Long-term Effects of Cocaine Use

Using cocaine has short and long term consequences. The long-term effects of cocaine use can be divided into three categories: physical effects for the user, psychological effects for the user, and effects on others. This article explains all three types of long-term effects of cocaine use.


The different ways in which cocaine is used - snorted, inhaled or smoked, used intravenously, or swallowed with alcohol - has some influence on the type(s) of effects experienced.

Physical Effects of Long-term Cocaine Use

Because the brain responds to cocaine use by adaptations, tolerance and addiction are likely developments. With increased tolerance a cocaine user must take higher doses and/or use cocaine more frequently in order to secure the same effects that were initially experienced. Additionally, the body’s natural response to dopamine is undermined. And with continued use, the risk of adverse effects increases.

Long-term, cocaine use can cause localized issues, depending on the way the cocaine is taken. The person who injects cocaine may set off an allergic reaction and runs the risk of contracting blood-borne disease such as hepatitis and HIV. The person who snorts, is likely to cause damage to the nose and throat, including nosebleeds, diminishment of the sense of smell, a continuous runny nose, and difficulty swallowing.

Another thing long-term use of cocaine can do is affect major body systems. An overdose is potentially fatal. In short, cocaine can kill in several different ways. For one thing, cocaine can have adverse affects on the heart, causing arrhythmias and even heart attacks. Brain issues include hemorrhages, strokes, and seizures. Respiratory issues include respiratory failure. Cocaine constricts blood vessels, and continued ingestion can lead to gangrene of the bowel, leading to perforation. Smoking crack, on the other hand, can lead to damage farther up the gastrointestinal tract, often duodenal perforation and Helecobacter pylori infection, as well as being able to cause gangrene and perforation of the bowel.

The general health of cocaine addicts who use over a long time tends to deteriorate as well. Because cocaine seriously reduces the appetite, long-time users can become malnourished. The serious effects on major body systems mentioned above are all linked to pain as they develop. Abdominal pain and chest pain are commonplace.

A separate danger for the drug user stems from impure cocaine. Cocaine is often cut with other substances. On occasion, these other substances can prove fatal to the user. In June 2010, a report in the Annals of Internal Medicine told of a discovery that as much as 80 percent of cocaine entering the United States is cut with an anti-worming agent for farm animas: pigs, sheep, and cattle. In human, it cause the outer layer of skin to die, inhibit the proper function of the bone marrow, and cause a drop in a person’s white blood count, called <i>agranulocytosis</i>, a disease that requires hospital-based treatment.

Psychological Effects of Long-term Cocaine Use

Addiction is one likely long-term effect of cocaine use, making “controlled” or “planned” use and rationing nearly impossible. The strength of addiction makes relapse highly likely, even after abstinence of some duration, and relapse can be triggered by cocaine-use related memories, apparatus, or other things or people that cue memories of the experience of cocaine.

As with physical side effects, with continued use, there is an increase in the likelihood of adverse psychological effects. Irritability is typical. Binges can lead to paranoia and paranoid psychosis, with the cocaine user losing touch with reality and experiencing auditory hallucinations.

Possible Effects on Others of Long-term Cocaine Use

One of the most important effects of long-term cocaine use is its effect on babies who are exposed to cocaine use in utero. While most children who come in contact with cocaine before they are born have normal intelligence, according to the March of Dimes, But research at Case Western Reserve University in 2004 found learning issues, including delays in language development, as well as attention span issues and behavioral problems. Research has also shown that children thus exposed grow more slowly through their eleventh year.



Related Article: Crack Cocaine Addiction >>