Long-and-Short-Term Health Effects & Dangers of Cocaine Use
, cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug that can cause many serious serious health effects from long-term cocaine use, including addiction. Despite the harm caused by cocaine use, the substance is still widely used in the United States. According to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 5.2 million people age 12 or older used cocaine in the past year, and approximately 1.3 million Americans 12 years old or older (0.5%) reported struggling with past-year cocaine use disorder.1
What are the long-term effects of cocaine? This page will cover the many lasting health problems from cocaine use, as well as the short-term cocaine side effects, and the treatment options for people struggling with cocaine addiction.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use?
Cocaine abuse has many negative long-term health effects on the brain and body, which can range from mild to severe. Potential long-term effects of cocaine use may include:1
- Developing an addiction .
- Developing co-occurring mental health disorders such as anxiety and addiction or depression and addiction.
- Weight loss and malnourishment.
- Difficulty with memory recall and motor tasks.
- Damage to major organs in the body (e.g., heart and lungs).
- Strain and damage on the cardiovascular system.
- Higher risk of contracting HIV and Hepatitis C.
- Death due to medical complications or cocaine overdose.
First, let’s delve deeper into the long-term effects chronic cocaine use can have on the brain.
Long-Term Effects of Cocaine on the Brain
Cocaine use can have various negative effects on the brain. Some of these complications are on the physical structure and functioning of the brain while others can lead to a cocaine use disorder or a secondary diagnosis of a stress-related mental disorder.1
Luckily, once the person has abstained from using cocaine for an extended time period, the person may regain some of the functions that they had lost during their drug use.2
Some of the complications that may be caused by chronic cocaine use include:1
- Difficulty with memory recall.
- Impaired decision-making and judgment.
- Impulsive behavior.
- Increased sensitivity to stress.
- Addiction and stress-related disorders.
- Increased risk of stroke and seizures.
- Intracerebral hemorrhage (i.e., bleeding within the brain).
With regular use of cocaine, tolerance to its effects builds at the same time as increased sensitization, It takes less cocaine to produce toxic effects resulting in things like:
- Anxiety and panic attacks.
- Psychosis and hallucinations.
As a person continues to use cocaine, the more likely they are to seek it out during times of stress. Research suggest that this may be due, in part, to the action cocaine has on stress hormones.1
Additionally, certain cues in someone’s daily routine can trigger cravings. Someone may experience cravings in response to these cues long after they’ve quit using cocaine.2 Evidence-based addiction treatment can help people avoid and overcome these triggers and repair negative thought patterns that lead them to seek and use cocaine.1
Long-Term Health Effects of Cocaine on the Body
Cocaine use affects many different organ systems in the body.1 Below, we’ll discuss specific problems chronic cocaine use can inflict on the:
- Sinuses and nose.
Effects of Cocaine on the Sinuses & Nose
Damage caused by absorbing cocaine through the nasal cavity (i.e., by snorting powder cocaine) may affect more than half of the people who snort cocaine.1,3
Over time, snorting cocaine is associated with:1,3
- Loss of sense of smell.
- Nasal scabs.
- Chronic sinusitis (inflamed sinuses).
- Nasal septum perforation.
Long-Term Effects of Cocaine on the Heart and Cardiovascular System
Complications to the heart can happen within minutes to hours after cocaine ingestion. While cocaine’s immediate effects to the heart can be severe and even fatal (e.g., heart attacks, arrythmias (e.g., irregular heartbeat), acute hypertension),1 there are potentially detrimental long-term effects associated with chronic use on the heart and blood vessels as well.4 Cardiovascular complications of long-term cocaine use are thought to be a result of repetitive damage done to the heart and blood vessels, which may result in:4
- Increased plaque buildup in the arteries (i.e., atherosclerosis).
- Cardiomyopathy (i.e., enlargement, thickening/rigidity of heart muscle).
- Increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Heightened risk of heart disease (e.g., acute coronary syndrome).
- Aortic dissection (i.e., tear in the aorta).
Regularly injecting cocaine directly into the bloodstream can result in additional damage due to collapsed and scarring of the veins.1
Long-Term Effects of Cocaine and Crack Cocaine on the Respiratory System
Smoking crack cocaine can have result in acute complications can cause chronic or severe long-term complications or consequences on the respiratory system.5 Some of these complications include:5,6
- Chronic coughing.
- Worsening of asthma.
- Damage to the lung that can include, rupture of air sacs inside the lungs as well as inflammation and scarring of the lungs.
- “Crack lung,” which involves severe chest pain, trouble breathing, and fever, despite no indication of damage on X-rays. Once resolved, long-term respiratory effects may persist.
Short-Term Effects of Cocaine
The short-term effects of cocaine include euphoria, being more talkative, and feeling more energetic and alert.7 It also causes short-term physiological changes: constricted blood vessels, dilated pupils, and increases in body temperature, blood pressure and heart rate.7,8
Adverse short-term effects may also be experienced, and the risk of adverse effects increases with larger doses or higher frequency use. Effects may include:7
- Muscle twitching.
- Hypersensitivity to light, touch, and sounds.
- Irritability and restlessness.
- Anxiety and panic.
- Bizarre, erratic, and even violent behavior.
Cocaine use can lead to more severe medical complications including sudden death in both naïve and regular users; most frequent are cardiovascular issues, including chest pain, arrhythmia (e.g., irregular heartbeat), and heart attack.8,9 Drinking alcohol along with cocaine use intensifies and prolongs cocaine’s cardiovascular effects.7 Neurological problems can include seizures, strokes, and coma.9 Cocaine use is also associated with gastrointestinal woes due to reduced blood flow, including abdominal pain and nausea, and continued use may lead to tears and ulcerations throughout the GI system.9
Getting Help for Cocaine Abuse and Addiction
If you or a loved one struggles with cocaine addiction, recovery is possible. There are a variety of evidence-based treatment options you could choose from.10
Treatment can be applied in a variety of settings, and typically involves a combination of detox, behavioral therapy, psychoeducation, and peer support.10 Backed by many years of scientific research, these interventions have been shown to help patients not only get sober, but remain in long-term recovery.
You can access more resources for helping a loved one with an addiction.
Treatment Options for Cocaine Addiction
Research shows that having a treatment plan designed specifically to meet a patient’s individual treatment goals is more likely to result in their successful recovery. This generally means that, upon admission, a team of professionals perform an evaluation and determine the ideal course of action to address the patient’s individual needs. Assessments are routinely performed during treatments and this plan is adjusted as the patient’s needs change.10
There are several different levels of addiction treatment often involved in addiction treatment. This continuum of care may include:10,11,12
- Medical detoxification for drugs: The goal of medical detox is to monitor the patient as they experience cocaine withdrawal symptoms, responding to emergencies if necessary. Detox is crucial for many patients; however, it is just the first step in treatment. Without continued treatment, detox alone is largely ineffective in helping someone achieve long-term sobriety.
- Inpatient addiction treatment: Inpatient addiction treatment involves living in a facility or treatment center undergoing a combination of behavioral therapies, psychoeducational sessions, and peer support.
- Outpatient addiction rehabilitation: With outpatient care, the patient lives at home and travels to regular treatment sessions, which involve much of the same methods utilized in inpatient treatment. Depending on the patient’s needs, they may visit the facility 5-7 days per week (partial hospitalization programs), at least 3 days per week (intensive outpatient care), or less as part of a standard outpatient program.
- Sober living and rehab aftercare: These services are available to a person if they aren’t ready to live alone or simply benefit from extra support to maintain their sobriety after completing rehab.
Cocaine Addiction Treatment at Desert Hope
Our inpatient rehab facility in Las Vegas is here to help you gain the skills needed to get sober and maintain your recovery. Call an admissions navigator at to begin the admissions process or learn more about treatment for you or your loved one.
If you prefer, you can also verify your insurance coverage online using the confidential . Additionally, if you don’t have insurance or your insurance is insufficient to cover the costs of treatment, you can explore other ways to pay for rehab or complete the questionnaire below to see if you qualify for financing through Desert Hope.
Before you start addiction treatment at Desert Hope, the admissions team will evaluate you and develop a customized treatment plan and help coordinate travel plans if necessary.
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