Cocaine Side Effects and Signs of Use

Signs of cocaine abuse are generally easy to spot. Most of the symptoms are physical and include behavioral changes. Mood swings, irritability, nose bleeds, weight loss, and risky behavior are just a few of the side effects associated with cocaine use.

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The Effects of Cocaine

Cocaine effects can be felt within the first 15 minutes when it’s snorted, or within seconds when smoked or injected. The initial effects peak after about 30 minutes and the cravings for more begin soon after. This cycle of use and reuse is very rapid and changes with how the drug is ingested.

Short-term Side Effects of Cocaine:

Within minutes, the user will feel a sense of exhilaration; sensitivity to sight, sound, and touch; and become very talkative and hyper-alert. Pupils dilate, blood vessels constrict, and the pulse and heart rate increase. When the initial, pleasurable sensations wear off, irritability and restlessness set in this can begin within 30 minutes of taking the drug.

The perceived elevation in physical and mental performance makes users of this drug very vulnerable to habitual use. This leads to feelings of paranoia, erratic or aggressive behavior, and physical effects like tremors, irregular heartbeat, muscle spasms, teeth grinding or clenching the jaw, and vertigo. Death can occur suddenly, sometimes with the very first use.

Long-term Side Effects of Cocaine

Continued use of cocaine leads to addiction and increasingly serious physical and mental health problems. Users can build up a dependency – meaning that it takes more of the drug with each use to gain the same effects – without becoming addicted, but addiction never happens without a concurrent dependency.

With long-term use, the brain becomes adapted to the artificial stimulation of neurotransmitters created by the drug, causing hypersensitivity to stress and agitation when the drug is withheld. It takes complete abstinence from cocaine and medical supervision for at least a few days for the pathways to begin functioning properly on their own again. Physical and emotional problems also accompany habitual or heavy use.

Physical and Emotional Side Effects of Cocaine

  • Cognitive impairment, accompanied by a reduction in gray matter
  • Aggression
  • Inability to feel pleasure (anhedonia)
  • Paranoia and psychosis
  • Heart, lung, and liver damage
  • Damage to the mucous membranes and cartilage in the nasal cavity
  • A chronic runny nose and frequent nosebleeds
  • Hypertension
  • Inability to deal with stress
  • Tooth decay

Regardless of the long or short term side effects of cocaine, abuse or cocaine overdose can lead to death from respiratory failure, heart attack, or stroke at any time.

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How Long Does Cocaine Stay in Your System?

Regardless of the signs of cocaine addiction are present, when cocaine side effects kick in, or how long they stay, the presence of cocaine can be detected for up to two days in the blood and saliva or up to four days in the urine. Heavy or long-term cocaine abuse can result in detection for up to three weeks.

What Are the Signs of Cocaine Addiction?

Cocaine is a very powerful drug that can rapidly veer from cocaine abuse to addiction. By the time someone with cocaine dependency begins to experience the long-term effects of cocaine, addiction is probably well-established.

When concerned about cocaine addiction by a friend or loved one, look for symptoms like:

  • Unusual behavior, like sudden personality changes or secretiveness
  • Excessive tardiness or absenteeism from work, school, family, or social obligations
  • Financial problems, including unemployment, bankruptcy, or selling off valuables
  • Turning to theft or other criminal activities to support a growing and expensive habit
  • Impulsive or risky behavior
  • White powder or residue around the nostrils or mouth
  • Extreme weight loss, disinterest in food
  • Sleep disturbance and insomnia
  • Mood swings

If someone is injecting cocaine, there will be needle marks or long tracks that look like scars near the injection sites; look for these on the arms, behind the knees, or between fingers and toes. Smoking crack cocaine or freebasing can lead to extremely chapped or burnt-looking lips, tooth discoloration, and tooth loss. Look for drug paraphernalia like small mirrors, razor blades, and straws or rolled-up bills used to snort coke, syringes for injecting, or glass tubes, pipes, and steel wool used for smoking.

According to a National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) report, around 14 percent of all US citizens over the age of 12 have tried cocaine. Addiction to this drug is a serious problem that takes professional help to overcome. Most private rehabilitation centers offer inpatient programs to manage withdrawal from cocaine side effects and end dependency.

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