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The physical effects of cocaine

Posted on 05-22-15 in Addiction, Addiction Treatment, Recovery

physical effects of cocaine

Most people know that cocaine use is a very bad idea. However, a lot of them may not know exactly why. While cocaine was originally developed as a painkiller, nowadays it is an addictive drug identified by multiple street names that can be snorted, ingested and injected in an effort to gain a fast-acting high. Cocaine is responsible for more U.S. emergency room visits than any other illegal drug. Cocaine can come in either a powdered form, which can be snorted or injected or a crack or rock form, which can be smoked. While it can create a pleasurable high, cocaine also has serious negative effects that include damage to the brain, heart, blood vessels and lungs, in some cases resulting in sudden death.

Cocaine’s effect on the brain

The initial introduction of cocaine to the body can be done through a needle, ingestion or through snorting the substance nasally. Cocaine immediately affects the brain by interfering with the chemical messengers or neurotransmitters that communicate with each other , but it affects the striatum the most. This is the part of the brain that is responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward, meaning that the resulting high is registered in the brain as a feeling of reward.

These positive feelings caused by cocaine use are powerful but short-lived. The more the drug is used, the more a person needs to use it to get the desired effect as they build tolerance and eventually an addiction. This seriously changes the balance of chemicals in the brain and stopping the drug use later will create serious withdrawal symptoms because of this change in chemicals. In addition to this, as the cocaine high and its pleasurable feelings begin to fade (the high lasts anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours), it is immediately followed by a change in mood and emotions. Individuals will go from high and happy to intensely depressed, edgy, paranoid, angry, hostile, anxious and craving more of the drug. In serious cases of extended abuse, cocaine can even cause hallucinations and psychosis.

Cocaine’s effect on the body

It has been established that cocaine, formulated to affect the brain, will take a serious toll on the brain’s health and do some major damage. However, it can also affect the rest of the body in a number of ways, some of them being connected to the adverse effects that cocaine has on mental health and some directly connected to how the drug is introduced to the body. Cocaine takes a toll on:

  • The heart: cocaine use increases the heart rate and blood pressure within the user while simultaneously constricting the arteries that supply blood to the heart. This can lead to a heart attack or cause an abnormal heart rhythm called arrhythmia.
  • The lungs and respiratory system: Smoking or snorting cocaine damages the nose and sinuses, increasing nosebleeds and increasing nasal perforation. It also irritates the lungs and can cause permanent lung damage.
  • The gastrointestinal tract: Cocaine use not only constricts the vessels feeding blood to the heart but also those supplying blood to the gut. This creates oxygen starvation, which can lead to ulcers or perforation in the stomach or intestines.
  • The kidneys: Using cocaine can result in sudden kidney failure though rhabdomyolysis or, for those with high blood pressure, it can cause long-term kidney damage.
  • Sexual functions: Despite the drug’s reputation as an aphrodisiac, cocaine may actually impair sexual functioning and, for men, may cause delayed or impaired ejaculation.

Finding help

There are no two ways about it: cocaine use, though it does create a brief but powerful positive-feeling high, causes far more damage to every part of the body. It increases the risk of long-term damage and can cause sudden death, which is too big of a risk for a thirty-minute high that leaves you feeling worse than before. If you or someone you know is using or addicted to cocaine, please seek help. To learn more about treatment for cocaine abuse, you can visit stage.sovhealth.com or call 866-524-5504 for more information.

Written by Brianna Gibbons, Sovereign Health Group writer