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Side Effects of CocaineAccording to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, roughly 30 percent of Americans use cocaine. This drug is made from the processed leaves of the coca plant, resulting in the characteristic white crystalline powder. Side effects of cocaine are to blame for a greater portion of ER visits than all other drugs due to its severe effects on the body and mind.

It’s also one of the most addictive illicit drugs available. This is because cocaine’s effects are immensely pleasurable, but its half-life is extremely short. According to anecdotal reports, the initial euphoria only lasts around 20 minutes, yet the stimulant properties can linger for hours. As soon as the euphoric effects wear off, users experience an overwhelming compulsion to take more.

Cocaine reaches the brain almost instantly and prevents dopamine and serotonin from being properly utilized, resulting in the “high” that users are after. Besides euphoria, cocaine causes a boost in energy, feelings of invincibility and delusions of grandeur, which are part of what makes it appealing to so many people. Furthermore, it makes basic needs like food, water and sleep seem unimportant, and it can also cause a near-maniacal level of productivity.

Short-Term Side Effects of Cocaine

That said, cocaine is a potently destructive substance to health and other areas of life. It carries numerous short-term side effects that can be unpleasant or even dangerous.

  • Restlessness – A person on cocaine is unable to relax. They may pace relentlessly or feel a strong urge to be doing something productive or physically involved.
  • Anxiety and Panic Attacks – Because cocaine is a harsh stimulant, it causes the body to release massive quantities of cortisol and adrenaline. It’s not uncommon for users to suffer from frequent anxiety and panic attacks, particularly once the enjoyable effects of the drug wear off.
  • Irritability – Someone who is under the influence of this drug can become easily agitated, unpredictable and erratic in their behaviors. Furthermore, because of cocaine’s disinhibiting effects, it’s easy for irritability to get out of control and morph into rage. Violent behavior is common with cocaine users.
  • Paranoia and Psychosis – Like any other mind-altering substance, cocaine warps the way the brain interprets information, often resulting in paranoia. Its stimulant properties also facilitate this. With repeated use, cocaine has even been known to cause temporary psychotic episodes involving hallucinations and delusions.
  • Vasoconstriction – As with nearly all stimulant drugs, cocaine results in a large degree of vasoconstriction, or constricted blood vessels. This causes blood pressure to soar and can even increase the risk of deep-vein thrombosis (DVT), subsequently elevating the chance of heart attack, stroke and pulmonary embolism.
  • Pupillary Dilation – Dilated pupils, while not a problem in and of itself, can make bright light unbearable for someone on cocaine. This is why users can frequently be seen wearing sunglasses indoors.
  • High Body Temperature – All stimulants provoke thermogenesis, or an increase in body temperature, and cocaine is no exception. This results in profuse sweating and makes it easy to become dangerously overheated or dehydrated.
  • Heart Palpitations – Cocaine puts considerable strain on the heart by forcing it to work overtime, resulting in the characteristic heart palpitations. Over the long term, this can cause heart failure.
  • Impaired Sexual Function – Because cocaine causes vasoconstriction and increases cortisol, it makes sexual activity difficult or impossible. Excess cortisol and poor blood circulation prevent erections in men and destroy sensitivity in women.

Long-Term Side Effects of Cocaine

Cocaine use also has many hazardous effects in the long-term such as:

  • Cardiac Arrhythmia – Cardiac arrhythmias are where the heart no longer beats properly. Beats may be erratic or uneven. This is often a sign of heart damage and can eventually result in heart attack and sudden cardiac death.
  • Seizures and Neurological Disorders – Long-term cocaine use has been closely tied with brain damage through excitotoxicity, which increases the risk of seizures and other neurological problems.
  • Digestive Issues – Over time, this drug wreaks havoc on the digestive system. Long-time users may suffer from ulcers, abdominal discomfort, nausea, vomiting and constipation.
  • Decreased Olfactory Function – Snorting cocaine damages the nerves and scent receptors inside of the nasal passages. This can permanently hinder or destroy a person’s sense of smell. It can also result in nosebleeds, frequent sinus infections, aggravated allergies and nasal irritation.

External Side Effects of Cocaine

The damage caused by cocaine isn’t just internal. It also bears many outwardly visible physical effects like:

  • Haggard Appearance – Many of cocaine’s effects can promote a haggard physical appearance. Heavy users often look drawn, pale, sallow and older than they truly are. They may also be underweight, sometimes dangerously so.
  • Needle Tracks – Although it’s not the most common way to self-administer cocaine, some people choose to inject the substance instead of snort it. Needle marks, particularly on the forearms, are an ever-present feature in these individuals. If done often enough, the injections can cause scarring and collapsed veins. At this point, users might resort to injecting in other locations such as the legs, feet, hands, between the toes and even the eyeballs.

Social and Behavioral Consequences

Addiction to cocaine happens fast and quickly results in a variety of negative social and behavioral changes.

  • Friends and Loved Ones – People who are addicted to cocaine tend to isolate themselves from concerned friends and loved ones in order to better facilitate their habit. Instead, they may choose to surround themselves with people who also abuse cocaine and other substances.
  • Shirking Responsibilities – Frequent cocaine use typically causes people to become irresponsible. They may fail to show up at work on time or at all. Priorities also shift from taking care of things like bills, food and housing as the drug takes top priority in their lives.
  • Stealing – As money dwindles and addiction grows, cocaine users may resort to stealing. It’s not uncommon for cocaine abusers to commit muggings, theft and burglarly so they can continue funding their habit.

Cocaine abuse is alarmingly common in the United States and costs the health care system nearly $10 billion dollars per year. In order to curtail this growing problem, it’s important to identify the side effects of cocaine and treat this addiction as quickly as possible.

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