long-term effects of cocaine on key organs
Despite some legal medicinal use as a pain reliever and vasoconstrictor, cocaine – a highly addictive central nervous system (CNS) psychostimulant – remains a Schedule II controlled substance due to a high potential for abuse and subsequent addiction.
For most people, cocaine is a popular recreational drug widely abused for its euphoric effects. Moreover, it has been portrayed as a party drug consumed by the rich and the famous. In reality, the adverse impacts of cocaine extend to all sections of the society, especially after the comparatively cheaper crack cocaine entered the market. One can understand the growing menace of cocaine by the fact that ‘crack’ cocaine is enlisted among the most addictive substances in the world.
Cocaine causes a short-lived, intense burst of energy accompanied by euphoric feelings produced by the flooding of the brain’s receptors by the neurotransmitter dopamine. However, the high is quickly followed by a crash, characterized by intense depression, edginess and a craving to use cocaine again.
People addicted to cocaine are unable to eat or sleep normally as their attention is on getting their next ‘high.’ As with most other drugs, they lose interest in the other areas of their lives. Since the prolonged and frequent use of cocaine builds up tolerance, a user needs more quantity of the drug to trigger the same level of high as experienced before.
Given the severe consequences of cocaine, the term “dope fiend” was coined to refer to a habitual cocaine user. According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), the current users of cocaine was estimated to be 1.9 million people aged 12 or older, including 432,000 users of crack.
Effects of cocaine abuse
Besides affecting the brain, the long-term use of cocaine affects the body adversely in numerous ways. Some of these key repercussions have been discussed below:
- Brain: The brain adapts to repeated cocaine exposure by changing the way it communicates with the brain chemicals. Cocaine ages the brain, increases the risk of dementia, deteriorates memory and triggers conditions akin to Alzheimer’s disease. Cocaine by constricting the blood vessels in the brain reduces the supply of oxygen to the brain, resulting in strokes, seizures and sudden death.
- Heart: The immediate effects of cocaine on the heart include elevated blood pressure and a rapid heartbeat. The long-term effects are pulmonary embolism, stroke, deep vein thrombosis, angina (chest pain from the tightening of blood vessels), myocardial infarction (death of heart muscle), tachycardia (a fast-resting heart rate) and arrhythmia (irregular heart rate).
- Lungs: The regular snorting of cocaine damages the mucous membrane lining the nasal passages and causes nosebleed and nasal perforation. Crack cocaine users are known to develop respiratory problems like “crack lung” or eosinophilic pneumonitis, chronic cough, pulmonary infections like pneumonia, tuberculosis (TB), acute respiratory distress and pulmonary edema. Moreover, capillaries that carry oxygen to the rest of the body can be destroyed.
- Stomach: The reduction in blood flow throughout the body due to cocaine use can indirectly damage the stomach and intestines. The short-term consequences of cocaine abuse include constipation, vomiting, nausea, reduced appetite, etc. With the exacerbation of these effects, one can witness necrotic bowel or death of the important tissues in the gastrointestinal tract. Other impacts include stomach ulcers and inflammation of large intestine, resulting in acute digestive problems and even death.
- Kidneys/liver: The kidneys are especially susceptible to damage due to cocaine abuse as increased blood pressure and lack of oxygen damage tissues. A liver injury occurs due to an overdose, as toxins flooding the liver cannot be expunged. The consumption of cocaine with alcohol causes the liver to produce cocaethylene, which increases depressive effects of alcohol, stresses the heart and damages the liver.
Path to recovery
Since the effects of cocaine are quite strong, both physically and psychologically, it is essential to spread awareness about its consequences among everyone. Rather than hiding addiction-related problems, users should be motivated to share their fears and inhibitions with an expert and family. Addiction patients can regain their lost identity and return to normal life through an effective treatment.
If you or your loved one is afflicted with drug addiction, contact the 24/7 Drug Addiction Helpline to access the best inpatient drug abuse treatment centers. You can also seek help for outpatient drug abuse treatment centers. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-403-5607 or chat online.