People with a cocaine addiction may start taking the stimulant to be more efficient in their work, but prolonged use can lead to serious long-term effects. If not permanent, the damage cocaine can have on the body and different organs will take a long time to recover from. So let’s discuss some of the long and short-term effects of cocaine, what happens when you try to quit, and how addiction treatment can help.
Physical Dependency and Tolerance
In most cases of cocaine addiction, it starts as a way to be more active and alert. For people with stressful jobs that prevent them from getting enough sleep, cocaine seemed like a way to work at their maximum capacity.
But once the brain gets used to certain concentrations of a stimulant in the blood, it will require the same levels to continue functioning normally. In fact, the same amount of cocaine will no longer provide the desired euphoric effect you need. Consequently, you develop a tolerance, and need to take increased amounts of cocaine to produce the same ‘high.’
Long-Term Effects of Cocaine use
As you increase the amount of cocaine, it’s not just your brain that’s changing, but the rest of your organs as well. Long-term effects of chronic cocaine abuse include:
- Frequent nosebleeds from snorting cocaine
- Liver and kidney damage
- Heart attack
- Breathing problems
But these are just the consequence of years of damage. Here’s how cocaine gradually affects different systems in your body, taking a toll on your physical and mental health.
Effects on the Heart
People with cocaine use disorder face a higher risk of coronary artery disease (CAD). It refers to the narrowing of the blood vessels due to plaque buildup.
The condition is a major risk factor for strokes and heart attacks. Moreover, people with CAD have a higher risk of experiencing sudden death. And if you’re overweight or have high cholesterol, the heart can experience further damage.
Aside from CAD, one study shows that people who use cocaine suffered from enlarged left ventricles as opposed to non-users. Results showed that they also had increased stiffness in the aorta. While such damage is a major risk factor for heart attacks, it can also contribute to an irregular heart rate. This can happen due to cocaine’s effect on the heart’s sodium and potassium channels.
Effects on the Immune System
The immune system is the body’s main line of defense against infectious diseases. Research indicates that people suffering from cocaine addiction have a higher likelihood of contracting an infectious disease than someone without an addiction. Chronic cocaine users are at a high risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis, even though they don’t inject cocaine.
Interleukin-6 is a protein and an important part of the immune response. In people suffering from chronic addiction, the interleukin-6 cytokine fails to respond when the body faces an infection. Moreover, users who smoke crack cocaine are at an increased of pneumonia and bronchitis.
Effects on the Brain and Nervous System
Like other stimulants such as methamphetamine, cocaine increases the brain’s dopamine levels. It’s what induces the euphoric effect, causing you to feel high amounts of pleasure. Because cocaine increases dopamine levels, the brain no longer needs to produce it. When your body develops a tolerance and you start needing cocaine to function properly, the brain stops producing dopamine entirely.
Due to this change in your brain chemistry, you start experiencing withdrawal symptoms as soon as the effect starts wearing off. In the long run, cocaine can damage the structure of your brain, which increases your susceptibility to seizure disorders. And because your brain stops producing dopamine, you’re more likely to develop psychological disorders like depression.
Excessive cocaine use can also slow down glucose metabolism in the brain, which results in the neurons dying. Over time, you may lose large chunks of gray matter, which impacts various functions related to movement, sensory perception, speech, and memory. This means a higher risk of degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.
Effects on the Respiratory System
Cocaine use causes the blood vessels to constrict, which leads to the hardening of the walls in the lungs. While breathing, the lungs have to expand and contract to inhale and exhale respectively. When the walls become rigid, the lungs fail to expand properly. This reduces lung capacity, making it harder to breathe.
There’s also the effect of smoking crack cocaine, which can damage the lungs and worsen asthma. In severe cases, cocaine can also lead to spasms in the bronchial tubes, which can potentially result in respiratory failure.
Effects on the Gastrointestinal System
Over time, cocaine use can disturb your gut’s natural microflora. This refers to the levels of good bacteria, which are essential for the immune response, supplying nutrients, and controlling inflammation. It can also weaken the stomach’s natural barrier, making it vulnerable to acidity.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, cocaine can lead to decreased appetite, which further causes nutritional deficiencies and weight loss. It can also lead to acid reflux, constipation, and nausea.
Effects on Sexual Function
While many users prefer to pair cocaine with sex to increase pleasure, it can have lasting effects on sexual function. Men who combine sexual activity with cocaine use may experience undesirable side effects later on. Long-term cocaine abuse can lead to erectile dysfunction, and what’s worse is that it’s an irreversible side effect.
An erection occurs due to increased blood flow to the penis. Cocaine causes the blood vessels to narrow, which in turn leads to erectile dysfunction. Because the vessels tighten, it prevents proper blood flow to different tissues of the body. In this case, the tissues in the penis receive low amounts of oxygen and nutrients, which makes it harder to keep an erection.
Because cocaine leads to erectile dysfunction, it also increases the risk of abusing performance-enhancing drugs, such as Viagra.
Short-Term Effects of Cocaine Drug Abuse
As a stimulant, cocaine increases your heart rate and blood pressure. This means your heart beats more times per minute, causing you to feel more alert and energetic. While this is the desired short-term effect of cocaine, there are other detrimental effects as well.
When you consume a substance like cocaine, it affects normal body functions. Consequently, it induces the following physiological effects.
- Cognitive impairment: High levels of cocaine can send the brain into overdrive, and neurons stop interacting with each other as a result. This is what causes you to make impulsive decisions and engage in reckless behavior under the influence of cocaine.
- Excessive sweating: Besides raising your body temperature, which causes you to sweat more, cocaine affects the body’s ability to cool down. It also makes it difficult for users to tell when they’re overheating and move to a different location so they can cool down.
- High blood pressure: Cocaine stimulates the release of norepinephrine, which controls blood pressure and heart rate. This causes a dramatic increase in blood pressure and heart rate.
- Nausea and sickness
- Insomnia: Since cocaine increases your dopamine levels, it causes the brain to stay alert. Consequently, it’s harder to feel tired, and you have more difficulty sleeping.
- Psychosis: Because of the way cocaine alters the brain chemistry by increasing dopamine levels, psychosis is a common result of large amounts.
Since cocaine alters the brain’s chemical balance, it causes you to elicit certain behaviors. These include:
- Risky behaviors due to being overly confident
- Lying to loved ones about your whereabouts and activities
- Stealing money to pay for cocaine
You may also experience agitation because, under the influence of cocaine, you feel like you have more energy than you can use.
Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms
Some people who realize that they have an addiction problem may try to quit, only to be faced with uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. That’s because as soon as cocaine use is reduced or stopped, you can experience a crash.
- Intense cravings for cocaine: Naturally, one of the body’s first responses to withdrawal is a higher craving for cocaine.
- Paranoia: Cocaine addiction can have a long-lasting effect on neurotransmitter levels in the brain. This effect doesn’t end once stop taking cocaine and can lead to psychotic symptoms like paranoia.
- Depression: Dopamine has a major effect on your mood. Because the brain no longer produces dopamine when addicted to cocaine, you’re more likely to experience low mood.
- Irritability: Due to a lack of dopamine in the brain, you may be unable to control your mood, which causes you to become irritable.
- Fatigue: In cocaine addiction, you require a certain dosage to function normally and feel alert. Without it, your brain will have trouble staying in awake state, causing you to feel tired more easily.
The Risk of Cocaine Overdose
Unlike alcohol withdrawal, which can be potentially fatal due to delirium tremens syndrome, withdrawal from stimulants is less dangerous. That being said, they can be quite uncomfortable, because cocaine can make you enjoy things more. Once you stop taking it, things that used to be fun won’t feel very enjoyable. Similarly, if you took cocaine to be more productive, you may no longer be as efficient at work.
It’s exactly these factors, paired with physical withdrawal symptoms, which increase the risk of returning to cocaine use. And if you have abstained from cocaine use for a long enough time, there’s a high risk of a cocaine overdose.
How Does Cocaine Produce its Addictive Effects?
There are various reasons why cocaine can be so addictive, which in turn promotes long-term use. The primary reason is that it induces a ‘high,’ which causes feelings of pleasure. It can also make you feel more confident, which is just what someone may need in a social situation. Additionally, it’s a fast-acting drug, so it’s quite easy to become reliant on it.
Just like with other substances, people may develop an addiction to cocaine because of positive reinforcement. This is when a person becomes more likely to perform a behavior when it’s followed by a reward. If you look at cocaine, it induces a variety of effects that you may view as positive.
When you take a dose of cocaine, it activates the brain’s main pleasure centers and stimulates the release of dopamine. As a result, you feel:
- more energetic
- wide awake
- alert and excited
Due to these pleasurable effects that follow the use of cocaine, people are more likely to take it again.
Short Yet Intense “High”
Using cocaine can lead to intense feelings of euphoria. For users, the downside is that this ‘high’ is very brief. So if it takes them between 5 and 30 minutes to start experiencing the effects, the high only lasts about 20 to 30 minutes.
Now, because the effects of cocaine are so pleasurable, you may want to take more cocaine once the effects wear off. This is what causes people to develop a tolerance to cocaine so quickly. But as your body builds a tolerance, you require more and more of the substance to feel the same ‘high’ as before. What’s worse is that the ‘comedown,’ which is when the effects start wearing off, becomes worse as you grow addicted.
Enhances The Effect of Other Drugs
People who take cocaine usually pair it with other substances, such as alcohol, amphetamines, or alcohol. Such substances can also be addicting, and taking cocaine with them can amplify their effects. As a result, you feel a need to take cocaine to enjoy the above-mentioned substances.
Treat Cocaine Addiction
To avoid experiencing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, many people opt for cocaine addiction treatment at a rehabilitative center. Here, you’ll be required to go through 10 days of detox to eliminate traces of the substance from your body. During this process, you’ll be supervised by medical staff at a designated care facility. This is because detoxing at home can be unsafe, especially when there’s a risk of relapsing and overdosing.
At this time, they will also help you cope with physical symptoms and manage them using medication. After detox treatment, you can take regular counseling sessions to ensure that you stay committed to the recovery process. Counseling and therapies are effective at stabilizing a person’s mental health while they recover.
Effects of Cocaine FAQs
Here are some of the commonly asked questions about cocaine use, addiction, and side effects.
Can there be a safe way to take cocaine?
While it’s best to avoid cocaine entirely, there are ways to use it that are safer than others. Compared to smoking crack cocaine and injecting it, the snorting powder is safer. This is because smoking crack cocaine can lead to lung problems like chronic cough while injecting it with used needles can lead to infections like HIV or hepatitis.
Is it difficult to break cocaine addiction?
Yes, it can be difficult to break a cocaine addiction due to the positive reinforcement it causes. But with the right help and guidance through substance abuse treatment, you can successfully overcome your cocaine addiction.
How long does it take to develop a cocaine addiction?
As cocaine is a short-acting stimulant, it only takes a few uses to become addicted. If you take multiple doses of cocaine in succession regularly, you have a higher likelihood of getting addicted.
Is any dosage of cocaine dangerous?
Because of its powerful effect on the central nervous system, even small amounts are dangerous. Specifically, it’s not the small amount that’s dangerous, but the risk that you’ll want to take more.
How long does cocaine withdrawal last?
Common withdrawal symptoms can last 3 to 4 days, while some may persist for up to 4 weeks.
Are there different types of cocaine?
The two main types are powder and crack cocaine. The powder form is meant to be snorted, while crack cocaine is for smoking.