What Are the Long-term Effects of Cocaine Use?

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 704-368-1131.

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