Cocaine: Its Use and Effects

After cannabis, powder cocaine is the most widely used drug in Britain. According to the 2011/12 Crime Survey for England and Wales, of 16 to 59-year-olds, some 2.2% claimed to have used cocaine in the preceding year.

Research in the United States points to the dangers of using cocaine. It indicates that up to 75% of those who try cocaine end up addicted, while only 25% of those who try to kick the habit will be able to do so without help.

The effect on the brain

Cocaine acts as a stimulant to the nervous system, resulting in a feeling of euphoria. When you feel happy the brain releases a substance called dopamine. Neurotransmitters then carry the dopamine back to the part of the brain where it originates so that it is reabsorbed and thereby ends the happy feeling. Cocaine inhibits the neurotransmitters, meaning that the dopamine remains free and that the user feels euphoric.

How users feel

Immediately after taking cocaine, users experience a euphoria and other effects that can last anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours depending on the dose and how it is taken – snorting results in a slower, less intense but longer-lasting reaction, while smoking or injecting gives a fast but short and intense response. Users usually experience:

  • Highly elevated mood.
  • A sense of great energy.
  • A feeling of heightened alertness.
  • Feelings of supremacy and invincibility.
  • A lowering of inhibitions.

As this euphoria wears off, more negative feelings take over. Users become irritable and restless as well as feeling paranoid and anxious. This prompts them to want to use the drug again.

Effects on the body

Cocaine users expose themselves to a number of health risks, as the drug not only affects the brain but the whole body:

  • Heart – cocaine raises the blood pressure and the heart rate but, at the same time, it constricts the arteries blood vessels that carry blood to the heart. This can result in a heart attack, even in those with no existing heart condition, or else it can cause arrhythmia, a sometimes deadly abnormal heart rhythm.
  • Brain – by constricting the blood vessels in the brain, cocaine can cause users to suffer strokes, or seizures, even in normally healthy people.
  • Kidneys – cocaine causes high blood pressure that can lead to long term kidney damage. It can also cause kidney failure through rhabdomyolysis, where the kidneys are unable to remove body waste and concentrated urine from the blood stream.
  • Respiratory system – smoking cocaine can irritate the lungs and cause permanent damage, while snorting can harm the nose and sinuses with nasal perforation resulting if the individual is a regular user.
  • Gastrointestinal tract – cocaine causes the gastrointestinal system to be starved of oxygen because it reduces blood supply by constricting the blood vessels. This causes ulcers or perforation of the intestines or stomach.
  • Sexual performance – although reputed to be an aphrodisiac, cocaine actually impairs sexual function in both sexes.

Effects on others

The harm caused by cocaine is not limited to the user. It has wide-ranging effects on society as a whole:

  • Innocent people become victims of violent crime committed by cocaine users needing cash to buy drugs to feed their habit or who simply lose control.
  • People fall victim to motoring accidents caused by cocaine users who drive under the influence of the drug, while workers are placed at risk by colleagues who are cocaine users.
  • Unborn children are at particular risk if their mothers use cocaine. They face the prospect of premature birth, damage to the nervous system, brain damage, birth defects and low birth weight (which increases the risk of death in the first year after birth as well as increased risk of physical and mental disabilities). They can also be born addicted.
  • Families can be torn apart by the behaviour of members who use cocaine and the financial cost of the drug and/or treatment.


The long term effects of cocaine use can be devastating, so treatment is essential and the earlier the better. Women especially should seek treatment, particularly if they are planning a family because of the harm their drug use can cause to their unborn child. It can be tough road, but with professional help and support users can get clean and spare themselves and their families and friends the destruction that cocaine brings. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to make the effort, so contact us here at Life Works Community to start on the road to recovery.

Life Works provides first rate support and guidance in the treatment of cocaine addiction. To discuss how we can help you, please call 0808 274 5964 or click here to complete a short enquiry form.


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