A pike of cocaine sits on a glass table

Cocaine is one of the most dangerous and addictive drugs currently being abused. Despite the well-known dangers cocaine abuse exhibits, it remains the second most commonly abused illicit drug in the world behind only marijuana. (1) Chronic cocaine use can actually cause several long-term health consequences to those who are addicted to it. Here we break down some of the long-term consequences commonly seen in cocaine addiction.

What is cocaine?

Cocaine is an alkaloid extracted from coca shrubs indigenous to South America that has a long history of both medical and recreational use. Cocaine is used medically for its local anesthetic properties, and recreationally for its intense euphoric and stimulant high in which it produces when insufflated or injected. Street cocaine typically comes in two forms: powder cocaine, and crack cocaine.(2)

What are the consequences of heavy cocaine use?

Changes to the brain’s reward pathway

A baggie of cocaine in the streets with a brain in the backgroundCocaine is able to produce its pleasurable effects by its ability to act on the brain’s limbic system, which regulates pleasure and motivation. Repeatedly abusing cocaine, however, causes the brain to try and counteract the drug abuse by changing its own structure and chemistry.

These changes lead to cocaine dependency and are responsible for cocaine addiction being so powerful. These changes can also be persistent for very long time periods after abstinence has been achieved. (3)

Tolerance

Long-term and heavy cocaine use leads to tolerance to the drug’s effects. In other words, the user needs to use more cocaine to have the same desired effect as before. Using greater quantities of the drug, however, causes the unwanted side effects to be exponentially increased. (4)

Deviated septum

Long-term and heavy cocaine use can cause problems to the nasal cavity, most notably of which is a deviated septum. The septum is what separates our nose into two chambers. A deviated septum is when a hole forms in between the two chambers of a persons nose.

Long-term cocaine use can cause an erosion of the septum. This can lead to a host of other problems such as infections, discomfort, and more. (5)

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Financial problems

Cocaine is notoriously expensive, even gaining the nicknames “the white collar drug” and the “rich man’s drug”. Cocaine dependence and addiction often leads to great financial strain over the long-term and is often a deciding factor in forcing people to stop.

Cardiovascular problems

Cocaine acts as a stimulant, giving the user a tremendous sense of energy. Unfortunately, this is coupled with great strain on the heart and increased blood pressure. Long-term cocaine abuse ultimately causes several different cardiovascular problems, including the following (6):

  • Heavy cocaine use can cause blood clots, which in turn can lead to heart attacks, pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis, and/or strokes
  • Myocardial infarction, which is the death of certain heart muscle due to a lack of oxygen reaching the heart
  • Arrhythmia, which is an irregular heart rate that can be caused by heavy cocaine use
  • Tachycardia, which is a rapid heartbeat that may have an irregular or regular heart rate
  • Angina, which is the tightening of vessels that causes severe chest pain

Respiratory problems

Cocaine also has the ability to cause several different long-term respiratory problems in chronic users. Cocaine is particularly detrimental to the respiratory system when freebased or when smoking crack cocaine. The following are some of the long-term effects cocaine use has on the respiratory system (7):

  • Constriction of blood vessels in the lung
  • Destruction of alveolar walls, which causes less oxygen to reach the blood
  • A chronic cough that can be extremely painful
  • A higher risk of developing pneumonia, tuberculosis, and other dangerous infections
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which is a serious lung condition in which a buildup of fluid in the lungs prevents adequate oxygen absorption from occuring
  • Pulmonary edema
  • “Crack lung”, which is a slang term for the various respiratory problems that typically accumulate in those who smoke crack cocaine for long periods of time

Final Note

This article is intended for those considering a new way of life, free of the pain of drug and alcohol addiction. For more information on recovery and anyone seeking help with addiction and substance abuse problems, please call True Recovery at (844) 744-8783 or visit us online.

Sources

(1) https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHDetailedTabs2017/NSDUHDetailedTabs2017.htm#tab1-1A

(2) https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/cocaine

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2851032/

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8093724

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9917048

(6) https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.110.940569

(7) https://pubs.rsna.org/doi/full/10.1148/rg.274065144