May 23, 2023

Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use

A woman sits with her hand on her head to represent cocaine detox symptoms.
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Both the short-term and long-term side effects of cocaine use can trigger an array of physical and psychological effects. While some damage caused by sustained cocaine abuse may be reversible, the long-term abuse of cocaine or crack cocaine often brings about irreversible effects.

Like all addictive substances, the best way to avoid the long-term effects of cocaine is not to use the drug at all. Maybe it’s too late for that, though, and you are already abusing this potent and addictive stimulant. If so, you should consider engaging in formal addiction treatment before you develop an all-consuming cocaine addiction and suffer the health complications associated with chronic cocaine use.

Effects of Long-Term Cocaine Use

Long-term use of cocaine can impact the following areas of your body:

  • Respiratory system
  • GI tract
  • Immune system
  • Sinuses
  • Kidneys
  • Liver
  • Heart

Respiratory system

Smoking cocaine can cause acute respiratory problems. Smoking crack causes your lung’s blood vessels to constrict, and this destroys the alveolar walls, reducing the efficiency of oxygen delivery to your bloodstream. This can lead to the following problems:

  • Acute respiratory distress
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Enhanced risk of infections like pneumonia or tuberculosis
  • Chronic cough

The chronic abuse of crack cocaine or freebase can lead to the development of crack lung (eosinophilic pneumonitis).

GI Tract

The effects of long-term cocaine use include a decrease in blood flow throughout your body, indirectly damaging your organs.

The abuse of cocaine leads to a heightened risk of developing an ulcer because of the altered pH levels in the stomach.

Abusing cocaine can also trigger the following:

  • Inflammation of the large intestine
  • Ischemic colitis

If the large intestine becomes inflamed, this can cause serious digestive problems, and can be fatal if untreated.

Immune system

If you are addicted to cocaine, you will be more likely to contract and transmit infectious diseases like hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.

Cocaine abuse also depresses the immune system, meaning disease will spread quicker throughout your body.

Sinuses

Research shows that abusing cocaine leads to damage to the nose and mouth. Snorting cocaine damages the nose’s mucous membranes. The soft tissue is damaged over time and then dies completely. This exposes the septum (the cartilage lining between the nasal cavities). Septal perforation causes the whole structure of the nose to collapse, potentially introducing breathing problems. Plastic surgery may sometimes but not always correct this issue.

Kidneys

The side effects of long-term cocaine use include two types of kidney damage:

  1. With your blood pressure permanently increased, the loss in blood flow can trigger kidney damage.
  2. The skeletal muscles in your kidneys are destroyed. This causes toxins to enter your body, possibly causing kidney failure.

Liver

The long-term abuse of cocaine raises your risk of overdosing on cocaine. This often causes liver damage as the body becomes flooded with toxins. This damage is largely reversible if you stop using cocaine.

Mixing cocaine with alcohol can lead to chronic liver damage. Your liver starts to produce cocaethylene, a metabolite formed when cocaine mixes with ethanol (alcohol) in the liver.

Heart

Studies show that abusing cocaine causes the following forms of heart damage:

  • Tachycardia
  • Irregular heart rate (arrhythmia)
  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Blood clots triggering pulmonary embolism, stroke, heart attack or deep vein thrombosis
  • Permanently increased blood pressure levels
  • Myocardial infarction

Of all those who die after abusing cocaine, the most common cause of death is heart attack.

A woman lays her head on a table to represent the long-term effects of cocaine use.

Short-Term Effects of Cocaine

Using cocaine, whether by snorting, smoking, or injecting, leads to the following short-term side effects of cocaine:

  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Muscle weakness
  • Feeling very cold or very hot
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Changes to breathing
  • Feeling of intense stimulation

The effects of cocaine kick in rapidly, even more so when injected or smoked in the form of crack. When you take cocaine, more dopamine is released in your brain. Dopamine is a chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) associated with positive mood and rewarding the behaviors leading to those feelings.

The high experienced after using cocaine is accompanied by the following desirable effects:

  • Intense feelings of euphoria
  • Inflated self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Elevated mood
  • Increased energy levels

Much like other addictive substances, cocaine use is also associated with a variety of adverse and unwanted short-term side effects, including:

  • Panic
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness

Cocaine Health Effects

In addition to cocaine’s effects on the body, long-term cocaine use also causes the blood vessels in the brain to constrict, leading to reduced oxygen flow to the brain and possible long-term brain damage, as well as increasing your risk of aneurysm.

Abusing either cocaine or crack cocaine long-term can cause the following brain issues:

  • Raised risk of dementia
  • Shrinking of the brain (cerebral atrophy)
  • Mini strokes
  • Seizures
  • Mood disorders
  • Inflammation of blood vessels in spinal column and brain (cerebral vasculitis)
  • High fever (hyperpyrexia)
  • Mobility issues due to tremors and muscle weakness
  • Altered functioning of the prefrontal lobe and the temporal lobe triggering problems with memory, problem-solving, and decision-making
  • Increased risk of developing a mental health disorder

Chronic cocaine abuse causes changes to the structure and function of your brain, leading to many issues concerning emotional and psychological functioning.

Research indicates that using cocaine long-term can increase the risk of:

  • Experiencing psychosis
  • Developing depression
  • Inflaming existing anxiety issues
  • Developing other substance use disorders

Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine addiction is a complex process that unfolds over time, as individuals succumb to the allure of its powerful effects. The journey from recreational use to full-blown addiction typically involves three stages, each characterized by specific patterns of behavior and physiological changes.

  1. The initial stage often begins with experimental or occasional use, driven by curiosity, peer influence, or a desire for heightened pleasure and euphoria. During this phase, the brain’s reward system is activated, and the release of dopamine reinforces the pleasurable sensations associated with cocaine use.

  1. As individuals continue to use cocaine, the brain undergoes changes to accommodate the drug’s effects in the second stage. Tolerance develops, meaning that higher doses are required to deliver the initial high. At this point, individuals may transition into regular use or bingeing on the drug. During the regular use stage, individuals consume cocaine more frequently and in larger quantities. The drug’s effects become intertwined with their daily routines, and they may prioritize obtaining and using cocaine over other aspects of their life, such as work, relationships, and personal responsibilities. Bingeing episodes, characterized by intense and prolonged drug use, become common, leading to increased risks of overdose and health complications.

  1. The third stage marks the transition into cocaine addiction (stimulant use disorder). By this point, individuals have lost control over their cocaine use, experiencing strong cravings and compulsive drug-seeking behavior. The brain’s reward system becomes dysregulated, with the desire for cocaine overpowering other natural sources of pleasure. Additionally, the prefrontal cortex, responsible for decision-making and impulse control, becomes impaired, further reinforcing addictive behaviors.

Environmental factors, genetic predisposition, and underlying psychological conditions can all contribute to the development of cocaine addiction. Co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or trauma, often intersect with addiction, creating a complex web of intertwined challenges.

A group of people stand with their arms around each other to represent Gratitude Lodge.

Get Treatment for Cocaine Addiction at Gratitude Lodge

Gratitude Lodge in Southern California is devoted to helping people grappling with cocaine addiction. We understand the importance of addressing both the physical and psychological aspects of cocaine addiction. Begin your recovery at one of our pet-friendly cocaine detox centers located in San Diego, Newport Beach, or Long Beach, where we provide a week-long program designed to ensure your safe and comfortable withdrawal from cocaine.

Cocaine addiction, classified as a chronic brain disorder, manifests as the compulsive use of cocaine despite the obvious negative consequences. To conquer the psychological aspects of addiction, we offer a range of options, including our 30-day inpatient program (residential rehab), IOPs (intensive outpatient programs), and a specialized dual diagnosis treatment program.

Each cocaine addiction treatment program at Gratitude Lodge is uniquely tailored to meet your individual needs, incorporating a blend of science-backed interventions and holistic approaches. Our personalized treatments may encompass psychotherapy, individual and group counseling, family therapy, individual counseling, as well as holistic practices like meditation and mindfulness.When you are ready to embark on a life-changing path of detoxification from cocaine and commence your lifelong recovery, Gratitude Lodge in Southern California welcomes you and your beloved pet. For immediate assistance, call 888-861-1658.

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Joe Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
Jenni Bussi

Jenni Russe MS, LPCC

Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.

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