The Long Term Effects of Cocaine

January 10, 2018

The Long Term Effects of Cocaine

Studies on the long term effects of cocaine on the body and mind have revealed a great deal of information. Researchers have found that with repeated exposure to cocaine, the brain starts to adapt, resulting in the reward pathway becoming less sensitive to natural reinforcers.

While this is going on, the brain’s circuits involved in managing stress become increasingly sensitive, leading to increased displeasure. Eventually, this negatively impacts moods of the user when not taking the drug, signs that are indicative of withdrawal. These combined effects make the user more likely to focus on seeking the drug instead at the sacrifice of relationships, nutrition and other natural rewards.

After continued regular use, tolerance may develop so that higher doses, more frequent use of cocaine, or both, are needed to produce the same level of pleasure and relief from withdrawal experienced initially. The seeds of addiction have taken root at this point.

The Long Term Effects of Cocaine on Behavior

The signs of heavy use of cocaine in terms of behavior get easier to spot over time. For reference, “heavy use” of cocaine is defined as the use of two (2) or more grams a week, at least four (4) times a month for one year. For these types of long term users, symptoms you should look for include:

  • agitation
  • argumentative or aggressive behavior
  • insomnia
  • irritation
  • jittery body movement
  • rapid speech patterns or
  • weight loss due to lack of appetite

Eventually, users can start experiencing delusions or hallucinations. If left unchecked, the user may become psychotic, violent and paranoid.

The Impact of Binging

Addicts tend to ingest cocaine in binges, a process whereby cocaine is used repeatedly and at increasingly higher doses. Common symptoms of this pattern include increased irritability, restlessness, panic attacks, paranoia and even full-blown psychosis. In some cases, the individual might lose touch with reality and can even experience auditory hallucinations.

As doses increase or with a higher frequency of use, the risk of adverse psychological or physiological effects increases. Researchers who studied the long term effects of cocaine on animals yielded similar data.

Collectively, the data showed that binging on cocaine during adolescence enhances sensitivity to the rewarding effects of cocaine and MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly). They also determined that binge use of cocaine during adolescence can increase vulnerability to continued use of the drug in many users.

The Role of Ingestion Methods

Specific routes of cocaine administration have their own specific adverse effects. Snorting cocaine can lead to loss of sense of smell, nosebleeds, problems with swallowing, hoarseness and an overall irritation of the nasal septum. This can lead to a chronically inflamed, runny nose.

Smoking crack cocaine damages the lungs and can significantly worsen asthma.

People who inject cocaine have puncture marks called “tracks”, most commonly on their forearms. These users are at risk of contracting infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis C. They also may experience allergic reactions, either to the drug itself or to additives in street cocaine, which in severe cases can result in death.

What Are the Side Effects of Cocaine on the Body?

Among the most serious long term effects of cocaine is the risk of organ damage. Cocaine use reduces blood flow in the gastrointestinal tract which can lead to tears and ulcerations. Chronic cocaine users often experience a loss of appetite, resulting in weight loss. With prolonged use, users can become malnourished.

With continued usage, the heart and cardiovascular system can be damaged. It’s not uncommon for users to experience chest pain that feels like a heart attack. This sends many users to the emergency room.

It’s not surprising that cocaine use is linked with increased risk of stroke, as well as inflammation of the heart muscle.

With long term use, there is increased risk for stroke and seizures and other neurological problems. Emergency rooms have seen cases of intracerebral hemorrhage, or bleeding within the brain, as well as balloon-like bulges in the walls of cerebral blood vessels.

Studies have also shown a link to movement disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, after many years of cocaine use.

Research and studies of the long term effect of cocaine suggest that a wide range of cognitive functions are impacted, including  attention span, impulse inhibition, memory, making decisions involving rewards or punishments, and performing motor tasks.

Compounding the battle against cocaine addiction is the fact that cocaine users are at high risk for relapse, even following long periods of abstinence. Research indicates that during periods of abstinence, the memory of the cocaine experience or exposure to cues associated with drug use can trigger strong cravings, which can lead to relapse.

Long Term Effects of Cocaine on a Fetus

Effects of cocaine on pregnancy are not yet conclusive. Since there have been no long-term studies into the effect of prenatal cocaine in humans, evidence for cocaine-induced cardiac programming is lacking in humans.

Despite this lack of direct evidence, studies in humans clearly show that prenatal cocaine exposure results in alterations to the heart and the autonomic nervous system.

These findings (and long-term effects of cocaine on the body seen in animal research) strongly suggest that fetal cocaine exposure is capable of inducing cardiac programming. The studies further suggest that prolonged use of cocaine and use during

Behavioral Interventions

Behavioral treatments have been found effective for treating cocaine addiction. This includes both residential and outpatient approaches. Indeed, behavioral therapies are often the only available effective treatment for many drug problems, including cocaine addiction.

Recent studies that integration of both pharmacological and behavioral treatments may ultimately prove to be the most effective approach.

Disulfiram (a medication that has been used to treat alcoholism), in combination with behavioral treatment, is effective in reducing cocaine abuse according to limited studies.

The District Recovery Community treats all patients as individuals, each receiving services that match all of their treatment needs. For example, if a patient is unemployed, we help to provide vocational rehabilitation, training or career counseling.

Similarly, if a patient has marital problems, we offer couples counseling.

Are You Using Cocaine Long Term?

If you or a loved one is a long term user and are concerned about the long term effects of cocaine on the body and mind, reach out to The District Recovery Community for a free consultation. Call us at (949) 397-6095.

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