About the Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use

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Every time a person uses cocaine, they expose themselves to significant harm. The longer they engage in this dangerous behavior, the greater their risk becomes for catastrophic outcomes. The long-term effects of cocaine use can include devastating physical, psychological, and social damage.

What is the Chemical Makeup of Cocaine?

Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant that is derived from the coca plant, which is native to South America. It can also be described as a tropane alkaloid, which puts it into a family of secondary plant metabolites that share certain chemical features.

The molecular formula for cocaine is C17-H21-N-O4. This means that one molecule of cocaine consists of 17 atoms of carbon, 21 atoms of hydrogen, one atom of nitrogen, and four atoms of oxygen.

What Does Cocaine Use Do to the Body?

When a person uses cocaine, the drug binds to proteins called dopamine transporters that are located on neurons in certain parts of the central nervous system. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is associated with several positive functions, such as reward, motivation, pleasure, memory, and learning.

When the central nervous system is functioning as designed – without being affected by cocaine – here’s what should happen with dopamine:

  • One neuron releases dopamine into the synapse (or gap) between it and the closest nearby neuron.
  • The dopamine delivers its message by attaching to a special receptor on the other neuron.
  • Once the message is delivered, a dopamine transporter on the second neuron delivers the neurotransmitter back to the original neuron, where it can be reabsorbed and stored for later use.


But when cocaine binds with the dopamine transporter, it prevents this protein from doing its job. This results in a buildup of dopamine, which in turn can cause short-term effects such as:

  • Euphoric mood
  • Energy boost
  • Elevated self-confidence
  • Increased alertness
  • Talkativeness


The short-term effects of cocaine are typically brief. If a person smokes the drug, they may experience a more intense high that subsides within about 10 minutes. If someone snorts cocaine, the short-term effects may be a bit less powerful, but last slightly longer (up to 30 minutes).

When these effects wear off, a person may experience a physical and psychological “crash.” To forestall this experience, people who use cocaine often abuse it several times in a short period. This attempt to prolong their high can increase a person’s risk of suffering from various long-term effects of cocaine.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use?

The short-term effects that we discussed in the previous section can be both dangerous and pleasurable. When we turn our attention to the potential long-term effects of cocaine, the likelihood of significant harm increases, while any thoughts of pleasure are decidedly diminished.

As we noted at the top of this post, the long-term effects of cocaine can include damage to a person’s physical, psychological, and social well-being. 

Let’s begin with some common long-term physical effects:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Malnutrition
  • Heart damage
  • Sinus problems
  • Respiratory distress
  • Bleeding in the brain
  • Blood clots
  • Tics and tremors
  • Convulsions
  • Stroke


Experts suspect that extended cocaine abuse may also put a person at risk of some neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

From a psychological perspective, the potential long-term effects of cocaine can include:

  • Impaired focus and concentration
  • Problems with memory and learning
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis


The long-term physical and psychological effects of cocaine can erode a person’s ability to enjoy a satisfying independent lifestyle. Potential social damage from compulsive cocaine abuse can include:

  • Substandard performance in school or at work
  • Academic failure
  • Difficulty finding and keeping a job
  • Conflicts with friends and family members
  • Ruined relationships
  • Legal problems, including arrest and incarceration
  • Extreme financial difficulties
  • Withdrawal and isolation
  • Homelessness


The severity of these long-term effects of cocaine use underscores the value of appropriate professional treatment. When a person gets help, they can end their cocaine use and begin to build a foundation for a healthier future. But if a person waits too long to seek treatment, the damage they incur from cocaine can be overwhelming. 

Can These Long-Term Effects Be Treated?

The likelihood of successfully treating the long-term effects of cocaine can depend on a variety of factors, such as:

  • How long the person had been using the drug before they sought treatment
  • How frequently they used cocaine and how much of the drug they typically used
  • The nature and severity of the damage to their physical health
  • If they developed co-occurring mental health concerns


Many of the psychological, and social effects of long-term cocaine abuse can be addressed in rehab. For example, therapy can offer benefits such as:

  • Learning how to manage mental health symptoms 
  • Developing strategies for controlling drug cravings
  • Identifying triggers that could undermine their recovery
  • Beginning to rebuild relationships that were damaged or ruined by cocaine abuse
  • Preparing to return to school or re-enter the job market


If a person incurred significant physical harm due to their cocaine abuse, medical attention may also be necessary. 

Contact Our Cocaine Addiction Treatment Facility Today

To start to heal from the long-term effects of cocaine abuse – and to protect yourself from future harm – it is vital that you end your use of this dangerous drug. If you haven’t been able to stop using cocaine on your own, Renewal Recovery Group can help.

Our cocaine addiction treatment facilities offer a full continuum of personalized care at multiple locations in Southern California. In every program and at every location, our patients are cared for by teams of experienced and dedicated professionals. We thoroughly assess each person’s history, needs, and goals, then we develop a customized plan that will prepare them for long-term success.

When you’re ready to end your cocaine use for good, the Renewal Recovery Group team is here for you. To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact page or call us today.

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