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What Does Cocaine Do to Your Body and Brain?

4 minute read

Cocaine use is on the rise, and with it, health consequences and fatalities. The CDC reports that in 2020, cocaine overdose deaths increased by 26.5%. Cocaine addiction not only wreaks havoc on your life and relationships, it can damage your health in irreparable ways. While the short-term effects of a cocaine “high” can feel good, long-term physical health effects extend to most of your body’s main systems. Health risks range anywhere from high blood pressure and brain changes to heart attacks and stroke. Learn what cocaine can do to your body, and why you should get help.

Effects of Cocaine on the Brain

Cocaine’s effects on the brain are significant. Like many drugs, cocaine increases your brain’s production of dopamine. This is what gives you the feelings of pleasure and euphoria from cocaine’s drug effects. When you’re addicted to cocaine and use it regularly, your brain becomes depleted of dopamine. This means you start needing increasing amounts of cocaine to feel high. Eventually, your brain requires cocaine to produce even normal levels of dopamine. When you’ve reached this point of drug abuse and addiction, you will likely experience cocaine withdrawal symptoms when you go without if for periods of time.

Repeated cocaine use can:

  • Damage the structure of your brain and put you at risk for seizure disorders.
  • Cause brain neurons to die and slow down brain functions.
  • Put you at risk for mental health disorders like anxiety and depression.
  • Cause loss of gray matter in the brain, which impacts a number of functions like memory, movement, emotions, speech, and sensory perception.

Effects of Cocaine on the Heart

The circulatory system suffers short-term and long-term effects from cocaine abuse. This occurs in a number of ways, including:

  • Constricted blood vessels – Cocaine can constrict blood vessels and blood flow, this makes your heart work harder to pump blood and puts stress on your circulatory system, increasing blood pressure.
  • Abnormal heart rhythms – Cocaine can cause irregular heartbeats. The drug disrupts your body’s supplies of potassium, sodium, and calcium, which interferes with the communication system that tells your heart to beat regularly.
  • Inflamed heart muscle – Cocaine can cause inflammation or infection in the heart’s inner lining. Infection can start with bacteria in the blood when you inject cocaine. Your heart may not pump blood as well, which can lead to several conditions including heart failure.
  • Tears in the aorta – The stress and pressure from your heart pumping harder from cocaine abuse can tear the aorta, which is your largest artery.
  • Hardened arteries – Chronic cocaine abuse can cause your capillaries and arteries to harden, which puts you at high risk for heart disease and sudden death attributed to cocaine use.
  • Heart attack – The American Heart Association has called cocaine “the perfect heart attack drug.” It puts extreme stress on blood vessels, heart muscles, and arteries, putting you at increased risk for a heart attack.

Effects of Cocaine on Breathing

Cocaine addiction also impacts your respiratory system.

  • When cocaine constricts blood vessels and capillaries it hardens the walls of the lungs and other organs. This makes it more difficult to breathe.
  • Smoking crack cocaine can damage your lungs, make asthma worse, and cause other respiratory issues.
  • Studies on rats show cocaine can affect the olfactory system, which is responsible for your sense of smell.
  • Cocaine abuse can cause the lungs to swell, lead to ruptured lung arteries and air sacs, and reduce blood supply to the lungs.
  • Cocaine can produce spasms in the bronchial tubes, which can lead to respiratory failure.

Effects of Cocaine on the Digestive System

Another physical effect of cocaine abuse is its effect on the gut’s “good” bacteria as well as the way it recedes the stomach’s natural barrier to acidity. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) warns of these additional risks on the digestive system:

  • Decreased appetite leading to weight loss and malnutrition
  • Damage to bowel tissues
  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Reduced blood flow to the gut
  • Acid reflux
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Effects of Cocaine on the Endocrine System

Cocaine affects the endocrine system by interfering with hormone production and regulation.

  • Chronic cocaine use can keep the adrenal glands overstimulated, leading to aggression and mental health issues.
  • Cocaine can also impact female sex glands, disrupting menstrual cycles and may affect fertility.
  • Cocaine use may lower sperm count in men.

Effects of Cocaine on the Immune System

Some studies suggest cocaine abuse can poorly impact the immune system.

  • Cocaine can suppress or alter immune cells, lowering your ability to fight disease and infection.
  • If you smoke crack cocaine, you’re at increased risk for bronchitis and pneumonia.
  • Cocaine users are at higher risk for infections like hepatitis and HIV. Unprotected sex, poor nutrition, and injecting cocaine contribute to this risk.

Recover From Cocaine Addiction

Take back your life from substance abuse. Footprints to Recovery offers evidence-based addiction treatment programs that address the underlying reasons behind substance use disorders. We teach you healthier ways to cope with triggers and life’s challenges. You’ll recover alongside peers who understand what you’re going through and behavioral health professionals who are experts in their fields. Contact us today for a free consultation and find out how we can help.


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