Looking Closer at Cocaine and its Effects

Cocaine and its Effects - IBH

Looking Closer at Cocaine and its Effects

Taking a Deep Dive Into the Effects of Cocaine

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant derived from coca leaves found mostly in South America. The active ingredient is called cocaine hydrochloride (HCl), which comes in two forms — free base or powdered cocaine.

When snorted through the nose into the nasal cavity, it creates intense sensations of pleasure similar to those caused by other stimulants. For many people who are not accustomed to sniffing cocaine, the high comes on strong and fast.

Keep reading to learn more about cocaine and its effects, and how to get effective programs for treatment at Icarus in New Mexico!

A Brief History of Cocaine

In addition to being used as a recreational drug, cocaine has been prescribed medically since 1884 for the treatment of tuberculosis and asthma symptoms. As early as 1915, doctors started prescribing it to treat glaucoma patients suffering from severe eye pressure.

Today, you’ll rarely find cocaine used in a medical environment. This is primarily because of the concern of abuse and the development of newer, more effective options with fewer side effects.

It’s critical to understand the physical and mental impacts of taking cocaine, both short-term and long-term. You should also be aware of the signs indicating if someone might need immediate professional attention after having taken cocaine. Most importantly, you should understand the importance of seeking treatment for a cocaine use disorder by recognizing any warning signs of dependency.

What are Cocaine’s Side Effects?

Cocaine side effects are the direct result, short-term or long-term, of cocaine abuse. These may include the immediate feelings experienced by users once the drug is administered, the short-term consequences, and long-term challenges.

It’s important to understand all of the effects of cocaine to develop a clear picture of the full spectrum of intoxication in contrast with the severe consequences. This puts the act of cocaine abuse into perspective, as the risk is certainly greater than the reward.

What are some of the immediate feelings and side effects associated with cocaine?

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Side Effects of Cocaine During Use

Depending on the specific method of administration, the effects of cocaine are felt almost instantly. Users who sniff the drug begin to experience the effects within two to three minutes, while those who smoke and or use intravenously feel the high immediately.

The feelings associated with cocaine intoxication include:

  • An intense rush of energy
  • Euphoria
  • Inflated sense of self-confidence and importance
  • Inflated sense of pride
  • Increased confidence
  • Increased ability to function in social situations

It doesn’t take long for users to begin experiencing the comedown after the short-lived high. During this period, negative feelings may begin to surface, including the following:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Flushed face
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety

Fringe short-term effects can often be mild but intensify the longer a user engages in cocaine abuse. The following section outlines the possible short-term effects of using cocaine.

Side Effects of Cocaine During Use

Short-Term Cocaine Effects

Negative side effects of short-term use (one year or less) may be experienced as an adverse result of abuse or brought on by the absence of the drug during the crash period. These side effects may include the following:

  • Frequent periods of intense sweating
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Muscle spasms
  • Nausea/Stomach aches
  • Insomnia/General lack of sleep
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid breathing
  • Diarrhea
  • Paranoia
  • Chest pains

The longer a user engages in cocaine abuse, the more potential the presence of severe long-term effects increases. What are some of the long-term cocaine side effects users must remain aware of?

The Effects of Long-term Cocaine Abuse

Using too much cocaine can lead to several health problems as time goes on. Because it affects certain areas of the brain, cocaine abuse can cause depression, mania, dementia, and psychotic disorders, especially schizophrenia in severe cases.

After prolonged periods of heavy usage, addicts often suffer memory loss, cognitive impairment, and seizures. If users continue without detoxing or seeking treatment, they also run the risk of developing:

  • Hypertension
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Stroke
  • Lung infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Liver failure
  • Kidney damage
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Throat cancer

Additionally, users also experience negative professional and personal side effects, aside from the physical and mental risks. A deteriorating personal life is one of the most devastating consequences, as many users sever ties with family members and loved ones.

This feeling of isolation drives the cocaine abuse disorder into overdrive to mask the effects of depression and isolation. Effects on professional life may lead to job termination, causing the user to turn towards illegal acts or selling their valuable possessions to obtain cocaine.

One of the most significant long-term risks associated with cocaine abuse is psychosis. Cocaine-induced psychosis is a severe neurological and cognitive condition that has damaging consequences.

Drug-Induced Psychosis and Cocaine

One major problem with cocaine is that it alters the way our brains work. Unlike alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana, which all stimulate dopamine production, cocaine actually blocks the reabsorption of dopamine.

Over time, this produces excessive amounts of the chemical in parts of the brain responsible for motivation and reward, causing feelings of euphoria and well-being. These same regions of the brain play key roles in regulating mood, appetite, sleep patterns, and movement.

Although initially stimulating, repeated doses of cocaine eventually suppress activity in these areas, resulting in reduced energy levels, fatigue, lack of concentration, irritability, and disorientation.

Signs of Cocaine Psychosis

In rare circumstances, particularly when large quantities of cocaine are ingested quickly over a short amount of time, acute toxicity can trigger a condition called cocaine psychosis. Symptoms of this type of delirium include the following:

  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Aggression
  • Hostility
  • Violent rages
  • Paranoid thoughts

It’s not uncommon for individuals suffering from cocaine-induced psychosis to believe that everyone is against them. They may suddenly attack family members, friends, or strangers, believing them to be enemies trying to harm them.

They may panic and flee without stopping to get away from their delusions. The delusions may also occur regarding persecution, divine retribution, guilt, omnipotence, omniscience, suicidal tendencies, and homicidal rage.

Individuals suffering from this form of psychosis can be extremely dangerous and unpredictable. If you believe someone is experiencing a psychotic episode, don’t attempt to subdue them and call 911 so they can receive the proper help.

Cocaine also seriously affects the heart. It’s not uncommon for individuals who abuse cocaine to suffer from heart conditions directly related to cocaine.

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Cocaine and its Effects on the Heart

Intense studies have taken place regarding cocaine and the heart. Because of the extensive amount of damage cocaine does to the heart and surrounding circulatory system, it’s critical that long-term users receive help for recovery.

The chances are high that they could already suffer from cocaine-induced heart challenges and not even know it. The following conditions are possible for long-term cocaine use:

  • At low and high doses, cocaine causes heart arrhythmias and blocks sodium and potassium channels.
  • Low doses can lead to coronary spasms and an imbalance between oxygen supply and demand.
  • High doses may cause norepinephrine uptake and decreased ventricular contractability.
  • Vessel damage and ruptures
  • Artherosclerosis
  • Coronary artery disease
  • The muscles around the heart weaken significantly.

Clearly, cocaine takes aim at the heart in a big way. One final serious byproduct that should be pointed out regarding cocaine abuse is its effect on the brain’s chemistry.

Cocaine and the Heart IBH

How Does Cocaine Affect Brain Chemistry?

When it comes to the area of the body that cocaine affects the most, it’s a close competition between the heart and brain. Much like the heart, cocaine affects the brain in several different ways.


Cocaine throws your brain off balance by affecting the way neurotransmitters are produced. Neurotransmitters affect the messages sent from the brain to different parts of the body. This includes feel-good sensations through dopamine and the surges cocaine causes.

When these surges take place, there’s more dopamine than the body is able to use, which is what causes the high from cocaine ingestion. Your brain becomes used to these high levels, and when cocaine isn’t present, the body can’t produce levels high enough to make you feel good. Additional receptors that are affected include:

  • Norepinephrine, which may cause memory loss
  • Serotonin, which can cause OCD


Cocaine causes diminished function in our orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). This is the part of the brain that influences your decision-making process. The longer cocaine is abused, the harder it is for individuals to make well-thought-out decisions.

Cocaine also changes your gene expression. This is the process that allows your DNA to morph into a protein. If this process is damaged, your body can no longer properly determine how your cells should function. Cocaine changes the way this process works in the part of the brain that affects learning and memory.

Basically, instead of your mind relating love with things like family and healthy events, it begins to associate these feelings with cocaine. This eliminates your body’s mental defense against cocaine that would normally tell your brain that cocaine is bad.

Brain Cells

Cocaine can cause neurons to attack themselves. Autophagy is the process in which the waste generated by cells is eliminated from the body. However, cocaine causes mitochondria to be eliminated as well, which kills the cell’s energy production abilities. This eventually leads to cell damage and death.

Additionally, long term cocaine abuse can also lead to:

  • Depression
  • Increased risk of Parkinson’s disease, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia
  • Auditory hallucinations
  • Neurological conditions

Overdose can further potentiate many of these conditions and lead to sudden death. Despite what individuals may think, significant overdose risks are associated with cocaine.

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Cocaine Overdose Risks

One of the most dangerous parts of cocaine overdose is the fact that you may not be aware of the presence of one until it’s too late. This leads to many of the fatal overdose situations that occur.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, cocaine overdose victims often show no outward sign of distress until half an hour later. By then, however, death usually results.

Signs of a cocaine overdose include shallow breathing, clammy skin, convulsions, foaming at the mouth, unresponsiveness, and elevated temperature. Contact emergency workers if you notice any of these signs.

Can You Reverse the Damage Done by Cocaine?

In certain instances, cocaine can cause life-altering damage. However, barring a major event, most of the damage done by cocaine may be stopped and even reversed.

Of course, this is contingent on the severity of the damage and how fast one is willing to enter recovery. The faster the individual commits to sobriety, the faster the risks from the damage can be mitigated.

Is it necessary to go to rehab for cocaine abuse disorder? In many cases, the answer is yes. The following section covers some of the features of these programs.

The Features of Effective Cocaine Treatment

Features of Cocaine Treatment

There are now many different residential facilities offering various treatments for substance abuse and related conditions. Some of the possible approaches include:

  • Individual counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Religious services
  • Spiritual healing
  • Music therapy
  • Art therapy
  • Nutrition education
  • Massage
  • Exercise classes
  • Outdoor recreation

Most offer some combination of these therapies, along with detoxification and medication management. All provide 24-hour surveillance, structured meal schedules, housing, laundry service, counselors, and psychiatrists available on site.

Our aftercare planning looks at the time beyond inpatient care as well: with 12-, 16- and 26-week plans to achieve specific goals, helping clients stay sober longer and avoid relapse rates. Other Icarus programs focus on providing support systems to aid in recovery, such as peer mentoring groups, life skill development workshops, self-esteem enhancement courses, and personal finance tutorials.

Once admitted to a program, recovering clients typically receive a thorough evaluation conducted by licensed therapists. Based on the results, our staff tailor personalized recommendations accordingly.

Long-term Recovery from Cocaine Abuse is Possible at Icarus

At Icarus Behavioral Health, we believe long-term recovery from cocaine abuse is possible with a strong relationship between clients and staff, as well as a strong support system. We show our clients how to build both of these to forge a path toward recovery.

To find out how we can help you on your journey, contact one of our admissions specialists today!

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