Physical Effects of Cocaine Abuse
Cocaine addiction is dangerous and can cause many physical adverse health consequences and effects. These physical side effects can range from temporary and reversible to long-term and permanent damage.
Cocaine is an incredibly addictive and powerful stimulant drug. Originally, cocaine was brought to the United States for medical uses, and it’s still used as an effective anesthetic in some surgical settings.
Cocaine is still used medicinally today, although infrequently because it has a high-risk profile for abuse and addiction.
Unfortunately, 5.5 million Americans aged 12 and older have illegally used cocaine within the past year1.
What Are the Physical Effects of Cocaine Abuse?
Cocaine is a white-powder drug that can be snorted, smoked, rubbed onto the gums, or dissolved in water and injected.
When cocaine is inhaled up the nose by snorting, it can irritate the nasal passages and lead to physical side-effects from temporary nose bleeds to permanent perforations to the septum with long-term use. This is also known as coke nose.
Rubbing cocaine on the gums can cause ulcers and irritate the gums, whereas injecting cocaine can increase the risk of contracting a bloodborne disease, such as HIV or AIDs. Smoking cocaine can cause dental problems and damage the lungs.
Cocaine’s effects happen quickly, and depending on how the user takes the drug and how much cocaine they use, the high can last a few minutes to an hour.
The faster cocaine is absorbed into the bloodstream, the more intense the high will be, but the high won’t last for long.2
If someone snorts cocaine, the high will take longer to take effect, but the high can last for up to an hour. Smoking or injecting cocaine can give the user an immediate high, but it will only last for about five or 10 minutes. Those who smoke cocaine often end up using large amounts of the drug over the course of their addiction, which worsens health outcomes for these people.
A small amount of cocaine induces euphoria, increased energy, mental alertness, and sensitivity to light, sound, and touch. Small amounts of cocaine will also reduce the user’s need for sleep and food. While cocaine usually makes the user more focused and able to perform tasks more quickly, cocaine can have the opposite effect on others. Other short term effects of cocaine include:
- Constricted blood vessels
- Dilated pupils
- Increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure
Taking a large amount of cocaine can increase the effects and the euphoria of taking the drug, but it can cause strange and erratic behavior. Users may become increasingly paranoid, violent, or anxious. Users may also experience tremors, muscle spasms, and vertigo. Using cocaine once can cause these side effects, but regular, repeated use of cocaine can lead to a number of long-term health issues.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Abuse?
Abusing cocaine in large amounts for long periods can cause numerous medical complications. Most of the adverse effects of cocaine are related to the cardiovascular system.
- Heart rhythm disturbances
- Heart attacks
- Gastrointestinal issues
Cocaine also interacts dangerously with other substances. Many users will also abuse alcohol when taking cocaine. Alcohol and cocaine mixed together create a substance called cocaethylene, which increases the toxic effects of both cocaine and alcohol on the heart. Combining cocaine with heroin or other opiate derivatives can also increase the risk of a fatal overdose in users.
Drug use and addiction also impair an individual’s judgment, and people who abuse cocaine are at increased risk of contracting HIV or hepatitis C. Users may engage in unprotected sex with infected partners, have sex in exchange for drugs, or share needles if they are injecting cocaine.3
Research indicates that cocaine use can also affect the progression of HIV. Cocaine use impairs immune cell function and also causes the HIV virus to replicate quickly. Cocaine users with HIV can accelerate the effects of the disease and experience increased damage to the brain and spinal cord and other neurological conditions stemming from HIV infection.
How Can Someone Get Help for Cocaine Addiction?
Cocaine is one of the most addictive substances in the world because it greatly increases the amount of dopamine in the brain. Once a cocaine high wears off, dopamine levels crash. When this happens, the user will experience a low mood and worsening depression. If they are unable to get help during the withdrawal phase, they will continue to use cocaine to increase their mood and energy.
For people with cocaine addiction, it can be difficult and potentially dangerous to quit using the drug without outside intervention.
Around 6% of all admissions to drug abuse treatment facilities are for cocaine addiction.4
Most users who enter treatment smoke cocaine, and are likely to be polydrug abusers. Even though polydrug abuse can be more challenging to treat, it is not impossible. Those who struggle with addiction to multiple substances can significantly benefit from medical treatment and integrated therapeutic approaches, including medical detox, one-on-one therapy sessions, and group or sometimes family therapy.
It’s common for patients who enter a drug treatment facility also to have an untreated mental health condition. For those who struggle with cocaine addiction, comorbidity rates with schizophrenia and cluster B personality disorders have been observed.5,6
It’s vital that patients are treated for both cocaine addiction and any mental health conditions to increase their chances of achieving and maintaining lifelong sobriety.
The first step in treatment for cocaine abuse is to detox from the drug safely. By attending a medical detox center, patients can be monitored for adverse withdrawal symptoms while they detox from cocaine. The cocaine withdrawal timeline happens for about one month after cessation, but psychological side effects can last for longer.
One of the most significant and common withdrawal symptoms from cocaine use is depression. Untreated depression from cocaine can increase a person’s risk of self-harm and suicide. It also increases their risk of relapsing simply to alleviate painful depression symptoms. For those who wish to end an addiction to cocaine, it’s crucial that they receive outside intervention and monitoring from an experienced team of drug treatment counselors and physicians.
Untreated cocaine addiction can cause numerous, painful health conditions that are sometimes irreversible. If you or someone you care about is abusing cocaine, please do not hesitate to contact a drug abuse counselor today to explore your treatment options. The representatives at Zinnia Health are standing by to help you and your family with substance abuse and addiction.
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