If drugs make you age faster, as studies have shown, what does it mean when people say cocaine use can age you? While certain drugs are extremely hard on the body, causing it to deteriorate faster, just how and why this occurs isn’t always well-known. Cocaine is no different. Its long-term effects and some of its side effects can cause a person to look and feel much older than they are. Even when someone addicted to cocaine may still look their age, their internal organs may have sustained the kind of damage that’s generally seen in much older people.
Cocaine’s Method of Action and Effects
Everyone experiences the effects of cocaine differently. Some users say that the stimulant drug, a Class II Stimulant as designated by the Drug Enforcement Agency, makes them feel intensely euphoric. They use it to get high, even though recreational use of this drug is illegal. Others, though, report that their use of cocaine causes hallucinations, pain, and feelings of anxiety that may be pronounced and long-lasting. What, then, are the mechanisms by which cocaine ages you?
At the core, cocaine’s main ingredient is the coca leaf. This stimulant affects the body’s central nervous system. What happens when someone consumes or ingests cocaine by snorting, smoking, or injecting it, is that it causes dopamine to build up in the body. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that’s responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward.
The buildup of dopamine is key to cocaine misuse. As the user continues to use cocaine, the body wants more and more of it. This craving can become intense, causing profound changes to the brain’s neurochemistry. This may then lead to the development of a substance use disorder.
How Quickly Cocaine Works
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that cocaine works quickly to produce a high. That high, however, only lasts from about 15 minutes to one hour. Because the high is of short duration, however, users are more likely to keep binge-using the drug to sustain or recapture the high. With longer use, the risk of addiction increases, as well as the development of many side effects.
Side Effects of Cocaine
The list of unpleasant and adverse side effects of cocaine is long. Commonly reported side effects include:
- Abdominal Pain
- Abnormal Heart Rhythms
- Back or Spine Stiffness
- Blood Pressure That’s Dangerously Low
- Bloody Nose
- Breathing Difficulties
- Chest Pain
- Dilated Pupils
- Erectile Difficulties
- Muscle Spasms
Although it’s rare, the first use of cocaine can lead to sudden death. This is often due to the cocaine user suffering cardiac arrest or cardiac seizures.
Long-Term Effects of Cocaine
It’s not just short-term cocaine use that can cause problems. The long-term effects of cocaine use and how it affects heavy users can be serious, even fatal. With heavy usage, cocaine can cause damage to many parts of the body. The specific effects are dependent on the method of usage.
Effects of Smoking Cocaine
Some long-term effects of smoking cocaine include asthma, cough, a higher infection risk for pneumonia and other infectious diseases, and respiratory distress.
Effects of Snorting Cocaine
Snorting cocaine can result in the development of persistent nosebleeds, constant runny nose, loss of the sense of smell, and difficulties in swallowing.
Effects of Consuming Cocaine
Cocaine users who consume the drug by mouth may experience a serious bowel decay condition. This is caused by reduced blood flow to the bowels.
Effects of Injecting Cocaine
The use of needles to inject cocaine can lead to collapsed or scarred veins, a higher risk for contracting HIV or hepatitis C, as well as other bloodborne diseases, and infections of the soft tissues and skin.
Other long-term effects of cocaine use include malnourishment and the development of movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. The latter can occur after many years of cocaine use.
There’s also a risk of an accidental or intentional cocaine overdose, which may result in death. Combining cocaine and alcohol or other drugs, like mixing cocaine and heroin, cocaine and fentanyl, or cocaine and amphetamines, is especially dangerous and can be fatal.
Do Drugs Make You Age Faster?
Studies have shown that excessive drug and alcohol use, whether chronic or sporadic, accelerates the aging process. Drug use effects include inflammation, malnutrition, dehydration, and a weakened immune response causing damage to the cells and leading to cognitive decline. The damage that’s done to users’ skin, organs, and bones is most often apparent in their appearance. They look and feel much older than their chronological age.
Some drugs are known to leach calcium from bones, leading to bone thinning and loss, as well as osteoporosis. Increased substance abuse also causes or hastens cognitive decline. Some long-term drug users experience permanent brain damage— confusion, specifically. Hair becomes duller with long-term drug use. Teeth get yellowed and stained or become decayed to the point that they have to be removed or fall out. Inflammatory conditions, including osteoarthritis and arthritis, are other aging effects of drug use.
Does Cocaine Age You?
Long-term cocaine users may pick their skin, causing sores and lesions that don’t heal. Not only is this unsightly, but it may also lead to infections. The user suffering from these sores, abscesses, and scars looks old, haggard, and unwell.
Cocaine’s Aging Effect on the Brain
One study found that middle-aged cocaine users had problems with aging that are more commonly seen in elderly adults. These included a heightened risk for cardiovascular disease (heart attacks, heart arrhythmia, and other cardiac events), memory loss, and greater infection susceptibility. These cocaine users were in their 30s and 40s, hardly older adults. The researchers also found that the amount of brain shrinkage of cocaine users in the study was almost twice that of participating non-drug users. Cocaine users also displayed performance deficits in reaction time, attention, and memory, as evidenced by imaging scans of the prefrontal cortex.
Visible Side Effects of Cocaine on the User
While the telltale physical signs of excessive alcohol abuse and aging are well-known, there’s often less common knowledge about the visible side effects of cocaine on the user. Many of the visible aging effects of cocaine on the body derive from the way cocaine affects behavior, as well as the method of ingestion.
- Cocaine users get less sleep because the stimulant makes them agitated and hyperactive. Lack of sleep is an underlying contributor to rapid aging.
- There’s less desire to eat, which can result in malnutrition.
As a result of sleeping and eating less, cocaine abusers often look withered and shrunken.
- The skin of cocaine abusers looks cracked and dry. The resultant appearance is of a much older person.
- Since many cocaine users snort the stimulant, they often suffer bent, out-of-shape noses, and frequent bleeding from the nose.
- While weight loss is common among cocaine users, some experience just the opposite: weight gain.
- Bloating and an overweight appearance are still other signs of aging from cocaine. Combining alcohol and cocaine can cause this, a condition called coke bloat.
Cocaine’s Effects on the Heart
The heart is a body organ that’s particularly susceptible to the long-term effects of cocaine use. Any irregularities in heartbeat, rhythm, shortness of breath, dizziness, confusion, disorientation, and seizures require immediate medical attention. Long-term cocaine users may not even be aware of the damage they’re doing to their hearts until they suffer a heart attack, stroke, or seizure.
Heart issues that are left untreated lead to an increasingly damaged heart. Long-term drug users may have hearts that are aged far beyond their chronological years.
Other body organs are also affected by cocaine use, including the lungs, liver, kidney, skin, and immune system. Difficulty breathing is common among cocaine users. Some users whose livers can no longer clear toxins from the body develop several physical problems. Those who share needles to inject cocaine risk contracting hepatitis. Furthermore, HIV, AIDS, STDs, and other infections (like staph, herpes, and bacterial infections) are common among cocaine users.
It’s Okay to Seek Help
Contrary to what others may say, it is possible to overcome most of the detrimental side effects of cocaine use and reverse many of the effects contributing to aging. The human body is remarkably resilient and possesses tremendous adaptability in the healing process. There must be a strong desire, however, to overcome the long-term effects of cocaine use for recovery to begin and ultimately be effective. Fortunately, as with many addictive substances, appropriate treatment can help individuals safely wean off cocaine and gain effective coping tools to reduce the likelihood of relapse.
For many, the toughest hurdle is asking for help. There is no shame in seeking help or talking about the goal of getting off cocaine. Not knowing where to turn is another obstacle that some people who want to discontinue cocaine experience.
While there is no federally approved drug to treat cocaine addiction, treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), contingency management, counseling, recovery groups, and therapeutic communities can help. There is also extensive ongoing research into medications that show promise in the treatment of cocaine addiction.
Want to learn more about treatment for cocaine addiction? Contact FHE Health and our experienced staff will answer your questions anytime, day or night, 365 days a year.