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Short-Term Effects Of Cocaine Abuse

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

February 11, 2019

Cocaine is a highly addictive drug that can cause a number of short-term side effects. Inpatient addiction treatment offers intensive support and guidance for those addicted to cocaine.

Cocaine is an incredibly addictive drug that causes a stimulant effect. Many people report feeling an increase in energy, alertness, and euphoria when taking this substance. Made from the coca plant, cocaine is illegal in the United States and can only be obtained on the street.

Cocaine may be referred to as crack, rock, snow, coke, or blow on the street. Many people who sell this drug will “cut” it with additives such as baking soda or similar-looking substances in an attempt to make a higher profit. This can be dangerous for those who buy and use cocaine, as people often don’t know exactly what is in the drug.

Cocaine comes in a fine, white powder and can also be obtained in the form of a solid rock crystal. In crystal form, it is known as “crack.”

Cocaine is most commonly used by snorting the drug in its powder form. This can create a fast “high” feeling, usually within five to 25 minutes of using the drug.

Short-Term Physical Effects Of Cocaine Use

As with many illicit substances, cocaine has both psychological and physical side effects. Because cocaine begins to work so quickly, its effects can be felt almost immediately in the body. How the drug is taken will have a slight effect on how long it takes to feel its effects.

Some of the most common physical side effects felt when using cocaine include:

  • increased energy
  • talkativeness
  • hypersensitivity to sound, touch, and sight
  • decreased need for sleep
  • decreased need for food (loss of appetite)
  • constricted blood vessels
  • dilated pupils
  • increased blood pressure
  • increased heart rate
  • raised body temperature

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Long-term users or those who take large amounts of cocaine may also experience additional and potentially dangerous physical side effects.

These may include:

  • erratic or violent behavior
  • vertigo
  • muscle twitches
  • tremors

Cocaine can also have a serious impact on a person’s cardiovascular system. Severe cardiovascular conditions can occur with repeated cocaine use. These may include heart attacks, strokes, coma, or seizures.

Cocaine can also affect the gastrointestinal system. People who abuse cocaine may experience nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

Short-Term Psychological Effects Of Cocaine Use

Cocaine can also have psychological short-term side effects in addition to the physical effects of the drug. Psychological effects of this substance can be felt almost immediately after using. The most common psychological effect reported is an increase in energy and alertness.

People using cocaine may also feel more irritable, a sense of panic, anxious, or paranoid. Those who use cocaine may also notice racing thoughts and heightened motivation.

Using and abusing cocaine can also result in individuals partaking in dangerous or risky behaviors, such as driving while under the influence. This is especially true when people take cocaine with other drugs such as alcohol.

Effects Of Using Cocaine With Other Drugs

Cocaine is often used in combination with other drugs, making the substance even more dangerous than if used alone. Alcohol is a popular drug often mixed with cocaine. These two substances combined can increase the production of cocaethylene, which can have a toxic effect on the heart.

Combining cocaine with heroin is also a popular method of taking the drug and is particularly dangerous. Cocaine creates a stimulating effect while heroin is sedating, which can, in turn, cancel out or decrease both of the drugs’ effects.

Individuals will often take more of one or both of the drugs to feel the desired effect, putting them at an increased risk for overdose. This is especially true in the case of heroin, as cocaine wears off faster than heroin and can leave individuals with dangerously low respiration.

How Cocaine Works In The Brain

Cocaine is a central nervous stimulant that acts quickly after a person takes the drug. Cocaine works by flooding the brain with dopamine. Dopamine is one of the brain’s neurotransmitters that is responsible feelings of pleasure and reward.

By flooding the brain with dopamine, cocaine causes a buildup of the chemical in the brain. This can result in the individual feeling constantly stimulated while taking the drug. However, once the drug wears off, people are left feeling down or depressed as the dopamine quickly leaves the brain.

One reason why cocaine is so addictive is that it can actually alter this reward system in the brain. Abusing cocaine can cause the brain to stop creating dopamine on its own and become dependent on the drug for feelings of pleasure. Without the drug, long-term cocaine use can cause chronic feelings of fatigue, lethargy, and depression.

Why Abusing Cocaine Is Dangerous

People who abuse cocaine over an extended period of time can become addicted to the drug. Because the high of cocaine doesn’t last long, many individuals will “binge” on cocaine, or use it many times back to back.

People who abuse cocaine can also build up a tolerance to the drug. This can cause individuals to take more and more of the drug to feel the same effect. Using more of cocaine can put people at a higher risk for negative side effects as well as overdose, which can be fatal.

In rare cases, using cocaine can cause sudden death. This is most commonly seen when a person uses the drug for the first time and can happen suddenly and unexpectedly. It is usually caused by seizures or cardiac arrest.

Getting Help For Cocaine Abuse And Addiction

Treatment for a cocaine addiction often begins with a medically supervised detox program. Withdrawing from this drug can be uncomfortable as well as potentially dangerous and the symptoms will depend on a person’s physical dependence.

Withdrawal symptoms from cocaine may include intense fatigue, irritability, anxiety, depression, and severe cravings for the drug. A medically monitored detox program offers a safe and drug-free environment to withdraw and provides any needed medical support.

Once this stage is completed, most people will continue on to a formal treatment program such as an inpatient cocaine addiction program. Inpatient treatment focuses on individualized plans of recovery to help each person overcome his or her addiction.

To learn more about the short-term effects of cocaine abuse or the treatment options available for cocaine addiction, contact us today.

National Institute On Drug Abuse - What are the short-term effects of cocaine use?

he University of Maryland, Center for Substance Abuse Research - Cocaine (Powder)

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