Cocaine’s Long-Term Effects on the Body


Candy, Bump, Snow, Charlie, Coke, Blow. Cocaine is known by a whole list of street and slang names. It is a powerful and highly addictive, euphoria-producing stimulant drug derived from coca plant leaves, which are native to South America. Long-term use of cocaine can have devastating effects on the body and mind of those who use it.


Cocaine’s Devastating Physical Effects

It is essential to seek treatment to stop using cocaine because continued use can have adverse effects on a person’s health and even lead to death. Here’s how cocaine can negatively impact the body:

  • Snorting cocaine can lead to nosebleeds, frequent runny nose due to nasal septum irritation, loss of sense of smell and swallowing difficulties.
  • When rubbed over the gums, cocaine can cause ulceration of the gums and underlying bone problems. It can also lead to enamel erosion due to the acidity of the mix of cocaine and saliva.
  • Smoking crack cocaine can cause severe lung damage.
  • Cocaine use can cause seizures and bleeding in the brain.
  • Long-term cocaine use can severely damage the GI tract due to decreased blood circulation leading to ulcerations and tears.
  • The loss of appetite from cocaine use can lead to malnutrition. 
  • Cocaine causes significant damage to the heart, leading to chest pain, aortic rupture and heart muscle inflammation.
  • Injecting cocaine can leave people who use it vulnerable to infections, including HIV and skin abscesses.


What is the Connection Between Cocaine Use and HIV?

Research has shown that cocaine accelerates HIV infection by impairing immune cell function and promoting virus replication. Cocaine also intensifies the damaging effects of HIV on the cells in the spinal cord and brain. Studies also suggest that using cocaine can hasten the development of NeuroAIDS, neurological conditions associated with HIV infection. Symptoms are memory loss, impaired vision and movement disorders.

Even people who use cocaine by methods other than injecting place themselves at risk for HIV because cocaine impairs judgment, leading to risky sexual behavior with infected partners.


Your Brain on Cocaine

In the short term, cocaine helps some people to do simple physical tasks quicker and more effectively. However, the long-term effects of cocaine on the brain are disastrous. In addition to bleeding in the brain, movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease can develop after years of cocaine use. There is evidence that long-term use of cocaine can cause impairment in memory areas, sustaining attention and decision-making involving reward and punishment.

People who frequently use cocaine can develop a binge pattern, where cocaine is used repeatedly and at increasingly higher doses. Bingeing can lead to:

  • Increased irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis (where the person loses touch with reality and experiences auditory hallucinations)

The risk of adverse psychological or physiological effects increases with higher doses and frequency of use. 

Cocaine works on the brain’s dopamine levels. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain related to reward, and cocaine prevents the reuptake of dopamine back into the neuron. The result is elevated levels of dopamine sitting in the spaces between two neurons, cutting off their communication. The heightened level of dopamine in the brain’s reward center reinforces drug-taking behavior. The brain can quickly adapt to these levels leading to the need to take more of the drug to achieve the same effects and avoid withdrawal. Even after receiving treatment, it can be hard to stay off the drug. 


Quitting Cocaine

Recreational cocaine use can quickly spiral out of control into a full-blown addiction. Even though it is challenging to quit using cocaine and maintain recovery, it is possible, and help is available. 

The FDA currently approves no medications for use in treating cocaine use disorder. However, ongoing research into drugs that work at different sites and on various neurotransmitters in the brain. There is hope that medications used for other substance use disorders can also help cocaine use disorder. Disulfiram, which is used to treat alcohol use disorder, has shown promise in this area. Unfortunately, it has not been effective in everyone with cocaine use disorder. Researchers have developed and conducted early tests on a cocaine vaccine that could help reduce the risk of relapse. The vaccine stimulates the immune system to create cocaine-specific antibodies that bind to cocaine, preventing it from getting into the brain.

There are no approved medications for the treatment of cocaine use disorder. Casa Palmera offers multiple levels of care and a wide variety of evidence-based and complementary treatment modalities effective in helping people stop using cocaine and begin their lifelong recovery journey.  Some of the services offered at Casa Palmera are: 

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Interpersonal/group therapy
  • Bio/neurofeedback
  • Art therapy
  • Opportunities for physical activity, such as ropes course


Long-term cocaine use can destroy the body and mind, but a life free from cocaine is possible. That life starts at Casa Palmera’s healing treatment facility in beautiful Del Mar, California. At Casa Palmera, we treat the whole person with evidence-based treatments and various treatment modalities. If you or a loved one needs help to stop using cocaine, do not wait. Call Casa Palmera at (855) 508-0473 for information on how we can help.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.