Cocaine is a highly addictive drug that’s made from the coca plant. Also known as coke, rock, snow, crack, or blow, it quickly increases the user’s energy, attention, and alertness. However, the high is short-lived and it is followed immediately by depression, edginess, and cravings. People who use cocaine often find it hard to eat or sleep properly, just one of many of the most common cocaine side effects.
Cocaine is most typically found in the form of a fine, white powder but it can also be solid rock known as crack cocaine. There is no amount of cocaine that’s safe to use. Since the drug is sold on the streets, there’s no way for a user to know how pure or contaminated the substance is.
Therefore, there is a risk of overdose, and other serious cocaine side effects regardless of how the drug is taken or how much is used. Addiction is also a risk. If you or a loved one has been using cocaine and you’re asking “what are the most common cocaine side effects?”, this article will answer that question and more.
Cocaine Administration and Cocaine Side Effects
Most people who use cocaine snort the powder but some dissolve it in water and inject it into their veins or rub the powder into their gums. Those who use crack cocaine smoke it.
Regardless of how cocaine is taken, it increases the level of dopamine in the brain. This is what makes the user get high. Using cocaine has both short-term and long-term effects.
People feel the effects of cocaine almost immediately after using it and the high lasts for a few minutes to an hour. The duration depends on the method of administration. The faster cocaine is absorbed into the bloodstream, the more intense the high. However, the duration of the effects is shorter.
Therefore, while the effects of smoking cocaine occur rapidly, they may only last five to ten minutes. In contrast, snorting takes a relatively long time to produce a high but the effects may last from 15 to 30 minutes.
Cocaine users typically feel alert, euphoric, and highly sensitive to sound, sight, and touch. They may also be more talkative than usual. While some people find that cocaine makes it easier for them to complete simple intellectual or physical tasks, others find that it takes longer to do simple things.
Cocaine use also results in short-term physiological effects such as increased body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate. It can also lead to dilated pupils and constricted blood vessels. When used in large doses, cocaine can also cause violent and erratic behavior.
Users may experience:
- Muscle twitches
Cocaine use can also result in serious medical complications even with just one use. People have been known to experience stroke and heart attack, seizures, abdominal pain, and nausea. In some cases, cardiac arrest or seizures can lead to sudden death.
Many people who use cocaine also use alcohol and this combination can be very harmful to the heart. Mixing cocaine and heroin is also dangerous. Cocaine is a stimulant while heroin acts as a sedative. Therefore, people can take very high doses of heroin without realizing it. Overdosing on heroin can cause breathing to slow down or stop altogether.
Long-Term Cocaine Side Effects
As you can see, even the short-term effects of cocaine use are dangerous. However, repeated use causes additional problems. Cocaine changes the brain’s reward system and its response to stress. Eventually, the user experiences withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the drug. Instead of finding pleasure from other sources such as relationships or food, they become preoccupied with cocaine.
Regular use results in the development of tolerance. This means the person needs higher and/or more frequent doses to get the effects they experienced the first time. Sensitization also develops. This is when the user needs less cocaine to experienced convulsions or anxiety. The combination of tolerance and sensitization can increase the risk of overdose.
Since cocaine users tend to binge (use the drug repeatedly in increasingly higher doses), they are at heightened risk of irritability, restlessness, paranoia, and panic attacks. Some people also develop drug-induced psychosis which is characterized by auditory hallucinations and a loss of touch with reality. The higher the dosage or the frequency of use, the more likely it is that an individual will experience negative psychological or physiological effects.
Some cocaine side effects are linked to specific methods of administration. A person who regularly snorts cocaine can develop nosebleeds, hoarseness, chronic inflammation of the nose, difficulty swallowing, and a reduced sense of smell. Meanwhile, smoking crack cocaine causes damage to the lungs and can worsen symptoms of asthma.
Individuals who inject cocaine often have puncture wounds (track marks) on their skin, especially their forearms. There’s also an increased HIV and hepatitis risk if they share apparatus with other people, trade sex for drugs, or engage in other risky sexual practices. Research shows that HIV progresses faster in people who use cocaine. Some people also have allergic reactions to cocaine or one of the additives in the drug and this can lead to death in some cases.
Cocaine causes damage to many of the body’s organs. For example, it can lead to tears and ulcerations of the gastrointestinal tract as a result of reduced blood flow. Chronic cocaine use may cause a loss of appetite, malnourishment, and extreme weight loss. It can also result in cardiovascular harm and it is not uncommon for users to be diagnosed with aortic rupture, inflammation of the heart muscle, or arrhythmia from cocaine dependence.
There’s also a risk of neurological issues such as bleeding in the brain and aneurysms. In addition, long-term cocaine use can lead to movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. A number of cognitive functions can be impaired including:
- Impulse control
- Decision making
- Motor ability
It’s also worth noting that some dangers persist even after individuals stop using cocaine. Former cocaine users remain at high risk of relapse even when they’ve been abstinent for a long time. That’s because memories or exposure to certain triggers can cause strong cravings. This is why it’s so important for people in recovery to continue to seek support. Cocaine has powerful effects on users. However, since the high is short-lived, tolerance can develop quickly and individuals are at an increased risk of becoming addicted quickly as well.
Any substance that affects the brain affects mental health so it’s not surprising that cocaine does as well. When an individual has cocaine in their system, it changes the brain. Most of the effects are temporary but some can be permanent. When a person is using cocaine, potential mental health effects include:
- Excessive agitation
- Violent behavior
Research shows that mental health challenges also occur when individuals stop using cocaine. Chief among them is anhedonia which is the inability to feel pleasure. Prior to using cocaine, people typically derive pleasure from a range of sources. However, cocaine floods the dopamine receptors in the brain and the pleasure centers don’t function properly without large spikes of dopamine. Anhedonia is linked to anxiety, depression, and psychosis. Once an individual stops using cocaine, the dopamine receptors eventually return to normal but mental illness can remain.
Other long-term cocaine side effects include:
- Drug cravings
- Problems concentrating
- Mental exhaustion
Some mental health professionals believe that psychological problems are present before individuals use cocaine and they use the drug as a way to self-medicate. However, it’s also possible that cocaine use contributes to the development of mental health conditions such as:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Bipolar disorder
It is often difficult to tell which problem came first. However, it is known that cocaine makes some disorders worse and people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder tend to experience a worsening of symptoms after using cocaine.
Cocaine use will always have a negative impact on mental health and the risk of suicide is one of the most serious dangers. This risk is present while an individual is using cocaine when they’re going through withdrawal, and after they’ve detoxed and stopped using the drug. It’s critical that you seek treatment for cocaine addiction and any other mental health disorders you’re experiencing.
Not everyone who tries cocaine uses it again or develops an addiction. People try drugs for a variety of reasons including curiosity, peer pressure, and a desire to have fun. Others want to mask symptoms of stress or anxiety. Also, there’s no single factor that causes addiction. Rather, addiction results from a complex interplay of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.
Studies involving siblings, identical twins, fraternal twins, and adopted siblings indicate that up to half of a person’s risk of developing an addiction is due to genetic makeup. People who have siblings or parents with substance addictions are more likely to develop them.
Some people like addictive substances more than others and may enjoy a drug so much that it becomes very difficult to resist using it. A person who doesn’t experience similar enjoyment would not find the substance as tempting.
Similarly, some people find it harder than others to control impulsive desires. These individuals would be more likely to develop an addiction. In addition to these factors, long-term cocaine use changes the way the brain functions, and individuals need the drug to feel normal.
Exposure to child abuse, neglect, and other traumatic events increases the likelihood that an individual will develop an addiction later in life. Using drugs at an early age also makes it more likely that a person will become addicted to substances later in life.
Many individuals use recreational and commonly abused drugs to help them cope with difficult emotions or manage symptoms of mental illness such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. While the individual may feel better temporarily, continued drug use makes it more likely that tolerance and addiction with develop.
Signs of Cocaine Abuse
If you suspect that a loved one is using cocaine, you have every reason to be concerned. While the first signs of abuse may seem insignificant, they can quickly escalate as tolerance increases and addiction develops.
Common signs of cocaine abuse include:
- Increased impulsivity
- Sudden changes in mood
- Strange behavior
- Missing social or familial obligations
- Financial challenges
- White marks on possessions, clothing, or skin
- The presence of paraphernalia such as hollow pens, rolled dollar bills, baggies, razor blades, or glassware
Cocaine is expensive so a person who has a cocaine habit often has to go to extreme lengths to continue using. They may sell their possessions, borrow money frequently, steal from loved ones, or even start selling drugs. If your loved one is addicted to cocaine, they may empty their savings accounts or retirement funds and as time goes on, the situation could worsen.
- Getting into trouble with the law
- Losing friendships and relationships
- Getting fired or quitting their job
- Getting expelled or quitting school
People who are addicted to cocaine often become unrecognizable. Your loving and thoughtful friend or relative may become like a stranger. Furthermore, they may be in denial about how problematic their drug use is. This can make it difficult for them to get the help they need. However, you need to know that addiction is treatable.
The first step in treating cocaine addiction is to detox from this and any other substance you be taking. Withdrawal can be dangerous so it is important to access professional care at a reputable addiction treatment facility.
Medically supervised detox ensures that you have access to psychological support and medications that can reduce the severity of withdrawal and keep cravings at bay. By successfully going through detoxification, you or your loved one will prepare your mind and body for rehabilitation.
The most successful approaches to treatment combine medication and therapy. While there’s no medication approved specifically to treat cocaine addiction, medicines can be used in the short term to relieve withdrawal symptoms or manage the symptoms of underlying conditions. Therapy can take several forms including individual, family, and group.
In individual therapy, patients meet one-on-one with a therapist to discuss the problems their addiction has caused as well as any other challenges they’ve been experiencing. The therapist may also help them get to the root cause of their addiction. Therapy helps people to learn new and healthier ways to cope with problems and stressors.
Many treatment programs include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This is a treatment modality that’s focused on changing the way the patient sees the world and their problems. They learn to challenge negative thought patterns and replace them with more helpful ways of thinking.
Group therapy is also an important part of addiction treatment since it provides an opportunity for individuals to connect with people facing similar challenges. Some groups are focused on specific topics while others are more general. In any case, participants learn from both the group leader and their peers. Some of these relationships last well after individuals leave structured therapy.
Meanwhile, addiction professionals often like to include family members in the recovery process. This is because addiction affects everyone in an individual’s life. In family therapy sessions, therapists explain the patient’s cocaine addiction and the treatment they’re undergoing. Family members also get an opportunity to discuss how the individual’s addiction has affected them. The therapist may also connect your family with resources in the community which they can draw on for additional support.
Some treatment facilities offer alternative therapies including:
- Music therapy
- Art therapy
- Nutritional therapy
- Recreational therapy
It’s extremely difficult to stop using cocaine on your own. If you or someone you love is abusing cocaine, you need to seek professional help. At The Discovery House in Southern California, we offer a full continuum of treatment that includes medically supervised detox, inpatient and outpatient rehab, and aftercare. The program is customized to each patient’s needs since no two individuals who walk through our doors are the same. Start your journey towards sobriety by contacting us today and talking to a member of our team. We’ll answer your questions, verify your insurance, and make sure you understand all the services we offer.