24 Hour Helpline: (818) 431-2224

Substance Use and Mental Health Disorder Educational Blog

6 Long-Term Effects of Cocaine on the Heart

effects of cocaine on the heart

Signs of Cocaine Abuse and Long-Term Effects of Cocaine on the Heart

While other stimulants like methamphetamine and fentanyl have taken over the popular imagination when it comes to drugs, cocaine is still the drug of choice for many who suffer from substance use disorders. What users may not realize is that the long-term effects of cocaine on the heart (and rest of the body) can cause significant health problems, including death. If you or a loved one is doing too much coke, it is important to get help before it’s too late.

You may not become addicted to cocaine the first time you try it. But as you continue to use, it will have more and more of an effect on you. Everyone has a bad habit or three, even those who aren’t drug users, but as long as they don’t affect your daily life, you can live with them.

A cocaine habit often turns into an addiction, where your using starts causing problems for your physical and mental health, as well as your ability to function on a day-to-day basis. You start paying more attention to how you will get the coke and where you’ll use it, instead of things like your job or your relationships with your loved ones.

Long-Term Effects of Cocaine on the Heart

Signs that you’ve developed an addiction include:

Poor performance at work or school.  Now that you’re paying less attention to daily activities, you’ll be worse at them. Your thoughts may be taken up with cravings or plans for using. Or you may be showing some physical or mental symptoms that distract you from the work in front of you. Either way, your performance has noticeably deteriorated.

Mood swings.  Cocaine causes changes in the way your brain works, especially with the neurochemicals or brain transmitters that help regulate your moods. The addiction may also make you feel more anxious or depressed than usual.

Changes in the way you look as well as your physical health.  For various reasons, drugs tend to weaken or suppress your immune system, so you’re more likely to catch whatever virus or bacterial infection is going around. As you focus more and more on the drug, you may not be showering or brushing your teeth as often as you used to. You might not be paying attention to laundry or similar chores either.

Changes in the way you sleep.  Drugs interfere with your body’s natural circadian rhythm. You might have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep. You may get a lot of sleepless nights, and you could end up sleeping all morning to counteract the lack of sleep from the night before.

No interest in your usual activities.  As the drug takes over, you start neglecting your family, friends, and other close relationships. Any hobbies or fun activities that you used to do take up time you could be getting high, so you give those up. You might have difficulty getting to work or school every day.

Legal and/or financial issues.  People abusing substances often exhibit risky behaviors, like driving under the influence or getting into physical fights. Many of these issues lead to jail time. As you build up your tolerance to coke and need more and more of it for the same effect, you need to spend more money on it which causes financial problems. You might start borrowing money from people that you know but have a hard time paying it back because you’re using it to buy drugs.

Problems with your relationships.  Not only do you stop hanging out with people you like and love, but they may also start noticing that you’re having issues. Whether or not they know cocaine is the culprit, they want you to get better. You may realize they’re just trying to help. But when you’re deep in cocaine addiction, you either don’t think you need the help, or you’d rather do the drug instead of getting into recovery.

While many drug addicts experience some or all of the symptoms listed above, there are also clear signs that you have a problem with cocaine specifically. Coke affects your brain’s reward pathways so it doesn’t make as much of the neurochemicals (brain transmitters) as it needs to. In addition, cocaine makes the circuits that are involved with stress response more sensitive, so when you’re not high you’re feeling bad and have a lot of negativities.

As you take more and more cocaine, you build up a tolerance to it. You need more and more to feel the effects that you’re looking for, such as pleasurable feelings. Unfortunately, this coincides with an increased sensitivity to negative effects, so you don’t need as much to have anxiety or convulsions, or other toxic effects.

If you’ve developed a cocaine use disorder, you probably take it in binges, ingesting a lot of it all at once. That leads to issues like:

  • Panic attacks
  • Increased irritability
  • Paranoia, believing that other people are out to get you
  • Psychosis, where you lose touch with reality and may begin to hear things that aren’t really there

Recovery is a process that lasts a lifetime.

6 Long-Term Effects of Cocaine on the Heart

So far, you’ve learned about some of the more psychological effects, but it’s also known to have long-term effects of cocaine on the heart and other organs. Damage to your heart causes both short- and long-term problems that could lead to serious consequences, especially if you don’t seek treatment in time. Sudden death is a risk for cocaine users, even those trying it for the first time. 

In addition to the chance of dying, there are other damaging results as well, particularly to your heart. Cocaine stresses your heart and blood vessels. When your cardiovascular system is working overtime as it does on coke, you’re likely to end up with some kind of problem with your heart. 

Doing cocaine results in high blood pressure, thickening of the walls of the heart (which may seem like a good thing but it’s not), and stiffening of the arteries.

  1.  Chest pain.  While chest pain may not actually be a heart attack, it can often feel like one. Cocaine users often take themselves to the emergency room when they experience the pain that mimics a heart attack.
  2. Heart attack (myocardial infarction).  Of course, the reason that you may feel like you’re having a heart attack after taking coke is because you are having one. A heart attack happens when the blood flow to your heart is blocked or significantly reduced.
  3. Inflammation of the heart.  This condition leads to more plaques (the things that block your blood vessels) and make them more likely to loosen from your arteries and cause blockages. Inflammation also triggers blood clots, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes (which we’ll get to later.)
  4. Decreased ability for the heart to contract.  The heart is a muscle. If it can’t contract the way it should, then it can’t pump blood the way it needs to. Your brain and lungs, as well as other parts of your body, can’t get enough blood and that can lead to dizziness, fainting, weakness, and shortness of breath. There are even more serious long-term consequences.
  5. Aortic rupture.  The main artery in your body, the aorta, has three layers to it. A rupture happens when there’s a tear in the inner layer, which means that blood starts pouring through the middle and outer layers, pushing them apart in an aortic dissection. Once the tear reaches the other two layers, you have an aortic rupture. This can kill you unless you get help in time.
  6. Erratic heartbeat.  Cocaine is known to interfere with your body’s calcium, potassium, and sodium levels, which are needed for your heart to beat regularly. When your heart is beating erratically, you could end up with blood clots (leading to heart attack, stroke, and even sudden death.)

Other Effects of Cocaine on the Body

But wait, there’s more! In addition to the long-term effects of cocaine on the heart, other organs may suffer damage from too much cocaine use. Additional consequences include:

Issues from snorting cocaine.  Inhaling coke causes damage to the relevant tissues, as you might imagine. You may end up with nosebleeds and lose your sense of smell entirely. You might be hoarse and have a hard time swallowing. Your septum can be so irritated that you have a chronically runny nose.

Issues from smoking (crack).  Just as smoking cigarettes can damage your lungs, so can smoking crack. If you have asthma, you’ll probably find that crack makes it worse.

Issues from injecting coke.  Not only do you end up with punctures and track marks at the injection sites, but you’re also more likely to get HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) or hepatitis C from sharing dirty needles. Hep C can cause liver and kidney problems.

Ulcers.  Abusing coke decreases the blood flow in your gastrointestinal tract, which includes your esophagus, stomach, and upper and lower intestines, plus your rectum. That can tear the tract, which may result in ulcers.

Lack of appetite.  As a well-known appetite suppressant, cocaine can also take away your appetite long term, not just when you’re using. You may become malnourished since you’re not taking in the nutrients that you need for your body to function well.

Stroke.  Even more seriously, you could end up with blood clots that block the blood vessels to your brain. That’s what causes a stroke. The less blood that’s getting to your brain, the more your brain cells are starved of the oxygen that the blood normally brings to them.

Seizures.  When your brain has an uncontrolled electrical disturbance out of nowhere, you have a seizure. It doesn’t matter whether you’re smoking, snorting, or inhaling cocaine. You also don’t necessarily have to be a long-term user to have one. 

Brain bleeding.  Having a brain bleed (also known as intracerebral hemorrhage) isn’t quite the same as when you scrape your arm and bleed. Inside the brain, bleeding can kill brain cells by starving them of oxygen. It also interferes with your nerve cells so they can’t communicate with the rest of your body. If that happens, you may lose memory, speech, or even the ability to move certain parts of your body.

Movement disorders.  Cocaine use is also implicated in conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. Overusing coke makes the neurochemical dopamine build up inside your brain, which overstimulates dopamine receptors. These cells end up withered and damaged from the overload, which leads to Parkinson’s and other types of movement disorders.

How Effective is Cocaine Addiction Treatment?

The sooner you get to treatment, the less you have to suffer from the long-term effects of cocaine on the heart and other parts of your body. Cocaine treatment can be very effective; however, you may have occasional strong cravings that could potentially trigger a relapse even after you’ve been abstinent for a while. However, even a strong desire for cocaine doesn’t mean that you will relapse, especially if you have a strong foundation of recovery and a supportive community that can help you avoid giving into the craving.

Behavioral treatments in both inpatient and outpatient settings are shown to be effective in helping cocaine users get and stay clean and avoid the negative long-term effects of cocaine on the heart. One of these treatments is known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and although it’s used for other drugs as well, is well known for helping cocaine addicts recover and prevent relapse. 

This type of therapy helps you learn to recognize the situations where you might be more likely to use and how to avoid them. CBT also teaches you other life skills, such as how to manage stress without reaching for a chemical crutch, and how to develop healthy relationships.

There are several levels of care when it comes to cocaine addiction treatment. What you need to get and stay clean will depend on a number of factors, including how long you’ve been using coke.

Detox.  Detoxification in a residential facility helps users gradually stop taking the drug rather than stopping all at once. This can minimize severe withdrawal symptoms. A safe, supervised detox allows your withdrawal symptoms to be more manageable.

Inpatient.  Residential treatment facilities offer highly structured programs. Mornings and afternoons are usually devoted to group and individual therapy as well as life skills classes. In the evenings after dinner, you’ll normally have time for hobbies and other fun activities.

Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP).  You’ll spend most of your day most days a week getting therapy and learning the healthy habits you need for a life free from cocaine addiction. However, you won’t be staying at the facility.

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP).  The next step down as far as intensity, IOP requires less time in classes and therapy. Usually, your program takes place after work or school or on weekends. You continue to learn and practice healthy habits and identify healthy places to hang out with other members of your sober community.

Outpatient.  Finally, in outpatient programs you transition into after-rehab life and often schedule your own classes and appointments as needed. Some people choose to go to sober living homes during and after outpatient treatment to get more support.

Is Detox Necessary Before Cocaine Rehab?

Drugs don’t magically disappear from your body once you stop using cocaine. Given the lack of appetite from cocaine, you may be malnourished and dehydrated. Medical detox can provide you with fluids and nutrients that help you feel better as you stop the cocaine. 

Detox helps with the psychological and mental aspects of cocaine withdrawal. But you don’t necessarily have to go to detox before you go to rehab. Some people may not be able to get through the withdrawal period by themselves, and if that’s you, then you do need to go to detox. 

On the other hand, you may not need detox to get and stay clean. This is typically true for those who haven’t been using cocaine for very long and haven’t been taking too much of it.

Recovery is a process that lasts a lifetime.

Overcome Cocaine Addiction with Help at Magnolia

You don’t have to suffer a cocaine addiction any longer, and you have the chance to start living the healthy, enjoyable life that you deserve. At Magnolia Recovery, we offer all levels of care and will get you started on your path to recovery. 

We’ll meet you wherever you are on your path, and help you understand and treat the underlying issues that have led to your addiction. If you have a co-occurring disorder (mental health issue), you’ll receive help for that too. Our holistic rehab treats the whole person, not just the addiction, and we see you as a person and not a case number.

Don’t wait any longer to get started – you’ve struggled enough. Call us at (818) 431-2224 at any time of the day and take that first step towards living life joyfully.

  • As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world as in being able to remake ourselves.

Magnolia Recovery… A Special Place to Learn and Heal

(818) 431-2224
Medical Disclaimer: Nothing on this Website is intended to be taken as medical advice. Before making any decisions on your physical or mental health, please consult your doctor. The staff at Magnolia Recovery Center will work with our patients on a custom diagnosis and care plan. Specific medical advice will be provided to our patients while in our care.