Effects of Cocaine Abuse on The Body

Edited by Paul Alexander

Last updated March 28, 2020

In most cases of drug addiction, there are both physical and mental side effects. However, the effects of cocaine abuse on the body lean toward behavioral changes primarily. These changes manifest quickly, although they may be easier to hide for some. 

The way cocaine affects a person varies depending on how long and how much of the stimulant drug is used. While mental behaviors may be more recognizable in the short-term, the physical cocaine addiction symptoms will definitely appear as well.  

For example, since it is a stimulant, cocaine suppresses the appetite, which could lead to rapid weight loss and malnourishment. When you’re not getting the proper nutrients, it affects the immune system and causes problems with bone density and muscle mass as well. It also gives people high energy, which may lead them to exercise more. Coupled together with poor nutrition, this is a recipe for exhaustion and your body could collapse.

Another physical effect of drug abuse is high blood pressure. When someone uses cocaine, the heartbeat speeds up and the body temperature rises. Without addiction treatment at a rehabilitation center, continuous high blood pressure may eventually lead to more serious cardiovascular events like a stroke or heart attack.

Cocaine can also wreak havoc on your teeth. Since side effects often include anxiety and paranoia, this can cause an increase in teeth grinding that wears down the enamel and results in broken teeth and decay. 

Depending on how a person ingests cocaine, this can have its own set of effects on the body. For example, snorting it leads to nosebleeds, problems swallowing, and loss of smell. Smoking crack cocaine may result in asthma, respiratory disease, and a higher risk of lung infection like pneumonia. Or, when used through injection, this puts you at risk for blood-borne diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. 

When a person uses cocaine, there’s also no way to be certain what other stimulants or additives it contains. This can lead to a whole other set of problems including accidental overdose. Each side effect of long-term cocaine abuse on the body has a rippling effect. One problem leads to another until it becomes overwhelming. There’s no way to stop it when addiction sets in because the highly addictive drug is in control of what the brain thinks and does. 

Cocaine causes a communication disruption in the brain along the reward pathway, which is what brings a person pleasure and joy. When it is not in this altered state, it can be hard to function and feel. The longer a person suffers substance abuse, the more damage it does to the body, which leads to extreme results.

How Cocaine Abuse Affects a Person Long-Term

Cocaine causes a buildup of dopamine that leads to the high of feeling good. Normal amounts of dopamine is what controls your emotions and allows you to enjoy things like listening to music, watching a movie, or enjoying a satisfying meal. During the high, the feelings of euphoria are intense, but short-lived. This causes an addiction because people crave that feeling and continue taking more of the drug in order to achieve it. 

Coming down from a cocaine high can have the exact opposite effect. These symptoms vary from person to person, particularly if they are taking other substances in addition to cocaine. They may range in severity and can lead to potentially dangerous and/or violent situations. Because cocaine has a direct affect on the brain, the reaction to it can be unpredictable. Other effects of cocaine abuse on the body include:

  • Addiction. Not everyone becomes addicted to cocaine, although each time a person relies on it they are at risk for all the same side effects and the possibility of overdose. However, addiction is common due to the effects of the drug. First, the body builds up a tolerance to the stimulant drug, which requires the person to take more to receive the same feeling. Over time, this turns into dependence and eventually, addiction. 
  • Aggressiveness. After a person has come down from the high, the opposite feelings occur. Rather than feeling light and euphoric, it often causes a person to become aggressive and confrontational. The brain is trying to find a balance. When it swings too high in one direction, it attempts to swing the other way just as severely in order to compensate for it. 
  • Depression. Cocaine is a stimulant which means the after-effects are depressive. When there’s a disruption to the natural flow of dopamine, there’s no “reward activity” occurring for someone in normal ways. They need the drug to feel good. This can lead to withdrawal from others, feelings of isolation, and other closed off behavior that affect every aspect of life.
  • Paranoia: The disconnect in the brain caused by cocaine may result in paranoia and sometimes delusions or hallucinations. It is one of the most experienced long-term effects of cocaine addiction. This lingering discomfort is strong enough to continue use.

Not everyone experiences the same symptoms in the same way. However, regardless of how many or the frequency at which they occur, cocaine abuse is damaging to the body and only continues to build as the abuse continues. To stop this cycle from continuing, the answer is to seek treatment from an addiction recovery facility. You need a safe and secure place to heal. 

Plus, the medical monitoring available from therapists will guide you through treatment as comfortably as possible while looking out for your physical and mental health. Cocaine detox takes a toll on the body and without the supervision of others, you may react in ways you cannot control.

What Can I Expect from Detox?

Before a person can receive treatment, they must rid the highly addictive drug in completion from the body. The severity of symptoms and the timeline that comes along with detox varies from person to person. General health, age, and history of cocaine use all play a part in how long it will take to fully detox. The cocaine detox timeline can also be affected if there is a dual diagnosis, such as depression or another mental health disorder. During this time, a person may experience sweating, vomiting, fatigue, and seizures. 

Although detox is short-term, it is intense and overwhelming, especially if a person is trying to go through the process alone. Also, trying to detox at home bears a less likely chance of success. It’s not a healthy environment, since there’s still temptation and influences that make it all too easy to use again. Even if you relapse, which happens, the start of any behavioral therapy for drug addiction begins at this step. 

Detox from cocaine takes several days. For long-term addiction, it may take weeks or even months for the withdrawal symptoms to fully subside. The body goes into withdrawal mode within a few hours of the last dose. This is why it’s inevitable for people to become addicted. They want to feel the high rather than the pain that comes with these symptoms. 

The Continuum of Care for Cocaine Abuse and Addiction

Drug addiction takes over every facet of your life. The effects of drug abuse on your body will continue to build up. It often leads to job loss, disconnect from family and friends, and other negative results that may only make you want to use more. To stop this problem in its tracks, it’s best to seek the treatment of a medically managed program to monitor your situation and provide a plan customized for you.

Not everyone goes through treatment in the exact same way. While there is a structured foundation to follow, there are variations depending on your goals and health needs. Knowing your history with drug use will help guide your therapy sessions and get you to a place of healing. Once you’ve rid the body of all drugs and toxins through detox, it’s time to start rehab at a treatment facility. This requires a temporary stay so you can focus fully on your sobriety in a controlled environment.

Often what accompanies this stay is a daily schedule of individual counseling, group therapy, and time for other physical and mental activities. When drug addiction has become such a central focus of your life, it can be difficult to remember how a healthy schedule should go. Activities you used to enjoy you may no longer. People with a strong connection to you may have been cut off for fear of finding out or wanting you to stop your behavior. Residential rehab gives you the tools, strategies, and emotional support to help guide you on your path. It’s not an easy road, but it’s a beneficial one that could save your life.

After a 90-day stay in residential rehab, outpatient care and addiction support services round out the full continuum of care where the goal is a full year of sobriety before you are fully independent to monitor your sobriety on your own. You deserve a future that is promising and fulfilling. Although the short-lived high of cocaine may make you feel on top of the world, it’s an illusion. Create something real that you can build a life upon and heal. 

If you’re wondering, “am I addicted to cocaine?”, visit our blog here.

Source:

  1. Drug Addiction (Substance Use Disorder) – Symptoms and Causes – Mayo Clinic.” Mayoclinic.org. N.p., 26 Oct. 2017., https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/drug-addiction/symptoms-causes/syc-20365112
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Cocaine DrugFacts | National Institute on Drug Abuse.” Drugabuse.gov. N.p., 13 July 2018., https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/cocaine

Article Reviewed by Paul Alexander

Paul AlexanderPaul Alexander is the founder and CEO of Northbound Treatment. He received his Certified Addiction Treatment Specialist training at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, CA, and was awarded Outstanding Alumni Service Award in 2002. Paul holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminology, Law and Society, Summa Cum Laude, from University of California, Irvine, and a Juris Doctorate degree from Loyola Law School of Los Angeles. He believes wholeheartedly in transformational leadership, organizational health and effective, fully integrated substance use disorder treatment.

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