Drug addiction: How even 'casual' cocaine use can increase blood pressure and stroke risk

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Even “casual” cocaine use can lead to unwanted short-term and long-term side effects. For instance, the National Institute on Drug Abuse pointed out that nosebleeds, a loss of smell, and a runny nose can develop from drug taking. Repeated exposure to cocaine can desensitise reward pathways in the brain while increasing stress sensitivity pathways. This can lead to increased displeasure and negative moods while not taking the drug – otherwise known as withdrawal.

Other side effects, while on the drug, can include:

  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoia
  • Full-blown psychosis, involving auditory hallucinations.

“Cocaine damages many other organs in the body,” the experts at the National Institute on Drug Abuse said.

This can include a reduction of blood flow in the gastrointestinal tract, which can lead to tears and ulcerations.

Cocaine has “significant and well-recognised toxic effects on the heart and cardiovascular system”.

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Using the drug, even on occasion, is linked to an increased risk of stroke, inflammation of the heart muscle, and aortic ruptures.

Long-term use can lead to bleeding within the brain and “balloon-like bulges in the walls of cerebral blood vessels” (i.e. brain aneurysms).

“Movement disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, may also occur after many years of cocaine use,” the experts added.

Additional experts at The Priory – a hospital and addiction rehab clinic – elaborated on the health risks associated with cocaine use.


Short-term effects of cocaine on the body include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Constricted blood vessels.

As constricted blood vessels disrupt the flow of blood in the body, it can lead to: stomach pain, reduced appetite, nausea, vomiting and constipation.

The increase in heart rate and blood pressure, alongside restricted blood flow, can increase the risk of a heart attack.

Chronic cocaine use can increase the risk of blood clots, which can lead to:

  • Heart attacks
  • Pulmonary embolisms
  • Strokes
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Inflammation and death of heart muscle
  • Aortic ruptures
  • Angina
  • Permanently increased blood pressure.

Long-term use can lead to impaired cognitive function, affecting a person’s attention span, impulse inhibition, decision making and motor skills.

Anybody experiencing addiction issues with cocaine are advised by the NHS to visit their local drug treatment services.

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