The long and winding road of cocaine addiction typically leads to a fork where users must decide on a course that has lifelong consequences. On one path is the decision of continued use, which unfortunately leads to either prison or an early death in most cases. These are the most severe of a laundry list of cocaine side effects that result from long-term use of the drug.
Although it will contain obstacles along the way, the path of sobriety will eventually lead to former users reclaiming their lives and unshackling the chains of cocaine addiction.
Cocaine side effects and other damaging elements will present roadblocks that require willpower, support, and a conscious effort to say no. Despite the challenges of sobriety, the temporary pain experienced during specific detox and recovery phases pale compared to the finality of the alternative.
Before understanding, identifying, and taking action against cocaine abuse in the life of a loved one, there are critical pieces of information you need to understand. Nobody can force someone to quit using drugs. Taking the proper approach and understanding the red flags is vital for reaching the desired outcome.
The most important step is first digesting the proper amount of knowledge regarding cocaine basics, cocaine side effects, and physical indicators of cocaine use. By building a solid base consisting of general information and warning signs, you can begin building a plan surrounding detox and cocaine treatment options. Let’s start with a general outline of cocaine basics and essential facts regarding this drug.
Cocaine is a high-end illegal narcotic, often referred to as the “rich man’s drug” when consumed in its purest powder form. This drug is a potent extract of the Erythroxylum coca plant, most commonly found in the jungles of South America.
In an intricate process, cocaine hydrochloride becomes the finished product after extraction from the leaves of the coca plant. Although technically, cocaine has listed medical uses for anesthetic purposes in rare cases, this deadly substance is still considered a Schedule 2 narcotic.
Cocaine is marketed and sold in several different formulations, readily available for users depending on the preferred form of ingestion. Kilograms of pure cocaine are packaged in “bricks” and sold to high-level street dealers. From there, distribution networks either provide the product to medium and high-end clientele in powder form or cooked with baking soda and rendered as “crack.”
The latter, also known as rock, hard, base, and other slang terms on the street, are packaged in small quantities and distributed at the lowest level for maximum profit. The original powder form of the drug, also known as blow, white girl, coke, and other monikers, is sometimes considered a designer or party drug and has tentacles reaching into every echelon of society.
It would be difficult to find a neighborhood, ethnicity, race, or culture that hasn’t felt the effects of cocaine addiction. From the first instances of experimentation with the drug, many users become infatuated with the feeling it provides, unknowingly beginning the deadly shift from sampling into a full-blown addiction.
The Cocaine High
Cocaine is either snorted, injected, or smoked, depending on the form in which a user purchases the drug. Typically the crack form is smoked, and the powder form most commonly ends up getting insufflated via the nasal passages.
Before the crack epidemic of the 1980s, users commonly engaged in what is known as freebasing cocaine. Freebasing cocaine involves placing the drug on tin foil mixed with a small amount of water in the form of a paste. The foil is heated, producing smoke a user inhales with a straw or tube. Both versions of the drug possess the ability to be broken down and injected intravenously.
Once ingested, cocaine acts by increasing the body’s release of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that catalyzes a feeling of happiness, reward, and general euphoria. The following list is the most common feelings produced through the use of cocaine.
- Extremely high levels of energy
- An overall feeling of euphoria
- Inflated confidence and self-esteem
- Feelings of being “on top of the world.”
- Increased alertness
These cocaine side effects may cause a short-lived period of enjoyment for a user but end with a crash that produces negative symptoms. This short-lived high leads to users chasing the feeling, requiring subsequent doses of increased amounts to obtain the same effects. It’s this chase that typically lays the foundation of a life-altering battle with cocaine in the unfortunate cases of many users.
After the first few initial encounters with the narcotic, many users begin to experience short- and long-term other unsavory cocaine side effects. These effects may start minimally but more often than not lead to life-threatening physical and mental symptoms.
Side Effects of Cocaine Use
The side effects of cocaine use can begin as early as the first initial use but almost certainly start after a considerable period of abuse. Regardless of the timeframe of these side effects, there are typically always negative feelings during the crash or comedown period.
Cocaine Effects Short Term
Once a user runs out of cocaine, the comedown period begins. Some of the following symptoms accompany this stage:
- Extreme restlessness and inability to sleep
- General feelings of anxiety and irritability
- Panic and rapid heartbeat
- Paranoid and feelings of distrust
One of the most significant risks regarding short-term cocaine effects is the chance of overdose. Statistics compiled from 2011 reported 4,500 deaths due to cocaine overdose. Most of these deaths were associated with either a heart attack or some other form of cardiac condition.
Many physical and mental indicators act as red flags or warning signs regarding cocaine use. An individual under the influence of this drug may exhibit the following symptoms:
- Dilated pupils
- Inability to remain still
- Clenching of the jaws or grinding of teeth
- Excessive perspiration
- Elevated body temperature
- Increased heart rate or blood pressure
- Decreased sexual function
- Twitching or tremors in some regions of the body
- White stains on clothes or beneath nostrils
Many users of cocaine are exceptional at hiding the fact they are under the influence. However, most of the time, most users become unable to conceal the long-term effects physically. Most individuals also end up buckling under the intense mental and financial strain of their cocaine addiction.
Cocaine Effects Long Term
There are significant physical and mental indicators once a user enters the throes of long-term cocaine abuse. Despite their efforts and how well they are at hiding the mental side-effects, there’s little to no power a user has over the physical markers.
Cocaine Effects Long Term: Physical
Many individuals suffering from cocaine abuse disorder can temporarily mask the mental damage that cocaine does. However, some physical side effects can be impossible to cover from peers and loved ones. These long term physical effects include:
- Cocaine effects on breath. Regardless of the method of ingestion, cocaine does a substantial amount of damage to the teeth, gums, and general oral health. Cocaine effects on breath include Xerostomia (dry mouth), lesions, infections, and tooth decay. Cocaine contains high levels of acid, and without the production of saliva due to the effects of Xerostomia, users may develop cavities and gum disease.
- Cardiac effects. Cocaine does a significant amount of damage to the heart and other cardiac functions. Long-term effects include heart arrhythmia, cardiac arrest, and other severe vascular conditions.
- Cocaine effects on the nose and face. Cocaine effects on the nose and face include a deviated septum, collapse of the cartilage and bone in the nose, loss of smell, nose bleeds, and red marks. Users will also experience extreme skin irritation and the risk of bacterial infections throughout the surface of the face.
- Cocaine effects on skin. A significant risk exists for several dangerous skin conditions for a long-time user. Acute Multifocal Necrosis causes brown or purple lesions that eventually lead to skin necrosis in these areas. A lack of blood and oxygen supply due to vein damage brought on by cocaine abuse is one of the leading causes of this condition. Acute Generalized Exanthematous Pustulosis, an acne-like outbreak of the skin, ulcers, and Stevens-Johnson Syndrome are all potential cocaine side effects.
- Respiratory arrest
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Liver damage
- Kidney problems
The mental effects of cocaine can be just as damaging as the physical effects. The potential also exists for significant damage to the personal and professional relationships in the life of an addict.
Cocaine Effects Long Term: Mental
With proper medical treatment and therapy, a user can remedy most of the long-term mental effects of cocaine. However, certain symptoms may leave lifelong scars on the psyche of individuals who use for a substantially extended period.
- Issues in professional life. Buckling under the intense weight of cocaine addiction, many users will experience decreased production and activity in their professional lives. It’s not uncommon for an addict to eventually experience termination from a lifelong career due to behavioral and performance issues.
- Issues in personal life. Individuals will often experience a disconnect or estrangement from immediate family members. Lying, stealing, and disregarding all obligations in personal life are very common.
- Intense depression
- Anger and aggression issues
- Severe anxiety
- Psychosis, auditory and visual hallucinations
- Confusion and disorientation
- Attention issues
- Problems with decision-making
- Cognitive and motor issues
Assuming users get a grip on their addiction, most of these long-term physical and mental effects can be prevented or remedied. However, some of the previously listed conditions are chronic and can be deadly in some cases. This is why refraining from cocaine abuse is vital for preserving a user’s long-term health condition.
Quitting Cocaine and Your Health
Because cocaine abuse happens in three different ways, there are three separate risk categories regarding users’ health. The potential exists for avoiding or healing many system-specific conditions when a user begins the cocaine recovery process. The following section outlines the dynamic between quitting cocaine and your health and the areas that stand to receive the most significant positive impact based on the method of ingestion.
Users that freebase cocaine or smoke crack are at risk for potentially deadly lung conditions. Initially, users will develop a chronic couch similar to a cigarette smoker. The throat is affected, often leaving users with a distinctly hoarse voice.
Over the long term, users develop a much higher risk of developing pneumonia. There is also a significant risk of developing issues from lower oxygen amounts in the blood because of damaged lung capacity.
Individuals that abuse cocaine in this manner that suffers from asthma have a much greater risk of developing lung issues because of this preexisting condition. Because of the chemicals in cocaine and crack, there is also considerable risk for certain lung and throat cancer types after a long period of use.
If a user abstains from using cocaine, most of these symptoms, minus cancer, will reside and potentially clear up altogether. However, depending on the severity and accompanying causes or conditions, cancer survival chances are much higher because of current advances in medical technology.
Sniffing cocaine potentially causes threefold problems because of the connection between the eye, ears, nose, and throat. It’s not uncommon for individuals who sniff cocaine to develop chronic ear, sinus, and eye infections.
The loss of smell and taste are common cocaine side effects when the drug gets delivered in this manner. Many users will develop mouth ulcers and face difficulty swallowing after long-term abuse.
After a period of detox and sobriety, many users will regain their sense of smell and taste. Chronic issues with the ears, eyes, nose, and throat may also subside. Long-term sinus or allergy issues are easily treatable with a prescription or over-the-counter sinus medications.
The injection of cocaine is arguably the most detrimental means of delivery for overall health risks. For most users, the most significant risk associated with any IV drug use is the potential for contracting illnesses such as Hepatitis-C and HIV.
Besides these bloodborne conditions, IV users also face skin and soft tissue damage after developing infections and abscesses from ill-placed injections. This type of use will also lead to scarring, collapsed veins, deep-vein thrombosis, and blood clots.
Even after a short period of sobriety, IV users begin to notice a visible improvement in the skin and tissue damage, as well as improved vein function. Blood clots and conditions like deep-vein thrombosis may require the attention of a physician but are far from a death sentence if effectively treated promptly.
Besides a return to optimal physical health, there is a significant chance of returning to a much better state of mental health. The longer a user remains in recovery and maintains their sobriety, the greater the odds of mending personal relationships with family and friends.
The only way to experience these health improvements is to make the first step in recovery. This is first done by ultimately putting the drug down and refraining from any use, even though it means going through a period of detox and withdrawal.
Side Effects of Cocaine Withdrawal and Detox
Refraining from cocaine use is a notable achievement and takes great willpower. However, there will be a noticeable period of withdrawal that will entail significant periods of discomfort and anxiety. The side effects of cocaine withdrawal include:
- Little to no ability to feel pleasure or excitement
- Severe bouts of depression and anxiety
- Extreme exhaustion or fatigue
- Lack of motivation
- Difficulty maintaining concentration
- Cravings for cocaine
- Body and stomach aches
- Tremors and shakiness in the hands
- Periods of chills or intense sweating
Typically these acute symptoms of withdrawal only last for one-to-two weeks. Rarely are cocaine withdrawals ever life-threatening or require hospitalization, unless thoughts or attempts of suicide accompany them.
Users may choose to go through the cocaine detox and withdrawal period at home or in a detox facility. However, the chances for prolonged recovery are much higher when individuals participate in some form of inpatient or outpatient recovery program. Currently, there are multiple cocaine treatment options for individuals looking to overcome their addiction.
Cocaine Treatment Options
There are three major cocaine treatment options for individuals to choose from to begin recovery. Depending on the severity of the situation and accompanying conditions or addictions, the chances of success are greater by selecting one of the following cocaine treatment options.
Inpatient detox consists of a patient in recovery spending time in a facility with access to medical and mental health professionals. Certain patients may undergo inpatient detoxification in severe cases to remove all traces of cocaine from their system. In this environment, physicians may prescribe certain medications to ease withdrawal symptoms.
Residential Treatment Centers
Residential treatment centers consist of a more dormitory-style setting where individuals suffering from cocaine abuse disorder in recovery live full-time and spend their days focusing on recovery. One-on-one sessions with counselors, educational classes, and group meetings are available to each patient daily. Patients develop goals, treatment plans, and ultimately post-treatment goals as graduation approaches.
Outpatient-based treatment entails maintaining a routine daily home life while attending therapy regularly. Most of the benefits afforded in residential treatment centers are available to recovering users that choose outpatient-based treatment.
Overcoming adverse cocaine side effects related to addiction requires a stringent treatment plan and continued attention to recovery after rehab. Identifying underlying causes, triggers, and accompanying mental conditions increases the likelihood of recovery and long-term abstinence.
Additionally, maintaining normal dynamics post-recovery, such as a steady job and other activities, is vital for returning to everyday life. While recovery is never guaranteed, all of these elements combined with a robust support system give individuals a significant chance to thrive once again and enjoy normality.
At Circle of Hope Treatment, one of our areas of expertise is individuals suffering from cocaine abuse disorder. If you or someone you love is suffering from this or any other challenges associated with substance abuse, it’s important that resources are made available for recovery. Contact a member of our Admissions Department for more information regarding intake and the recovery process.