Shooting Cocaine: Dangers and Side Effects
In addition to increasing the likelihood of addiction and overdose, injecting cocaine can lead to collapsed veins, hallucinations, heart attack, paranoia, and seizures.1 Users are more likely to contract bloodborne diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV from shooting the drug.1 Cocaine also contains many additives that can be toxic to users.
What Happens When You Shoot Cocaine
Cocaine is a powerful stimulant made from the leaves of the coca plant.1 With potential effects that include euphoria, increased energy, and talkativeness, cocaine is a highly addictive drug and is most abused by injection (shooting) or nasal insufflation (snorting). The high associated with cocaine use is relatively short-lived, lasting about 15-30 minutes when snorted and even shorter when injected.1
Cocaine is often used in a binge pattern in which the person repeatedly takes the drug with a short period at increasingly higher doses to maintain their high.1 Binging is a dangerous practice that can increase the risk of developing an addiction to cocaine.
As a stimulant drug, cocaine works by manipulating various elements of brain chemistry. Part of the reason for its profoundly pleasurable, rewarding effects is its influence on a neurotransmitter in the brain called dopamine.
Dopamine is primarily associated with regulating pleasure and reward in the brain.2 Cocaine increases dopamine activity, inducing a feeling of pleasure when the drug is used. This pleasurable feeling acts as positive reinforcement within the brain and leads to long-term changes in brain chemistry.
When someone uses cocaine for an extended period, they can develop a tolerance to the pleasurable effects of using the substance. They then need more of the drug to experience the same high. This pattern of ever-increasing use can lead to dependence and addiction.3
The Effects of Shooting Cocaine
How cocaine affects an individual can vary depending on a wide range of factors such as how the drug is ingested, how much is ingested, how pure the batch is, and what additives were used to cut the batch.
Intravenous (IV) use of cocaine is particularly risky because it can quickly lead to addiction. There are several harmful consequences associated with shooting cocaine, including:1
- Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).
- Auditory hallucinations.
- Erratic behavior.
- Sexual dysfunction.
- Suicidal behavior or thoughts.
If a person suffers from chronic anxiety, lethargy, or stress, the allure of a stimulant such as cocaine might be understandable. But any seemingly “positive effects” from shooting cocaine are eclipsed by the severe long-term physical and psychological harm the drug can cause.
Dangers of Cocaine Additives
Cocaine’s ability to damage the body depends heavily on what is used to prepare or “cut” a particular batch of the drug. Cocaine sold on the street has most likely been cut with additive agents designed to approximate the effects of the drug or thin out the dealer’s stash. While some additives might be relatively harmless, some can be toxic.
The additives in cocaine are broken down into adulterants and substitutes. Adulterants include additives such as baking soda and laundry detergent and are used to get more doses of cocaine from a batch. Substitutes include additives such as caffeine, lidocaine, procaine and produce similar effects to cocaine but at a lower cost. Ammonia and ether are used to make freebase cocaine; crack cocaine is made by dissolving it with water and then mixing it with ammonia or baking soda.4,5,6
Over time, the effects of cocaine additives can also wear on the health of the user.
Cocaine and Emergency Room Visits
People who experience physical problems from cocaine use may require emergency room care. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) found that of approximately 1.25 million emergency room visits related to illicit drug use, cocaine made up the largest percentage of visits (505,224).7
Emergency room visits related to cocaine use are often associated with:
- Bodily injury.
- Cardiac ischemia (lack of blood or oxygen to the heart).
- Chest pain.
- Dental problems.
- Psychiatric changes (such as symptoms of psychosis).
- Skin infections.
Should I Consider Cocaine Rehab Treatment?
Shooting cocaine causes the drug to reach the brain more quickly than other methods of administration, such as smoking or snorting. However, the high does not last as long in people who inject cocaine. This quick turnaround can cause individuals to use cocaine repeatedly in a short period, a practice that can quickly lead to dependence and addiction.
Many people who inject cocaine feel a craving for more of the drug soon after shooting up. These cravings are a sign that the brain has begun to balance out the abnormally high levels of dopamine. When this happens, a person might start to feel anxious, irritable, or paranoid while maintaining some of the positive high effects.
A person who has used cocaine repeatedly may feel diminished amounts of pleasure from survival needs, such as eating and having sex. Important changes to the neurons occur and the brain begins to need cocaine to function normally and experience euphoria.
To know if you or a loved one has a cocaine use disorder, you will need a diagnosis from a medical professional. However, the following criteria are used by medical professionals to assess if a person has a cocaine use disorder and can help you determine if you would benefit from seeking rehab treatment:8
- Using cocaine in larger amounts or for a longer period than intended.
- Persistent attempts to cut back or quit using cocaine without success.
- Spending a significant amount of time obtaining, using, or recovering from cocaine.
- Having strong urges to use cocaine.
- Inability to fulfill obligations at home, school, or work due to cocaine use.
- Continuing to use cocaine despite recurrent interpersonal or social problems caused by cocaine use.
- Forgoing recreational or social activities to use cocaine.
- Consistently using cocaine in physically hazardous situations.
- Using cocaine even when doing so has led to mental or physical health problems.
- Developing a tolerance to cocaine.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
Checking Your Insurance Benefits
Looking for cocaine 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.
Getting Help for Cocaine Addiction
American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of inpatient and outpatient rehab treatment services. AAC is committed to supporting those struggling with addiction on their journey to recovery. If you are looking for information on cocaine addiction, you can contact us 24/7 at to speak to an admissions navigator about your treatment options.