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Effects of Cocaine Abuse

Cocaine Abuse

If you are thinking about seeking treatment for a substance use disorder for yourself or a loved one, you are not alone in your thoughts and feelings regarding this matter. However, when you consider the sheer number of people who are addicted in the United States, it's mind-blowing. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, around 5.2 million people aged 12 or older are active cocaine users  (reports using cocaine in the past 12 months).


Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug that speeds up the brain's normal functions. It is extracted from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America. Processed with other chemicals to form a white powder called cocaine hydrochloride, it's not easy to determine whether strong or weak. Cocaine is often snorted, inhaled, or injected. Street names for cocaine include; crack, coke, and a mixture of cocaine and heroin known as "speedball."

How Does Cocaine Change Your Brain?

Your brain is structured to reward you when you engage in life-enhancing activities such as eating or sexual interactions by producing neurochemicals that induce pleasure. Dopamine is one chemical your brain releases and makes you want to repeat the pleasurable action. The use of cocaine triggers the release of this chemical; With time, the brain adapts to the presence of this chemical to release feelings of pleasure. Hence, this substance is highly addictive both psychologically and neurochemically. 


The effects of cocaine depend on the strength of the dose, the chemicals used, your physiology, and your mindset at the time of use. The cocaine euphoria lasts only a short time, approximately 15-30 minutes after inhaling. When you inhale or inject cocaine, the immediate effects you will likely experience include:


  • A rise in body temperature

  • Loss of appetite

  • Dilated pupils

  • Feelings of euphoria, exhilaration, and overconfidence

  • Increased heart rate

  • The urge to have sex

Continued abuse of cocaine has short-term and long-term effects. Cocaine effects appear almost immediately after a single dose and disappear after a short while. The faster the drug is absorbed, the more intense the resulting high is, but it doesn't last long. The "crash"- the downtime from a fierce high after the drug starts to wear out of your system, is equally very low hence irritability, mood swings, and the onset of stress.


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Expert Contributor

Dr. Williams presently serves on the board of Directors for two non-profit service organizations. He holds a Master’s degree in Human Services from Lincoln University, Philadelphia, Pa, and a Ph.D. with a concentration in Clinical Psychology from Union Institute and University. In Cincinnati, Ohio. He is licensed to practice addictions counseling in both New Jersey and Connecticut and has a pending application as a practicing Psychologist in New Jersey.

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Short-Term Effects of Cocaine Abuse

The short-term physiological effects include:


  • Constricted blood vessels.

  • Your body temperature, heart rate, and high blood pressure increase.

  • Dilated pupils.

  • Feelings of restlessness and irritability.

  • Bizarre, erratic, and violent behavior.

  • Panic attacks.

  • Paranoia.

  • Mood disorders.

  • Short attention span.

  • Polydrug use- using cocaine with other drugs or substances such as alcohol or cocaine and heroin to make a "speedball."

  • Altered sleep patterns.

  • High blood pressure.

  • Slow reaction time-ones, your attention span has been altered; you cannot react aptly even in dangerous situations.

  • Weight loss- caused by loss of appetite, poor nutrition, etc.

  • Nosebleeds - if you are snorting cocaine.


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Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Abuse

Continued use of cocaine can cause severe medical conditions such as:


  • Heart Problems: Cocaine significantly affects your heart and cardiovascular system. The immediate high increases your heart rate and blood pressure, leading to a heart attack and other related problems. Cocaine can cause heart inflammation, leading to life-threatening complications, including heart failure.

  • Fatal Overdose and Possible Death: Cocaine is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. It gives you the feeling of happiness and makes you want to repeat the intake when the high drops; you find yourself repeating the process and eventually overdose on the drug. This can be lethal and cause death.

  • HIV and Hepatitis B and C Infections: Sharing needles and piercing objects when injecting cocaine leads to blood poisoning, which can cause blood infections. Such as HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. if you are under the influence of cocaine, your sexual drive is highly spiked, which can lead to unprotected sex with an infected person since your judgment at that time is compromised.

  • Mental Health Problems: You may suffer from depression, anxiety, and paranoia. Due to the neurochemicals reinforced in your brain within a short period, the crash from the high makes you irritable and anxious and triggers stress. Repeated performance can cause long-lasting mental problems.

  • Respiratory Illness: Smoked cocaine damages the lungs and worsens asthma and other respiratory diseases. The nasal cavity may collapse after snorting cocaine for an extended period, leading to impaired sinuses and nosebleeds.

  • Weight Loss and Malnutrition: Snorted, smoked, or injected cocaine makes you lose appetite and, after a while, lose weight and eventually become malnourished.

  • Cognitive Defect: A wide range of cognitive functions become weakened, e.g., sustaining attention, performing motor tasks, and impulse inhibition.

  • Memory Loss: When you use cocaine for a long time, the continued alteration of neurochemicals in your brain becomes impaired and alters your everyday functions, e.g., your reaction time reduces, your attention span becomes short, and eventually, you become forgetful or forget entire episodes of your life.

  • Neurological Problems: You can suffer from intracerebral hemorrhage (bleeding within the brain), balloon-like bulges in the walls of cerebral blood vessels, besides stroke and seizures.

  • Financial and Social Issues: Continued use of cocaine becomes an addiction that leads to impulsive reasoning, which makes decision-making not always objective. You might get into debt to support your drug abuse, sell personal items to buy cocaine, or engage in dangerous behavior to support your addiction. This does not only affect you; it also affects your friends and family members.

  • Failed Relationships: Your relationships, be it with a partner, co-workers, or friends, depend heavily on your ability to act responsibly towards them. Cocaine alters your reactions and actions, damaging work relationships and performance. If you cannot act responsibly, your relationship with a partner may be irreparably affected by your cocaine abuse.


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The Bottom Line

Cocaine does more harm than good. Stop using cocaine. Cocaine has a high level of abuse and psychological and physical dependency and poses many health risks. Every day hundreds of people are rushed to the emergency room for adverse reactions to the misuse or use of cocaine.


It has worse effects when used with other substances such as alcohol or heroin. This can lead to an immediate cardiovascular arrest and often fatal overdose and deaths. Seek professional help when you realize that you or your loved one is abusing cocaine and avoid a looming disaster.

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Cocaine abuse
How does cocaine change your brain?
Short-term effects of cocaine abuse
Long-term effects of cocaine abuse
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