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Cocaine’s Effects on the Body

Users take cocaine in binges, in which cocaine is used repeatedly and at increasingly higher doses. This can lead to increased irritability, restlessness, panic attacks, paranoia, and even a full-blown psychosis, in which the individual loses touch with reality and experiences auditory hallucinations.

With increasing doses or higher frequency of use, the risk of adverse psychological or physiological effects increases. Thus, binge use of cocaine during adolescence may further increase vulnerability to continued use of the drug among some people.

Specific Routes of Administration Can Produce Their Own Adverse Effects:

  • Regularly snorting cocaine can lead to loss of sense of smell, nosebleeds, problems with swallowing, hoarseness, and an overall irritation of the nasal septum leading to a chronically inflamed, runny nose.
  • Smoking crack cocaine damages the lungs and can worsen asthma.
  • People who inject cocaine have puncture marks called tracks, most commonly in their forearms, and they are at risk of contracting infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis C. They also may experience allergic reactions, either to the drug itself or to additives in street cocaine, which in severe cases can result in death.

Organ Damage

Cocaine damages many other organs in the body. It reduces blood flow in the gastrointestinal tract, which can lead to tears and ulcerations. Many chronic cocaine users lose their appetite and experience significant weight loss and malnourishment. Cocaine has significant and well-recognized toxic effects on the heart and cardiovascular system. Chest pain that feels like a heart attack is common and sends many cocaine users to the emergency room. Cocaine use is linked with increased risk of stroke, as well as inflammation of the heart muscle, deterioration of the ability of the heart to contract, and aortic ruptures.

Neurological Problems

Neurological problems can occur with long-term cocaine use. There have been reports of intracerebral hemorrhage, or bleeding within the brain, and balloon-like bulges in the walls of cerebral blood vessels. Movement disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, may also occur after many years of cocaine use. Generally, studies suggest that a wide range of cognitive functions are impaired with long-term cocaine use—such as sustaining attention, impulse inhibition, memory, making decisions involving rewards or punishments, and performing motor tasks.

Tolerance & Sensitization

With regular use, tolerance may develop so that higher doses, more frequent use of cocaine, or both are needed to produce the same level of pleasure and relief from withdrawal experienced initially. At the same time, users can also develop sensitization, in which less cocaine is needed to produce anxiety, convulsions, or other toxic effects. These effects can increase the risk of overdose in a regular user.


Former cocaine users are at high risk for relapse, even following long periods of abstinence. Research indicates that during periods of abstinence, the memory of the cocaine experience or exposure to cues associated with drug use can trigger strong cravings, which can lead to relapse.