Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Addiction

A coke high lasts only minutes. The effects of cocaine addiction can last a lifetime. This highly addictive drug is extracted from a South American plant. This plant’s leaves have been chewed or brewed in tea for centuries as part of indigenous cultures and ceremonies. Cocaine sold on the streets is nothing like these leaves. It is a highly purified derivative of the coca plant. Snorting, injecting or smoking cocaine causes a surge of euphoria, physical energy and false self-confidence. These temporary, immediate effects are offset by the consequences of repeated use. Cocaine use quickly leads to dependence and addiction. Even a single use can have drastic health consequences. Many of cocaine’s long-term effects are reversed through treatment and recovery. This healing cannot begin until a person reaches out for professional substance abuse help.

Who Experiences the Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Addiction?

Most individuals are aware of cocaine’s damaging effects and addiction potential. Despite this fact, cocaine abuse continues. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health[1] (NSDUH) shares, “In 2012, there were 639,000 persons aged 12 or older who used cocaine for the first time…This averages to approximately 1,800 initiates per day.” New people, thousands of them, try cocaine every day. These individuals don’t necessarily meet stereotypes of who uses drugs. They aren’t all irresponsible or party-going teens and young adults. Most cocaine users are older. NSDUH reveals, “Most (76.2 percent) of the 0.6 million recent cocaine initiates were 18 or older when they first used.” No matter who you are, if you struggle with cocaine addiction, you are not alone. You will find others with similar lifestyles, personal histories and current challenges with the long-term effects of cocaine.

An Overview of Cocaine’s Effects

Cocaine addiction can cause serious health complications. Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant that elevates your heart rate, respiration rate and body temperature. It constricts blood vessels and raises blood pressure. Over time this excessive stimulation can damage the circulatory system. It compromises the health of your heart and brain. Heart attack, respiratory failure and stroke are among the leading causes of cocaine-related death. Cocaine interferes with the brain’s natural regulation of the chemicals that affect your mood and energy levels. It’s not easy to give up this powerful drug. Users who break free from addiction are at risk of a relapse for years after finding sobriety. This is why professional cocaine addiction treatment is invaluable. It provides the support needed to get clean, and, just as importantly, stay clean. If you or a love one struggles with cocaine addiction, it’s never too early or too late to seek help. Whether it is your first time breaking free from the drug or you have been frustrated by relapse in the past, you can reverse the long-term effects of cocaine addiction. You can find and maintain a healthy, happy, drug-free life.

Cocaine and the Brain

Cocaine Effects on the BrainCocaine has a direct impact on the central nervous system. When you use the drug, your brain reacts rapidly. Your brain chemistry begins to change. If you smoke rock cocaine (a practice known as freebasing) or inject the drug, you’ll feel its effects in as little as five minutes. If you snort the drug in powder form, it will take a few minutes longer for your brain to react.

Your brain has its own natural reward system for reinforcing healthy, life-sustaining behaviors. Activities like eating, staying warm or making love stimulate the production of messenger chemicals called neurotransmitters. When neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and GABA interact with receptor cells in your brain, they reward you with feelings of contentment, relaxation or happiness. Once the neurotransmitters have exerted their positive effects, their levels return to normal. When you use cocaine, the drug interferes with this natural cycle. It blocks the brain’s reabsorption of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Instead of returning to normal, dopamine levels remain high. The brain is flooded with this feel-good chemical. You feel ecstatic rather than happy or content. Cocaine also affects serotonin and norepinephrine levels. This leads to elevated mood and high levels of energy. When users first take the drug, they may feel powerful, self-confident, sexually attractive and mentally focused. These false effects cause individuals to repeatedly use cocaine. The good feelings associated with the drug quickly wane. The negative effects accumulate. Addiction begins to take hold.

Cocaine alters your perception of reality. Long-term cocaine users may experience serious psychiatric side effects including delusions, hallucinations and psychotic episodes. The journal Current Opinion in Psychiatry[2] shares that among cocaine users, “More than half of such individuals experience paranoia and hallucinations…Among patients who attend psychiatric emergency services, non-schizophrenic cocaine abusers are reported to have as severe hallucinations as schizophrenic patients who do not abuse cocaine.” Long-term effects of cocaine use include schizophrenic symptoms. It leads to an unpleasant and unwanted disconnect from reality. While cocaine-induced psychosis is a real possibility, not all long-term effects are as dramatic. Science Daily[3] shares, “Chronic cocaine use may cause damage to brain cells that help produce feelings of pleasure, which may contribute, in part, to the high rates of depression reported among cocaine abusers.” Taking cocaine to feel “better” leaves individuals feeling worse. Therapy and treatment can help reestablish mental health. An accurate, in-depth assessment from a treatment facility reveals co-occurring mental health issues. Integrated treatment addresses mental and physical health to ensure long-term health.

Cocaine and the Body

Cocaine causes blood vessels to tighten and narrow. This vasoconstriction causes your heart rate to accelerate and your blood pressure to rise. It restricts the flow of blood to the vital organs. Cocaine can disrupt your normal heartbeat causing a dangerous condition called an arrhythmia. Restricted blood flow to the brain can lead to severe headaches, seizure and stroke.

The Postgraduate Medical Journal[4] explains the link between cocaine and stroke. It shares that cocaine use, “can result in a variety of clinical manifestations including both ischaemic and hemorrhagic stroke. Potential mechanisms involved in cocaine‐induced stroke include vasospasm, cerebral vasculitis, enhanced platelet aggregation, cardioembolism, and hypertensive surges associated with altered cerebral autoregulation…Cocaine use should always be considered as a possible cause of stroke.” Many of cocaine’s effects relate to increases stroke risk. A stroke can be fatal. When not, it still has long-term health consequences. Individuals may be partially or completely paralyzed. They can lose brain and body function. Stroke is just one of many potential consequences of cocaine use.

If individuals smoke or snort cocaine, they harm their respiratory system. This drug destroys respiratory tissues in nasal passages, sinuses, oral membranes and lungs. Repeatedly snorting cocaine can cause nosebleeds and sinus congestion. It can lead to a perforated septum. Intravenous use poses its own set of health hazards. Individuals who inject any drug risk exposure to blood-borne diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Bacterial infections and abscesses at the injection site are also common.

The digestive organs, kidneys and reproductive organs are affected by long-term cocaine abuse. Cocaine addicts can experience gastrointestinal bleeding caused by ulcers or perforations in the stomach or intestinal tract. Addicts are at high risk of kidney damage, kidney failure and sexual impotence because of the way the drug restricts blood circulation. Cocaine damages every body system. The sooner use ends, the sooner this harm ends. Medical professionals can help reverse much of cocaine’s physical harm. Treatment programs that include nutrition and exercise programs help individuals rebuild health and strength. They help them build a healthy lifestyle that supports long-term recovery.

Reversing the Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine addiction is a complicated disease. It involves neurological, psychological and social factors. Treatment must address all of these for real, long-term healing. Many users also abuse substances like alcohol, heroin, meth and prescription narcotics. They may have pre-existing mental health concerns like depression or bipolar disorder. Cocaine use may have led to depression or hallucinations. Treatment needs to address mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. The Canyon does just that. We offer integrated, comprehensive treatment. Our highly-trained clinical staff provides support and understanding. We offer hope for those struggling with simple to complex substance use disorders. We’re here to give you the information you need to begin your recovery and build a healthy, positive future.


[1] http://archive.samhsa.gov/data/NSDUH/2012SummNatFindDetTables/NationalFindings/NSDUHresults2012.htm. “Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings.” National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Sep 2013. Web. 11 Jan 2017.

[2] http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/528487_5. “Psychosis Among Substance Users.” Current Opinion in Psychiatry. 2006. Web. 11 Jan 2017.

[3] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/03/030306075613.htm. “Cocaine Use May Alter Brain Cells, Play Role In Depression.” Science Daily. 7 Mar 2003. Web. 11 Jan 2017.

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2600058/#%21po=1.47059. “Cocaine Use and Stroke.” Postgraduate Medical Journal. Jun 2007. Web. 11 Jan 2017.

Top