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Long-term Effects of Cocaine

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and fact-checked by an addiction expert.

Clinically Reviewed By: Karen Williams, LPC

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and fact-checked by an addiction expert.

Are there long-term effects of cocaine? The reality is that cocaine has many long-term effects, none of which are positive. Here’s what cocaine use can do to your mind, body, and spirit. 

Searching for help with drug and/or alcohol addiction? Call us now at (888) 201-4610.

Contents

What are the Long-term Effects of Cocaine Use

Cocaine is a powerful and addictive drug that can have serious long-term effects on your health and well-being. Using cocaine can lead to physical and mental health problems, including:
  • Damage to the nose and mouth
  • Damage to the heart
  • Damage to the respiratory system
  • Damage to the brain
  • Damage to kidneys and liver
  • Potential infectious disease
  • Breakdown of mental health

The following dives deeper into each of these areas.

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Cocaine Causes Damage to the Nose and Mouth

Nose damage is a common side effect of cocaine use. Prolonged drug use inflates the risk of sinus infections and sinus pain. This irritation in the sinus happens because cocaine irritates both the nose and sinus pathways.

Sinus infections caused by cocaine use can spread to other body parts, resulting in necrotizing sinusitis, potentially damaging the nose and surrounding structures like the eyes.

A perforated septum is also relatively common among the users of cocaine. The nasal septum refers to the bone, tissue, and cartilage that divide the nose into two sides.

The vasoconstricting effect of cocaine diminishes blood flow to the nose, causing cells to die.

This devastating effect can lead to serious breathing problems, nose deformation, pain, and chronic infections. Damage to the septum can also cause the nasal valve to collapse, reducing support in the nose or destabilizing it completely.

A runny nose and nosebleeds are also common among cocaine users. Regular drug use can cause severe damage to blood vessels throughout the body.

The vasoconstricting effect of the drug changes bleeding patterns and may lead to frequent nosebleeds.

As a result of these effects, many cocaine users must undergo nasal reconstruction surgery.1

Cocaine use also has adverse effects on the mouth and teeth. The effects are more severe in individuals who use the drug more frequently, in higher doses, and over a long period. The drug is often mixed with sugars and other dilatants to reduce acidity.

As cocaine mixes with your saliva, it can cause inflammation or erosion of your gums (periodontitis). It can also gradually wear away your tooth enamel, causing tissue damage and tooth decay.

Xerostomia or dry mouth is another common side effect of cocaine use. The drug dehydrates the body and impairs salivary enzymes’ function, causing the tooth surface’s pH to drop and thereby damaging the teeth2

Stimulant drugs like cocaine have also been associated with severe bruxism, a condition characterized by unconscious clenching, grinding, or gnashing of teeth.

The condition can cause migraines, trouble sleeping, and pain in the joints and muscles related to the mouth.

Cocaine Damages the Heart

Long-term effects of cocaine on the heart 3  include hypertension or high blood pressure, damage to the heart’s structure, and congestive heart failure.

Cocaine consumption can lead to immediate emergencies like stroke and heart attack.

Prolonged use of cocaine significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Short-term drug use may inflate the risk in people with pre-existing cardiovascular problems.

Cocaine produces vasoconstricting effects, which lead to high blood pressure. It may also inflate the risk of coronary artery disease (CAD), a disorder characterized by narrowing arteries due to plaque buildup.

The disease is a major risk factor for stroke, heart attack, and sudden cardiac arrest, often leading to death.

Damage to the heart’s physical structure may also happen due to cocaine use. Studies have found that otherwise healthy cocaine users had increased stiffness in the aorta and enlarged left ventricles compared to non-users.

Cocaine affects the heart’s electrical system by changing its sodium and potassium ion channels. These changes lead to arrhythmia or irregular heart rate.

Tachycardia or a faster heartbeat after cocaine consumption causes the user to feel anxious.

Using cocaine in high doses for a long period can lead to congestive heart failure.

The condition is characterized by the inability of the heart muscle to pump blood effectively. Improper blood flow can cause serious complications, such as organ failure.

Cocaine Causes Damage to the Respiratory System

Cocaine toxicity leads to many pulmonary complications.

Respiratory Complications Include:

  • hemorrhages
  • foreign body granulomas
  • asthma
  • persistent gas-exchange abnormalities
  • pulmonary barotrauma
  • obliterative bronchitis
  • and pulmonary infections.

Cocaine-induced respiratory manifestations include shortness of breath, chest pains, wheezing, and hemoptysis. Severe respiratory problems have been reported in newborn children of mothers abusing cocaine.

Intravenous users, smokers of ‘crack,’ and freebase users have been reported to have upper respiratory and pulmonary complications.

Multiple central and peripheral pathways are involved in the toxicity of cocaine. Recurrent snorting of the drug may cause necrosis, ischemia, and infections of sinuses, nasal mucosa, and vicinal structures.

Cocaine Causes Damage to the Brain

Long-term changes in the brain 4 are induced by cocaine exposure. Studies show that cocaine use can cause neuroadaptations in neurons responsible for releasing glutamate. Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter that helps with memory and learning.

Prolonged use of the stimulant drug can lead to profound changes in glutamate neurotransmission, including the number of neurotransmitters to the level of receptor proteins.

Cocaine use impairs glucose metabolism, causing the brain cells to work more slowly. The drug causes disruptions in the brain’s ‘clean-up processes,’ and the brain cells start to die off.

Cocaine-induced stresses on the cardiovascular systems are also responsible for brain damage.

Due to the vasoconstricting effect of cocaine, the heart has to work harder to supply blood to the brain. When the brain cells don’t get sufficient nourishment, they start dying off.

Studies show that cocaine affects the brain pathways responsible for responding to stress.

The brain’s stress circuits are distinct from the reward center but overlap to perform certain functions.

The drug may cause changes in the ventral tegmental area, which relays information about stress and drug cues to other regions in the brain, including ones that support cocaine cravings.

Cocaine’s brain-damaging effects become more significant with age. Regular use of cocaine can cause an individual to lose twice as much gray matter as a non-user does each year.

Changes in the shape of neurons and synapses have also been reported in young adults who use cocaine.

Cocaine Causes Damage to the Kidney and Liver

Regular use of cocaine can cause significant damage to the liver and kidneys.4 Liver damage can be fatal in the case of rhabdomyolysis.

The condition is characterized by releasing electrolytes and proteins into the bloodstream due to damaged muscle tissue.

When these substances freely enter the bloodstream, they can severely damage the liver and several other organs.

Cocaine reduces blood flow in certain parts of the body and thereby increases the chances of muscle death. Rhabdomyolysis can cause permanent disabilities or death.

Cocaine-induced liver damage can also lead to renal failure. The functional failure of the liver decreases blood flow to the kidneys, causing renal failure.

Renal infections can also occur as a result of cocaine abuse. Cocaine’s vasoconstricting effects also contribute to renal problems, as narrowing of arteries can cause disruptions in blood supply to the kidneys, resulting in renal infarction.

Liver damage causes changes in blood flow and can lead to a drop in blood pressure. Low blood pressure or hypotension can also cause renal failure.

Dizziness and fainting are the two most common symptoms of arterial hypotension. Brain and heart damage can also occur in severe cases of arterial hypotension.

Injecting Cocaine Can Lead to Infectious Disease

Individuals who consume cocaine intravenously are putting themselves at risk6 for transmitting or developing viral infections, such as hepatitis, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), or acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

As viruses spread through blood, intravenous administration of cocaine and other drugs is riskier than other consumption methods. Sharing needles or other drug equipment can spread viruses and cause infectious diseases.

Cocaine can also cause liver infections by exposing the user to viral hepatitis. Contrary to what most people think, you can contract viral hepatitis through blood and stool. The risk of developing hepatic infections also exists in cocaine users that snort or smoke the drug.

Cocaine Use Can Cause Breakdown of Mental Health

Abusing cocaine can profoundly affect an individual’s mental health. Cocaine addiction and mental illness often co-occur. Cocaine-induced neural changes directly result from the drug’s action within the brain.

It works by affecting dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in pleasure.

The brain damage caused by long-standing exposure to cocaine can extend beyond the hedonic hotspots of the brain and into the regions responsible for memory, processing new information, and emotional regulation.

Many mental illnesses are characterized by imbalances or changes in the brain’s reward system, such as depression and schizophrenia.

Cocaine abuse can affect the brain’s dopamine system and worsen a pre-existing mental condition.

Long-term drug abuse leads to reduced brain activity in the brain area involved in error awareness and emotional processing.

Individuals with severe cocaine addiction manifest a range of social and behavioral problems, including the inability to communicate effectively, self-centered attitudes, and paranoia.

Blunted emotions and egocentrism have been widely observed in cocaine-dependent individuals. People with cocaine addiction are 22 times more vulnerable to antisocial personality disorder than non-users.

A dual diagnosis of cocaine addiction and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has become common in recent years.

Similarly, depression and cocaine dependence also co-occur.

The symptoms of this dual diagnosis include persistent negative thoughts, impaired thinking, decreased energy, difficulty speaking, restlessness and fatigue, loss of interest in hobbies, feelings of hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems.

Cocaine abuse can aggravate mood disorders and panic disorders. Individuals with pre-existing anxiety disorders or mood disorders are more likely to undergo permanent neural changes after long-term cocaine consumption.

Cocaine abuse can also worsen bipolar disorder, causing the individual to feel more aggressive and paranoid. People with a dual diagnosis of bipolar disorder and cocaine disorder experience more devastating brain changes than those with bipolar disorder alone.

Overdosing on cocaine can lead to heightened stress and high anxiety levels. Long-term drug use can increase the risk of anxiety disorders, including social phobia or social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and generalized anxiety disorder.

Cocaine’s Overall Long-term Effects on Your Life

The devastation caused by cocaine abuse or addiction extends to all areas of a person’s life, including physical health, mental health, professional life and career, and social life. People with cocaine addiction have an extremely poor quality of life and live in the worst condition.

  • Cocaine addiction adversely affects the user’s body, mind, and spirit, ruining their health completely. The physical well-being of the user decreases over time, and they experience health problems like diminishing muscle strength, high blood pressure, liver and kidney issues, and brain damage.
 
  • A wide range of mental problems occurs as a result of cocaine abuse. The drug causes abnormal changes in the brain that lead to impaired cognitive functions, such as attention, memory, creativity, and emotional response. Cocaine causes significant damage to the brain cells, which changes how the brain works.
 
  • Financial hardship arises from cocaine addiction or abuse. People with cocaine use disorder spend a great amount of money to keep up the addiction. Cocaine addiction can also cost you your job and destroy your livelihood.
 
  • Addiction changes a person completely. Cocaine abuse virtually changes everything about you, including how you think and behave. Not many people can maintain their personalities and hold on to their morals while struggling with cocaine addiction. Addiction can profoundly affect a person’s values, morals, perceptions, and even personality.
 
  • The destructive effects of addiction outreach the abuser and affect their family and loved ones. Family members may be at risk of experiencing violence or abuse at the hand of the abuser. Abuse can occur in many forms, including physical, emotional, and sexual.
 
  • Cocaine addiction can also put the abuser in jail. In the United States, an abuser can go to prison for more than 50 years for committing the first offense under the influence of illegal drugs. Simple possession of an illegal drug like cocaine can lead to a prison term of up to a year.

How to Get Help for Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine addiction does not have to destroy or end your life. Seeking treatment for cocaine abuse or addiction can help you reclaim your life. All you have to do is enroll in Cornerstone Healing Center’s cocaine addiction treatment. It is one of the best treatments for cocaine addiction in Scottsdale.

Depending on the severity of your condition, the treatment will last from 30 days to 90 days.

Our treatment for cocaine addiction at Cornerstone Healing Center includes proven therapies and treatments. We use traditional and alternative methods to treat our patients for addiction.

These include individual therapy, group therapy, family psychoeducation, the 12-step program, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR).

Sources:

[1] Nasal Reconstruction Surgery from Cocaine Abuse

[2] Tooth loss due to Cocaine Abuse

[3] Long-term Effects of Cocaine on the Heart

[4] Long-term Effects of Cocaine on the Brain

[5] Cocaine Damages Kidney and Liver

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Call to learn about our addiction treatment programs. We can help you heal your mind, body, and spirit from addiction.

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Author: Cornerstone Content Team

Author: Cornerstone Content Team

Cornerstone's content team is comprised of writers with experience and expertise in addiction, treatment, and recovery.

Clinical Reviewer: Karen Williams, LPC

Clinical Reviewer: Karen Williams, LPC

Karen is a Licensed Professional Counselor with over 15 years experience. She not only specializes in addiction, but is in recovery as well. Karen is our clinical director.

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