Long Term Effects of Drug Use

In the United States today, there are more than 1.5 million cocaine users over the age of 12.

Most of us know cocaine is tremendously addictive and can have some nasty short-term side effects.

But what happens when you take this drug for years on end?

The long-term effects of drug use can be far worse than the short-term effects, as bad as those are.

Ranging from paranoia to psychosis to brain damage and death, people who use cocaine for years are facing a number of dangerous health conditions.

Read on to learn more about cocaine and the long term effects of drug use.

Long Term Effects of Drug Use - Set of different drugs - powder and pills and a syringe on a black background. Learn about the Substance Abuse treatment options at Pathfinders in Arizona.
Set of different drugs – powder and pills and a syringe on a black background

What Is Cocaine?

We’ve all heard of cocaine, but before we get too far into the long- and short-term effects, let’s talk about what cocaine actually is.

Cocaine is a stimulant that comes from the coca plant, a species that’s native to South America.

You may have heard of it by the names coke, snow, rock, blow, or crack.

Cocaine comes in a few different forms, though the one most of us are familiar with is the white powder.

It may also show up in a solid rock crystal form.

Some cocaine users may snort the powder form of the drug, while others dissolve it in water and inject it into their veins; still, others heat up the crystal form and inhale the smoke.

Immediate Effects

When you take cocaine, your body releases high levels of dopamine, a hormone that’s linked to the pleasure and reward centers in your brain.

This extreme euphoria is what we call a high. And because cocaine is a stimulant, you may also get a rush of energy from taking the drug.

Immediate side effects of cocaine can include intense emotions, including happiness, anger, or paranoia.

You may experience extreme sensitivity to sensory input, including touch, sound, and visual cues. And you may notice that you aren’t hungry on your usual schedule.

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Addictive Potential

Because of the massive dopamine release cocaine causes, it’s extremely addictive.

Our brains are hard-wired to do things that activate those pleasure centers in our brain; under normal circumstances, that may include exercise, interacting with loved ones, eating something sweet, or petting an animal.

But when you get that high from cocaine, your brain automatically wants more of that rush.

In addition to this intense pleasure, cocaine also makes the parts of your brain that handle stress extra-sensitive. So when you aren’t taking the drug, you feel even more miserable and stressed, making you crave that high even more.

You may start pursuing that high over even basic necessities like food, relationships, and other natural rewards.

Higher Tolerance

One of the major effects of long-term cocaine use is that you build up a tolerance to the drug.

The more of it you take, the more resistant your brain becomes to that rush of dopamine. This means that in order to get that same high, you have to take more and more cocaine.

Over time, the amount of cocaine you have to take to feel the same pleasure can become fatal.

Meanwhile, your stress pathways are becoming more and more sensitive, making you feel like you have to have the drug to live. And to a degree, this can be true; withdrawal from cocaine can be extremely dangerous and even toxic without medical intervention.

Temperament Changes

In addition to the short-term effects, long-term cocaine use can start to cause side effects of its own. One of the first noticeable signs can be a change in temperament.

As those stress pathways become more and more sensitized, you may notice a change in your temperament. As your cocaine use increases, you may notice that your temper is on more of a hair trigger than usual.

You may find yourself getting irritated at smaller and smaller things throughout your day. You may also have trouble settling to one particular task as you become more restless.

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Panic Attacks

This irritability can start to spill over into paranoia as time goes on. You may feel like everyone’s out to get you or you’re about to be attacked at any moment.

Your paranoia may even be related to your addiction, as you worry that people around you may know that you’re using cocaine. That paranoia can turn into full-blown panic attacks as time goes on.

In order for an episode to qualify as a panic attack, it must include at least four of the following symptoms:

  • Accelerated heart rate or palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling like you’re choking
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Chills
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Feelings of unreality
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of dying.

You may also experience limited-symptom panic attacks that include fewer than four of these symptoms.

Long Term Effects of Drug Use - He has been doing cocaine for so long the long term effects of drug use are getting worse every day.
A man sits on the couch after snorting some cocaine.


In some extreme cases, long-term cocaine use can lead to full-blown psychosis. Psychosis is an often-misused term, so let’s take a moment to look at what it means.

Psychosis is a mental disorder that’s characterized by a loss of touch with reality. This can be as limited as believing the world is hiding dangerous secrets and you’re the only one who sees them.

It can also be as extreme as having full-on auditory and/or visual hallucinations. Psychosis from cocaine use can be dangerous, as you may start to act on those false beliefs. You may harm yourself or others during these delusions.

Loss of Nasal Function

In addition to the mental and emotional side effects of cocaine, you’ll also experience some physical side effects. To some degree, this depends on how you use the cocaine.

For instance, if you mostly snort cocaine, you’ll start to notice a loss of nasal and sinus function. You may notice first that your sense of smell is diminishing or that you’re getting nosebleeds more frequently than usual.

Your septum may start to get irritated, and you may have a runny nose all the time. You may also start to have problems swallowing and experience some hoarseness.

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Lung Damage

If you smoke the rock crystal form of cocaine, your physical side effects will be less nose-based. Instead, you may start to see damage to your lungs. This can come in part from the damage that results from smoking any substance, but smoking cocaine can cause specific damage.

If you have asthma, smoking cocaine will make it worse. You may find that you’re short of breath, especially after something like jogging for a short distance or going up a flight of stairs.

You may develop a chronic cough, and you could even develop eosinophilic pneumonitis, a disease whose symptoms can include fever, difficulty breathing, chest pain, and even death.

Infectious Diseases

If you inject cocaine, you’re inviting a whole host of problems related to using dirty needles. One of the most notorious of these is human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, a disease that destroys your white blood cells.

HIV can also lead to auto-immune deficiency syndrome, a chronic condition that can be life-threatening if not treated correctly.

In addition to HIV and AIDS, you’re also putting yourself at risk of catching Hepatitis C. Hep C is the most dangerous form of hepatitis and can cause serious liver damage or failure.

The worst part is because Hep C doesn’t have many outward symptoms, you may not know you have it until it’s far too late and your liver is beyond hope.

Heart Damage

Cocaine use in any form can also cause serious damage to your heart and your cardiovascular systems. Your heart becomes inflamed with long-term use of the stimulant, which can make it harder for your heart to pump.

This can lead to tears in your aorta, as well as a host of other issues. Long-term cocaine use puts you at a much higher risk of stroke and seizures.

You may experience ulcers as your gastrointestinal tract struggles to get enough blood. And you might see bulging or bleeding in your brain, as well as several other forms of permanent brain damage.

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Learn More About the Long Term Effects of Drug Use

The long term effects of drug use, and cocaine use, in particular, are serious and can be deadly.

At best, you can expect a long road struggling to break free of the addictive power of the drug. At worst, you could experience a painful death or a lifetime of brain, heart, liver, and lung damage.

If you’re struggling with a cocaine addiction and you would like to break free, come see us at Pathfinders Recovery Center.

We can help you through the withdrawal process and get you started on a path to a healthier, addiction-free life.

Contact us today to take the first step to freedom.


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