, your friend, or for your loved one.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), What Are the Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use? Accessed April 5, 2016.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), What Are the Short-Term Effects of Cocaine Use? Accessed April 9, 2016.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Cocaine. Accessed April 18, 2016.
- Better Health Channel. Cocaine. Revised June 2017, Accessed April 6, 2016.
- CESAR: Center for Substance Abuse Research, Crack Cocaine . Accessed April 9, 2016.