Long-Term Health Effects & Dangers of Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug that can cause many detrimental health effects. If you use cocaine, or you know someone who does, it is important to be aware of the risk of long-term damage from cocaine to your physical and mental health. Stopping cocaine use and getting help for cocaine addiction may aid in preventing or reducing the long-term negative health effects of cocaine.

Let’s discuss the effects of cocaine addiction and the impact of cocaine on different bodily systems. It will also help you learn how to get help for yourself or a loved one, and explain the different levels of care that can help treat cocaine addiction.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Cocaine?

obsessive compulsive disorderCocaine misuse can cause a wide range of short- and long-term health effects, and many of the risks increase as cocaine is used over long periods of time.1 Risks associated with long-term use include:

  • Damage to the sinuses and the nose for those who snort powdered cocaine.1
  • Neurological problems like stroke and seizures.2
  • Heart damage and damage to the cardiovascular system.2
  • Damage to the respiratory system.2
  • Tolerance, meaning more cocaine needs to be consumed in order to achieve desired effects.2
  • Withdrawal symptoms when use stops.1
  • Association of drug use with specific people, objects, or places, which can become cues for substance use, which can contribute to cravings and continued use, as well as relapse.1,2

A cocaine use disorder can also develop, leading to even more repercussions that include interpersonal and professional problems.

Long-Term Effects of Regular Cocaine Use on the Body

Regular use of cocaine can impact different parts of the body in various ways. Someone who regularly uses cocaine has an increased risk of experiencing a number of health problems.

Effects of Cocaine on the Sinuses & Nose

Regular use of cocaine can result in detrimental  effects on the sinuses and nose when the powder form is inhaled through the nose, or “snorted.” These risks include:1

  • Sinusitis (chronically inflamed sinuses resulting in runny nose).1
  • Chronic nosebleeds.1
  • Loss of sense of smell.1
  • Deterioration of nasal tissue.1
  • Congestion.1
  • Problems with swallowing and hoarseness.
  • Perforated or necrotic (death of) nasal septum.1

Effects of Cocaine on the Brain and Nervous System

Cocaine can result in severe neurological and complications at any time. Stroke and seizures have been known to occur after only a single use, although the risk is higher with continued use.1,3 Long-term use of cocaine not only increases the risk someone will have a seizure or stroke but there are additional detrimental effects on the brain associated with long-term use that may result in long-lasting medical, neurological and psychiatric damage. This can include:

  • Brain bleeds and damage to blood vessels in and around the brain.2
  • Movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease.2
  • Impaired neurological functions, including attention, memory, impulse control, psychomotor performance, and decision-making.1,2

Cocaine use can also result in negative mental health effects, with the risk increasing with continued use. This includes addiction, panic attacks, paranoia, and psychosis.2

Effects of Cocaine on the Heart and Cardiovascular System

Cocaine use can pose serious and toxic risks to your heart and cardiovascular system. A person is at risk of cardiovascular complications with short-term use and are at increased risk with long-term use. Heart and cardiovascular complications include:

  • Chest pain that feels like a heart attack.2
  • Heart muscle inflammation.2
  • Stroke.2
  • Increased heart rate.1
  • Reduction in the heart’s contraction ability.2
  • Aortic ruptures.2
  • Arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm).1
  • High blood pressure.1
  • Arteriosclerosis (thickening of blood vessels that carry oxygen and other nutrients from the heart to the rest of the body).1
  • Heart attack.1
  • Sudden cardiac death.1

People who inject cocaine risk collapsed or scarred veins in the arms, or at other sites of injection.1,2 There is also an increased risk of contracting bloodborne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C.2

Effects of Cocaine on the Respiratory System

Smoking crack cocaine can have both acute (i.e., immediate) and chronic (i.e., long-lasting) effects on the lungs.4 When used over long periods of time, there is an increasedrisk of incurring serious damage to the respiratory system4
Some of these health risks of smoking cocaine include:

  • Chronic cough.5
  • Worsening of asthma.4,5
  • Respiratory distress.5
  • Pneumonia and other respiratory infections.3
  • Emphysema.5
  • Pulmonary edema, or fluid buildup in the lungs.5
  • Lung tumors.5 

Snorting powder cocaine can also lead to trauma involving the respiratory system, specifically subcutaneous emphysema (abnormal presence of air in the tissue) and pneumomediastinum (abnormal presence of air in the space between the lungs) although this is rare and is generally a result of severe coughing following insufflation of the drug. This damage may occur at any time during cocaine use, and so the risk increases with long-term use.5,6

Effects of Cocaine on the Gastrointestinal System

Cocaine can affect the gastrointestinal system in a number of ways. Cocaine use can cause limited blood flow to the gastrointestinal tract, which can cause complications such as tears and/or ulcerations. It is also common for those who regularly use cocaine to experience a lack of appetite, leading to dramatic weight loss and potential malnourishment. Additional side effects of cocaine on the gastrointestinal system include:1

  • Abdominal pain.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Death of bowel tissue.
  • Bowel obstructions.

Getting Help for Cocaine Addiction

There are many ways to seek help for yourself or if you are interested in helping a loved one with addiction. There is no single way to treat cocaine addiction, because treatment  is customized and personalized to meet your unique needs and treatment goals.7 People can participate in treatment in different settings, and they may step up or step down in levels of intensity as their needs change over time.

Treatment Options for Cocaine Addiction

When you enter treatment at Sunrise House, we’ll create an individualized treatment plan with treatment goals that’s suited to meet your specific needs. We offer several levels of addiction treatment, so our medical staff and treatment professionals will help to determine the appropriate placement at our inpatient rehab in New Jersey that’s right for you. Our levels of care include:

  • Medical detox, so you can safely and comfortably withdraw from cocaine and become medically stable under the guidance of our physicians and expert addiction treatment professionals.
  • Inpatient rehab, where you’ll live onsite and receive 24/7 care and attention for the duration of treatment. You’ll participate in individual, group, and other types of therapy sessions in order to gain the skills you’ll need to sustain long-term recovery. Learn more about what to expect in inpatient rehab.
  • Aftercare, which helps you stay committed to sobriety once formal treatment has concluded. Sunrise House staff will create a discharge plan that includes different types of aftercare to ensure you have the tools you’ll need for life in recovery.

No matter how bad things might seem right now, there is always hope, and treatment for cocaine addiction can help you take back control of your life. You can start treatment and being one of our programs today by calling and speaking to one of our caring admissions navigators, who can help you with the admissions process and also answer any questions you may have about rehab. You can also leave us a message or get more information about paying for rehab, paying for rehab with health insurance, and instantly and easily with us online.

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.

The Price of Not Getting Help
When contemplating the costs of addiction treatment for yourself, child, or loved one, consider the costs, or consequences, of “things as they are now.” What would happen if the substance abuse or addiction continued? Rehab doesn't have to be expensive. We accept a variety of insurances. Learn more below.