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Health Effects of Cocaine

Cocaine is a stimulant drug that is derived from coca leaves, a plant that is native to South America.1, 2 Its purified form, cocaine hydrochloride, is often sold on the street for recreational use.1 As a stimulant, cocaine produces an intense euphoric effect and can be highly addictive for this reason.2 It can be dangerous to use cocaine recreationally because of its high potential for misuse.

Among Americans over the age of 12 in 2020, about 1.3 million people reported a diagnosis of cocaine use disorder in the previous year.1 For people who use cocaine, evidence-based treatment approaches are available. They can be highly effective, whether this includes medication, behavioral therapy, or other modalities.1

Cocaine Health Effects and Dangers

Cocaine can have significant effects over time, including:

  • Elevated stress hormones.1
  • Changes in your response to stress, or difficulty adapting to it.1
  • Changes in brain function can lead to poor decision-making or lack of insight.1
  • Feelings of euphoria, followed by a “crash” when its effects wear off.1
  • Cravings to use cocaine.2
  • Development of tolerance or needing more cocaine to produce the same desired effect.3
  • Increased risk of overdose—about 1 in 5 overdose deaths in 2019 were due to cocaine use.4

Short-Term Effects of Cocaine Misuse

The effects of cocaine use start almost immediately after using the drug and can last up to an hour.1 How long these effects last typically depend on how you use cocaine.1 For example, snorting cocaine can have a slower onset of intoxication. It may last around 15 to 30 minutes, whereas smoking cocaine has a more immediate high but lasts only 5 to 10 minutes.1 Injecting cocaine has a similar effect to smoking, where the substance reaches your bloodstream in seconds and results in an immediate high.2

Some of the short-term effects of cocaine use can include:

  • Euphoria.
  • Heightened energy.1
  • Increased blood pressure.2
  • Increased heart rate.2
  • Increased body temperature.1
  • Dilated pupils.2
  • Hypersensitivity to the senses, including sight, sound, and touch.1
  • Appetite suppression.1, 2
  • Insomnia, or needing less sleep.1, 2
  • Irritability.2
  • Tremors.1
  • Vertigo.1
  • Anxiety or paranoia.1,2

Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Misuse

In addition to increased tolerance and heightened risk of addiction, there are also a number of long-term health effects of cocaine use.2 Developing a tolerance means that you may need more cocaine to produce the same effect, as well as the potential for sensitization, in which you may experience anxiety, convulsions, or other harmful effects from less cocaine than you previously used.1 Over time, cocaine use can produce a number of effects on the brain and body that may result in the development or worsening of chronic health conditions.1

Long-term effects of cocaine use may include:

  • Oversensitivity of stress circuits in the brain, resulting in worsening mood and heightened stress during withdrawal.1
  • During cocaine binges, where you are taking higher doses of cocaine repeatedly, increased irritability, restlessness, panic attacks, paranoia, or even psychosis.1
  • Regularly snorting cocaine may cause loss of smell, nosebleeds, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness, or other irritation of the nasal passages due to chronic inflammation.1
  • Damage to the lungs due to smoking cocaine, which can worsen asthma or other breathing problems.1
  • For intravenous cocaine users, injecting drugs increases the risk of contracting a blood-borne illness like hepatitis C or HIV.1
  • Reduced blood flow to the GI tract, which can lead to painful tears or ulcers.1
  • Chest pain that may feel like a heart attack due to cocaine’s effects on the cardiovascular system.1
  • Increased risk of stroke and seizures.1
  • Increased risk of neurological problems such as a brain bleed, cognitive dysfunction, or the development of a movement disorder such as Parkinson’s after chronic, long-term cocaine use.1

Getting Help for Cocaine Addiction

If you or a loved one are struggling with cocaine addiction, it’s important to remember that there is help available. A good first step for finding treatment for cocaine misuse or addiction is to reach out to your doctor. They may be able to help determine your medical needs and possibly refer you to an appropriate treatment center. From there, your provider can help you to determine what treatment intensity, modality, and format are best suited to you. You can also utilize SAMHSA’s Treatment Locator tool online to find nearby treatment facilities as well.

Another option in finding care is to contact an addiction helpline, such as the one operated by American Addiction Centers. Our professional, compassionate staff can help you to review your treatment options, verify your insurance benefits, and connect you with effective and affordable treatment. Don’t delay your journey to recovery, call us today as .