What Do Someone’s Eyes Look Like On Cocaine?

Cocaine can affect a person’s eyes in many ways, in both how the eyes look and feel and also in the overall health of the eyes. The longer a person uses cocaine and the more cocaine they use, the more their eye health will decline over time.

Get Help Now!

Someone who is using cocaine regularly will develop a very distinctive look to their eyes, a look that is so specific to cocaine use that it has been given the nickname “cocaine eyes”.

Cocaine eyes, a common sign of cocaine abuse, are eyes with heavily dilated pupils, giving the eyes an appearance of being larger than usual.

In addition, the whites of cocaine eyes may appear reddish, bloodshot, and even yellow depending on other medical conditions that are present.

Why Cocaine Dilates The Pupils

The use of cocaine releases a hormone from the adrenal gland called norepinephrine, which is responsible for dilating the pupils.

Cocaine also blocks the reabsorption of this hormone, causing its levels in the blood to build up and remain high in people who use cocaine.

A person’s pupils will dilate during their cocaine high and remain dilated for around 30 minutes after.

However, someone who is addicted to cocaine uses the drug so frequently that their eyes remain in an almost permanently dilated state, sometimes referred to as “cocaine pupils”.

Pupil dilation allows more light to enter, and, as a result, can make the eyes incredibly sensitive to light. It is not uncommon to see people who use high doses of cocaine wearing sunglasses, even indoors.

The Effect Of Cocaine On The Eyes

Cocaine affects both the physical appearance of a person’s eyes, as well as their overall eye health, and can cause a variety of eye conditions.

Some of the side effects of cocaine on the eyes will only be short-term, while others are more permanent.


Long-term effects of cocaine, as with many stimulant drugs, can cause severe and permanent damage to the kidneys and liver. Liver and kidney problems can in turn cause jaundice.

Jaundice is a condition which causes both the skin and the whites of the eyes to turn a yellowish and sometimes even greenish color.


Nystagmus is a condition in which a person has repetitive and uncontrolled rapid eye motion and movements in all directions.

This eye movement can be very uncomfortable for those who have it, as some have described it as if their eyes have a mind of their own.

Nystagmus can have many causes, including genetics, but is also associated with the kind of brain damage that is caused by long-term cocaine use due to a substance use disorder.


Glaucoma is a result of an increase in fluid pressure within the eye, which damages the optic nerve over time.

Cocaine causes an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, which can in turn cause this increase in pressure within the eye.

Over time, glaucoma can lead to substantial vision loss and eventually blindness.

Bloodshot Eyes

Cocaine use causes the blood vessels in a person’s body to expand, including the blood vessels in their eyes. This can result in eyes that are red and bloodshot in appearance.

Bloodshot eyes can cause a fair amount of ocular pain and also increase sensitivity to light in a person who uses cocaine.

Effects On The Cornea

Smoking or snorting cocaine may lead to a condition called “crack cornea”, a syndrome that may range in severity from mild to severe and may lead to severe infectious ulcers in the eye.

Ulcerative Keratitis

Ulcerative keratitis is a condition that arises from smoking crack cocaine. A corneal ulcer is a perforation of corneal tissue, often associated with corneal inflammation caused by the drug.

Effects On The Retina

Cocaine’s effects on the retina include atrophy of the inner retinal layers that may lead to vision loss, vitreous hemorrhage, and retinal detachment.

Cutting agents such as talcum powder may deposit in the retina, causing a condition called talc retinopathy. Fine, yellow particles have been found in the inner retinal layers of people with this condition.

As with most ailments related to substance use disorder, the severity of these conditions is directly correlated with the extent and duration of cocaine abuse.

Treatment Programs For Cocaine Addiction

No two treatment programs for cocaine abuse are exactly the same, but you should be able to find a variety of treatment services for substance use that fit your needs.

Treatment options for cocaine addiction include:

  • individual counseling
  • group counseling
  • mental health services
  • family counseling
  • inpatient cocaine treatment
  • outpatient treatment
  • intensive outpatient cocaine treatment
  • medication-assisted treatment
  • medical detox

Find Drug Rehab Services At Bedrock Recovery Center

If you or a loved one is in need of addiction treatment for cocaine use or any other drug use, please feel free to reach out to us at Bedrock Recovery Center with any questions you have.

As soon as you are ready to get started at an addiction treatment center, we can help you locate one in your area to suit your needs.

It is never too late to get started on the journey towards recovery from substance abuse.

  1. Indian Health Service https://www.ihs.gov/asap/familyfriends/warningsignsdrug/?msclkid=82a11a3eae1611ecae1a89f5179e53ce
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/cocaine?msclkid=77f745d5ae1511ecad42332e97d4a0e9
  3. National Library of Medicine https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6886135/?msclkid=48928810afbb11eca4a57fd34dd16ad5

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2023 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