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What are the Long-Term Effects of Cocaine?

We have discussed the dangers of cocaine use at length on this blog. The drug’s addictive and volatile qualities are no stranger to our readers. But what are the specific, long-term effects of cocaine? Biological Psychiatry published a breakthrough study in June of this year to shed light on the matter.

The study examined levels of impulsivity and reward mechanisms among three different participant groups: cocaine addicts, former cocaine addicts and non-users. Levels were tested by enrolling the participants in a series of exercises resembling eBay auctions, which instilled the immediate pressure to buy and sell.

The tests concluded that both current and former users exhibited high levels of impulsivity compared to their sober counterparts, causing a greater tendency toward indulgence and rash behavior. It also demonstrated that the addict groups show increased sensitivity toward reward-punishment factors. For instance, an addict might feel greater pleasure from a thrilling auction victory than a sober subject.

What does all of this mean for former cocaine addicts? Dr. John Krystal, editor of Biological Psychiatry helps make sense of the findings: “The knowledge that some neural changes associated with addiction persist despite long periods of abstinence is important because it supports clinical wisdom that recovery from addiction is a lifelong process,” he said.

Dr. Krystal hits the nail on the head. Former cocaine addicts can expect to feel symptoms of impulsivity and reward-punishment sensitivity years after becoming sober. After all, the 35 former cocaine addicts that took part in the study had been clean for an average of 4 years each, yet they still showed strong patterns of both symptoms.

The purpose of this information is not to worry or alarm former cocaine addicts, it is to empower them. By educating themselves on the long-term effects of cocaine use, former addicts can plan for a long life of health and sobriety. Here are a few tips former addicts can use to combat their impulses.


When your body craves the euphoria of a harmful substance, reward it with that of a healthy, natural routine instead. Exercise releases dopamine in the brain to create pleasant feelings within the body and satisfy cravings that might otherwise tempt drug use. It is also an ideal outlet for reducing stress and anxiety–two notable motivations for abusing drugs.

Know your Triggers

In our previous post about relapse triggers, we outlined several influences that can sway former addicts in the direction of relapse. Most addicts have a series of associations with drug use. There are certain people, places, smells and other factors that remind them of their days as an addict. These influences can cause one to look nostalgically upon their past behavior and cause them to repeat it. Former cocaine addicts should be aware of their triggers and plan ahead to avoid them when possible.


When experiencing sudden impulses related to drug use, there is no better outlet than a support network to listen to your problems and guide you through them. Have friends, family members and mentors who understand your condition and have a firm understanding of what you are going through. Within this network should be a number of former addicts, who have followed a similar path and can directly relate to your struggles. The Prominence Treatment Alumni Program is a prime example of the type of support community a recovering addict should join.

The road to recovery is not an easy one. The long-term effects of cocaine can last a lifetime, so it is important to remind yourself of them everyday. If you or a loved one have impulses that are too strong to bear on your own, call Prominence Treatment Center for help at 877-383-2284. Our representatives are standing by 24 hours a day to understand your condition and serve your needs.

Image Credits:

Wikimedia Commons

Flickr: Ronnie Macdonald

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