Drug Addiction

The Short And Long Term Effects Of Cocaine On Your Body

You have seen them- sunken cheekbones, bad skin, hollow eyes with dilated pupils. They are there with you, but they are really not there mentally. Something else has taken over their mind. They look consumed, overcome; with that faraway look. You have probably interacted with them too. It is painful to watch them. How does a human being reach here? They look exhausted, confused and a bit on the edge. You walk on egg shells around them. But the sad look in their eyes is haunting. There’s no life there; only a deep, deep sadness.

It all starts with one snort or one smoke and before you know it you are on a downward spiral with no idea how to jump ship.

The scourge of cocaine is real, yet every year thousands more are introduced to this habit. Is it a lack of education? Or someone somewhere just doesn’t care about the effects of cocaine on their body more than they do their reputation?

Nonetheless, let’s delve into the world of cocaine abuse and understand why people react to it the way they do.

No One Is Exempt

Drug addiction in general affects people from all walks of life. No one is exempt as long as they give it a shot. And that’s all it takes, one shot of cocaine and your goose is toast. From there on is the bumpy road of serious side effects and health problems ranging from headaches, convulsions and seizures to sexual trouble, bowel decay if you ingest it and even heart attack, or death when one overdoses. We will look at these effects in detail shortly.

Cocaine makes you crave for more of it. Unfortunately, the more you use it, the more your body demands for more and thus ensues a vicious cycle of addiction or overdose.

What Is Cocaine?

It has many street names: coke, crack, snow, blow, rock, baking soda and so forth.
Cocaine is a highly addictive drug that is widely abused mainly for its pleasurable stimulant quality. People use Cocaine to feel that elated sense of alertness, energy and euphoria. It comes from the cocoa plant found exclusively in South America before it illegally (most of the time anyway) makes its way into the US and other global markets.

However, Cocaine hydrochloride classified as schedule II drug, for its therapeutic quality is used as a pain reliever by Health Practitioners to treat chronic pain, and as a vasoconstrictor, for certain medical procedures.

Cocaine can be found in a various forms, including its characteristic fine, white powder state; as paste; or as a solidified rock crystal usually referred to as crack cocaine owing to the crackling sound it makes when smoked. Pure cocaine is usually mixed with other fine, white powders like corn starch or sugar to dilute it.

Whichever the form, the drug is a powerful and highly addictive stimulant that snares its victims even by just one use.

Some Cocaine Statistics

Cocaine at a glance: these are what cocaine surveys reveal:

• 5-6% of people who have recently experimented with cocaine will become long-term users.
• An estimated half of the European dance club scene has been high on cocaine.
• Cocaine is hands down the second most trafficked substance in the world.
• Cocaine is also the second most commonly used illegal drug in Europe, preferred by young people aged between 15 to 34 years.
• An estimated 7.5 million people have used cocaine at least once in their life; 3.5 million people in the last year alone and a staggering 1.5 million in just the past month.
• An estimated 35.3 million Americans from as young as 12 years and older have admitted to have used cocaine; and a further 8.6 million Americans aged 12 and older have admitted to have used crack. 18 to 25 year olds, of those surveyed reported to have used cocaine, and crack cocaine within the last year alone.
• In the United States, cocaine is the most mentioned illegal drug by hospital emergency departments.
• Only about 11% of those addicted to drugs or alcohol actually received treatment for their substance abuse disorder.
• Subsequently, an estimated 20 million people suffering from an addiction to substance went untreated.
• Deaths involving cocaine increased by 42%.

Facts courtesy of National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA); European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction; and National Institute for Drug Abuse.

What’s Really In That Cocaine?

The dangerous additives in cocaine release high levels of dopamine, a naturally occurring chemical messenger in our bodies, to parts of the brain that control pleasure. This sudden, elevated gush produces intense euphoric feelings of energy and alertness called a high.
Cocaine is classified as Schedule II substance—meaning it has a high potential for abuse yet it also accepted in the medical field as a local anaesthetic for managing pain.

Prolonged and consistent use of cocaine leads to development of tolerance towards the drug, physical dependence (addiction), and withdrawal when not in use.

Cocaine usually gives quick, false high that lasts a very short time, 5 to30 mins. Unfortunately this high is usually followed by a sharp decline into feeling on edge or even depression. This causes the brain to demand for more to maintain the false euphoric feeling.

How Is Cocaine Consumed?

Cocaine comes in two forms, as white powder or as crack cocaine which is the more crystalline form. Whichever the form, cocaine can be used in the following ways:

• Snorting
• Oral ingestion –cocaine is rubbed into the gums then absorbed through the oral mucosa
• Injection
• Inhalation – where it is heated and vaporized, then inhaled or smoked.

Word of caution just so we are clear, no safe methods exist for using cocaine. Not even when administered following a health practitioner’s prescription; there is still a risk of getting dependent on it.

So whether it’s smoked, snorted, or injected, cocaine enters the bloodstream and starts altering brain functions almost immediately. But the high however is short-lived, compared to other drugs and so would last anywhere from five to 30 minutes.

Regular and heavy use over a protracted period of time will have extremely detrimental effects on your body. These negative effects range from nosebleeds resulting from nasal ulcers to damage to the lungs, heart failure and even death.

How Cocaine Changes The Brain

Cocaine starts affecting the brain within seconds of using it. Right off the bat, it blocks or readjusts the brain’s normal re absorption of hormones involved in pleasure and desire. These are the hormones responsible for that feel good feeling that gives you a natural high.

In normal circumstances, our brain cells recycle hormones like dopamine and serotonin which play a key role in how we experience reward, pleasure, desire and motivation. Special receptors in the brain recall these hormones once they are released from the brain to again reward the brain later.

Cocaine however overstimulates this reward center of the brain. With repeated use over a protracted period of time, the brain re-learns to adapt to this easy reward system rather than rely on its own reward sensors. This makes the brain’s natural reward pathway less sensitive to her natural receptors.

At the same time, neuro circuits involved in stress management gradually become sensitive, leading to increased irritation and negative moods when not subjected to cocaine. These are withdrawal signs that eventually send an individual into a negative path of seeking for the drug at whatever cost.

Eventually, when these cravings are met over a long period of time it results in terrible conditions on the brain. First, there is the increased risk for stroke and seizures which are triggered by cocaine. Their frequency and intensity increases with each use.

Secondly, neurological problems often accompany long-term use of cocaine. Reports are rife about intracerebral haemorrhage, which is simply bleeding from within the brain caused by cocaine. Not forgetting the balloon-like lumps and swellings that form in the walls of cerebral blood vessels. These hamper normal blood flow to these vessels and risk infecting the brain from these ulcers that can lead to stroke or death.

Cocaine also triggers movement disorders, like Parkinson’s disease, after many years of cocaine use. It does not discriminate age or gender; all users are very vulnerable at this point. Generally, studies indicate that a wide variety of cerebral functions are impaired when one uses cocaine for long time. People begin losing self-control and delve with reckless abandon into situations that would have been utterly appalling to them in the past. Inhibitions are cut loose and one is short of an animal.

Cocaine affects attention spans and attention deficit kicks in as the brain is not able to hold concentration long enough to sustain an intellectual conversation. There is constant memory loss except for the memories of where the addict got cocaine. Indeed these are happy memories for the brain.

Making decisions is confined to rewards or punishments, and performing mechanical tasks that do not require the brain to reason e.g. waking up, taking cash and meeting the drug dealer for more fixes.

Cocaine addiction is such that even former cocaine users are still at high risk for relapse, long after kicking the habit, and years of abstinence. They are constantly aware of triggers and have to stay clear of these for their well-being. But the good news is that many have indeed stayed clean for many years, so there is hope coke users willing to stay clean.

Signs Of Addiction

Health workers and caregivers point to an increased risk for addiction when a user has underlying unresolved emotional or physiological concerns. Therefore they seek the drug to mask the underlying pain or distress rather than face it and deal with it.

Below are the tell-tale signs of a drug addiction:

• Not engaging in previously rewarding life responsibilities e.g. taking a shower and going to work. All together abandoning responsibilities and neglecting life priorities.
• Suddenly developing courage to undertake high risk activities an individual would normally not take, without batting an eye lid e.g. driving while intoxicated.
• Stealing to have enough cash for drugs.
• Relationships begin to mean nothing, only getting high matters.
• Getting on the wrong side of the law.
• They begin to display serious withdrawal symptoms like the ones listed below.

o Anxiety.
o Fatigue.
o Restlessness.
o Increased hunger.
o Depression.
o Increased mistrust of others and paranoia.
o Overwhelming desire to continue using the substance.

Short Term Effects Of Cocaine Use

The high experienced after use is accompanied by a number of desired (or undesired) effects, including:

• Feelings of restlessness
• Irritability and anxiety
• Tremors
• Muscle twitches
• Vertigo
• Increased blood pressure
• Increased heart rate
• Increased body temperature
• Decreased sexual function
• Intense happiness
• Dilated pupils- Increased levels of both dopamine and serotonin causes the pupils to dilate; cocaine boosts secretion of both hormones.
• Anger/irritability
• Increased energy
• Grandiosity – feeling one is better than everyone else.
• Inhibits normal feelings of pleasure and desire -Cocaine blocks the brain’s natural receptors, thereby completely and utterly disrupting this normal cycling process. For this reason, persons using cocaine are not able to feel pleasure, motivation or desire unless they are stimulated by you guessed it – cocaine.
• Psychosis – Cocaine causes someone to lose touch with reality, psychosis. They begin to exhibit anxiety, agitation, hallucinations and paranoia. Cocaine usually worsens underlying mental illnesses like anxiety.
• Diminished appetite – people using cocaine report that they have lost their appetite, hence their skinny bodies.

Long-Term Effects Of Cocaine Use
• When short-term uses of cocaine crosses the line into long-term use, the long term risks are also magnified. These are the health effects for long-term use:
• Abdominal pain
• Chronic fatigue
• Heart arrhythmias and heart attack
• Respiratory arrest
• Occasional to frequent seizures
• Substantial weight loss
• Stroke
• Unrelenting migraines headaches
• Acute ischemic vascular disease
• Cardiac arrest
• Risk of contracting blood -borne diseases such as, HIV and hepatitis from unsafe injection use
• Nose complications
Snorting can lead to nosebleeds, sniffling, loss of sense of smell, runny nose, hoarseness and irritation of the nasal septum.

Holes in the Nose Snorting cocaine create holes in the nose on the septum situated right in the middle of the right and left airways. These holes cannot heal unless treated.

Recurrent use can cause holes in the area, which cannot heal without treatment.
Nose Bleeding – Snorting dries out the nasal passages causing nosebleeds and eventually nasal collapse.
• When one injects cocaine in the skin, it leaves ugly lesions that are susceptible to gangrene. They also cause veins to collapse, and trigger unexplained allergic reactions.
• Social awkwardness/ disillusionment – Prolonged use can also lead to depression, psychosis, paranoia, and addiction, and in extreme cases isolation from family and friends.

Cocaine Dependence, Tolerance And Addiction

Tolerance is when someone reaches a level where they can’t get enough of the effects of the drug. So to keep the same high, they are forced to start increasing the amount they use because what was enough last week will just not do this week in terms of intensity. Their body has developed a tolerance to that amount.

Addiction occurs when one feels the compulsion to keep using the drug even though their personal and professional lives are falling apart. Getting the high becomes more important to them than mending the ailing relationships.

The presence of dopamine in the brain is a very gratifying feeling that most people will work to replicate. Cocaine boosts the levels of dopamine so high that the body is hang up on it just to experience that high one more time

Loss of body’s ability to store fat

Cocaine messes with the body’s ability to store fat, hence the emaciated look cocaine addicts have. Just like it affects the brain, cocaine seems to bring fundamental changes to the metabolism as well thus inhibiting a person’s appetite and forcing the body to use up all its fat.

Heart attack – cocaine causes the arteries to constrict thus blocking the blood flow to the heart; this may easily cause a heart attack. Cocaine does not discriminate here, whether you are young or old, you are at risk for heart failure.

Permanent lung damage – Cocaine irritates the lungs and is likely to cause permanent damage to them. It creates wounds along the airways, it causes asthma, and a host of other of symptoms including ‘crack lung,’ pneumonia, interstitial lung disease bronchiolitis, emphysema, pulmonary hypertension, infections, and lung tumours.


Although reports indicate that men are more likely to die from an overdose of cocaine, still overdosing can happen to any gender.

Overdose from cocaine results in cardiac arrest, respiratory arrest, stroke or the final sudden death

The risk of overdose is compounded when it is used as a cocktail with other dangerous substances like alcohol or other drugs. The combination of cocaine and heroin, known as a speedball, is particularly lethal. Chances of overdosing from this combination are very high.

Cocaine Use, And HIV/AIDS And Hepatitis

Inebriation and drug addiction impedes judgment and decision-making leading to unsafe sexual behaviour, including trading sex for drugs and sharing needles. Chances of a cocaine user contracting infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C (HCV) are exponentially multiplied as a result. This, when the world is still grappling to find vaccines and cure to prevent and heal HIV or HCV infections

How About Maternal Cocaine Use?

That majority of women addicted to cocaine are of childbearing age cannot be ignored. An estimated 5 percent of pregnant women use one or more addictive substances and a staggering 750,000 are actually cocaine related yearly. Unfortunately, most women may be reluctant to seek help for substance abuse, due to social stigma and the dreaded fear of losing custody of their young ones. But help is out there. The risk they expose themselves and their unborn child to when they use cocaine can be significantly reduced when they receive appropriate care.
Maternal migraines and seizures, separation of the placental lining from the uterus prior to delivery and premature membrane rupture, are all complications associated with Cocaine use during pregnancy.

Pregnancy in itself is accompanied by normal systemic bodily and emtional changes that take their toll on the woman, and cocaine use intensifies them. This leads to serious complications with high blood pressure (hypertensive crises), unplanned miscarriage, preterm labour, and difficult child birth.

A woman using cocaine is in dire need of receiving appropriate medical attention including psychological care and controlled addiction treatment to reduce these risks.

How Is Cocaine Addiction Treated?

With proper care and support the cravings that accompany withdrawal can be treated no matter how intense they get. Depending on the severity of the addiction, treatment can be offered under inpatient care, residential, or outpatient basis.

Inpatient care provides the addict with controlled, residential setting. Often, these settings include staff complete with medical and mental health caregivers. They receive short-term inpatient detoxification to remove toxic substance from the body in a safe, supervised environment hence decrease withdrawal symptoms.

Residential-based treatment centres on the other hand provide the patient the privilege of having a home setting and ambience. This enables them to recover from addiction while living at the rehab centre fulltime without external distractions that would otherwise hamper their recovery. The focus is exclusively on them and helping them to get back on their feet again. Treatment is usually all-encompassing involving individual or group counselling sessions, medical management, as well as other types of addiction therapy.

Outpatient-based treatment allows the patient to live in their own home attending to their daily routines, while regularly receiving treatment at the centre on set schedules. And just like the other treatment options, there are a variety of options from individual and group therapy sessions skewed towards mental health, drug and alcohol matters. There is better success rates during treatment when underlying medical and mental conditions such as depression and attention-deficit disorder (ADS) are diagnosed from the onset and appropriate treatment administered. The goal for patients is always to get them on the road to successful long-term recovery.