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Long-Term Side Effects of Cocaine

Cocaine is a stimulant drug that works by speeding up brain functions. It’s found in powder and rock forms that can be snorted, smoked, and rubbed onto the gums. Cocaine can also be dissolved in water and injected.

The powder form of cocaine is referred to as coke, among other things, whereas the rock form is referred to as crack or crack cocaine.

As with other drugs, there are many short and long-term physical and psychological effects of cocaine. Here we look at some of the impacts associated with prolonged cocaine abuse.

Difference Between Cocaine and Crack

In its powder form, cocaine is a fine, white hydrochloride salt. However, it’s common for the drug to be cut with other substances, such as talcum powder, to increase the quantity.

Cocaine is also commonly cut with other substances, such as amphetamine or fentanyl, which are severely potent synthetic opioids. Recent studies have attributed this lethal combination to the rising rates of overdose deaths.

In contrast, crack cocaine is made from mixing powdered cocaine with water and another substance such as baking soda. Once the powder form of cocaine is combined with baking soda, it’s then boiled to form a solid. From here, it’s broken into small rocks, which are sold as crack cocaine.

Crack is more highly concentrated than powdered cocaine, which increases its addictiveness. However, both forms are highly addictive.

What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine derives from the coca plant, which originates in South America. Initially, cocaine was used due to its ability to combat fatigue, but it has since been used in a myriad of ways. For example, cocaine hydrochloride was commonly utilized for medical and recreational purposes during the mid-1900s. However, restrictions were later implemented when the negative impacts of the drug came to light.

A powerful stimulant, cocaine is classified as a Schedule II drug, meaning that it has a high potential for abuse. As a fast-acting central nervous system stimulant, cocaine produces rapid effects on the brain and body, making it particularly risky and addictive.

Despite being illegal, cocaine use is widespread. A study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that just under two million individuals over the age of 12 use cocaine every year.

Physical Side Effects of Cocaine

Smoking cocaine often sees people inhaling large quantities for an extended time. Given the relatively short duration of the high, this creates more severe health impacts, including damage to the lungs and tooth decay.

Snorting cocaine can induce problems in the nasal passages and cause chronic nose bleeds. Damage to the nasal tissue may also arise in long-term users. In contrast, rubbing cocaine on the gums can cause painful ulcers, while injecting cocaine can increase the risk of contracting bloodborne diseases, such as HIV or hepatitis.

In addition to the above, cocaine produces feelings of euphoria, increased energy, heightened senses, and mental alertness. Some of the other short-term effects of cocaine include the following:

  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased body temperature
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Unpredictable behavior
  • Paranoia
  • Aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Involuntary muscle movements or spasms

How Long Do the Effects of Cocaine Last?

Cocaine is a fast-acting drug. However, the administration method of the drug essentially determines the effects it has on the body and how quickly they arise and last. The quicker cocaine is absorbed into the bloodstream; the more intense the high will be.

For example, the effects of cocaine take longer to surface when snorting the drug. When the effects arise, they can last for up to an hour. In contrast, injecting or smoking cocaine can provide almost immediate but short-lived effects.

Symptoms of a Cocaine Overdose

Drug overdoses are on the rise, with almost 100,00 fatal overdoses reported in the United States. High doses of cocaine can make people feel restless, paranoid, and, at times, behave violently. In addition, the following symptoms may be experienced:

  • High blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle twitches
  • Headaches
  • Chest pains

Unfortunately, it’s possible to overdose on cocaine. Symptoms of cocaine overdose may include seizures, brain hemorrhage, kidney failure, heart attacks, coma, or strokes.

In addition, when cocaine is mixed with other substances, fatal consequences can transpire. Yet sadly, it’s common for people to drink alcohol while taking cocaine. However, alcohol and cocaine have increased toxicity for the heart. The combination of cocaine and heroin – or other opiates – also comes with fatal overdose risks.

How Does Cocaine Addiction Alter the Brain?

Dopamine is a chemical naturally produced by the brain when something pleasurable is experienced. It’s a crucial component in the healthy functioning of humans, and it enables us to participate in vital activities such as eating, working, and moving. When cocaine is used, the amount of dopamine in the brain drastically increases.

In a normally functioning brain, dopamine neurons fire into gaps between other neurons and brain cells when pleasure is experienced. Dopamine then travels to receptors on nearby cells, creating communication between cells, which causes us to feel certain sensations. From here, dopamine is reprocessed back into the cell that initially released it, shutting off signals between nerve cells.

Drug abuse can interrupt this process. In the presence of cocaine, the drug binds with the dopamine transporter, which inhibits the removal of dopamine. As a result, dopamine builds up and binds with other receptors, sending continuous pleasure signals. This is what creates the euphoric feeling often experienced immediately after using cocaine.

As the brain experiences this pleasure, it attempts to recreate various sensations. This is why strong urges for cocaine arise when the drug is unavailable. The aftereffect of the high dopamine levels can also cause feelings of emptiness and depression.

Because the human brain is adaptive, substance abuse causes reward systems to alter. The result of this is increased tolerance to a substance, meaning that larger quantities of cocaine will eventually be needed to feel the same high that it initially provided.

Damage of Long-Term Cocaine Abuse

Many health complications can come from using cocaine for prolonged periods. The severe effects are usually related to the cardiovascular system and include:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heart attack
  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Nausea
  • Gastrointestinal problems

As touched on above, some of the effects of cocaine depend on the method of use. For example, snorting cocaine can induce a loss of smell, nosebleeds, and problems swallowing. Meanwhile, smoking cocaine can lead to asthma, respiratory disease, and a high risk of pneumonia.

If cocaine is administered intravenously, there is a risk of contracting bloodborne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C.

Cocaine Addiction: Secondary Diseases

Studies, including a report by National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), ascertain that cocaine increases the risk of HIV infection. It’s thought that cocaine inhibits immune cell function and encourages the reproduction of HIV.

Cocaine use can accelerate the impacts of the disease, including increased brain damage and other neurological conditions stemming from HIV. Research also shows that those who use cocaine and are infected with HIV may be more vulnerable to contracting other viruses such as hepatitis C.

Drug use and addiction can debilitate intuition and awareness. Unfortunately, people who are addicted to cocaine may have unprotected sex, have sex in exchange for drugs, or use dirty needles to inject cocaine. These behaviors increase the likelihood of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C.

Some other long-term effects of cocaine include malnourishment, due to cocaine’s effect of decreasing the appetite, and muscle disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, which can occur after years of prolonged use.

Additionally, it’s common for individuals to experience frustration and restlessness following high levels of cocaine use. Some people also experience extreme paranoia.

Addiction Treatment at Empowered Recovery

At Empowered Recovery, we offer medical detox to support clients through the challenging days of cocaine withdrawal and ensure they get on the right path to sobriety. Our cocaine addiction programs are led by teams of medical experts who design, monitor, and reflect on every stage of each person’s journey.

Throughout our client’s time with us, our medical team and compassionate nursing staff offer emotional support and take care of any physical health complications, should they arise.

We don’t only treat the symptoms of addiction; we are passionate about taking care of the underlying cause of substance abuse. As a result, our therapy sessions address the mental health problems which might be fuelling addiction and arm each person with coping mechanisms to go back into the world with a healthier approach to life.

Freedom From Drug Abuse

Our cocaine recovery program begins with detox, the crucial first stage for anybody looking to overcome a cocaine addiction. However, overcoming cocaine abuse is more than just withdrawal; it requires comprehensive treatment to help understand and address the root causes of addiction.

Our team of medical experts lead treatment programs that provide the entire continuum of care. From the moment our clients walk through our doors, they are treated with complete respect and dignity.

At Empowered Recovery, our programs include:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Support groups
  • Family therapy
  • Life skills sessions

Throughout treatment, our medical team works with clients to confront their drug addiction at the source via a holistic approach. During the recovery journey – from detox to aftercare – each person’s health, comfort, and safety are our utmost priority.

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If you have any questions about our process, flexible treatment options, or therapy methods, get in touch with us today. Our team is waiting for your call.

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