Short-Term Effects of Cocaine

Short-Term Effects of Cocaine – Cocaine is a potent and highly addictive stimulant drug that is most often used illicitly. Cocaine has been classified as a schedule II controlled substance, as it yields some legitimate medical applications. It is widely abused for its pleasurable effects that include feelings of increased energy, euphoria, and alertness.

Cocaine can be found in several forms, including as a white powder, paste, or a solid and rock-like base (crack cocaine). Regardless of form, cocaine use typically results in a rapid-onset, rewarding but brief high and an acceleration of various physiological processes. This experience is closely followed several minutes later by a period of dysphoria or a “come down.”

This increase of dopamine is, in large part, what leads to the subjective “high” feelings of cocaine use and its addictive potential.

Short-Term Effects of Cocaine

Cocaine can be smoked, snorted, consumed orally, or injected. Regardless of the method of administration, however, the onset of effects can be nearly immediate. Cocaine works by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain – a chemical involved in feelings of reward and pleasure.

Usually, dopamine recycles back into the cell that issued it, interrupting the signal between nerve cells. However, cocaine use inhibits dopamine from being recovered, causing accumulating amounts to build up in the space between two nerve cells, halting regular communication.

This surge of dopamine in the brain’s reward center significantly reinforces drug-using behaviors, because the reward circuit begins to adapt to the excess dopamine induced by cocaine, and becomes desensitized to it.

As a result, people are compelled to take stronger and more frequent doses in an attempt to feel the same high, and to gain relief from withdrawal. These effects contribute to the development of both tolerance and dependence.

The high experienced after use produces a number of desired effects, including feelings of euphoria or elevated mood, increased energy and alertness, talkativeness, and grandiosity, or an inflated sense of self-confidence.

Some people use the drug in an attempt to improve performance or meet some other goal. Because cocaine temporarily decreases the need for sleep, some people will abuse the substance to stay awake and alert, to study, or to perform a strenuous task. Since it also suppresses appetite, it is also sometimes used as a weight loss aid.

Similar to other drugs of abuse, cocaine use is also associated with unwanted short-term effects, such as the following:

  • Feelings of restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Paranoia

The Impact of Method of Administration on Effects

The method by which cocaine is administered influences it’s short-term effects. Snorting can have slightly delayed impact on the body but results in a longer high. Smoking or injection tend to have a more rapid effect, with onset in as few as 7 seconds, but with a duration of only 5-10 minutes.

Highs of a shorter duration may produce more intense symptoms that can increase drug cravings and the rate of use. This is one reason why smoking crack cocaine is considered even more addictive than snorting powder cocaine.

It is sometimes used in combination with other substances, further compounding health risks. Combining drugs like cocaine and depressants such as alcohol or heroin can be especially dangerous.

Short-Term Effects of Cocaine: Side Effects

Whether used for short durations or prolonged periods, any cocaine use will likely be associated with side effects. Heavy use can result in cardiac arrest, even in those who are young and otherwise healthy. Using excessive amounts has been associated with erratic and possibly violent behavior.

Other side effects of cocaine use include:

  • Tremors, muscle twitches or tics
  • Paranoia
  • Vertigo
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature
  • Decreased sexual function


In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that more than 14,500 people died from an overdose involving cocaine.

Overdose from cocaine can lead to the following complications:

  • Cardiac arrest
  • Stroke
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Sudden death

The risk of an overdose is increased when cocaine is used in conjunction with another dangerous substance like alcohol or other drugs. Combining cocaine and heroin – infamously known as a speedball – is particularly dangerous. This drug cocktail carries an extraordinarily high risk of overdose and has killed well-known celebrities such as River Phoenix, Chris Farley, and John Belushi.

Lasting Health Effects

When short-term use develops into long-term use, the risks increase for both new and expanded negative consequences.

The potential health consequences of long-term use may include the following:

  • Severe, chronic fatigue
  • Unrelenting headaches
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nosebleeds, loss of sense of smell, and irritation of the nasal septum, and complete nose collapse from snorting
  • Puncture marks, collapsed veins, abscesses, infection and allergic reactions from injecting
  • Significant weight loss
  • Heart arrhythmias and heart attack
  • Widespread ischemic vascular disease
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Death

When used over a prolonged period, cocaine can also lead to addiction, depression, social isolation, anxiety, psychosis, paranoia, and severe respiratory infections.

Cocaine Dependence and Tolerance

Dependence develops over time as the brain grows accustomed to the presence of cocaine and becomes less able to function correctly without it. Thus, when the user tries to quit, withdrawal symptoms ensue as the body attempts to regain equilibrium. When tolerance develops, the user needs ever-increasing amounts of cocaine to achieve the desired drug experience because the body is building up a resistance to its effects.

Addiction occurs when a person feels a strong compulsion to continue using, even in the face of personal, professional, legal, or financial troubles caused by substance use. Cocaine addiction is often marked by risk-taking and impulsivity, neglect of responsibilities, and strained relationships as a result of increased drug use.

The risk of addiction increases when the individual abuses cocaine to self-medicate an underlying mental or physical health concern. For example, someone suffering from untreated depression may use cocaine as a means to combat negative feelings. Nevertheless, this approach to self-medication never works in the long run and usually leaves the individual worse off.

Withdrawal Symptoms

When a user becomes dependent on cocaine, the body will have a strong, adverse reaction when the drug is not received. The most common effect of cocaine withdrawal is a “crash” or “come down.”

A cocaine crash usually includes symptoms such as the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of depression
  • Restlessness and anxiety
  • Increased hunger
  • Increased paranoia and distrust of others
  • Strong desire to continue or restart using the substance

The crash can persist for hours to days depending on the frequency, amount, and duration of previous cocaine use.

Treatment for Cocaine Addiction

The cravings that characterize withdrawal can be severe, but can also be treated with medical care and support. Treatment can take place on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Inpatient programs employ medical and mental health providers who specialize in addiction to supervise residents 24/7 long-term in a secure environment.

Outpatient-based treatment permits the patient to remain at home or a sober living facility and continue daily routines while attending treatment regularly. Both formats include evidence-based approaches such as psychotherapy, psychoeducation, individual and family counseling, and group support.

Our center employs caring addiction professionals who provide our clients with the tools they need to succeed at recovery. We can help you reclaim your life, restore your sanity, and begin to experience the life you deserve. Contact us today to find out how!

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