Cocaine Addiction Health Conditions

Understand the many health conditions caused by cocaine addiction.

Health Conditions From Cocaine Use

Cocaine Addiction Health Conditions

Understand the many health conditions caused by cocaine addiction.

Table of Contents

What is Cocaine Addiction?

Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant that gives users a temporary sense of alertness and euphoria. Some consider it a party drug and use it recreationally, while others become addicted to the substance. However, despite the fact that cocaine has a reputation for being a party drug and may be considered less dangerous than other substances, there are many corresponding health risks. There can be many negative and life-threatening health conditions from cocaine addiction.

Many who partake in the substance find themselves under the illusion that they have their usage under control. However, cocaine use can quickly spiral into addiction and take over one’s life – both mentally and physically. It is important to recognize the health risks associated with cocaine use in order to educate and prompt yourself or a loved one towards the ultimate recovery journey. Keep reading to find out why the stereotype of cocaine being a party drug poses potential life altering consequences.

Cocaine and Cardiovascular Health

Cocaine is known to have negative impacts on cardiovascular health. As it’s a stimulant, it can quicken users’ heart rates and cause blood pressure to rise, making the heart work overtime and potentially leading to a heart attack. According to the American Heart Association, cocaine users are more likely to get high blood pressure, heart disease, heart muscle wall thickening, and stiff arteries, all risk factors for heart attacks.1

In addition to the risk for heart attacks, cocaine users are more likely to have coronary artery disease or heart disease. This life-threatening health condition develops when the major blood vessels that supply blood to the heart become damaged. Cocaine use is also associated with other cardiovascular health conditions including:2

  • Arrhythmias
  • Myocardial infarction, or a blockage of blood flow to the heart
  • Heart failure
  • Heart disease
  • Aortic dissection

Brain Damage from Cocaine?

Cocaine’s effects on the brain can be equally dangerous as its effects on cardiovascular health. Some may not think that you can get brain damage from cocaine, but research says otherwise.

Using cocaine can damage brain cells and can lead to permanent brain damage. Research shows that cocaine increases the amount of dopamine, a naturally occurring chemical, in the brain. Dopamine is the chemical responsible for pleasure and satisfaction. When one uses cocaine, the brain is flooded with dopamine. While this is what creates the high feeling, it can, over time, cause the brain to become less sensitive to dopamine and create several negative health conditions from cocaine use.3

Additionally, flooding the brain with dopamine can damage the brain’s structure, which leads to brain damage from cocaine, as well as potential brain hemorrhaging and other neurological problems. Cocaine use also slows the glucose metabolism of the brain, which can cause neurons to function more slowly or even die off.4

Consequences of Brain Damage from Cocaine Usage

Cocaine abuse can also cause the brain to age more quickly. The typical brain loses 1.69 milliliters of gray matter each year as part of the natural process of aging. But people who regularly use cocaine lose more than twice that in a year. This effectively doubles the deterioration of one’s brain, ultimately leaving them increasingly susceptible to neurological consequences.5

Some researchers are studying a potential link between cocaine use and Parkinson’s disease. The research doesn’t assert that people can get Parkinson’s from cocaine use, but it does suggest that long-term use — and long-term dopamine build-up in the brain — can lead to changes in the brain like those with Parkinson’s. This is something to consider when approaching recovery, as the longevity of your mental (and physical) wellbeing can be dismantled by this harmful addiction. The long-term effects of this drug far outweigh any immediate gain.6

Cocaine and Stroke

Using cocaine can increase a person’s risk for stroke. Cocaine users of all ages and health statuses are more susceptible to ischemic strokes. Ischemic strokes happen when blood vessels that supply the brain with blood become blocked. These strokes can wreak havoc on a person’s wellbeing.

Because cocaine also increases heart rate and body temperature and decreases the amount of oxygen in the blood, people who use the drug and face these side effects are even more susceptible to strokes. Strokes aren’t a side effect to be taken lightly, as they can lead to either temporary or permanent psychological and physical impairments. This can range from reduced brain capacity to paralyzation. Aside from diminishing one’s quality of life, strokes can even lead to untimely death. These threats must be addressed before the addiction spirals out of control, as these are all preventable outcomes.7

Additional Issues Causes by Cocaine Use

Gastrointestinal Upset from Cocaine Use

If the above conditions aren’t harmful enough, there are even more potential negative health conditions from cocaine use. Though cardiovascular and neurological problems are primarily seen in cocaine use, it’s also common to see gastrointestinal upset from cocaine use. When the substance is swallowed, it can lead to ulcers and bowel necrosis. There have been several accounts of gastrointestinal perforations following cocaine use. Cocaine can also suppress users’ appetites, leading to vitamin deficiency, malnourishment, and poor health.

In addition to the above problems, people who use cocaine report experiencing:

  • Nausea
  • Indigestion
  • Vomiting
  • Vitamin deficiency
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Diarrhea

Cocaine and Mental Health Issues

While many of the health conditions from cocaine use are physical, mental health issues can arise as well. Research shows that cocaine use causes dysfunction of neurons in the brain, leading to many difficult emotional disturbances.

Some of these mood and emotional problems include:

  • Hallucinations and other psychotic symptoms
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Aggressiveness
  • Paranoia

Additionally, a short-term side effect of cocaine use is the comedown or the emotional crash after using the substance. These depressive episodes vary in length and severity, but they can be dangerous enough to result in suicidal ideation or suicide.8re

Respiratory Damage and Infectious Diseases

While snorting cocaine can lead to nosebleeds, nasal perforation, and anosmia, smoking can lead to a host of other health conditions from cocaine use.

Users report respiratory issues like shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest pain. These symptoms can indicate more cocaine-related severe health conditions like worsened asthma, lung disease, lung infections, airway injuries, and pulmonary edema. Smoking crack cocaine also puts users at an increased risk for infections like pneumonia and tuberculosis.

Cocaine use, paired with other issues like malnourishment and vitamin deficiency, weakens the immune system. Substance use also leads to impaired decision-making and risky behavior, such as trading drugs for sex and sharing needles. All these factors make cocaine users more at risk for contracting HIV, and Hepatitis B and C. Studies have also indicated that cocaine use accelerates HIV infection.

Treatment for Cocaine Addiction

There are no FDA-approved medications to treat cocaine addiction, but other treatment options are available. Currently, counseling and therapy are the most common treatments for cocaine addiction.

When users first quit using cocaine, they’ll likely experience cocaine withdrawal symptoms. Cocaine withdrawal is often managed through a detox program, in which people are medically supervised as the drug leaves their bodies. Detox can last anywhere from five days to three weeks, depending on the duration and severity of a person’s substance abuse.

Some cocaine withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Nausea

Detox is a complicated process, but it can be more easily managed at an inpatient facility.

Once a person has completed detox, their withdrawal symptoms will subside, and they’ll have a clear body and mind. Some individuals will embark on an outpatient program to maintain sobriety, while others will use alternative methods to stay sober. Whichever route an individual takes, it’s recommended all individuals utilize therapy and other lifestyle changes to promote healthy living.

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