The long-term effects of cocaine abuse can trigger myriad problems, both physical and psychological.
In some cases, it might be possible to reverse the damage caused by sustained abuse of this highly addictive substance. Often, though, long-term cocaine or crack abuse causes irreversible effects.
As with any addictive drug, the most effective way of avoiding the long-term effects is to avoid using the drug in the first place. If it’s too late for that and you are already abusing coke, you should strongly consider engaging with a treatment program or sober living home before your addiction to cocaine becomes all-consuming.
What are the Long-Term Effects of Coke?
Any form of substance abuse causes psychological, financial, and social issues, and cocaine is no exception. Beyond this backlash, though, abusing cocaine heightens your risk of developing long-term health conditions.
Getting the right treatment at the right time could save you hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it could also save you from causing irreparable damage to your body and mind. And it’s in the mind, with the long-term psychological effects of cocaine, that problems start building over time.
Cocaine use causes blood vessels in your brain to constrict. Over time, this can impact the amount of oxygen directed to the brain, leading to possible brain damage.
Abusing cocaine will also increase your risk of aneurysms. This occurs as the vascular walls feeding your brain become damaged as a result of chronic cocaine abuse.
Other brain damage that long-term cocaine or crack cocaine abuse can trigger include:
- Mini strokes
- Shrinking of the brain (cerebral atrophy)
- Inflammation of the blood vessels in brain and spinal column (cerebral vasculitis)
- Super-high fever (hyperpyrexia)
- Changes to movement causing muscle weakness and tremors
- Mood disorders causes by changes to the production and absorption of neurotransmitters
- Changes to the functioning of the temporal lobe and the prefrontal lobe causing problems with decision-making, memory, and problem-solving
- Increased risk of dementia due to cocaine aging the brain
The long-term effects of using cocaine can mean you are at heightened risk of developing a mental health disorder.
Now, it remains unclear whether co-occurring disorder – addiction alongside a mental health disorder – occurs due to a cause-and-effect relationship, or whether the relationship is more nuanced and more reciprocal.
What is clear is that changes occur to the function and structure of the brain after chronic cocaine abuse, and it is also clear this leads to multiple issues involving psychological and emotional functioning.
Research shows that chronic cocaine use is associated with an increased tendency to:
- Develop issues with depression
- Experience psychosis
- Find problems with anxiety are exacerbated
- Develop other substance use issues – alcohol use disorder or cannabis use disorder, for instance
Using cocaine long-term can impact the body in the following areas:
- Respiratory system
- Immune system
- Gastrointestinal tract
Cocaine abuse causes damage to the mouth and nose.
If you snort cocaine, this directly damages the mucous membranes in your nose. Over time, this soft tissue becomes impaired and then dies. When this occurs, your septum is exposed. The septum is the lining of cartilage between your nasal cavities.
In the worst scenario, septal perforations cause the structure of your nose to collapse, while introducing breathing problems. While you might find plastic surgery corrects the issue, this is not always possible.
A similar but less common condition – palatal perforations – can develop in the upper palate of your mouth if you abuse cocaine long-term.
While snorting powdered cocaine damages the septum as outlined above, if you smoke crack, you’re liable to trigger acute respiratory problems.
As the blood vessels in your lungs constrict, so the alveolar walls of the lungs are destroyed. When this occurs, oxygen will not enter your bloodstream as efficiently as normal. Also, you may find the capillaries carrying oxygen throughout your body also become damaged.
The results of these respiratory problems are as follows:
- Chronic cough
- Enhanced risk of infections like tuberculosis and pneumonia
- Pulmonary edema
- Acute respiratory distress
“Crack lung” is the informal descriptor for eosinophilic pneumonitis, a condition that can sometimes develop after the long-term abuse of freebase or crack cocaine.
Data shows that cocaine abuse can damage the heart in many ways, including:
- Irregular heart rate (arrhythmia)
- Blood clots triggering stroke, deep vein thrombosis, heart attack, and pulmonary embolism
- Chest pain (angina)
- Myocardial infarction – this is when some heart muscle dies from
- Permanently raised blood pressure levels
Among those who die as a result of cocaine abuse, heart attack is the leading cause of death.
If you are addicted to cocaine or crack, you are more likely to contract infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. While this increased risk is partly due to sharing needles, this powerful stimulant also leads to more risk-taking, poorer decision-making, and an enhanced libido, all increasing the chance of engaging in risky sexual encounters.
Cocaine also ravages the immune system, allowing any disease to spread more rapidly throughout the body.
Cocaine use causes less blood to flow throughout your body, leading to the indirect damage of your organs over time.
If you abuse cocaine, you are more likely to develop an ulcer due to altered pH levels in your stomach.
Beyond this, abusing cocaine can lead to ischemic colitis, injury, and inflammation of the large intestine. Not only can this cause digestive problems, but it can even be fatal.
If you contain abusing cocaine long-term, you will increase your risk of a cocaine overdose. If this occurs, it can easily cause liver damage. Your body will be flooded with toxins and your liver will be unable to cope.
Luckily, much of this damage is reversible, assuming you stop using cocaine.
If you mix cocaine with alcohol, you run the risk of developing chronic liver damage, as your liver will start producing cocaethylene, a metabolite that forms when cocaine and ethanol commingle in the liver. This burdens the heart while increasing alcohol’s depressive effects, and damaging the liver, too.
The chronic abuse of cocaine damages your kidneys in two ways:
- Your blood pressure is permanently raised, leading to kidney damage through lost blood flow.
- Skeletal muscles in the kidneys are destroyed causing the release of toxins into your body that can cause kidney failure if you develop late-stage rhabdomyolysis.
Cocaine Effects on Pregnancy
The majority of women with cocaine use disorder are within childbearing age. Some estimates show that 5% of pregnant women are addicted to at least one addictive substance, and that there are 750,000 pregnancies that are cocaine-exposed every year.
Using cocaine during pregnancy is associated with:
- Maternal migraine
- Separation of placental lining from uterus pre-delivery
- Premature membrane rupture
Research shows that the normal cardiovascular changes associated with pregnancy are inflamed by cocaine abuse, leading to:
- High blood pressure
- Preterm labor
- Spontaneous miscarriage
- Difficult delivery
With so many variables impacting maternal drug use, it is tough to accurately estimate the consequences. What is not so tough is establishing that any pregnant women abusing cocaine should strongly consider engaging with addiction treatment as a matter of urgency.
Many of the effects of cocaine abuse are reversible after quitting.
Some of the long-term effects that could possibly be permanent include:
- Decreased bone density
- Decreased muscle mass
- Changes to body metabolism leading to reduced body fat
Fortunately, most of the damage done can be undone following treatment and abstinence from cocaine.
Overcoming the Long Term Cocaine Use
There are currently no FDA-approved medications for the treatment of cocaine use disorder.
Nevertheless, research in this area is vigorous and ongoing, with multiple neurobiological targets being explored.
Where alcohol use disorder and opioid disorder can be treated pharmacologically, cocaine addiction – like most stimulant addictions – respond most favorably to behavioral interventions.
The most effective treatment for cocaine use disorder – whether in an outpatient or inpatient setting – involves behavioral treatments, including:
- CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy)
- CM (contingency management)
The fiercely psychological aspect of cocaine addiction means you should seek the right rehab center specializing in the treatment of cocaine use disorder. Here at The District Recovery Community, we can help you with that.
The District and Cocaine Addiction
Even if you have severe cocaine use disorder, you should find outpatient treatment that offers you sufficient support to overcome your stimulant addiction. Here at TDRC, we offer both IOPs (intensive outpatient programs) and PHPs (partial hospitalization programs) if you require more support and more time commitment.
For anyone grappling with a co-occurring mental health condition, our dual diagnosis program helps you address both these issues at the same time.
You’ll attend sessions each day including any or all of the following:
- Individual counseling
- Group counseling
- Psychotherapy (CBT or DBT)
- Holistic therapy
- Adventure therapy
- Vocational development
Once you complete your treatment program, we will ensure you have the right aftercare you need in place, and you can also take advantage of our alumni program to maintain the relationships you forge during recovery. All you need to do now is the easy part: reach out to The District Recovery admissions at 844.287.8506 to learn more about the long-term effects of cocaine or other addiction problems.