If you currently use this addictive drug, you are tempted to try it or you have concerns that a loved one may be abusing cocaine, it is important you are aware of the dangers of cocaine. As with other addictive substances, cocaine use takes its toll on your mind and body, leading to a range of short and long-term health problems. However, the side effects of cocaine extends far beyond the impact it has on your physical and mental wellness, as abusing cocaine can disrupt all aspects of your life, particularly if you become dependent on it or develop an addiction. Understanding the destructive nature of cocaine allows you to make an informed decision about whether you should even try coke or crack or it may help you to decide that it is time to quit your habit. This information also puts you in a better position to help a loved one who is abusing cocaine.
Short Term Effects of Cocaine
It is possible to snort, smoke or inject cocaine. If you snort cocaine, you will feel the effects within a few minutes, which can last for as long as half an hour depending on the dose you took and how tolerant you are to its effects. Alternatively, if you smoke cocaine, you will achieve a much quicker hit, but the effects wear off quickly. Similarly, injecting cocaine, produces instant and intense effects. However, the immediate effects of smoking or injecting cocaine, and their intense effects, make them more dangerous, as overdose and addiction are more likely.
According to Brown University, coke stimulates the nervous system and in doing so stops the re-uptake of a chemical messenger known as dopamine. This signaling molecule induces feelings of pleasure and also controls movements. When levels of dopamine build up in the brain, this causes over stimulation, leading to feelings of euphoria, confidence and alertness. However, as soon as the effects of cocaine that are pleasurable wear off, you may feel anxious, restless, irritable and low in mood. You may also experience difficulty sleeping and physical pain, and sometimes users become paranoid and aggressive following a hit. This encourages some people to take larger and repeat doses to prevent withdrawal symptoms, which means an addiction to cocaine can quickly develop.
The withdrawal symptoms you experience during a comedown are not the only negative effects of cocaine you may experience in the short-term. As cocaine heightens your confidence, you are likely to feel you can still function well following its use, which encourages you to take risks, such as driving when high. You are also more likely to drink heavily after taking cocaine, which heightens the effects of alcohol, making it a dangerous combination. Users who abuse cocaine and then drink are more likely to suffer the negative effects of alcohol like vomiting, breathing difficulties and loss of consciousness, all of which can put you at risk. The combination of cocaine and alcohol is also potentially deadly, as when your liver processes both substance it generates another chemical, which can place significant strain on your heart, increasing your risk of a sudden death.
As cocaine is a stimulant it increases your pulse, blood pressure and breathing rate. This makes you more susceptible to respiratory arrest, where you stop breathing, or a stroke because either high blood pressure causes your brain’s blood vessels to rupture or stimulants narrow your vessels enough to cut off the blood supply to your brain. Even if you are otherwise in good health, taking a large dose of cocaine or using it often can also put you at risk of a heart attack or seizure. However, it is still possible for someone to die suddenly from their first use, demonstrating just how severe the effects of cocain potentially are.
Long Term Effects of Cocaine
If you become a habitual user of cocaine, you not only continue to risk the short-term effects of drug abuse, but you also leave yourself vulnerable to long-term problems. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse explains, some of the long-term health issues of cocaine abuse include:
- Addiction. Owing to the changes that cocaine brings about in your brain, repeated use results in behavior changes, so you seek out the drug and it becomes your focus. Once addicted specialist counseling and rehab is essential to help a cocaine user to break their habit and stay drug free.
- Mental health problems. You are more likely to suffer from anxiety, mood disorders and paranoia as a long-term cocaine user.
- Damage to your nasal passages and swallowing problems. This arises due to the destruction caused by snorting cocaine.
- Gastrointestinal problems. Coke causes your body to constrict its blood vessels, which reduces the blood supply to your stomach and intestines. As a result of reduced oxygen supply you may develop ulcers and internal bleeding.
Women who plan to start a family or who are already pregnant should avoid all illegal drugs due to the impact this can have on their developing baby and the course of their pregnancy. Although Emory University reports that cocaine use among pregnant women is typically below 5%, they are keen to highlight the dangers of abusing cocaine in pregnancy. For instance, there is some evidence that women who use coke are more likely to experience premature delivery, their infants may suffer birth defects and their babies are five times more likely to experience sudden infant death syndrome. Women who continue to take cocaine during pregnancy and do not seek help may also neglect their newborn, placing their infant’s health and welfare at risk.
This shows just how diverse cocaine side effects are, but when you consider more than just powdered coke, you see even more problems associated with its use.
Effects of Crack
When powdered cocaine is heated with either baking soda or ammonia and water, this forms crack cocaine. Crack is either smoked or processed further to form a liquid for injection. As with coke, abusing crack can lead to similar short-term health effects, and as already mentioned, the risks of addiction, mental health problems and physical health issues are even greater owing to the intense hit that users receive. There are some additional crack cocaine effects though that arise from the way in which users take this addictive substance. For example, the University of Arizona advises that smoking crack can lead to a range of respiratory problems and exacerbate existing lung conditions like asthma. Besides the collection of fluid on the lungs and the risk of a bleed within the lungs, when you choose to smoke the drug, constriction of your blood vessels makes it more difficult for you to transport oxygen. You may also develop “crack lung,” where you experience chest pain, breathlessness and cough up blood, which may require mechanical ventilation in the most serious cases. Meanwhile, anyone who injects crack and shares needles risks contracting HIV. However, the University of California, San Francisco highlights that although users who inject and share needles more often are at greatest risk of infection with HIV, taking coke or crack by another means can also lead to transmission if it encourages you to take risks with new sexual partners.
Additional Cocaine Symptoms
Beyond the impact on your physical and mental wellness, the side effects of cocaine users can extend to all areas of your life and also impact on that of those close to you. Just some of the areas where coke and crack use can have an effect are your education, employment, relationship with family and friends, and your criminal record. While you may not notice the impact that your drug habit is having on your life, this is often all too clear to your loved ones.
If you are still at school or college, you are not alone in abusing cocaine, with CDC estimates suggesting that around 5.5% of high school students have used coke or crack at least once. Besides substance misuse being the leading cause of death of students aged 15 to 24, Florida Institute of Technology discusses the academic impact that drug addiction can have. As with alcohol abuse, taking cocaine and other addictive drugs can lead to problems with your academic work, cause you to miss classes and may even lead to you dropping out of high school or college. You are also more likely to become aggressive and engage in violent behavior when you are high on crack or coke, which may result in disciplinary action and your possible expulsion. Failing to perform to the best of your abilities and complete your academic course can have a serious impact on your future prospects, so knowing this may help you to steer clear of drugs or seek help if you need it.
Cocaine symptoms may have a similar impact on your performance at work. If you suffer badly from the effects of a come down, this may leave you less productive during the working day and may even see you taking time off work. Reduced productivity and high rates of absenteeism are not looked kindly on by employers, so you risk losing your job as a result of your destructive habits. This can have financial implications, particularly if you have a family to support, and worsen existing money problems that have arisen from your cravings for more frequent and higher doses of cocaine.
The changes in your behavior brought on from using crack or coke may see you withdraw from your family and friends. This is likely to make your loved ones worry about you, but if they are aware of your cocaine habit this may also strain your relationship with them, particularly if you brush aside their worries and their encouragement to seek treatment. While this is a difficult time for everyone involved, family therapy sessions available during rehab for cocaine addiction can help to restore your relationship with those close to you.
Even with no previous dealings with the law, your cocaine habit may lead to a criminal record, either directly or indirectly. For instance, according to Bloomsburg University if you are caught in possession of coke, in Pennsylvania you can face up to a year in prison, with longer sentences available for second and third offences. However, with at least 5g of crack cocaine you face a minimum of a five year sentence. Even if you are not caught with drugs, the crack or coke side effects may encourage you to drive under the influence or get into a fight, which itself may lead to a criminal conviction.
Side Effects of Coke and Crack that Suggest Addiction
Although you may only consider yourself as an occasional cocaine user, it is easy to become dependent on this addictive substance. When your body becomes reliant on the drug, you will notice the withdrawal symptoms of crack use and coke use. These can occur either after a cocaine binge or when you cease long-term heavy use of the drug. Unlike opiate dependency, there are no physical symptoms associated with cocaine withdrawal, but you will experience a range of unpleasant symptoms that affect your mental well-being. Medline advises that the most common signs of withdrawal from cocaine are agitation, depression and unpleasant dreams, though tiredness, general slowness and feeling unwell may also accompany these primary symptoms. Some people may even feel suicidal when they quit cocaine use. Part of the withdrawal process is also intense cravings for coke or crack, even though if you give into cravings following chronic use you are less likely to achieve the high you used to and instead an unpleasant experience of fear and paranoia is more likely.
Besides needing to take cocaine regularly to prevent withdrawal symptoms, there are other signs that you may have developed an addiction. As Help Guide points out, the following signs can indicate you have an addictive habit:
- You have become tolerant to the effects of cocaine. This means you need to take larger quantities of the drug to gain the same effects that a smaller amount used to allow you to achieve.
- You have lost control over your cocaine use. Even if you want to use less or take the drug less often, you can’t help yourself from continuing to use it at your current level. You feel that you no longer have a choice over your drug taking and cannot cut back or quit your use alone.
- You no longer take part in the activities you used to enjoy, so hobbies and socializing fall by the wayside as a result of your cocaine addiction.
- Cocaine use is now your focus, so when you aren’t snorting coke or smoking crack, you think about the drug and how you can get your next fix. However, a lot of your time is now spent recovering from the adverse effects of come downs from cocaine.
- You still use cocaine even though it is harming you. Even if you haven’t overdosed on cocaine, if your mental health deteriorates, you experience blackouts or you develop physical health problems, and you continue to abuse coke or crack, this shows just how strong a hold the drug has over you.
Even with an addiction to cocaine, you can still turn your life around with specialist drug rehab such as that offered by Steps to Recovery, allowing you to break free from drug dependency and achieve a brighter future.
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