Cocaine Eyes: How Cocaine Use Can Affect the Eyes

The repeated use of cocaine can have some dramatic impacts on someone’s looks. One of the most notable changes happens to the eyes. In order to understand why cocaine use affects the eyes, it’s important to understand what cocaine is and how it affects the brains of people who use it.

Rehab-Cocaine Eyes: Woman wearing glasses

As children, one of the first things we’re taught about the horrors of drug addiction is that it can have strong effects on how we look. You may remember being shown pictures of people before and after facing problems with addiction. The “before” pictures show someone who looks bright, lively, and youthful. The “after” pictures tell a totally different story, showing a person who’s ragged, dirty, and much older looking.

While some campaigns may use these images to scare young people away from drug use, the reality remains: Addiction can have profound effects on a person’s appearance. This is true for both short-term and long-term effects.

The repeated use of cocaine can have some dramatic impacts on someone’s looks. One of the most notable changes happens to the eyes. In order to understand why cocaine use affects the eyes, it’s important to understand what cocaine is and how it affects the brains of people who use it.

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a drug that is processed from the leaves of the South American coca plant. It belongs to a class of drugs known as stimulants and can increase levels of alertness, energy, and attention in people who use it.

Cocaine is referred to by many “street names” that include:

  • Blow
  • Coke
  • Snow
  • C
  • Rock
  • Crack
  • Powder

It can also be made into many different forms. The most commonly portrayed form in the United States and in pop culture is a fine, white powder. This powder can be further processed into a solid rock crystal known as crack cocaine, rock, or simply crack. This name refers to the sound that’s produced when the substance is smoked.

Often, the fine white powder is snorted through the nose. It can also be rubbed into the gums or dissolved in water and injected directly into the veins.

Coke’s Impact on the Brain

People use cocaine for the energetic “high” the drug produces, but what causes these effects? The answer lies in how the drug interacts with the brain. 

However, a person ingests cocaine, whether by snorting, smoking, or injecting, the drug will end up in the bloodstream and eventually the brain. Cocaine tells the brain to release unnatural levels of dopamine, a chemical messenger that’s responsible for feelings of reward and pleasure. Dopamine is produced naturally in the brain and is released after various positive activities such as exercise or accomplishing something.

As cocaine tells the brain to release dopamine in unnaturally high amounts, the brain starts to get used to cocaine triggering this release and stops producing dopamine on its own. This can lead to a physical addiction. Eventually, a person may be unable to feel pleasure or contentment without using the drug.

Cocaine is often used in binges, meaning frequent high doses for a certain period of time. Because the high from a single dose of cocaine only lasts 10 to 30 minutes, a person may binge on the drug to maintain the high. If a person’s brain has become used to high levels of dopamine, the effects of cocaine may not be as powerful as they once were.

This leads to the person needing much higher amounts of the drug in order to achieve the desired feelings. The increased use of cocaine can quickly lead to cocaine overdose, which, if left untreated, can cause permanent damage and even death.

Short-term Effects of Cocaine Use

When a person first starts using cocaine, they will usually get the positive effects or “high” they wanted. Since cocaine is a stimulant, people who are high on this drug may be more talkative, energetic, and excited. Cocaine may also cause decreased self-restraint, which makes the user more likely to be socially or sexually inappropriate. In some people, signs of cocaine use can include aggression, unrealistic thoughts, extreme behaviors, and seeing things that aren’t there. 

Other short-term effects of cocaine use include:

  • Extreme euphoria (feelings of happiness)
  • Increased alertness and energy
  • More sensitive to sight, touch, and sound
  • Increased irritability and agitation
  • Feelings of paranoia (distrust of others)

Other easily seen signs of cocaine use can include runny noses and nosebleeds in people who snort the drug. Those who inject the drug may also have “track marks” or injection spots on the arms and other areas of the body. People who smoke cocaine may have burn marks on their fingers or lips.

Long-term Effects of Cocaine Use

If a person uses cocaine for a long period of time, there are many negative side effects they may have. Regular cocaine use will begin to take a physical and mental toll on the body in a number of different ways.

Some of these long-term effects of cocaine use include:

  • High blood pressure and heart rate
  • Dilated (larger) pupils (increased sensitivity to light)
  • Increased body temperature
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Restlessness and insomnia (inability to sleep)
  • Shaking, tremors, and muscle twitches
  • Nausea

When someone is a long-term user of cocaine, or has just gone through a long “binge” period of extended cocaine use, they may also show symptoms that include depression, agitation, anxiety, intense drug cravings, extreme exhaustion, or long periods of sleep.

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Cocaine Eyes: How Cocaine Affects the Eyes of its Users

In popular media, glossy, sunken, and bloodshot eyes are often used as shorthand for someone suffering from an addiction. Even people who aren’t familiar with the realities of substance use and addiction may be aware that drug use can affect the appearance of a person’s eyes.

Almost all drugs cause changes to a person’s eyes. The pupils can dilate or become pinpoint. Eyes can also become bloodshot or glassy. This common visual shorthand for addiction may indeed have stemmed from the ways cocaine use can affect the eyes.

Cocaine eyes, also known as cocaine pupils, refers to how the pupils appear after a person has ingested cocaine. As a stimulant drug, cocaine causes the pupils to dilate, or become larger.

When pupils are dilated, they’re able to take in more light. This is what causes many people who use cocaine to be very sensitive to bright lights. People who use cocaine may wear sunglasses or other protective clothing, such as hats, indoors in order to feel more comfortable.

Along with pupil dilation and light sensitivity, cocaine use can cause blood vessels to expand. This can cause the white parts of the eye, also known as the sclera, to become red and bloodshot.

Other Risks to The Eyes Caused By Cocaine Use

Along with changes in appearance and sensitivity, cocaine use can cause many other short-term and long-term risks to the eyes. Some of these common risks include:

Keratitis: swelling of the cornea (the clear outer covering of the eyeball) that can cause vision distortion in its early stages. Long-term cocaine use can cause persistent swelling, which often leads to ulcers, infections, and eventual corneal perforation (holes in the cornea).

Endophthalmitis: infection inside the eyes that occurs as a result of using dirty needles. If a person uses cocaine intravenously (IV), they’re at an increased risk of getting this infection that, if left unchecked, can spread all over the body.

Glaucoma: a condition that can develop when there are changes in blood pressure in the body. Two of the main side effects of cocaine use are increased heart rate and blood pressure. These changes can alter the pressure of fluids inside the eye, and long-term increases in fluid pressure in the eye can result in glaucoma. This condition can eventually lead to blindness if left unchecked.

Maculopathy: decaying of the retina, the sensitive tissue at the back of the eye that receives images and sends signals to the brain about what is seen. Long-term cocaine use can cause this condition that leads to blurred vision and distortions in the center of the visual field.

Ocular bone damage: can be caused by snorting any type of drug. This occurs over time, when the drugs begin to eat away at the bone around the eyes. Snorting cocaine in particular can cause holes or perforations in the septum, sinuses, and other nasal passages.

Nystagmus: commonly known as rapid eye motion. Long-term cocaine use can result in permanent changes to eye movement, which can indicate brain damage.

Retinal Vascular Occlusive Disease (RVOD): the most common disease linked to vision loss. It can be a result of long-term cocaine use, which causes changes in blood pressure. RVOD is the result of abnormalities in the retina that can lead to partial or total blindness.

Talc Retinopathy: a crystal-like buildup on the vascular tissue of the eye that can eventually cause blindness. This condition has been linked to both IV and nasal cocaine use.

Yellow-colored eyes: an indication of liver or kidney problems. Long-term use of any stimulant, including cocaine, can result in jaundice. This condition is a yellowing of the skin and eyes caused by liver damage or failure.

Cocaine use side effects can vary depending on a number of different things, including how much is used and how often. The more someone uses the drug, the higher the chance he or she will have these negative side effects.

Seeking Drug Treatment For Cocaine Addiction

Many people suffering from cocaine addiction will need to start treatment with a medically monitored detox program. Cocaine withdrawal can be very uncomfortable and difficult, especially when done without medical support. Medically monitored detox programs can make the transition to a cocaine-free life as comfortable as possible.

The next recommended step after completing detox is a formal inpatient treatment program. Inpatient treatment programs are the most intensive and often most effective form of treatment for cocaine addiction. Cocaine addiction treatment centers can provide treatment that is specially formed to meet your specific needs in recovery.

To learn more about your treatment options, contact Rehab Center at (888) 341-4325 to speak with someone who understands what you’re going through.

Frequently asked questions:

What does cocaine do to your eyes?

Cocaine can affect both the appearance and health of the eyes. It can dilate the pupils, making them larger and more sensitive to light. It can also make the whites of the eyes look red or bloodshot. Long-term cocaine use can lead to other serious issues in the eyes such as glaucoma and bone damage.

How long after using cocaine do the eyes stay dilated?

The cocaine “high” typically lasts anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, but the eyes can remain dilated for much longer after the effects wear off. Also, due to the briefness of the high, people who use cocaine often do so in binges that last hours or days, leading to pupils that are constantly dilated.

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