You may know this drug as snow, coke, crack or blow. The health effects are the same regardless of the name. As a stimulant, cocaine alters the activity of the central nervous system, over-activating it in ways that can make you feel hyper-alert while destroying some of the brain cells due to chemical toxicity.
Short and long-term health effects like:
- Brain changes
- Heart and vascular disease
- Gastrointestinal disease
- Movement problems
- Mental health problems
That’s far from all the effects of cocaine. You could experience localized health effects that are specifically related to the way you use cocaine. That may include damage to your nose lining from snorting it or vein damage from injecting it.
Almost 1 in 3 of all drug-related emergency room visits involved cocaine in 2011. You can avoid being part of that number by knowing the health risks of using cocaine. If you know the risks, you can choose to reduce your own risk by seeking treatment.
Here’s what you should know about the health risks of cocaine addiction:
What Are the Risk Factors for Cocaine Abuse and Addiction?
When you use cocaine over a long period of time, you can develop an addiction.
Your body becomes used to having cocaine in its system and relies on it to produce chemicals that affect your mood and more. When you try to stop using, the result is withdrawal.
Some people are more likely to become addicted to cocaine in the first place. If you have these cocaine risk factors, you could be more likely to develop cocaine addiction:
- A family history with cocaine addiction
- A history of mental illness, including depression, personality disorders, or bipolar disorder
- Having used cocaine at an early age
- Other history of drug use at an early age
- Using cocaine with high levels of stress
- Frequent cocaine consumption
These risk factors for addiction increase the likelihood that you’ll become physically dependent or psychologically addicted. But even if you don’t have the risk factors, you could still develop cocaine addiction. Cocaine addiction can affect anybody.
What Are the Short-Term Risks of Using Cocaine?
The short-term health effects of cocaine start right after you use it. The most common ones include:
- Constricted blood vessels
- High body temperature
- High heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Muscle spasms
Life-threatening health effects can happen within minutes of using cocaine. They include:
- Heart attacks
- Sudden death
The most serious short-term risk of cocaine use is overdose. Without emergency treatment, you could die during a cocaine overdose. The effects of a cocaine overdose include:
- Chest pain
- High heart rate
- Mood changes, including panic and anxiety
- Nausea and vomiting
- Paranoid thoughts
Get emergency medical help right away if you think you’re having a cocaine overdose. You are more likely to experience an overdose if you’re using cocaine with other drugs.
What Are the Long-Term Risks of Using Cocaine?
Regular cocaine use can cause health effects over time. These effects can be severe and permanent, and they include both behavioral and physical symptoms.
Over time, cocaine can have effects on your mood and behavior. Long-term cocaine use causes your brain to become less sensitive to reward, and that change can cause mental health problems. Those include:
- Panic attacks
You’re more likely to experience those effects if you use cocaine over a long period of time, or if you use high doses of cocaine.
Cocaine is toxic in many of your body’s systems. When you use cocaine repeatedly, you’re at risk for health complications that include:
- Executive function problems that include low impulse control, memory loss, problems with decision-making, and attentional focus
- Gastrointestinal damage, including ulcerative colitis, stomach ulcers, and GI inflammation
- Heart problems, including severe chest pain, heart attacks, heart inflammation, and heart weakness
- Movement problems such as Parkinson's disease or motor disorders
- Vascular disease such as aortic ruptures, strokes, or brain hemorrhages
Finally, long-term cocaine use causes addiction. When you use cocaine over a long period, you develop tolerance. Your body can’t get the full effect from the same old dose of cocaine anymore, so you start increasing doses.
Re-dosing for tolerance leads to dependence. Cocaine can cause physical or psychological dependence. Once you’re at this point, your body depends on cocaine to maintain its dopamine (or feel-good chemical) supply.
When you stop using cocaine after you develop dependence, you experience withdrawal. The combination of tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal define cocaine addiction.
Cocaine withdrawal can cause mental and physical health effects that include:
- Desire to sleep
- Feeling physically slow or heavy
- Increased appetite
- Night terrors
What Are the Health Risks of Teen Cocaine Use?
Teen cocaine use is pretty rare with just 1.1% of high school seniors reporting cocaine use. Still, it’s important to know the health risks if a teen you know is affected.
The problem is, cocaine has different effects on people who still have developing brains. Some evidence says that your brain is still developing into your 20s. Before that point, you’re especially susceptible to drug-related brain complications.
Researchers at Yale found that teen cocaine use causes brain cells to actually change shape. This phenomenon doesn’t happen to older people who use cocaine. But it has serious impacts on teen brain health, including:
- Behavioral problems
- Executive function problems
- Learning and motivation problems
- Memory problems
- Tasking and multitasking problems
Cocaine and peer pressure can go hand in hand, but you shouldn’t put your health at risk. Teen cocaine use can have lifelong effects on your ability to take care of yourself. But it’s never too late to seek help and stop the effects from progressing.
What Are the Risk Factors for Cocaine-Related Health Complications?
Some people are more likely to experience the negative health effects of cocaine.
Of course, anyone can develop health problems from cocaine. But your risk may be higher if you have any of these risk factors:
- History of heavy drug or alcohol use, including long-term drug use and poly-drug abuse (or the practice of abusing multiple drugs at once)
- History of mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, or personality disorders
- History of immune system suppression, like taking chemotherapy medications or having a bone marrow transplant
- History of kidney or liver disease, like acute kidney failure, polycystic kidneys, fatty liver disease, or hepatitis
What to Do When Cocaine Affects Your Health
The health risks of taking drugs aren’t worth it. When cocaine starts to affect your health, it’s time to get help. You can do that by seeking out Bedrock Recovery Center, a cocaine addiction treatment center that offers evidence-based treatment.
The best treatment options for cocaine addiction include:
- Cocaine detox management to keep you comfortable and safe during withdrawal
- Contingency management, a therapy program that gives you rewards for meeting recovery goals
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps you modify your behavior with recovery skills
All of this can take place at our beautiful inpatient treatment center in Canton, Massachusetts. Our residential inpatient program helps you overcome cocaine addiction with the help of a full-body treatment plan that’s designed just for you. Contact us today to start the recovery process with us!
Bedrock Recovery Editorial Team
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This page does not provide medical advice.