Cocaine Effects On The Heart: Increased Risk Of Heart Attack

Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug that can create a number of behavioral, mental, and physical health problems. The long-term effects of cocaine on the heart can increase the chances of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Get Help Now!
Dr. Langdon M.D.

Medically Reviewed By: Kimberly Langdon M.D.


A 2018 national survey found that over 5.5 million Americans — many of them young adults — had used cocaine previously.

Cocaine users seek the calming and focusing effects of the drug, attributing higher energy levels and increased sociability to the stimulant side of the drug.

However, many disregard the cardiovascular effects of cocaine use, thereby placing them at higher risk for coronary artery disease, among other health issues.

How Cocaine Affects The Heart

Cocaine intercepts the neurotransmitters in the brain that release hormones designed to regulate systolic blood pressure and blood flow, increasing the chances of ischemia.

The stimulant nature of cocaine means that it also activates the nervous system, causing a release of certain regulatory stress hormones.

However, instead of returning those now-depleted stress chemicals, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, cocaine leaves the brain in a state of imbalance.

This inability to restore the hormonal balance can increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease, mental health problems, and other potentially chronic health disorders.

Cocaine can also cause the heart tissue surrounding heart valves — called the aorta — to be torn, which can lead to aortic dissection.

How Heart Attacks Occur

A heart attack occurs when certain cardiovascular arteries are blocked as a result of plaque or other organic matter building up in the tubes.

Repeatedly weakening the heart valves can lead to underperforming ventricles (the heart’s lower chambers) causing ventricular tachycardia, which can be chronic and even fatal.

Causes Of A Cocaine-Induced Heart Attack

Cocaine causes the nervous system to become hyperactive, thus causing chest pain as a result of increased blood flow, blood pressure, and heart rate.

However, repeated vasoconstriction as a result of drug abuse can gradually weaken the heart valves, meaning that with each use, the chance of heart failure increases.

Cardiomyopathy is a standard example of this, as it is a heart disease resulting from repeated inflammation and damaged heart valves.

Symptoms Of A Cocaine-Induced Heart Attack

The variety of detrimental side effects that cocaine use has on the heart muscles and other cardiovascular functions increases the risk of heart dysfunction and ultimately stroke.

Even first-time cocaine users can experience increased heart rate, chest pain, and other symptoms of a heart attack. Too high of a dose can also cause immediate cardiac arrest.

A research document from the Society for the Study of Addiction (SSA) outlines how cocaine use can quadruple the risk of sudden death due to cocaine-induced cardiovascular shock.

Treatment Services For Cocaine-Related Heart Attack

Cocaine-induced heart attacks can be quick, severe, and fatal.

However, paramedics and other healthcare workers in emergency departments have access to services that can resuscitate a person or prevent further heart failure.

Some of these treatment services are:

  • preventive measures from electrocardiogram (ECG) screenings
  • beta-blocker medications
  • angiography screenings
  • defibrillators for resuscitation and restitution of electricity into the heart
  • withdrawal services to mitigate the effects of cocaine toxicity

Other Ways Cocaine Affects The Heart

Regular cocaine use, by weakening the heart valves and deregulating hormonal distribution, can further damage the cardiovascular system by blocking healthy amounts of blood flow.

When this occurs, the lack of oxygen can induce myocardial infarction — the deadening of sensitive tissue by diminished oxygen levels — thereby increasing the risk of stroke.

Short-term use of cocaine can also cause ischemic coronary artery disease (CAD), which stems from plaque buildup in the arteries. This can also increase the chance of heart attack.

Blood Pressure

Every time ‘coke’ is ingested, including crack cocaine, blood pressure dramatically increases.

This increase in blood pressure can damage sensitive heart tissue, as it leads to hypertension of blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart disease.

Heart Inflammation

Aside from acute coronary syndrome (ACS), the middle layers of the heart can also be damaged, resulting in myocarditis.

This inflammatory disease inhibits the heart from properly pumping blood, leading to abnormal heart rate and high blood pressure.

Irregular Heartbeat (Arrhythmias)

An irregular heartbeat is not something that is typically fatal on its own, but it can be when paired with other heart defects as a result of substance abuse.

Cardiac arrhythmia, or fibrillation, occurs when the heart has electrical pulse imbalances, which are partially caused by the brain’s inability to properly administer stress chemicals.

Symptoms of arrhythmia can manifest themselves as:

  • irregular heartbeat
  • chest pain
  • wheezing
  • fainting
  • dizziness
  • hardening of the arteries

Coronary artery disease, spurred by a buildup of plaque and calcium surrounding the heart valves, can directly result from even intermediate drug use.

Additionally, coronary aneurysms can occur. These are balloon-like dilations of the tissue surrounding the inner arteries and are seen in about 30% of people who use cocaine.

This can lead to blood clots and eventual thrombosis, which is the blocking of the arteries. Blocked arteries, like many other cocaine-induced heart problems, can lead to stroke.

Treatment Options For Cocaine Abuse

There are many treatment options available for cocaine addiction, ranging from therapy and counseling to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and more.

Substance abuse recovery services available to treat cocaine addiction include:

  • inpatient cocaine treatment programs
  • medical detox
  • supervised drug screenings
  • educational and vocational programs
  • residential treatment options
  • outpatient cocaine treatment programs

Find A Treatment Program For Cocaine Addiction

If someone you know is in need of drug abuse services, there is no time but the present.

Give the Bedrock Recovery Center helpline a call today to discuss our effective treatment options for cocaine addiction.

  1. National Library of Medicine (NLM)
  2. National Library of Medicine (NLM)
  3. Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC)

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

Prefer Texting?
We've got you covered.

Receive 24/7 text support right away.
There is no obligation and you can opt out at any time.

Sign up for text support

Receive 24/7 text support right away.
There is no obligation and you can opt out at any time.
Ready to make a change? Talk to a specialist now.
(617) 657-2877
icon-angle icon-bars icon-times