Cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug made from the South American coca plant leaves. It usually appears as a white powder that is snorted, smoked, or injected. Cocaine was initially developed as an anesthetic and vasoconstrictor (it constricts blood vessels). Once its addictive properties were recognized, it became illegal.
How Does Cocaine Affect The Brain & Body?
Cocaine affects mood, motivation, and energy; it improves concentration, increases sociability, decreases shyness, and produces euphoria. However, it is highly addictive — primarily because of its impact on the brain’s “feel-good” neurotransmitter, dopamine. Continuing use can quickly lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction.
Cocaine harms the body in many ways. Cardiovascular damage is one of the greater risks — heart disease, abnormal heart rhythms, hypertension, inflammation of the heart valves and heart muscle, and aortic rupture are possible. Cocaine-induced heart damage also increases a person’s risk of stroke. Cocaine addiction is also associated with kidney damage and lung disease. Long-term use is associated with declines in cognitive performance, attention, and decision-making abilities, along with other mental illnesses or psychosis. Those who inject cocaine are also at an increased risk for HIV and hepatitis C.
While most people know these major side effects of cocaine abuse, not everyone knows how it can affect the human body’s largest organ: the skin.
How Does Cocaine Affect The Skin?
Cocaine is a skin irritant and can cause several problems. Most skin damage is due to cocaine’s vasoconstrictive properties. Vasoconstriction restricts blood flow to certain body areas, including the skin. The skin cannot heal quickly or efficiently without enough blood and oxygen.
There are several common skin disorders linked to cocaine abuse:
- Vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels). The walls of blood vessels may thicken, which reduces the vessel’s width and restricts blood flow. It can cause organ and tissue damage. It often occurs in those who snort or inject cocaine and is characterized by scabs, rashes, red spots, and other skin lesions.
- Skin infections. Many cocaine users experience skin infections or abscesses from needle use. The lack of blood flow to the skin increases the possibility of infections.
- Eczema and dermatitis. The vasoconstrictive properties of cocaine can also lead to eczema and dermatitis, which manifests as dry, cracked skin, itchiness, rashes or small raised bumps, oozing and crusting, or thickened skin.
Cocaine can also cause psychosis, giving some users hallucinations and sensations of bugs crawling on or under their skin. This causes them to pick and scratch at themselves, contributing to cuts, rashes, skin infections, and other skin diseases.
Here are a few less common skin-related effects of cocaine abuse:
- Regeneration of skin cells is vital to keeping skin smooth, so any interference with the body’s ability to repair skin can cause wrinkles or dehydrated skin. Even short-term cocaine use can substantially change a person’s appearance due to premature aging.
- Cocaine can also cause drug-induced hyperhidrosis — excessive sweating because of the overstimulation of the sweat glands. Fortunately, this is more embarrassing than dangerous and usually resolves once cocaine use stops.
- Acne is caused by clogged pores that become inflamed. Cocaine can worsen this condition by causing the skin’s sebaceous glands to release sebum, an oily substance that can clog pores.
- Cocaine can also cause the blood vessels in the skin to dilate, leading to redness, pimples, and blackheads.
Skin Disorders Commonly Linked To Cocaine Abuse
More serious dermatological issues can also occur, all caused by lack of oxygen and impaired blood flow, including:
- Skin necrosis (death of skin cells). This is usually seen as purple or brownish-red spots on the skin with irregular edges. Other symptoms include pain, redness, blisters, and loss of skin sensation or numbness. This is a serious condition that can lead to skin cancer.
- Chronic skin ulcers or open sores, ranging from minor to deep wounds.
- Hyperpigmentation (discoloration or dark spots on the skin).
Fortunately, many of these conditions are reversible.
Can Cocaine-Induced Skin Disorders Be Treated?
The first step to restoring your skin to good health is to stop using cocaine. Speak to your doctor or contact a local rehabilitation center for advice. Once you begin your recovery journey, many medicated lotions, scrubs, vitamins, and other dermatologist-recommended salves help reverse the damage done to the skin by cocaine use.
Treatment for cocaine addiction is a multi-step process. The first is to remove any drug traces from the body or detoxify. This process often brings uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, including fatigue, depression, nausea, increased appetite, insomnia, or other sleep issues.
Once detox is completed, most recovery programs will continue with behavioral therapy to address the underlying causes of the person’s substance misuse and teach the coping skills needed to stay sober. Therapy, peer support groups, 12-step programs, post-treatment counseling, wellness activities, and other lifestyle modifications will help prevent relapse and improve the chances of full recovery.
It is important to recognize the damage cocaine use can cause to the skin. Our skin protects every other important internal organ, so anything compromising can put the entire body at risk. While most skin damage is treatable, some will leave scars that may remain forever.
Seeking treatment for substance addiction is the first step on the proverbial road to recovery. Addiction is a chronic disease, so with the right rehab, you can regain control of your life, freedom, and health and gain a chance to rebuild.
Let Us Be Your Bridge Of Hope
The detrimental effects of cocaine on the skin are diverse, ranging from localized reactions at injection sites to systemic manifestations resulting from prolonged drug use. The emergence of various skin disorders is a visible reminder of the broader health consequences of cocaine abuse. Early recognition and intervention are crucial in managing these conditions and preventing further harm. Fortunately, our treatment philosophy is based on a comprehensive and integrated approach, addressing all issues related to substance use and mental health disorders.
Contact us today if you or someone you love struggles with cocaine abuse and/or addiction.