Physical Effects Of Cocaine Use

Cocaine is a highly addictive drug that produces noticeable changes in the body, which can become more severe and destructive with continued use.

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Cocaine is an illicit, stimulant drug which works in the body by stimulating the central nervous system. Some immediate physical effects of cocaine use include euphoria, increased energy and alertness, and sometimes a heightened sense of confidence.

Other physical effects of cocaine use can be divided into short-term and long-term effects, as well as effects of cocaine caused by a specific type of administration, such as snorting, smoking, or injecting.

Short-Term Physical Effects Of Cocaine Use

An immediate physical change caused by cocaine use is constricted blood vessels. This makes it difficult for blood to flow properly and can result in high body temperature and sweating. Narrow blood vessels also require the heart to work harder to pump blood, raising heart rate and blood pressure.

As a central nervous system stimulant, cocaine causes the body to become more hyperactive. After using cocaine, a person may start breathing faster and have dilated pupils or bloodshot eyes. They may experience hypersensitivity to sight, sound, or touch. The excess energy can make them restless to the point of “jitters”—involuntary twitches or tremors.

Other physical effects that can occur with short-term cocaine use are:

  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • heart attack
  • stroke
  • seizure
  • coma
  • sudden death

Though rare, reports have indicated people dying after trying cocaine for the first time. Long-term cocaine use and abuse can increase this risk, as well as the chance of further physical complications.

Long-Term Physical Effects Of Cocaine Use

Cocaine often makes a person care less about sleeping or eating. After prolonged insomnia and poor nutrition, the person will likely become exhausted and lose an excessive amount of weight. This weakens the immune system and the body’s ability to function normally.

Cocaine use has been linked to brain disorders, like Parkinson’s disease, that decrease a person’s ability to control their body. Other cognitive impairment issues, such as inability to perform motor tasks or control impulses, may also develop.

Some people experience the feeling of bugs crawling under their skin, called “coke bugs.” They scratch continually, causing bleeding and skin sores. With a lowered immune system, these conditions take a long time to heal.

Oral hygiene is unlikely to be a high priority to someone suffering from a drug addiction. Cocaine causes dry mouth, which decreases production of saliva, the body’s natural tooth protectant. When mixed with saliva, cocaine is acidic and erosive on tooth enamel. Some people rub cocaine directly on their gums, increasing the chance of decay.

Other serious long-term physical effects of cocaine use include:

  • intense chest pain
  • inflammation in heart
  • bleeding in heart, lungs, or brain
  • damage to gastrointestinal tract
  • greater risk for stroke or seizure
  • sexual dysfunction

These symptoms may occur in anyone who abuses cocaine, regardless of the mode of ingestion. There are additional physical effects based on intake method.

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Physical Effects Of Snorting Cocaine

Snorting—also called insufflation—allows the body to absorb cocaine through blood vessels in the nose. This can significantly damage the tissue inside of the nose. It can cause nosebleeds, runny nose, and inflammation. Over time, cocaine may erode the nasal septum (cartilage between the nostrils) and destroy a person’s ability to smell.

Through the nose, cocaine may travel down the airway and drip onto the vocal cords. This can cause a chronic sore throat and hoarse voice.

Physical Effects Of Smoking Cocaine

Smoking cocaine can cause similar harm to the throat and vocal cords. It can also lead to critical respiratory damage.

Cocaine is usually smoked in “crack” form. Hot crack pipes can cause burns on a person’s fingers or lips. Smoking crack cocaine can lead to inflammation of the lungs. This may be accompanied by fever, coughing up blood, low blood oxygen, and respiratory failure—a condition called “crack lung.”

Further respiratory issues associated with smoking cocaine are:

  • black mucus
  • fluid in lungs
  • chronic cough
  • asthma
  • labored breathing
  • chest pain

Physical Effects Of Injecting Cocaine

Injecting cocaine can cause skin lesions at the injection site. It can also increase the chance of disease transmission. HIV and Hepatitis C are easily spread through shared needles.

Cocaine use is linked to dangerous sexual behavior, which can also lead someone to contract HIV or Hepatitis C. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that people who use cocaine and have HIV are likely to have a more intense version of the disease that worsens rapidly.

Dangers Of Cocaine Use

Cocaine blocks transporters in the brain to keep the neurotransmitter dopamine from being reabsorbed. This creates an excess of dopamine and produces a sense of euphoria. Dopamine is naturally released as a reward for something that makes the brain happy. Because cocaine enhances this effect, a person can quickly become addicted to it, seeking the reward by taking more of the drug.

Prolonged cocaine use can cause someone to build a tolerance to the drug. Over time, they need an increasing amount to experience the same euphoria.

Cocaine causes a nearly immediate high that wears off fairly quickly. When coming down, a person may experience withdrawal symptoms, such as depression, restlessness, slowed movement, insomnia, and fatigue. Some people take cocaine repeatedly to avoid this feeling.

Binging can quickly lead to physical dependence and addiction. It can also cause a buildup of cocaine in the body as doses overlap. This poses the risk of overdose.

Cocaine is sometimes used with other substances, such as alcohol or heroin. Combining cocaine with alcohol produces a dangerous substance called cocaethylene that can increase its toxic effects, especially on the heart.

Mixing cocaine and heroin (“speedballing”) is also hazardous and increases the risk of overdose. It is difficult to tell how much of each drug is going into the body and how deadly the combination might be. There has been a significant increase in cocaine overdose deaths in recent years due to polysubstance use with opioids.

Treatment For Cocaine Addiction

Abusing cocaine can wreak havoc on the body, but addiction makes it difficult to stop. Though research is ongoing to find a medication for treating cocaine addiction, other treatment options are available.

Many drug rehabilitation programs start with detoxification to clear the drug out of the body. Treatment plans differ from person to person, and programs can be tailored to help with cocaine addiction or polysubstance abuse. Inpatient drug rehab centers work with individuals to find the best program for their needs.

Treatment may include community groups, behavioral therapy, and counseling. Some programs use art and nature to encourage healing. Through individualized treatment, recovery is possible for someone struggling with cocaine addiction.

To learn more about treatment options for cocaine addiction, contact us at

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