cocaine side effects

Cocaine addiction and misuse are hard to see with the naked eye for many, but it, like many other forms of addiction, is life-altering and harmful to the future of those affected by it. Because of the nature of cocaine and the fact that it is generally an “upper” drug that gives energy, joy, and excitement to its user, we can miss the signs.

While the country has been sent into a tailspin with the opioid epidemic and the extraordinary number of lives lost to it, we may have become slightly less concerned about the number of lives affected by stimulant misuse and addiction.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), cocaine use in America has stayed fairly consistent since 2009, but a true crisis still lies in the number of young Americans consuming cocaine. According to a recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), more than 1.7 million Americans ages 18-25 used cocaine at least once within a year of the survey date.

Recent findings in the NSDUH also shine a light on just how serious the issue of cocaine use is in Texas. In the survey, it was found that 1.47% of Texans ages 12 and older used cocaine within the past year of the survey. With nearly 30 million Texans, we see that nearly half a million use cocaine in any given year.

The Addiction Research Institute at the University of Texas at Austin found that in 2018, a total of 886 deaths in Texas were tied to cocaine use.

The issue of cocaine use is not going away. It is time we educate ourselves and make each other aware of the danger it poses.

What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a recreational stimulant drug (a drug used leisurely instead of for medicinal purposes). It's known to excite our central nervous system (CNR) into a euphoric (happy and excited) high. It runs the risk of overstimulating our circulatory system if the body reaches overdose levels. And the stress to our heart could potentially be fatal in extreme cases.

Cocaine originated from the coca plant in western South American countries. It was adopted into European lifestyles as explorers picked up on its popularity among South American natives. It was later traded into the United States and widely accessible until its negative health impacts caused a ban on coca products (including a change to the original Coca-Cola recipe).

Cocaine is currently illegal in most states although accepted in liquid form for medical/surgical centers and decriminalized in the state of Oregon. The NIDA found that in 2013, “Cocaine accounted for almost 6% of all admissions to drug abuse treatment programs.”

Short-Term Effects of Cocaine Use

The feeling of euphoria (great happiness) associated with cocaine can last from a few minutes to an hour. In that time, you might feel energetic, talkative, and extremely alert. How long the effects will last can depend on the drug’s strength and the way it’s used.

However, once the drug is absorbed, the low that follows comes with depressive thoughts, irritability, anxiety, and paranoia (fear of someone or something). It takes time for the brain’s chemical levels to normalize again, causing people to turn to the drug once more for a return to those former happy feelings.

There are many short-term effects that come with cocaine use. For example, people may have:

  • Dilated pupils (the black centers of the eyes are enlarged)
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Decreased appetite
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Increase in body temperature.

Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use

If cocaine use continues, it could lead to long-term side effects like respiratory (lung) or cardiovascular (heart) failure. The NIDA reported that “people take cocaine in binges, in which cocaine is used repeatedly and at increasingly higher doses. This can lead to increased irritability, restlessness, panic attacks, paranoia, and even a full-blown psychosis [break with reality].” And it can be especially dangerous when cocaine is combined with depressants like alcohol or heroin. This overstimulates the heart and mind and increases the risk of overdose.

To fully understand some of the long-term effects of cocaine use, we first need to understand how it impacts our central nervous system, our cardiovascular system, our digestive system, and our respiratory system.

Central Nervous System

If you ever watch the TV show “Cyberchase,” you might be familiar with Motherboard. She's portrayed in the show as wise and powerful, providing the kids with advice, instructions, or vital information during their missions. Our minds work similarly to Mother-B as they receive and interpret messages from our neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) and send back appropriate responses. Therefore, we run into some trouble when we mess with our body's personal supercomputer.

The brain is equipped with a system called the limbic system (the part of our brain that regulates our behavioral and emotional responses). This system contains something known as the reward circuit, composed of nerve structures responsible for the production of dopamine (a neurotransmitter that causes us to feel pleasure). The reward circuit is necessary to our growth and development as it encourages us to reach our goals by associating a positive feeling with success.

Cocaine interferes with this circuit by stimulating dopamine production. Therefore, the euphoria associated with a cocaine "high" stems from too much dopamine in the brain. Eventually the high disappears, causing us to battle depressive emotions as our body tries to regulate our dopamine levels.

When this happens enough times, we become less sensitive to dopamine and require more and more of the drug to feel the same euphoria. Eventually, different structures in the brain can get damaged, leading to:

  • Chronic headaches
  • Seizure disorder
  • Stroke
  • Disorientation and mental exhaustion
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)

Cardiovascular System

Cocaine damage to the heart is one of the most common causes of cocaine-related death. Pure cocaine was initially used as an anesthetic as it provided surgeons the ability to constrict blood vessels during surgery and numb pain receptors in the brain. This speaks volumes to what it can do to our blood pressure when used to excess.

To put it plainly, cocaine is not kind to the heart. Many studies have shown that those recovering from cocaine use have more muscular hearts than the average person, given how much strain the hearts have faced keeping blood pumping through the body during drug use.

As cocaine causes the blood vessels to tighten, the heart is having to keep up with adrenaline and noradrenaline levels within the body. These hormone increases from cocaine use cause our heart rate to speed up. However, if blood is not reaching the heart, it causes many problems as the heart is expected to beat more than usual with less fuel. Also, the buildup of blood in these constricted vessels causes blood clots to form throughout the body. This can lead to:

  • Permanent damage to blood vessels
  • Heart attacks
  • Ongoing chest pain
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Coronary artery disease (a disease caused by plaque buildup in the walls of the arteries)

Respiratory System

Cocaine’s impact on our respiratory (breathing) system comes mainly from smoking cocaine, especially crack cocaine. Respiratory side effects can vary based on the strength of the drug. You may have:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Chronic cough accompanied with blackened phlegm
  • Increased asthma attacks

These issues can lead to long-term respiratory failure from extensive damage to the lungs and airways. A study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) details more health issues: “Pulmonary complications of cocaine toxicity include pulmonary edema, pulmonary hemorrhages, pulmonary barotrauma, foreign body granulomas, cocaine-related pulmonary infection, obliterative bronchiolitis, asthma, and persistent gas-exchange abnormalities.”

Digestive System

Cocaine can also have gastrointestinal effects on the body. In many cases of cocaine use, a person may have:

  • Severe nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Abdominal pain
  • Acid reflux
  • Severe constipation
  • Bowel tissue decay (tissue death resulting from a lack of blood flow to certain abdominal intestines)

These issues can lead to long-term damage if left untreated for too long. Thankfully, many recovery plans include treating the physical and mental effects of addiction. The sooner you find the right help for you, the greater the chance of catching and addressing any damage resulting from addiction.

Withdrawal Timeline

The withdrawal timeline for cocaine addiction varies based on the length of use and the average dose taken each time. Cocaine withdrawal can come with many symptoms, some of which span over a couple of months depending on each individual’s personal recovery experience. Withdrawal is kind of like the common cold. While there are no true recovery medications for it, there are medication options available to help treat the symptoms.

Stage 1: The first three days of the withdrawal are the most intense. This is when clients have withdrawal symptoms that can include:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Irritability
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Vivid dreams/nightmares
  • Insomnia (the inability to sleep)
  • Heart problems
  • Dehydration

Depending on how severe these symptoms are, your treatment program might include certain medications to help better regulate your first few days of withdrawal. Don’t worry, you’re on your way to sobriety.

Stage 2: During the next one to four weeks (depending on the person’s addiction history), symptoms will peak and decline as your body flushes the effect of the drug out of your system. You’ll likely feel a mix of cravings, periods of depression, and restlessness. A good team of medical professionals in a quality recovery program can help you better manage these symptoms and transition through withdrawal. The good news is, you’re almost there!

Stage 3: This is the best stage of recovery, the “moving on” stage. At this point, you’ll be dealing with something called post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS). These are short-term symptoms that follow withdrawal and can include:

  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Mood swings
  • Cramping

Compared to former symptoms, these are a lot easier to manage; however, they may span from a few weeks to a few months (based on the strength of the addiction). There’s also a lot of psychological withdrawal associated with the final stage. Fortunately, the start of recovery is more focused on your mental health and developing positive behaviors to combat triggers for drug addiction.

There are some things you can try out on your own to lessen the impact of PAWS. Eating healthy, exercising, and getting proper rest are some of the many different healthy practices to stay energized and well-rested.

Detox and Treatment For Cocaine Addiction

Going through cocaine withdrawal alone is not only extremely difficult, but it is also less successful than having the help of experienced professionals at your side. Having the resources of knowledgeable professionals and a safe and controlled environment can make the difference between success and failure in detoxing from an addiction to stimulant drugs like cocaine.

The psychological effects of withdrawal from cocaine can begin within hours of the final dose, depending on the background and history of the person using the drug. Having staff on hand to assist with these effects by doing simple things like keeping you hydrated and rested, or giving out medications if necessary to assist in reducing the symptoms, can make a big difference.

Following detox, the most successful recovery journeys go through a treatment program in a rehab facility. A program centered on your personal journey through addiction is often the best route.

If you’re searching for residential treatment in Texas, Ripple Ranch offers a comprehensive program with both group and individual counseling along with an emphasis on holistic therapies that address physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. Our alternative therapies include yoga, tai chi, exercise, and more.

Ripple Ranch Can Help You Beat Cocaine Addiction

If you are using cocaine or know someone who is, the time to get help is now. Don’t hesitate to reach out to our care team today. Our Texas cocaine addiction treatment center, which is a short distance from Austin and San Antonio, helps people quit cocaine and go on to live their best lives. You could be next. Call us at 830-494-4717.

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