This is What Happens to Your Body on Cocaine

Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant that is used as a recreational drug. It’s known by many names including coke, snow, crack, and blow.

The drug is most commonly found in the form of a fine white powder, but it can also be made into a rock crystal. Because of the various forms, it can be found in, cocaine can be used by snorting, injecting, or smoking it.

Regardless of how it’s used, cocaine causes dopamine levels in the brain to skyrocket, creating intense feelings of energy and euphoria. With prolonged use, the body requires more and more of the substance to achieve the same effect, which causes addiction.

According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, roughly 5.5 million people over the age of 12 had used cocaine within the past year. An estimated 112,000 adolescents between the ages of 12-17 had admitted to using cocaine in 2018. The report found that young adults aged 18-25 were the most likely to abuse cocaine, in part because the drug is commonly found on college campuses.
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Health Risks Associated with Cocaine Abuse

Not only is cocaine highly addictive, but it can pose serious health risks for frequent users.

Recreational cocaine abuse can cause mood and behavioral changes, as well as physical ailments. Some of the most common health risks associated with cocaine include:


  • High blood pressure
  • Abdominal pain
  • Decreased appetite
  • Severe paranoia
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Chronic nosebleeds (for those who snort the drug)
  • Hallucinations
  • Upper respiratory problems (specifically for those who snort the drug)
  • Increased risk for bloodborne diseases (specifically for those who inject the drug)
  • Bowel gangrene


In addition to these symptoms, cocaine users may also experience more serious health complications. Cocaine affects nearly every major system in the body, including the cardiovascular system, nervous system, and sinuses. These issues can be long-term and many are irreversible.

If you or a loved one are suffering from cocaine addiction, we’re here to help. Contact us today and speak with one of our trusted recovery advisors.

Cocaine’s Effect on the Body

The Brain on Cocaine

Like all addictive substances, cocaine creates structural changes in the brain and affects how it responds to chemicals. Heavy cocaine users eventually become tolerant and need a larger amount of the drug to feel the euphoric effects. One study found that cocaine has been shown to cause abnormalities in the frontal lobe. Cocaine use is linked to widespread loss of gray matter, and enlarged basal ganglia, the section of the brain that houses the reward system. Both of these issues can increase a person’s risk for stroke, dementia, and other memory problems.

Nasal and Sinus Issues

People who snort cocaine often have sinus and nasal issues. With repeated snorting, the mucus membrane on the septum can become damaged, inflamed, and irritated, which decreases blood supply. Over time, a cocaine addict may suffer from serious complications, including septal perforations, nose ulcers, soft palate damage, and nasal septum necrosis. The dryness caused by snorting cocaine can also lead to severe and chronic nosebleeds. In extreme cases, cocaine snorting can even cause nose deformities due to a collapsed septum.


Smoking cocaine isn’t the most popular method of using, but it can lead to a number of issues in the lungs. Many people who smoke cocaine experience chronic coughing, bronchitis, and even coughing up black phlegm. Sharp chest pain, shortness of breath, and pain while swallowing have also been reported by frequent users. People who ingest large amounts of cocaine frequently can eventually develop a condition called subcutaneous emphysema, which is caused by trauma in the lungs and chest wall. Because smoking cocaine causes lung damage and inflammation, it can also lead to respiratory failure, which can be fatal.

Cardiovascular Consequences

People who use cocaine report a spike in energy, which is accompanied by increased blood pressure and rapid heartbeat. When cocaine enters the bloodstream, it disrupts the heart’s electrical signals and causes cardiovascular distress. Cocaine use has been linked to atherosclerosis, which is a hardening of arteries and capillaries. It can cause aortic dissection, which is a sudden tear in the aortic wall due to extra stress on the heart. Cocaine can also increase a person’s risk for heart attack and heart failure. One study found that 4.7% of adults under age 50 had used cocaine at the time of their first heart attack.

Treatment for Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine addiction is a serious disorder and getting sober requires professional treatment. People with serious cocaine addictions often need to start treatment in a medical detox under the supervision of an addiction medicine specialist. In a medical detox setting, addicts can safely withdraw from cocaine and get medication to help ease the withdrawal symptoms.

Following detox, most people will enter a partial hospitalization program (PHP), which offers a supportive and structured environment for individuals to begin their recovery journey. PHP programs are different from inpatient residential programs or sober living homes. However, clients in a PHP program receive treatment most days of the week at a treatment facility.

After completing a PHP program, the next step is to start an intensive outpatient or outpatient program, which allows people to continue getting treatment, while having more time for work, school, and family obligations. Outpatient programs consist of individual therapy, group therapy, relapse prevention, goal setting, and more.

If you or a loved one are suffering from cocaine addiction, our clinical team at Nexus Recovery is here to help. We specialize in substance abuse, mental health, and co-occurring disorder treatment for adolescents. Our approach to treatment is comprehensive and holistic, using a combination of evidence-based therapies and alternative treatments that address the physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing of every client.

We encourage you to contact us today to speak with one of our trusted recovery advisors. Call us anytime at (310) 881-9151 or send us a confidential message online.

If you or a loved one are suffering from cocaine addiction, we’re here to help. Contact us today and speak with one of our trusted recovery advisors.

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