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Long-Term Effects of Crack Cocaine

People who use crack cocaine are often seeking a euphoric high and, perhaps, a temporary escape from personal problems that they cannot cope with. However, crack cocaine’s euphoric high is fleeting, and often replaced with long-term devastation in several areas of a person’s life.

Unfortunately, for many, the allure of crack cocaine is tough to resist, and the drug is so powerful that it is quite possible to become addicted after the first time it is used. Eventually, the slippery slope of addiction can develop into long-term drug use—a destructive pattern of behavior that can ultimately lead to a range of health issues and negative consequences.

What Is Crack Cocaine?

Crack cocaine is the most used form of “freebase” cocaine. While crack cocaine is typically smoked, it may also be injected or snorted. This contrasts with hydrochloric salt forms of cocaine that cannot be as easily smoked and are more frequently used via other routes of administration.

Both cocaine forms come from the Erythroxylon coca plant that is native to the Andes Mountain regions of South America. While pharmaceutical cocaine exists and is scheduled for some medical use, the bulk of the drug that makes its way to the U.S. is found on the illicit market. All forms of cocaine, when abused, can quickly lead to addiction.

Crack cocaine can have several short-term effects such as energy and extreme happiness. However, the high typically lasts just 5 to 10 minutes. This means that to continue to feel the effects, one must continually smoke it. When the high goes away, the person feels a “crash” that may include depression, irritability, and excessive tiredness. Because of this, crack is often used in binges and in increasingly higher doses, which makes a person prone to overdose.

Short-Term Effects of Crack Cocaine Use

Short-term effects of crack cocaine may include:

  • Agitation.
  • Alertness.
  • Extreme happiness.
  • Hypersensitivity to sight, sound, and touch.
  • Increased energy.
  • Paranoia.

For many, the the promise of increased mental and physical performance makes crack cocaine appealing. However, many end up experiencing the opposite effect. When taken in large amounts, crack cocaine can cause some users to exhibit bizarre and even violent behavior.

Long-Term Effects of Crack Cocaine Use on the Body and Mind

If you use crack cocaine over a long period, you can expect several mental and physical changes. Among other organ systems, these changes can affect the:

  1. Brain.
  2. Heart.
  3. Lungs.
  4. Nose.

The Brain

Long-term effects of crack cocaine on the brain may include:1-6

  • Brain aneurysm (abnormal dilation of a blood vessel) and brain hemorrhage.
  • Structural and functional brain abnormalities (e.g., declines in attention span and memory).
  • Compromised dopamine production and activity throughout the brain.
  • Movement disorders.
  • Seizures, strokes, and the potential for irreversible brain damage.

Crack cocaine is an excitotoxic stimulant capable of killing brain cells and can causing persistent changes to neural pathways. Crack can cause seizures, even in first-time users.

Crack cocaine’s intense circulatory system influence can precipitate strokes, which can create even more irreversible brain damage. Your risk of a brain aneurysm also increases, which can lead to a fatal brain hemorrhage.

 The Heart

Another long-term effect of crack cocaine use is extensive damage to the cardiovascular system, which may manifest as:7-10

  • Chest pain.
  • Elevated blood pressure.
  • Elevated heart rate.
  • Increased resistance in the body’s blood vessels.
  • Increased risk of cardiac arrhythmias.
  • Increased risk of heart attacks.
  • Increased risk of sudden death.

Long-term crack cocaine use is also associated with ventricular hypertrophy, which is an enlargement of the heart wall. This can lead to an increased risk of heart arrhythmias, heart attack, and congestive heart failure.

Coronary atherosclerosis may also develop from long-term crack cocaine use. Coronary atherosclerosis is the hardening of your arteries. Spasms near these hardened areas can deprive the heart of blood, resulting in ischemic chest pain and, ultimately, myocardial infarction.

The Lungs

Lung problems are a common long-term risk of crack cocaine use. The type of lung problems a user will experience depends on the route of drug administration used and may include any of the following11-13:

  • Chest pain.
  • Coughing up blood.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Wheezing.

More unusual lung complications that may result from long-term crack cocaine use may include:

  • Pneumomediastinum (abnormal presence of air in the space between the lungs).
  • Pneumothorax (a collapsed lung).
  • Pulmonary edema (accumulation of fluid in the lungs).
  • Pulmonary hemorrhage (bleeding of the lung).
  • Thermal airway injury (from the heated vapor).

Users may suffer severe respiratory problems such as “air hunger” which makes people feel as if they are not getting enough air into their lungs. Air hunger is very distressing and can lead to panic attacks because it can make you feel as if you are suffocating or dying.

The Nose

Depending on the method of using crack cocaine, long-term abuse can result in severe damage to the tissue (and even the structure) of the nose. Snorting crack cocaine can result in nasal damage that may include3,14:

  • Anosmia, or loss of smell.
  • Chronic rhinitis (irritation and inflammation of the nasal tissue).
  • Nasal tissue death, due to narrowing of the blood vessels and insufficient oxygen.
  • Nosebleeds.
  • Perforated nasal septum (a tear or hole in the cartilage bridge between your nostrils).
  • Sinus infections.
  • Ulcers in the throat.

Nasal insufflation of all forms of cocaine can create holes in the nasal septum. These holes may be small or large and can lead to serious infections. Cocaine can also destroy the nasal septum completely and cause permanent disfiguration to the facial features. This damage can make it difficult to breathe. In fact, some chronic cocaine users are only able to breathe through their mouths.

Chronic sinus infections, chronic runny nose, and frequent nosebleeds may also develop due to the damage in your nasal lining. Some individuals even lose their ability to smell, which can impact their ability to enjoy food.

The Mind

Long-term use of crack cocaine also causes severe mental problems. Some of the mental health problems include15:

  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Irritability.
  • Paranoia.
  • Restlessness.

Users may experience debilitating depression that causes them to lose interest in life. They may begin to suffer from hallucinations and paranoia—developments that may persist long after they abstain from crack cocaine. Users may also lose the ability to feel pleasure since crack cocaine affects the reward centers in the brain. They may even become violent.

Checking Your Insurance Benefits

Looking for addiction treatment can feel overwhelming. As you consider your options, knowing exactly what your insurance plan covers can give you peace of mind. You or your loved one can do the work of getting and staying sober without worrying about unexpected costs. For more information on what your insurance plan covers, call the number on the back of your card, or check your insurance by filling out the form below.

Finding a Crack Cocaine Treatment Facility

If you are considering addiction treatment, you have options. You can attend treatment in an inpatient setting in which you live in a clean, safe facility with around-the-clock support. Or you can attend treatment in an outpatient program in which you live at home and go to treatment during the day. Some treatment programs offer additional amenities as executive rehab and luxury rehab.

Learn More and Get Help for Your Addiction

Finding a treatment program for crack cocaine addiction is the first step towards recovery. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of inpatient and outpatient rehab treatment services and is committed to supporting those struggling with addiction on their journey to recovery. If you are looking for information on addiction treatment, you can contact us 24/7 at to learn more.

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