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Long-Term Effects From Cocaine Use and Abuse

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What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant derived from the coca plant, or prepared synthetically. The chemical, cocaine hydrochloride is used in medicine as a local anesthetic, yet many people use it. Cocaine is a white powder that can be administered orally, intravenously, intranasally, or by inhalation. On the street, cocaine might be mixed with flour, cornstarch, talcum powder, or baking soda to increase profits.

Cocaine is defined as a Schedule II controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which means that though it can be administered by a doctor, it has a very high potential for abuse. Many people use cocaine for the intense rush it produces, but overtime this may cause serious physical, psychological and spiritual damage.

Cocaine is the active ingredient in the smokable substance known as crack. Cocaine street names include blow, powder, white, china white, and coke. Abusing cocaine is dangerous, and may lead to serious, sometimes irreversible long-term effects, and addiction.

Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Abuse on the Body

Long-term cocaine abuse can both directly, and indirectly cause certain body parts to stop working correctly. The organ damage from cocaine is often severe, and sometimes fatal. Many of the long-term organ damages of cocaine misuse are irreversible.

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Long-term cocaine abuse may damage the following body parts:

  • brain
  • heart
  • lungs
  • sinuses
  • kidneys
  • gastrointestinal tract

Cocaine Effects on the Brain

Cocaine can cause severe long-term effects to the brain, even if an individual only occasionally uses the drug. Cocaine use causes a rush of dopamine to flood the central nervous system. With repeated cocaine use, the brain stops producing dopamine naturally. Overtime, cocaine use can lead to serious depression, paranoia, restlessness, and psychosis.

Cocaine Effects On The Heart

The heart is perhaps the most severely damaged organ from cocaine abuse. Cocaine causes the cardiovascular system to work overtime, and many people who use it are unknowingly causing their heart to age much faster than a normal, healthy rate. Cocaine causes a spike in the heart rate, constricts the blood vessels, increases blood pressure, and may lead to ischemia, arrhythmia, or cardiomyopathy.

Cocaine Effects on the Lungs

Intravenous use and inhaling cocaine can cause lung damage, and lower respiratory problems such as chronic bronchitis, or pneumonia. Cocaine use causes a person’s breathing to slow down, often leading to shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and chest pain. Cocaine toxicity can result in pulmonary hemorrhages, pulmonary barotrauma, pulmonary infection, and asthma.

Cocaine Effects on the Sinuses

Snorting cocaine (insufflation) damages the nasal tissues, and can result in upper respiratory infections, and nasal scar tissue. Snorted cocaine is absorbed into the mucous membrane, causing it to become irritated and inflamed, which can quickly lead to infections in the nasal mucosa, and sinuses. Long-term cocaine use can lead to a deviated nasal septum, which is a hole in the dividing wall between the nostrils.

Cocaine Effects on the Kidneys

Cocaine use can cause rhabdomyolysis, which is a breakdown of muscle tissue that releases a harmful protein called myoglobin into the blood. Myoglobin causes severe damage to the kidneys. Symptoms of rhabdomyolysis include red colored urine, less urine production, feeling weak, and muscle aches. Long-term cocaine abuse can lead to kidney disease, and renal failure.

Cocaine Effects On The Gastrointestinal Tract

Cocaine abuse reduces the blood flow in the gastrointestinal tract, which can lead to tears, and ulcers. Many chronic cocaine users develop problems with digestion, diet, nourishment, and weight loss. Misusing cocaine may also lead to abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and bowel tissue decay.

Why Is Cocaine Addictive?

Dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter that transmits signals between nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. Dopamine is associated with feelings of pleasure, movement, and the brain’s reward pathway. When a person listens to music, eats or works out, dopamine is released from the neurons in their brain. After the pleasurable activity is over, the dopamine is recycled back into the neuron.

Cocaine causes a surge of dopamine to be released into the brain, which makes a person feel an intense euphoria, or high. Cocaine prevents the dopamine from being recycled back into the neurons. When a person repeatedly abuses cocaine, they’re brain physically and functionally changes. The constant influx of dopamine resulting from cocaine causes the brain to stop producing dopamine naturally, and it starts to depend on the drug to work normally.

An individual suffering from a cocaine abuse disorder (addiction) will compulsively seek out the drug, despite any problems it may be causing in their life. Repeated cocaine abuse causes an increased tolerance, which means that a greater amount is needed for the same effects as before.

Signs Of Cocaine Abuse

When a person uses cocaine, it causes them to become overly energetic, talkative, and unable to focus. A cocaine high doesn’t last very long, and it can be over in anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. The duration of cocaine’s effects widely depends on the amount used, and a person’s tolerance.

The signs of cocaine use include:

  • runny nose
  • dilated pupils
  • constantly touching face, or nose
  • oral asphyxiation
  • difficulty swallowing
  • excitability
  • mood swings
  • overly talkative
  • nosebleeds
  • social isolation
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • tooth decay
  • risky behaviors
  • loss of interest in passions
  • financial problems

Long-term cocaine users may experience “coke bugs” and believe that there are microscopic parasites crawling on their skin, which they scratch or pick at constantly. Though coke are not real, they can cause a person scratch their skin until it bleeds, often resulting in scabs and scars. Cocaine is also known to cause serious, sometimes irreversible tooth decay.

Cocaine Use in the United States

Cocaine is among the most dangerous drugs in America, but curiosity along with environmental, biological, and psychological risk factors keep people trying it. Cocaine isn’t necessarily a gateway drug; it’s actually been dubbed the rich man’s drug. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse the largest percentage of cocaine users are people older than 26 years old.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that in 2016, 16.60 percent of people 26 or older tried cocaine. That was compared to 0.90 percent of people ages 12 to 17, and 11.30 percent of people 18 to 25. Many people try cocaine to rebel, take a risk, have fun, or simply to get high. Yet misusing cocaine is risky, and can quickly lead to tolerance, withdrawal, and cocaine use disorder.

Cocaine Withdrawal

When a person stops using cocaine after a binge, or long-term use, they may experience heavy withdrawal symptoms. Cocaine withdrawal may include fatigue, anxiety, and depression. Cocaine withdrawal can cause problems with the brain, behavior, mood, gastrointestinal tract, and other body functions.

Cocaine withdrawal may include the following symptoms:

  • loss/gain of appetite
  • night sweats
  • weakness
  • clammy skin
  • intense cocaine cravings
  • nausea
  • stomach pain
  • irritability
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • boredom
  • runny nose
  • dilated pupils
  • teeth chattering
  • cold flashes
  • increased sensitivity to pain

Cocaine Addiction Treatment

People suffering from cocaine addiction have different backgrounds, using patterns, and tolerance levels when it comes to cocaine. No two cases of addiction are exactly the same, so treating cocaine addiction shouldn’t use a universal method either. An individualized approach treats a cocaine addiction as it pertains to each person, and their use of the drug.

Trying to quit a powerful drug like cocaine isn’t easy, but it’s still possible. Vertava Health is here to help people overcome their addictions, and learn to embrace life to the fullest. Freedom from cocaine addiction is within reach.

Reach out to a treatment specialist at Vertava Health today.