Cocaine Side Effects: Short & Long-Term Effects of Cocaine

Last Updated: January 31, 2024

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Cocaine use can cause a wide variety of short-term and long-term side effects. These effects can impact your physical and mental well-being in many ways.

Cocaine is a stimulant drug that is illegal in most circumstances. While there are some medical uses for cocaine, people primarily use it for its pleasurable effects. Cocaine leads to a euphoric feeling called a high, and it can also provide increased energy and a feeling of power and ability. However, the drug can also cause a variety of dangerous physical and psychological side effects.

Short-Term Effects of Cocaine

Cocaine can cause pleasurable short-term effects, which is primarily why people choose to use the drug. While the short-term effects of cocaine are generally seen as desirable by those who use it, they can be dangerous if too much cocaine is used and an overdose occurs.

Physical Effects of Cocaine 

Cocaine primarily affects receptors in the brain, but these receptors control many physical processes in the body. When cocaine is used, the physical effects that can occur include: 

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased body temperature
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Increased speed of digestive system
  • Decreased appetite

Psychological Effects of Cocaine

The psychological effects of cocaine are typically the main reason that people use the drug. Cocaine leads to a high like other drugs, but it also temporarily increases confidence and energy — an effect that many find desirable. The psychological effects of cocaine can include:

  • Euphoria
  • Exhilaration
  • Confidence
  • Increased energy
  • Increased sex drive

Cocaine Overdose 

While the short-term effects of cocaine may be seen as desirable to those who use it, too much cocaine can lead to dangerous symptoms that can be harmful or even fatal.

Symptoms of a cocaine overdose include:

  • Excessive talking and rambling
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Paleness
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Incontinence
  • Abnormal heart rhythms 
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blueness around the mouth or in the nail beds

A cocaine overdose can be fatal, and someone who may be overdosing on cocaine should receive emergency medical care as quickly as possible. If you are with someone who may be overdosing, you should call 911 and stay with them until help arrives.

Long-Term Effects of Cocaine on the Body

While the dangers of the short-term effects of cocaine on the body are generally limited to the potentially deadly effects of an overdose, the long-term effects of cocaine can become more of a chronic issue. The long-term effects of cocaine can lead to lifelong health problems that decrease the quality and length of your life.

How Does Cocaine Affect the Brain?

Cocaine primarily impacts the brain, as it affects brain neurotransmitters to increase how active dopamine receptors are. While this affects many processes in the body, it also affects the brain itself. The drug activates the brain’s reward centers, causing a high and reinforcing the behavior of using cocaine. Over time, the brain will physically rewire itself to seek out and use cocaine, leading to a long-term addiction that is hardwired into your brain and very difficult to break.

How Does Cocaine Affect the Nervous System?

Cocaine stimulates the nervous system, increasing its activity. The nervous system controls many important bodily functions, including heart and lung function. It even controls how quickly your bowels work. Stimulating the nervous system repeatedly over a long-term basis leads to repeated over-stimulation, which puts stress on every organ and system that the nervous system controls.

How Does Cocaine Affect the Heart?

Cocaine increases your heart rate and blood pressure, ultimately increasing the stress on your heart. Over a long period of time, this can lead to many heart diseases and increase the risk of a heart attack. Heart-related effects of cocaine can include:

  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Weakening of the heart muscle
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Rupturing of major arteries
  • Inflammation of the lining of the heart

How Does Cocaine Affect Your Kidneys? 

Cocaine can damage your kidneys by causing inflammation in kidney tissues or disrupting their blood supply. This can lead to damage and cause people to start retaining fluid and waste that the kidneys should be filtering. While the effects of cocaine on the kidneys are uncommon, it can make dialysis necessary and lead to serious illness.

How Does Cocaine Affect Your Liver

Cocaine can create liver toxicity that can be life-threatening due to the metabolites it creates. However, unlike alcohol-related liver damage, cocaine-related liver damage tends to be something that is more sudden and severe but reversible. While the period when liver toxicity occurs can be very dangerous, the long-term effects are unlikely to be as serious.

How Does Cocaine Affect Fertility? 

There is limited research on how cocaine affects fertility. However, research shows that using cocaine may decrease the likelihood of getting pregnant and may decrease fertility in men. Because there is not much research in this area, the extent to which cocaine use affects fertility is not fully understood.

How Long Do the Effects of Cocaine Last?

The effects of cocaine are quite short, typically lasting only 15 to 30 minutes or less. Some effects may linger for several hours; however, the high is unlikely to last that long. The comedown period afterward may last for several hours and will vary based on the individual.

How Is Cocaine Taken?

There are many different ways that cocaine can be used. Some methods make the effects of cocaine shorter but more intense, while others may prolong the effects but weaken them. 

Snorting Cocaine

The most common way to use cocaine is by snorting it. With this method, the person using cocaine will generally organize the powder into a line and use a straw or rolled-up piece of paper to inhale it. Paraphernalia from snorting may include a card or razor blade used to arrange lines of cocaine and a straw or roll of paper used to inhale it.

Smoking Cocaine

Smoking cocaine is more likely to cause health problems or addiction, as it provides a stronger effect. When cocaine is smoked, crack cocaine is generally used. The drug is smoked in the same way that someone would smoke a joint of weed. Paraphernalia from smoking may include cigarette rolls and crystallized cocaine.

Injecting Cocaine

Injecting cocaine is relatively uncommon and can indicate that a severe cocaine addiction is present. After it is prepared, cocaine can be injected directly into the bloodstream through the veins. Injecting cocaine increases the risk of infections like HIV and creates many other serious health risks. Paraphernalia from injecting cocaine may include needles, syringes, tourniquets and materials used to prepare cocaine for injection. Someone injecting cocaine may have injection site marks, also known as track marks.

Eating Cocaine

Cocaine is not commonly eaten, but people will sometimes test how pure cocaine is by rubbing it on their gums and seeing how numb it makes their gums feel. Eating cocaine is uncommon because not as much of the cocaine is absorbed using this method, and it takes much longer to absorb than with other methods.

Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine Abuse

Cocaine abuse has many symptoms. Someone who is abusing cocaine will often be high and exhibit hyperactive, energetic behaviors punctuated by extreme fatigue during cocaine comedowns. They may also exhibit behaviors associated with addiction, such as:

  • Secretive behaviors 
  • Becoming more withdrawn
  • Decreased performance at school or work
  • Changes in friends
  • Changes in personality
  • Legal or financial problems

If you are addicted to cocaine, you are likely to find that it feels difficult or even impossible to stop using the drug, even when you know that it would be best for you to do so.

Cocaine Addiction Treatment in South Jersey, NJ

If you or someone you love is struggling with cocaine addiction, it can be easy to feel helpless or alone. However, cocaine addiction treatment is available, and recovery is possible. 

The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper provides a variety of evidence-based addiction treatment options, including detox and rehab programs that can help you safely and comfortably stop cocaine use and begin the recovery journey. Contact us today to learn more about cocaine addiction treatment programs that can work well for your situation.


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Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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