Understanding the Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Addiction

Last Updated: Jul 23rd 2019

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

Cocaine users experience a short-lived and intense high that is followed by severe depression, nervousness, and cravings for more of the drug. The desires mean one is likely to get addicted and keep using the drugs for many years.

Thus, most of the cocaine users will end up suffering from the long-term effects of abusing this drug. A recent study shows about 1.7 million young adults of age between 18 and 25 in the U.S. abuse cocaine.

This is equivalent to one out of every twenty young adults across the nation. Therefore, understanding these effects is critical to creating awareness to encourage addicts to seek immediate treatment

Keep reading to learn the long-term effects of cocaine and why you should not abuse it.

The Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Usage

1. Oral and Nasal Deformities

Snorting cocaine constricts blood vessels and lowers the flow of oxygen to the nasal tissues. As you continue to use cocaine, the low oxygen levels eventually damage the lining of the nasal septum.

As the damage continues, the septal lining and underlining cartilage die. At this stage, a hole may develop in the septum, and the entire nose may collapse.

Large holes can also develop at the roof of the mouth resulting in nasal regurgitation. This is where the food you eat flows back out through the nose. These holes can be corrected through surgery.

The user may also experience nose whistling, difficulty in swallowing, and hoarseness.

2. Pulmonary and Respiratory Conditions

Smoking cocaine causes damage to the pulmonary and respiratory systems. Cocaine smokers get an immediate high as the drug reaches the brain without delay. The quick stimulation exposes the addicts to problems such as lung damage and bleeding.

The users also experience symptoms mimicking those of pneumonia. These include breathing difficulties, intense chest pain, and in some cases, the user ends up developing pneumonia.

3. Cardiovascular Damage

Cocaine causes the user to experience high energy, anxiety, stress, and paranoia. In the long-term, consumption of cocaine can damage the circulatory system through:

  • Irregular heart rates
  • Chest pain from tightening of blood vessels
  • A permanent increase in blood pressure
  • Blood clotting that can lead to heart attack and stroke
  • Death of heart muscles due to lack of oxygen and poor blood flow
  • Rapid resting heart rates 
  • Irregular heart rates

Users of cocaine are highly susceptible to heart attacks. According to research, 25% of the deaths of cocaine users aged between 18 and 45 are as a result of a heart attack.

4. Digestive Diseases

Abuse of cocaine increases the risk of developing blood clots. Clots block blood flow, and this can cause perforations in the stomach and intestines. As a result, users are likely to get stomach and intestinal ulcers.

In the short-term, a user may experience symptoms such as constipation, reduced appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting. These symptoms start within one hour or 48 hours of using the drug.

5. Liver Damage

Many people abuse both cocaine and alcohol with the belief that the two substances will prolong the euphoric effects of cocaine. However, mixing the two is very dangerous.

These substances can combine to form cocaethylene, a compound which develops in the liver when cocaine and ethanol are present in the blood. Cocaethylene causes liver and heart damage when it accumulates in the system over a long period.

Cocaine usage increases heartbeat, and if one combines the drug with alcohol, they may suffer cardiac arrest. Luckily, liver damage is reversible if one seeks treatment and stops abusing the drug.

6. Brain Damage

When blood vessels are constricted, the amount of oxygen reaching the brain is reduced. This can cause brain damage. There is also an increased risk of swelling of blood vessels due to damage to the vascular walls that feed the brain.

Cracking of cocaine can also cause:

  • High fever
  • Brain shrinking
  • Inflammation of blood vessels in the brain or spine
  • Seizures
  • Strokes
  • Problems in decision-making, understanding of vocabulary, problem-solving, and learning
  • Mood disorders due to changes in the production and absorption of neurotransmitters 

Smoking of cocaine can cause long-term memory loss and is likely to trigger Alzheimer’s if one smokes it longer.

7. Kidney Problems

Cocaine abuse has been linked to tubular, glomerular and vascular injuries, acute kidney injury, and chronic kidney disease. In some cases, it causes malignant hypertension.

When cocaine and heroin are combined, they increase one’s risk of getting hepatitis, HIV, and other chronic illnesses that can cause kidney diseases.

8. Diseases and Infections

Cocaine users sometimes share needles when injecting themselves with drugs. This increases the chances of contracting HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, and other infectious diseases.

Cocaine also causes psychological problems such as impaired judgment. As a result, users engage in risky sexual behaviors that can lead to the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

When cocaine weakens the immune system, the body’s ability to defend you against diseases is reduced. This makes you prone to various diseases and health conditions. 

9. Effects on Unborn Baby

Using cocaine while pregnant may cause premature delivery. It increases breathing problems and heightens the risk of giving birth to an underweight baby. 

Cocaine can cause the death of infants below one-year-old. It also increases the risk of neglect during pregnancy. Furthermore, once the child is born, they may grow facing abuse, poverty, and mental and physical problems.

10. Social Problems

Cocaine users find themselves in random places with random people whom they believe are friends. Such friendships are cocaine-induced and only last as long as they stay ‘high’.

Cocaine users spend lots of money on drugs while neglecting their family. When there is no money, they end up borrowing and living in debt. Some even engage in crime to fund their growing addiction to the substance. 

Since cocaine use impairs the user’s judgment, it may cause unnecessary fights, irresponsible sexual behavior, and other social problems.

There Is Light at the End of the Tunnel

Have you or your loved one been using cocaine? Are you facing some of the long-term effects of cocaine? There is light at the end of the tunnel.

At 1st Step Behavioral Health, we provide drug addiction treatment and will help you or your loved one get on the road to recovery. Contact us today to book an appointment.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

Brittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is the Assistant Clinical Director at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.