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Side-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 an incredibly addictive drug that can come with a number of short- and long-term side effects. A formal treatment program can help individuals overcome cocaine addiction and get on the path to recovery.

There are many potential side effects of both short-term and long-term cocaine abuse. Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant that produces increased alertness, energy, and feelings of euphoria.

Cocaine comes from the coca plant and is illegal in the United States. Common names for cocaine include coke, blow, crack, snow, and rock. This drug comes in a variety of forms, including as a white, fine powder and as a rock crystal.

Cocaine is most commonly used by snorting the substance into the nostrils. Some people will dissolve the drug in water and inject it or rub it on their gums to feel its effects. In its crystal form, cocaine can be smoked through a pipe.

Cocaine offers an intense and quick high, making the substance incredibly addictive. A single dose of cocaine can be felt almost immediately and will last only a few minutes to an hour. Because the high is so fleeting, many people will “binge” on cocaine, or use the drugs several times back to back.

Short-Term Side Effects Of Cocaine Abuse

How often and how much of the drug is used can play a role in the side effects experienced. For example, someone who uses a very small amount of cocaine may feel less of the side effects than someone who binges on cocaine over a period of hours or days.

How cocaine is used will also impact how quickly the side effects of the drug are felt. Smoking cocaine will cause the effects to felt more quickly than snorting the drug.

Some of the most common short-term effects of cocaine use and abuse include:

  • increased focus
  • increased alertness
  • increased motivation
  • more energy
  • decreased need for sleep
  • decreased appetite
  • feelings of euphoria or intense happiness
  • sensitivity to sight, touch, and sound
  • irritability
  • feelings of grandiosity
  • enhanced mood
  • restlessness

Taking large amounts of cocaine at once may intensify the positive side effects of the drug, but can also cause negative effects such as violent or bizarre behavior.

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Long-Term Side Effects Of Cocaine Abuse

The more someone uses the drug, the higher the chance he or she will experience negative side effects. These side effects can include changes and damage to the brain and physical health.

Potential long-term side effects of cocaine abuse include:

  • headaches
  • seizures
  • mood changes
  • sexual dysfunction
  • cardiovascular problems such as heart disease, stroke, or heart attack
  • lung damage
  • damage to the nose, airways, and septum
  • trouble swallowing or breathing
  • weight loss
  • malnourishment
  • nosebleeds
  • infertility
  • abdominal pain
  • if injected, bloodborne diseases such as HIV

In addition to these long-term side effects, individuals who abuse cocaine are also at high risk for addiction. Cocaine is incredibly addictive, and the more someone uses it the more likely he or she is to become dependent on the drug.

Tolerance to the drug can also occur when cocaine is abused continuously. Individuals will need more of the drug to experience the same effect, putting them at an increased risk of negative side effects.

Psychological distress is also associated with long-term cocaine abuse. Individuals can experience hallucinations, paranoia, and cognitive issues such as memory loss.

Signs Of Cocaine Abuse And Addiction

Cocaine is a highly addictive drug that can affect a person’s brain by changing its chemical makeup. When this happens, quitting the drug can be incredibly hard, making abuse and addiction much more likely.

Cocaine produces a strong high by increasing the dopamine in the brain. This can cause the individual using the drug to become excitable, energetic, and talkative. Lowered inhibitions and increased confidence can also be an effect of cocaine use.

When coming down from a cocaine high, individuals are often much more hungry and tired than normal. This is known as a “crash.”

Other signs of cocaine abuse may include:

  • dilated pupils
  • mood swings
  • weight loss
  • malnutrition
  • social isolation
  • dangerous or risky behavior
  • loss of interest in people, places, and things
  • changes in sleeping and eating habits
  • hiding the use of the drug
  • lying about using cocaine

If you or a loved one are experiencing these symptoms and believe there may be a cocaine addiction, seeking treatment is the best step you can take towards life in recovery.

Cocaine Withdrawal And Overdose

When someone abuses cocaine, he or she can experience withdrawal symptoms when the drug is stopped or use is cut down. Withdrawal symptoms can happen to individuals who have only taken the drug once but are most common in those who abuse the drug regularly.

Cocaine withdrawal can occur as soon as the drug starts to leave the system. The most common withdrawal symptom is a “crash,” or extreme feelings of fatigue as the drug leaves the body.

Other cocaine withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • a strong craving to use the drug
  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • paranoia
  • agitation
  • restlessness
  • depression
  • trouble sleeping

Abusing cocaine also puts individuals at risk for overdose. Overdose occurs when a person consumes more of the drug than the body can metabolize, leading to a build-up of the drug in the system.

A cocaine overdose can be incredibly dangerous and medical treatment should be sought immediately. Symptoms of a cocaine overdose may include:

  • vomiting
  • delirium
  • chest pain
  • seizures
  • heart attack
  • loss of consciousness
  • hallucinations
  • psychosis
  • elevated blood pressure and heart rate
  • tremors

A cocaine overdose is never predictable and can be caused by a number of factors, including how the drug is taken, how much is taken, and any additives in the drug. If a cocaine overdose is suspected, it’s important to get medical help immediately.

Seeking Treatment For Cocaine Addiction

Many people who are addicted to cocaine will need to begin their treatment with a medically monitored detox program. Withdrawing from cocaine can be uncomfortable and hard, especially when done on one’s own. Medically monitored detox programs provide a supportive and stable environment to get the drug out the system and provide any medical assistance if needed.

A formal treatment program is often recommended as the next step after a detox program. Inpatient treatment programs are the most intensive and often most effective form of treatment for cocaine addiction. Most inpatient treatment centers offer individualized recovery plans to suit each person’s condition and needs.

To learn more about the side effects of cocaine abuse and treatment for cocaine addiction, contact us today.

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

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

MedlinePlus - Cocaine withdrawal

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