Long-Term Effects Of Crack Cocaine Use And Abuse

Long-term abuse of crack cocaine can cause dependence, addiction, overdose and organ damage, including serious harm to the heart and brain. Treatment can help a person to regain a healthier, sober life.

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One of the most dangerous long-term effects of crack cocaine abuse is severe physical dependence and addiction. However, a person can become tolerant or addicted to the drug after using it only once. Additional long-term risks and dangers of abuse include cardiovascular complications, mental health problems and organ damage, among others.

Choosing a program that uses evidence-based treatments to treat crack addiction can help a person’s brain and body to stabilize after using this harmful stimulant drug. These programs will teach a person coping and relapse prevention skills so that they’re better equipped to maintain a drug-free life.

About Crack Cocaine

Crack, or freebase cocaine, is an intensely potent stimulant drug or “upper.” As an upper it affects the central nervous system, causing a person’s blood pressure, breathing, heart and temperature rates to rise. It also creates surges of dopamine in the brain. This neurotransmitter is responsible for regulating a person’s sense of reward and pleasure. At these high amounts, these feelings are incredibly reinforced, leading a person to quickly crave more of this highly addictive drug.

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Because of these changes, short-term use of crack speeds up a person’s mental and physical functions, causing an intense high (euphoria), dilated pupils, excitability, a faster heart beat, higher blood pressure and a loss of appetite. As a person’s use continues, the way this drug impacts a person’s health and quality of life can become far more severe.

The Long-Term Effects, Risks And Dangers Of Crack Cocaine Abuse

The more frequently a person uses crack and/or the greater the dose, the higher the chance that they’ll develop adverse physical and mental health effects. What follows are the risks and dangers that can accompany long-term use of this potent stimulant drug.

How Crack Is Abused: The Long-Term Risks

No matter how this substance is abused, crack is highly addictive. However, in addition to the general long-term effects of crack cocaine abuse, each way of administering the drug can create more risks and dangers:

Long-Term Dangers Of Smoking Crack Cocaine

Smoking crack exposes the lungs not only to crack, but to any other toxins or chemicals the drug may be laced or cut with. When smoked, crack is heated to high temperatures. In combination with the drug’s toxins, this could cause lung damage or aggravate a person’s asthma.

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Long-Term Dangers Of Snorting (Insufflation) Crack Cocaine

Snorting (also referred to as insufflation) crack can cause great trauma to the nose. Repeated use can cause chronic bad breath, nosebleeds, inflammation, sinusitis and runny nose. A person may also have difficulty swallowing, experience hoarseness or a change to their voice or develop a hole in the nasal septum.

Long-Term Dangers Of Injecting Crack Cocaine

Injecting crack cocaine can cause inflammation and infection in the veins and surrounding tissues. A person may develop track marks where the needle punctures the skin. Other infections that can become serious include cellulitis and skin abscesses. Injecting crack increases the risk of transmissible or blood-borne infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C.

Withdrawal From Crack Cocaine After Long-Term Use

Once a person is addicted to crack, they may experience withdrawal should they quit cold turkey or if they take a much smaller dose than they’re used to. Withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • intense fatigue
  • psychosis

The symptoms and cravings associated with withdrawal drive many people to continue using this substance as a way of avoiding this discomfort. Enrolling in a treatment program prior to withdrawing can make this process more comfortable and increase the likelihood that a person remain abstinent from this drug.

Long-Term Crack Cocaine Abuse And Overdose

Crack cocaine can cause sudden death or overdose the very first time a person tries it. Further, a person who has abused the drug for a long time can overdose when they use the drug.

Long-term abuse of this drug can increase the risk of overdose in a regular user for two reasons. As a person becomes more tolerant to crack’s effects, they’re more prone to increase the amount used and/or use the drug more frequently. Also, some people will begin to experience sensitization. This means that smaller amounts of cocaine can cause anxiety, convulsions or other effects brought on by this toxic drug.

Mental And Emotional Problems Caused By Long-Term Crack Cocaine Abuse

As soon as crack is used, it goes to work changing the way a person’s brain functions. Over time, as a person’s use becomes more frequent or as they use more of the drug, serious psychological problems can arise.

Long-term crack cocaine abuse may cause the following mental or emotional problems:

  • aggression
  • extreme depression
  • delirium
  • hallucinations
  • irritability
  • mood disturbances
  • panic attacks
  • paranoia
  • psychosis

A person may also develop tactile hallucinations, causing them to feel things that don’t exist, such as “coke bugs.” Coke bugs cause a person to feel as if there’s bugs crawling on or just beneath their skin. This sensation can lead a person to itch or pick at their skin until massive irritation and sores develop.

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Cardiac Complications From Long-Term Crack Cocaine Abuse

As such as strong stimulant, crack places the heart and cardiovascular system under immense strain. From this, serious damage, illness and disease to this important organ and system can result, including:

  • the ability of the heart to contract becomes compromised
  • aortic ruptures
  • heart attack
  • heart disease
  • inflammation of the heart

Individuals with an existing heart condition could face an even greater risk of danger when using this stimulant drug.

Brain Damage And Neurological Problems Linked To Long-Term Crack Cocaine Abuse

Long-term crack abuse can damage a person’s brain and impair their ability to think and reason. It could also cause serious and sometimes life-threatening disorders. Abusing crack may cause:

  • brain seizures
  • balloon-like bulges in the walls of the cerebral blood vessels
  • intracerebral hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain)
  • movement disorders (such as Parkinson’s disease)

Using crack cocaine for a long period of time is believed to cause cognitive impairment that makes it more difficult for a person to think and use their brain. A person may have issue with the functions that are responsible for:

  • keeping impulses in check
  • memory
  • paying attention
  • performing motor tasks

In addition to these, long-term crack abuse may make it harder for a person to make decisions regarding reward and punishment. A crack cocaine addiction can cause a person to seek out and use crack despite the damage it’s causing to their body, mind or life.

Long-Term Crack Abuse Disrupts The Brain’s Reward Pathway

The reward pathway of the brain is responsible for creating the sense of reward or pleasure (the high) that a person seeks when abusing crack. Using crack on a regular basis stimulates the brain’s reward pathway so frequently, that person may begin to experience or desire natural rewards (such as food, water, sex and nurturing) less frequently or intensely.

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This is dangerous on two levels. First, it increases the odds that person uses crack again as a way to feel good, an action that increases the risk of dependence, addiction and overdose. And secondly, many of these natural rewards are important measures of self-care that can be harmful if overlooked.

Not staying hydrated or eating a sufficient and nutritious diet can aggravate the dehydration and malnutrition already caused by drug abuse. Drug abuse can also cause a person to drift away from meaningful relationships.

A support system is an important part of fighting drug abuse, getting into treatment and building recovery. Without close friends and family, it could be easier for person to continue abusing crack.

Long-Term Crack Cocaine Abuse And HIV/AIDS

In addition to an increased risk of contracting transmissible diseases, research has also found that crack cocaine abuse can speed up the progression of HIV into AIDS. It’s been shown that it can also cause a drop in immune system functioning, an effect that can be particularly dangerous to a person with HIV or AIDS.

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Additional Long-Term Effects Of Crack Cocaine Abuse

Long-term crack abuse can cause both men and women to struggle with sexual dysfunction or experience reproductive damage and/or infertility. It may also result in:

  • convulsions
  • headaches
  • malnourishment
  • respiratory failure
  • risky behavior
  • reduced blood flow to the gastrointestinal tract
  • tears and ulcerations of the gastrointestinal track
  • unsafe sex
  • weight loss

The longer a person continues to abuse crack, the greater the risk of serious physical and mental harm. Long-term crack abuse can also shake the foundation of a person’s life, endangering their family life, relationships, job or educational pursuits.

Choosing a comprehensive addiction treatment program that offers treatment for crack cocaine abuse and addiction can break this cycle and help a person regain a sober life. It can also help them heal from the damage caused by this destructive drug.

Getting Treatment: Finding Hope And Healing From Crack Addiction

An addiction to crack cocaine can be very difficult to overcome without professional help. An individualize treatment plan will focus on treating the unique ways each person’s life has been damaged by addiction. Outpatient treatment is available, however, many find that the residential setting and intensive care inpatient drug rehab offers better promotes long-term sobriety.

Contact Addiction Campuses for more info on crack cocaine abuse, addiction and treatment.

Sources:

National Institute on Drug Abuse — Crack Cocaine Promotes Progression of HIV Infection to AIDS, Cocaine: Research Report Series, What are the long-term effects of cocaine use?

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