Cocaine Addiction: Long-Term Effects of Cocaine
Despite being glamorised by celebrities, the side effects of cocaine use can often be deadly.
Cocaine is a well-known party drug often associated with the elite stratum of society — celebrities, fashion models, even politicians and CEO’s. But despite cocaine’s high price tag and celebrity media hype, its use extends throughout society and the effects of cocaine are not so glamorous.
What is Cocaine?
There is a misleading notion that because cocaine is derived from the coca plant grown mostly in South America, it is therefore “natural” and less harmful than other street drugs such as methamphetamine and ecstasy. But cocaine is far from natural or harmless. Different chemical processes are used to create the two main types of the drug: powdered and crack cocaine.
Powdered cocaine: Powdered cocaine, or cocaine hydrochloride, is a water soluble form of cocaine. On the street, powdered cocaine is known as “coke” or “blow.” It is often diluted with corn-starch, talcum powder, or combined with other drugs like the local anaesthetic procaine. In most cases, the powder is snorted, but some will mix it with water and inject it. Both forms of use pose serious health risks including addiction.
Crack cocaine: Crack cocaine is made through a chemical process of mixing the drug with baking soda to create a rock form that is then smoked. Crack cocaine is also extremely addictive and dangerous.
Short-term Effects of Cocaine
The immediate effects of cocaine are often described as euphoric, especially when first used. The short-term effects last between a few minutes and a few hours and include the following:
Feelings of euphoria or elevated mood
Increased mental alertness especially to sensations of sight, sound, and touch
Sense of superiority
Along with the ‘high’ that these feelings create, other immediate effects of cocaine on the mind and body include:
Increased heart rate
Increased blood pressure
Constricted blood vessels
Tolerance develops quickly and users often need more and more of the drug to feel any effects of cocaine at all. Even short-term use can cause severe negative health consequences and death.
The Effects of Cocaine over Time
Over time, cocaine use has increased negative side effects both physically and psychologically. Cocaine is highly addictive and repeated use can quickly lead to cocaine dependence which carries a host of negative consequences, and affects all aspects of the user’s life. These can be broken down into physical and psychological effects on the user.
Long-term Physical Effects of Cocaine
With long-term use, the following parts of the body will be affected by cocaine:
Brain The brain adapts to cocaine use and changes in its ability to produce and receive neurotransmitters. This contributes to tolerance for the drug and also decreased sensitivity to our natural “feel good” brain chemicals. Cocaine also causes constricted blood vessels in the brain which can lead to strokes, seizures, and sudden death even in young people.
Heart Long-term cocaine use is hard on the heart. Increased heart rate and blood pressure coupled with constricted blood vessels can cause heart attacks. Cocaine can also lead to a deadly abnormal heart beat called arrhythmia.
Respiratory System Smoking crack cocaine can cause irreversible damage to the lungs. It can also cause acute respiratory failure.
Stomach Cocaine use constricts blood vessels in the stomach which over time causes ulcers, and can lead to ruptures in the stomach and intestines.
Kidneys/Liver Like any drug, cocaine use poses a serious threat to the kidneys and liver which have to work extra hard to deal with the poisonous substance. Cocaine can exacerbate long-term kidney failure in people with high blood pressure and can also cause sudden kidney failure.
Nasal Passage Snorting cocaine regularly causes serious damage to the nasal passages. This includes chronic sinus problems, nosebleeds, and nasal perforation.
Long-term Psychological Effects of Cocaine
Long-term use of cocaine can cause the following personality changes and effects on mental health:
Aggression Long-term use can lead to angry outbursts and increased aggression, especially when the effects of the drug wear off and the user is left with symptoms of withdrawal.
Psychosis Heavy cocaine use can cause auditory and sensory hallucinations and even full-blown psychosis where the individual displays erratic behaviour and loses touch with reality. Sensory hallucinations are sometimes described as feeling as though there are bugs crawling on the skin.
Severe Depression Prolonged cocaine use can lead to severe depression. Cocaine abuse causes changes in the brain’s reward system which lead to decreased sensitivity to natural reward exchanges in the brain and a need for increased cocaine to produce good feelings for the user.
Insomnia/Fatigue Sleeplessness due to cocaine use can lead to extreme fatigue. Over time, a cocaine user will find that their ability to sleep and rest, as well as feel alert and wakeful is completely diminished. This of course affects the ability to perform daily tasks such as going to work and caring for oneself.
Suicidal Thoughts After prolonged use, cocaine withdrawal can lead to severe depression, suicidal thoughts, and even death by suicide.
As is evident above, long-term effects of cocaine pose a serious threat to the user’s quality of life and can often result in death. Some people regularly abuse and become addicted to cocaine yet continue to function on the surface by maintaining high-level positions and family obligations. These high-functioning addicts are not immune to the serious negative effects of cocaine and consequences of drug addiction and should seek treatment.
How is Cocaine Addiction Treated?
The effects of cocaine are extremely powerful both physically and psychologically. While cocaine withdrawal is rarely medically serious the psychological effects are difficult to tolerate and intense cravings can send someone back to using after multiple attempts to stop. Most people will require either inpatient or outpatient drug rehab to recover from their addiction.
Treatment for addiction to cocaine must be holistic and comprehensive as the drug not only effects the brain, but also creates psychological, physical, and social problems. Currently, effective treatment includes 12 Steps approaches, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), plus one-on-one and group addiction counselling – all of which support intensive relapse prevention planning. The risk for relapse with cocaine is especially high as users can experience intense cravings even after years of abstinence.
(This article is the sole property of “The Cabin Chiang Mai”; they are its original authors)