What Are the Long-term Effects of Cocaine Use?

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What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is made from the leaves of the coca plant. The plant commonly grows in Peru, Columbia, Ecuador, and other South American countries. Among the indigenous people of that region, it was used as medicine and in religious ceremonies. Beverage company Coca-Cola, named for the plant, initially used it in production. Coca is a stimulant. If you chew the leaves, you’ll feel energized. Hunger, thirst, and fatigue will also go away for a time.

At one point in history, the coca plant may have had legitimate, beneficial uses. But cocaine, the synthesized form of the plant, is highly addictive. On the street, it resembles a fine, white powder. You might hear it referred to as blow, coke, snow/snow white/snow cones, flake, or bianca. Users may either snort it, dissolve it and inject it, or rub it into their gums. When injecting, some users mix cocaine with heroin. This is referred to as a speedball. “Crack” is a type of cocaine in rock form. It is most often smoked. The name is taken from the sound the rock makes as it burns.

How Does Cocaine Work in the Brain?

Cocaine mostly affects the brain via the neurotransmitter dopamine. Though dopamine is often associated solely with pleasure, its role in the brain is more nuanced. Dopamine affects our attention, motivation, and our sense of satisfaction. A neuron transmits dopamine to another neuron. This transmission occurs across a gap called a synapse. Dopamine transmission ought to end by the dopamine binding to a receptor and being recycled. Cocaine works by binding to dopamine receptors. This prevents the dopamine from being reabsorbed by the neurons. In this state, a user will experience euphoria, the feeling of being “high.”

In the short-term, a user might feel happy and charged up. They might become more aware of sensory input – what they touch, hear, see, and taste. They could also be hypervigilant, and even paranoid. This increased level of energy might help a user focus and be more alert.

Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use

Unfortunately, speeding up the brain’s processes has adverse consequences. Cocaine use makes you irritable and unable to sleep. It will make your muscles twitch and shake. It elevates your heart rate and constricts your blood vessels at the same time. This puts you at risk for high blood pressure. You could even have a heart attack.

The way you consume cocaine also influences what kind of long-term effects you experience. If you snort cocaine, you might suffer frequent nose bleeds. Or even lose your sense of smell completely. Smoking crack can damage your lungs, leading to asthma. It can also increase your risk of respiratory ailments. Oral consumption can rot the gums, as well as the bowels. Injecting cocaine can collapse veins. Injecting also puts a user at a much higher risk for diseases like hepatitis and HIV. Since cocaine suppresses hunger, users can easily become malnourished. As a result, muscles can atrophy. Paranoia worsens with prolonged use, contributing to auditory and visual hallucinations. In 2019, over 15,000 people died from a cocaine overdose. That’s up from about 3,800 in 1999.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with addiction to cocaine, don’t wait. There is hope! Call Harmony Recovery Center now at 704-970-4106.

Cocaine Detox

Cocaine Detox | Harmony Recovery Center | North Carolina

While cocaine detox may not be as intense as withdrawal from other drugs or alcohol, it does come with its own set of challenges. Detoxing from some substances, such as alcohol, can cause severe or even life-threatening physical symptoms. Cocaine withdrawal, however, leads to mostly psychological or cognitive symptoms.

Symptoms of cocaine detox may include the following:

  • Impaired concentration
  • Slowed thinking
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Restlessness
  • Tremors
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches

  • Diminished libido
  • Anhedonia
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Vivid dreams or nightmares
  • Increased appetite
  • Drug cravings

When Is a Cocaine Detox Necessary?

A detox for cocaine may be administered on an outpatient basis, but an inpatient medical detox may be the wisest choice in some cases. If relapse was a problem during a previous attempt to detox, around-the-clock supervision offered by a medical detox may be beneficial. Moreover, if a person has a history of depression or suicidal thoughts, medical detox is usually recommended to ensure that the person is safe and supported emotionally during the process of withdrawal.

If the person using cocaine also suffers from any co-occurring mental health disorders, a medical detox should be immediately followed by comprehensive treatment. Both the symptoms of withdrawal and mental health issues should be treated simultaneously.

Among the more problematic effects associated with stimulant withdrawal are severe depression and an increased risk of suicide. Persons who abruptly stop using cocaine use after addiction has developed can experience depression and extreme mood swings, including suicidal ideations and behaviors.

These effects can occur because the brain will have grown accustomed to elevated dopamine activity caused by regular cocaine abuse. Over time, the brain’s pleasure and reward centers are basically hijacked, and tolerance and dependence will develop as a result.

By this point, the cocaine user will often require increasing amounts of the drug to experience the desired effect. Without it, they are apt to feel extremely depressed and unsatisfied with life. 

Cocaine Detox | Harmony Recovery Center | North Carolina

Withdrawal Timeline

Acute cocaine withdrawal symptoms tend to subside by around 7-10 days. As with many substances, however, cravings may persist for an extended period and could onset suddenly, even years after a person has entered recovery.

Cocaine has an extremely short half-life, and for those who are dependent, symptoms of withdrawal can occur as quickly as 90 minutes after the last use. The timeline and duration of withdrawal symptoms, however, can vary depending on individual factors.

Some key factors that affect the cocaine detox timeline and withdrawal symptoms include the following:

Duration of Use and Typical Amount Administered

Those who use cocaine for a relatively brief period may encounter withdrawal symptoms that are also short in duration. On the other hand, those who have abused cocaine for years may experience withdrawal symptoms that persist for weeks, in part due to the vast accumulation of the drug in their system.

Also, people who have cocaine in excessive amounts may experience more intense withdrawal symptoms than a person who has traditionally administered lower doses.

A Word on Polysubstance Abuse and Dependence
A person who has developed a dependence on two or more substances may encounter withdrawal symptoms associated with both. This may complicate the withdrawal timeline and make the experience more unpleasant and dangerous for the person who is detoxing, especially if they do not seek medical help. For example, it’s not uncommon for people to abuse cocaine in combination with alcohol, and alcohol withdrawal itself can be life-threatening.


If cocaine was being used as a means of escaping from a particularly stressful environment, additional stress might lead to the desire to use it again. Moreover, environmental factors that provoke stressful feelings, such as relationship problems or work challenges, may induce intense cravings for more cocaine. This added stress can hinder the emotional process of withdrawal.

Co-occurring Medical or Mental Health Disorders

If a person experiences co-occurring medical or mental health conditions, the cocaine withdrawal process may be more severe and complicated. Mental illnesses, such as anxiety or depression, may be likely to intensify and will require additional treatment by professionals who can offer help and support.

Treatment for Cocaine Withdrawal

Unfortunately, there are no prescription drugs currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of cocaine detox. However, there are a few medications that may help people by relieving both the acute and long-term symptoms of withdrawal. For example, medications indicated to treat depression and anxiety disorders may be helpful for those going through cocaine withdrawal, as they are often effective at stabilizing a patient’s mood and improving outcomes. 

After detox, patients are urged to enroll in an intensive addiction treatment program, such as one offered by Harmony Recovery Center. In doing so, patients can take advantage of integrated, evidence-based modalities, such as behavioral therapy, counseling, group support, and aftercare planning. 

You can restore harmony and well-being to your life, free of drugs and alcohol! Contact us today and learn how we can help!

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Symptoms of Cocaine Use

Symptoms of Cocaine Use | Harmony Recovery Center

It takes vigilance to identify a cocaine habit in a family member or friend so that they can get the help they require. Moreover, knowing what signs to look for is critical to recognize cocaine addiction – the symptoms and side effects of cocaine abuse will become more apparent and severe over time as the person sinks further and further into addiction.

Signs of Cocaine Abuse

The initial signs of cocaine abuse are subtle in comparison to full-fledged addictive behavior – indeed, the physical and psychological symptoms of cocaine use worsen in proportion to the behavioral consequences of addiction. Thus, it’s much easier to overcome a cocaine habit in the early stage, because once a strong addiction sets in, the process of recovery may take months or years.

There are numerous signs that indicate the presence of a problem with cocaine, including the following:

  • Strange or abnormal behavior
  • Constant secretiveness or providing suspicious or whitewashed answers to questions
  • Departing early from, showing up late to, or missing gatherings or obligations entirely
  • Increased impulsivity
  • New or exacerbated financial troubles
  • White powder or stains on clothing, belongings, or skin, particularly around the nostrils

Compared to most drugs, cocaine is rather expensive. Thus, a cocaine habit may require the user to engage in extreme measures and risky behaviors to afford it, including the following:

  • Repeatedly asking to borrow money
  • Stealing from friends and family
  • Selling possessions
  • Taking extra jobs
  • Taking out loans
  • Emptying out their savings account or retirement fund
  • Selling drugs

A cocaine habit often single-tracks the user’s mind into engaging in constant drug-seeking behavior, producing life-altering consequences. These behaviors should be considered red flags, and include the following:

  • Being expelled or dropped out of school
  • Quitting or getting fired from their job
  • Extreme debt or bankruptcy
  • Failed friendships or relationships
  • Legal trouble or incarceration

Cocaine abuse can also cause physiological, mental, or emotional distress that requires emergency room visits, hospital stays or psychiatric intervention to rectify. Some of the most frequently encountered of these symptoms include:

  • Alternating bouts of insomnia and hypersomnia
  • Heightened anxiety
  • Shortened attention span
  • Introversion and lethargy
  • Increased irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood swings
  • Hyperstimulation and energy levels
  • Bursts of euphoria and elevated mood
  • Paranoia and hypervigilance
  • Hallucinations

Physical Symptoms of Cocaine Use

Symptoms of Cocaine Use | Harmony Recovery Center

Physical symptoms induced by cocaine abuse may range from mild to very dangerous. Since everyone’s body is unique, cocaine doesn’t affect everyone in an identical manner. Nevertheless, whether these symptoms are severe or not doesn’t make the underlying cocaine problem less worrisome.

Common physical symptoms caused by cocaine abuse include the following:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Sniffling
  • Runny or bloody nose
  • Hoarseness
  • Twitchiness or shakiness
  • Dark circles around or under eyes
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Stomach aches
  • Nausea
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Impotence

Once a person is physically dependent on cocaine, withdrawal side effects occur if the dosage is reduced or eliminated. Withdrawal side effects from cocaine may include the following:

  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Long periods of deep and interrupted sleep
  • Intense cravings for more cocaine
  • Heart issues
  • Seizures

Cocaine is an extremely potent substance whose side effects may vary wildly depending on how much was taken, the body chemistry of the user, or other chemicals present in the system alongside it. It may also be cut with harmful additives that can precipitate overdose or sudden death, even after a single use.

Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use

Symptoms of Cocaine Use | Harmony Recovery Center

The longer a cocaine habit endures, the greater the risk of serious adverse effects on brain function and physiological health. A formidable addiction is but one of the long-term detriments associated with cocaine abuse.

Treatment specialists often must combat a litany of other problems experience by new arrivals to rehab. Sometimes, outside help from physicians, other specialists, and therapists is required to adequately treat long-term cocaine abusers. And, unfortunately, some of the adverse consequences caused by cocaine are irreversible.

Long-term health effects may include the following:

  • Sexual dysfunction or chronic impotence
  • Infertility and other reproductive complications
  • Difficulty swallowing and breathing
  • Lung damage
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Seizures and convulsions
  • Damage to septum, nose, and nasal passages
  • Reduced or absent sense of smell
  • Problematic weight loss and malnourishment
  • Chronic, frequent nosebleeds
  • Gastrointestinal problems and bowel decay
  • Movement disorders, including Parkinson’s disease

In general, the more a cocaine problem becomes established, the more risky one’s lifestyle becomes. As such, cocaine abuse may lead to ancillary health risks, including the following:

  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Unplanned pregnancy
  • Cocaine exposure in unborn children
  • Blood-borne illness from sharing unsterile needles (HIV and hepatitis B and C)

Each year in the United States, there are roughly 750,000 cocaine-exposed pregnancies. Cocaine abuse throughout a pregnancy can result in spontaneous miscarriage, a difficult delivery, or a litany of other complications before and during delivery.

Long-term cocaine abuse may also result in profound psychological distress, such as paranoia or auditory hallucinations. Some studies indicate that cognitive functions such as memory and motor control may be negatively impacted by protracted abuse. Cocaine abuse has been known to end in heart failure and death.

Signs of cocaine abuse can be difficult to spot at first but will eventually become too obvious to disregard. Cocaine tolerance initially develops during the early stages of use and gets stronger over time. Abusers of cocaine will require higher and higher doses to maintain the same desired effect.

Although cocaine can be dangerous at any dose, the danger posed thereby dramatically increases at very high doses. The nature of cocaine makes it easy to overlook the exorbitant amounts one is consuming to maintain a high. Once the stimulation becomes too much for the body, an often-deadly overdose can strike.

Signs of a Cocaine Overdose

The amount of cocaine required to overdose varies based on several factors, including physiology and other substances that are involved. An overdose is a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment.

Symptoms of cocaine overdose may include:

  • Convulsions and seizures
  • Shock
  • Panic
  • Delirium and delusions
  • Hyperthermia
  • Respiratory failure
  • Heart failure
  • Cerebral hemorrhage
  • Kidney failure
  • Stroke
  • Coma

If not treated immediately, the risk of heart failure and/or death significantly increases. Statistics also reveal a strong correlation between cocaine overdoses and interactions with other substances. For example, in 2015, more than half of the identified overdoses related to cocaine in the U.S. also involved opioids. In fact, more than one-third (37%) of these deaths involved heroin.

Treatment for Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine addiction is most effectively treated through participation in a residential rehab program for a period of at least 30 days. During this time, the patient receives customized, evidence-based treatment that includes psychotherapy, individual and family counseling, and group support.

Following inpatient treatment, intensive outpatient is recommended for longer-term therapy and support while the client transitions back to the outside world.

Addiction recovery is a challenging lifelong endeavor, but you don’t have to do it alone. We can help you regain your life and the wellness and happiness you deserve!