Rehab 4 Addiction

How Does Cocaine Affect the Heart/Cardiovascular System?

Cocaine is a highly addictive substance that puts a huge strain on the heart and cardiovascular system, increasing your chances of developing a high-risk heart condition or sudden implications.

The effects can vary in time, from the first dose to years after cocaine use.

Chemicals released from cocaine use:

  1. Noradrenaline: your fight or flight response leading to high blood pressure and increased heart rate
  2. Serotonin: Increasing heart rate, causing clots and rhythmic issues
  3. Dopamine: this causes your heart to contract with intensity, leading to high blood pressure

PRO TIP: Learn how long cocaine stays in your system.

Short Term and Long-Term Effects

These are the short- and long-term effects of cocaine on the heart:

Short Term:

  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat and palpitations
  • Constricted vessels
  • Hardened capillaries and arteries
  • Aortic Dissection (AD)

Long term:

  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Increased risk of blood clots
  • Thicker walls of the heart, leading to heart failure

1. High Blood Pressure

As soon as the cocaine is ingested, your heart rate will increase, whilst narrowing your blood vessels and capillaries.

As a result, your heart is forced to work harder, increasing your blood pressure, and inducing chest pain.

2. Cardiac Arrhythmias

Cocaine can interfere with the hearts signal system. These signals are critical in order to keep the chambers pumping in sync with one another.

This can cause an irregular heartbeat and chest pain.

3. Oxygen Supply

As blood pressure and heart rate rocket, the demand for oxygen dramatically increases.

Simultaneously, cocaine decreases oxygen supply by ‘coronary vasoconstriction’, leaving you breathless in effect.

Heart rate, sweating and palpitations are common following chest pain.

But this may not seem like much, yet it’s a significant indicator of larger heart issues.

The influence is dose and tolerance dependant, regardless, this leaves the user at a massive cardio disadvantage.

4. Aortic Dissection

Recently, it’s been found that there is a correlation between aortic dissection and cocaine.

Although the thought of as rare, it remains detrimental.

Aortic dissection is a tear of the inner layer of the aorta. The high blood pressure rushes through the tear itself, causing a split (dissect) of the layers of the aorta.

This can become deadly if the blood reaches the outside aortic wall.

Cocaine is a predisposing factor to aortic dissection due to its propensity to:

  • Its effect on aortic connective tissue
  • Its propensity to produce abrupt and severe hypertension.

The duration between cocaine and the onset of aortic dissection is an average of 12.8 hours.

The range can be from 4 to 24 hours. People most likely to suffer from this are young and have had a history of multiple substance abuse.

5. Arteriosclerosis

Using cocaine for a long period of time can stimulate arteriosclerosis. This occurs when the blood vessels become thick and stiffened.

These vessels carry vital nutrients and oxygen from your heart to the rest of your body, thus restricting blood flow to organs and muscles.

Atherosclerosis is a type of arteriosclerosis. This is a build-up of plaque, containing fats and other substances.

This causes arteries to narrow and restricts blood flow. This can also lead to mass blood clots

6. Myocardial Infarction (Heart Attack)

Cocaine-induced heart attacks are common. The increase in blood pressure, solidification of arteries, thickening of the heart walls, and lack of oxygen can lead to a sudden heart attack.

A study in 2012 studied cocaine’s effect on the heart. They found that 30-35% of cocaine users have a stiffening of the aorta and massively high blood pressure.

18% of the volunteers had thickness of the heart, specifically the left ventricle. Under the age of 50, cocaine and marijuana use was evident in 1 out of 10 deaths due to a sudden heart attack.

Using cocaine will most likely result in cardiovascular disease, and immediate heart-related issues.

7. Blood Clotting

Cocaine can cause an increase in the risk of clotting, leading to heart attacks, deep vein thrombosis and many other fatal heart conditions.

It can also cause:

  • Heart muscle inflammation
  • Death of heart muscle and tissue
  • Deterioration of heart contracting abilities
  • Aortic ruptures

Clots can occur in veins or arteries – vessels vital to the circulatory system.

Both of these transport blood around the body, deoxygenated or oxygenated.

Cocaine can cause an abnormal clot, potentially restricting the blood returning to the heart.

This causes pain in the chest and dramatic swelling where the blood has gathered.

Example: Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

This is a type of clot that forms in a major vein. The clot can detach itself from the origin of creation and travel to the heart or lungs.

The clot can then become wedged and prevent sufficient blood flow, leading to a pulmonary embolism.

In the US, Deep vein thrombosis affects as 900,000 people in a year, killing up to 100,000.

The Negative Effect on the Heart

There are numerous fatal consequences to the cardiovascular system because of cocaine abuse.

Altering the emotions and brain function of an individual, cocaine is regularly interfering with the binary patterns of the body.

The heart pumps crucial blood around our organs, muscles, and tissue. The existence of exercise and other healthy choices can increase your chances of a long and healthy life.

Whether you are a regular user, dependant, or trying it for the first time, you might be part of the cocaine-inflicted statistics.

Increasing your heart rate and blood pressure puts enormous strain on your arteries, vessels, and the heart itself.

Cocaine is not worth causing the heart to beat irregularly or causing clots that prevent the heart from working as it should.

With every use, comes more potential damage to the most vital organ in our bodies, this is why it’s been labelled ‘the perfect heart attack drug’.

In an Emergency:

If you or another person you know experiences these symptoms, call 999 or go to the closest Accident & Emergency (A&E):

  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Profuse sweating
  • Palpitations and chest pain

It is crucial the Dr knows that you or a loved one has used cocaine, as the treatments are usually altered for this purpose.

The usual treatment for instances such as heart attacks is beta-blockers. However, these sorts of drugs harmfully react with cocaine.

Together, they increase blood pressure to the point of life-threatening brain bleeds. This is not a certainty, but always a possibility.

In order to be safe, avoid using the drug at all. If you are worried about the effects cocaine is having on you, physically or mentally, don’t hesitate to get in touch: 0800 140 4690.


  4. Talarico GP, Crosta ML, Giannico MB, Summaria F, Calò L, Patrizi R. Cocaine and coronary artery diseases: a systematic review of the literature. J Cardiovasc Med (Hagerstown). 2017 May;18(5):291-294. doi: 10.2459/JCM.0000000000000511. PMID: 28306693.



Boris is our editor-in-chief at Rehab 4 Addiction. Boris is an addiction expert with more than 20 years in the field.  His expertise covers a broad of topics relating to addiction, rehab and recovery. Boris is an addiction therapist and assists in the alcohol detox and rehab process. Boris has been featured on a variety of websites, including the BBC, Verywell Mind and Healthline.