People may feel impervious to physical pain during a cocaine high. Despite that temporary burst of energy, people who use cocaine are harming their bodies, sometimes with irreparable or deadly consequences. Cocaine can be incredibly harmful to all vital systems of the body, and those who use cocaine can fall prey to illness during cocaine use or in the years that follow.

Man snorting cocaine

Short-Term Impacts of Cocaine Use

A hit of cocaine produces profound changes in brain activity. Sometimes users feel happy, powerful or alert. But sometimes people are so overwhelmed by chemical changes caused by cocaine that they begin to behave erratically. They may hallucinate, twitch or tremble, and some people even engage in violent acts that others find confusing or frightening.

Cocaine also directly impacts the heart, according to the American Heart Association.1 A single hit of cocaine can make the heart beat with less force, and that can allow blood to pool within the body’s tissues. Cells might be starved for oxygen if the heart isn’t working properly, and they may call out for more blood. If the heart attempts to respond, a heart attack can follow, and that might lead to cardiac arrest and death, even in young people. These cocaine-related deaths are preventable.

“By 15, I was selling pot to support my own habits,” says Michelle at HeroesInRecovery.“By 16, I was trafficking cocaine to put money in my pocket. By 17, I was snorting it. At age 18 in tech training, I justified my using by thinking it helped me be able to get so much more accomplished. I could push myself longer and harder…I thought that was a good thing. If I could recovery, anyone can. Seek help, go to treatment, break the bondage of chemical enslavement to addiction; you’re worth so much more!”

The Long-Term Impact of Cocaine Use

Heart difficulties that begin during a cocaine binge can last a lifetime. If heart muscle is constantly taxed and stressed due to the use of cocaine or other stimulants, it might develop such extensive tissue damage that it fails at a later date, and that heart failure might occur when the person is perfectly sober. Heart muscle can only take so much abuse, and if the user doesn’t stop damaging the heart with drugs, death can follow.

While most long-term dangers involve the heart, other body parts can also be impacted by a long-term cocaine habit, including:

  • Nasal passages
  • Digestive tissues
  • Intestines
  • Lungs

Any tissue that cocaine touches tends to contract, and blood flows out of the area until sobriety returns. Tissues that are starved of blood tend to die, and as pockets of dead tissue grow, infections can set in. Gangrenous tissues in these vital systems can cause blockages, or they could cause organ failure.

Brain changes are also common after long-term cocaine abuse. Most of these changes concern portions of the brain responsible for motivation and conditioning, meaning that people who abuse cocaine for long periods of time develop a biological need for the drug, and they’re not motivated to change that behavior.Even after sobriety begins, even a tiny exposure to a cue that reminds the person of cocaine can lead to a tremendous and overwhelming craving to use the drug again. It’s unclear if that craving ever goes away in people with a long history of cocaine addiction.

It’s clear that people who abuse cocaine for long periods do so at great risk to their health, and it’s also clear that those who just dabble in the use of the drug are engaging in habits that can lead to physical dangers and addiction in a short span of time. Thankfully, the treatment program at Black Bear Lodge can help. With counseling and support, people who struggle with substance use or mental health concerns can heal and begin a sober life.


1 Kloner, R., Hale, S., Alker, K., Rezkalla, S. “The effects of acute and chronic cocaine use on the heart.Circulation. Feb 1992. Vol 85, Issue 2. Web. Accessed 18 Sept 2017.

1Cocaine.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. May 2016. Web. Accessed 18 Sept 2017.