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Long-Term Effects of Cocaine

Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant that is very easy to become addicted to.

The abuse of cocaine over a long period of time – a practice made more likely by the fact that it is so addictive – can lead to many health and life problems.

If you are addicted to cocaine – or if someone close to you is – there are options available to you.

With substance abuse help, you can begin to address and turn around many of the consequences that cocaine has brought about for both yourself and your family – improving your overall quality of life greatly.

Call us at 1-888-744-0789 Who Answers? if you are looking for a substance abuse treatment program to help with cocaine addiction.

How Cocaine Affects the Body

Long-term cocaine abusers often accumulate of a number of detrimental health effects over the course of their drug use.

Heart Problems

Cocaine and Heart Problems
Chronic cocaine use can lead to a number of ongoing cardiovascular issues. The following exemplify some of the long-term heart effects associated with cocaine use1-4:

  • Angina: ischemic chest pain.
  • Myocardial infarction: heart attacks.
  • Cardiac arrhythmia: irregular heart rhythms.
  • Cardiomyopathy: dysfunction of the heart muscle.
  • Myocarditis: inflammation of the heart muscle.
  • Endocarditis: an often lethal infection of a heart valve most commonly associated with intravenous routes of cocaine abuse.
  • Aortic dissection (rare): bleeding in the wall of the aorta – the main and largest artery of your body.
  • Sudden death.

Brain Problems

Cocaine and The BrainLong-term cocaine use can also cause lasting damage in the brain. Chronic cocaine use may increase the likelihood that you will experience the following central nervous system consequences5-8:

  • Seizures.
  • Narrowing of blood vessels in the brain.
  • Diseases in the blood vessels of the brain.
  • Strokes in the brain – due to hemorrhaging or ischemia (oxygen depletion).
  • Structural and functional brain deterioration.
  • Decreased number of dopaminergic neurons in the midbrain.
  • Movement disorders.

Chronic cocaine use can affects the reward centers of the brain and ultimately disrupt healthy signaling of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Cocaine abuse can also lead to reduced neural activity in many other areas of the brain – affecting several crucial brain centers including those responsible for mood, memory, information processing, eating, sleeping and other habitual behaviors.

Additional Health Problems

Using cocaine for a long period of time can lead to many additional health problems throughout the body. These health issues may impact a broad range of organ systems, including1,5,9-11:

  • Respiratory system: chronic nasal congestion, sinus inflammation, chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, cough, hemoptysis (coughing up of blood), perforation of the nasal septum.
  • Liver: viral hepatitis.
  • Kidneys: end-stage kidney disease, chronic renal failure, diminished kidney function.
  • Gastrointestinal: ulcers, motility problems, mesenteric vasospasm, arterial occlusion or tissue death, with resultant perforation of the intestines or stomach.
  • Reproductive and sexual health: irregular menses, sexual dysfunction, risks to pregnant mothers and their newborns.
  • Skin: vascular problems and skin lesions.

Health Problems Specific to the Method of Cocaine Use

Certain health effects that result from chronic cocaine use are specific to the method or route that you have been using to the drug (e.g., nasally insufflated, injection, etc.).12

Injecting Cocaine

Repeatedly injecting cocaine over a long period of time may result in:

  • “Track” marks – or scars on the arm or other sites of injection.
  • Allergic reactions – which can be serious, systemic wide reactions to contaminant substances – potentially even fatal.
  • Septic emboli, cardiac valve vegetations and other vascular complications.
  • Bloodborne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.

Snorting Cocaine

Snorting cocaine can lead to a number of long-term problems in the nose and throat, including:

  • Anosmia – losing one’s sense of smell.
  • Chronic nosebleeds – a potential surgical emergency.
  • Nose irritation.
  • Chronic runny nose.
  • Nasopharyngeal mucosal inflammation.
  • Nasal congestion.
  • Ulcers in the nostrils.
  • Nasal septum perforation.
  • Hoarseness in the throat.
  • Difficulty swallowing.

Ingesting Cocaine (oral)

Chronic ingestion of cocaine can potentially lead to a higher risk of tissue death in the bowels due to halted blood flow resulting from the cocaine’s direct contact with intestinal mucosa and local vasoconstriction.

Consequences of Mixing Cocaine with Other Substances

Many people mix cocaine with other substances – potentially compounding the inherent dangers of both drugs, and worsening long-term health outcomes from the ill-advised combination of substances. Some of the more frequently seen substance combinations include that of cocaine and:

  • Alcohol.
  • Heroin.
  • Amphetamines.
  • Prescription opioids.

Depending on the drugs you mix with cocaine, the combination of drugs can lead to some serious long-term consequences. Mixing cocaine with the following drugs can result in13-16:

  1. Alcohol: abnormal heart rate and rhythm, 30% increase in blood cocaine levels (due to changes in cocaine metabolism in the presence of ethanol), increased tendency towards violent behaviors, formation of heart toxic metabolite known as cocaethylene.
  2. Heroin: wheezing, irregular heart rates, sudden death. This drug combination is otherwise known as “speedball” – a combination that ended up taking the life of actor River Phoenix in 1993.
  3. Prescription opioids: combining cocaine with painkillers such as oxycodone or hydrocodone can precipitate breathing problems, coma and death.
  4. Amphetamines: heightened stimulant effects, hypertension, tachycardia, hyperthermia, stroke, cardiac arrest, death.

These are only a sample of the consequences of mixing other drugs with cocaine. Other commonly seen drug combinations include cocaine mixed with marijuana, or cocaine and benzodiazepines.

If you want to mix drugs because you’re looking to boost your high, remember that the combination can potentially also exacerbate the consequences. Some drugs cause opposite effects from each other, while some drugs cause the same effects. When they are combined, the mixture may create dangerous new effects, which can be too much for the body to handle.

How Cocaine Affects Your Mental Health

delirium hallucinations
Long-term cocaine use can also wreak havoc on mental health, leading to issues such as17:

  • Delirium – a potentially fatal state, characterized by severe confusion and instability of the autonomic nervous system.
  • Psychosis: hallucinations and paranoid delusions.
  • Mood disorders: anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts or behavior, anger.
  • Sexual dysfunction.
  • Sleep disorders.
  • Violent impulses, sometimes even leading to injury or murder.

How Cocaine Affects the Unborn Baby

Prenatal Cocaine UseUsing cocaine while pregnant can cause serious long-term effects for your baby. While mothers are also at risk of medical problems, Emory University outlines several of the risks to unborn babies of mothers who use cocaine during pregnancy18:

  • Lower birthweight.
  • Premature delivery.
  • Increased breathing problems.
  • Increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
  • Increased risk of stillbirth.
  • Increased risk of neglect during infancy.

When these mothers continued abuse of cocaine, the children tended to grow up with poverty, abuse, neglect and other problems that affected them mentally and physically. Cocaine’s devastation is not limited to the addicted individual. The consequences to children should also be considered when weighing the serious long-term effects of using cocaine.

Other Life Consequences of Long-term Cocaine Use

In addition to effects on your health, cocaine can also have other types of destructive long-term consequences in your life including:

  1. Relational problems with friends and family – broken marriages, loss of child custody
  2. Financial problems.
  3. Legal problems – prison time, financial penalties.

Chronic cocaine use can not only ruin your personal and professional relationships, but it can also drastically change the lives of those around you. Long-term cocaine use can affect your performance at school or on the job – possibly resulting in job loss and financial ruin.

Additional financial troubles may also result from wasting your money on obtaining more drugs, and you would also have to bear legal consequences for any misconduct while on cocaine or while trying to obtain more of the drug.

How Does Cocaine Dependence Develop

Once an individual becomes starts using cocaine, the body and brain start adapting to the temporarily increased amounts of dopamine – the body’s pleasure-producing neurotransmitter.

Over time, individuals can become tolerant to the changes in dopamine activity – needing more and more of the drug to feel the same effects they felt at the beginning. Over time, chronic abuse of cocaine will eventually decreases the baseline amount of dopamine activity. Once this occurs, cocaine users will predominantly experience the negative side effects of the drug (such as anxiety).

Obtaining more cocaine eventually becomes a compulsive need simply to keep the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms at bay.

Treatment for Cocaine Addiction

When you have decided that continued cocaine use is too destructive to continue, we are here to help walk you through your addiction treatment options.

As you begin exploring your options, you’ll find that addiction rehabilitation facilities can look a bit different, depending on where you choose to go:

  1. Luxury rehab facilities offer 24/7 residential addiction treatment alongside a wide array of lavish, resort-like amenities designed to help make your recovery process as comfortable as possible.
  2. Executive rehab facilities are very similar to luxury facilities – except that they also offer busy professionals the opportunity to maintain an active involvement in the workplace throughout the recovery process.
  3. Standard rehab facilities offer quality addiction treatment on either a residential (inpatient) or a non-residential (outpatient) basis. While these facilities don’t offer as many plush amenities as do luxury or executive programs, they also come with a lower price tag – offering a more affordable option to those individuals who need it.

Learn More and Find Treatment

When you are ready to learn more about cocaine addiction or about your treatment options, call 1-888-744-0789 Who Answers? to speak with one of our recovery advisors. We would love to help answer any questions you may have and walk you through your treatment options that will best suit your needs and unique circumstances.


  1. McCord, J., Jneid, H., Hollander, J. E., de Lemos, J. A., Cercek, B., Hsue, P. (2008). Management of cocaine-associated chest pain and myocardial infarction: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association Acute Cardiac Care Committee of the Council on Clinical Cardiology. Circulation, 117(14), 1897.
  2. Lange, R. A., Hillis, L. D. (2001). Cardiovascular complications of cocaine use. N Engl J Med, 345(5), 351.
  3. Ghuran, A., Nolan, J. (2000). Recreational drug misuse: issues for the cardiologist. Heart, 83(6), 627.
  4. Eagle, K. A., Isselbacher, E. M., DeSanctis, R. W. (2002). Cocaine-Related Aortic Dissection in Perspective. Ciculation, 105: 1529-30.
  5. Boghdadi, M. S., Henning, R. J. (1997). Cocaine: pathophysiology and clinical toxicology. Heart Lung 26(6), 466.
  6. Neiman, J., Haapaniemi, H. M., Hillbom, M. (2000). Neurological complications of drug abuse: pathophysiological mechanisms. Eur J Neurol, 7(6), 595.
  7. Rojas, R., Riascos, R., Vargas, D., Cuellar, H., Borne, J. (2005). Neuroimaging in drug and substance abuse part I: cocaine, cannabis, and ecstasy. Top Magn Reson Imaging, 16(3), 231.
  8. Warner, E. A. (1993). Cocaine abuse. Ann Intern Med, 119(3), 226.
  9. Tseng, W., Sutter, M. E., Albertson, T. E. (2014). Stimulants and the lung: review of literature. Clin Rev Allergy Immunol, 46(1), 82-100.
  10. Macdonald, P. T., Waldorf, D., Reinarman, C., Murhpy, S. (1988). Heavy cocaine use and sexual behavior. J Drug Issues, 18, 437.
  11. Palha, A. P., Esteves, M. (2008) Drugs of abuse and sexual functioning. Adv Psychosom Med, 29: 131.
  12. Drug facts: cocaine. National Institute of Health.
  13. Pennings, E. J., Leccese, A. P., Wolff, F. A. (2002). Effects of concurrent use of alcohol and cocaine. Addiction, 97(7), 773-83.
  14. Lipman, J. J. (1997). Recent forensic pharmacological developments in drug abuse: the growth and problems of speedballing. The Forensic Examiner, Jul-Aug 1997: 9-13.
  15. Ciavarri, A. (2015). RPD: Combination of cocaine and fentanyl cause at least three deaths. WHEC Rochester News, 27 March 2015.
  16. Caan, W. (2004). Cocaine and amphetamine combined. BMJ, 328(7452), 1365.
  17. Morton, W. A. (1999). Cocaine and psychiatric symptoms. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry, 1(4), 109-113.
  18. Emory University. (2004). Long-Term Prenatal Cocaine Effects. MSA Newsline, 4(11), 1-2.