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Number of people who seek treatment for cocaine addiction in Ireland has trebled since 2015

By Irish Pharmacist - 01st Sep 2022

cocaine addiction

A new report from the Health Research Board has looked at drug use in Ireland between 2015 and 2021. Figures show that some 3,248 cases were recorded last year, with a median age of 31. Cases among those under 17 fell slightly, the results showed. 

Addiction specialist Mr Martin Preston at rehab centre Delamere commented on the damaging effects of regular cocaine abuse and the devastating impact it can have on a person’s life. One of the most common symptoms of cocaine abuse is chronic nosebleeds, as blood vessels and skin in the nose are often damaged. For those using the drug for a long period of time, however, the effects can be more sinister. 

Snorting cocaine leads to damage to mucous membranes and narrowed blood vessels, meaning the inside of the nose cannot be kept healthy. The long-term result of this means that cartilage and soft tissue can deteriorate, leading to a severely-damaged septum or a collapse of the nasal structure. 

Chronic cocaine use can also damage the cardiovascular system in a variety of ways and lead to multiple severe heart conditions, including: 

  • Blood clots that can lead to a heart attack, stroke, pulmonary embolism, or deep vein thrombosis. 
  • Increased blood pressure. 
  • Arrhythmia. 
  • Tachycardia (a heart rate over 100 beats a minute). 
  • Myocardial infarction. 
  • Angina. 

Those who ingest the substance by smoking it can cause the alveolar walls in the lungs and capillaries that carry oxygen to the rest of the body to be destroyed, resulting in an increased risk of: 

  • Pneumonia. 
  • Tuberculosis. 
  • Acute respiratory distress. 
  • Asthma. 
  • Pulmonary oedema. 

Regularly using cocaine can also decrease a person’s cognitive functions significantly, affecting not only their attention span, but also their impulses, decision-making, memory and mental health. 

It can also lead to blood vessels in the body constricting, meaning the brain receives less oxygen, and this can increase the risks of: 

  • Strokes. 
  • Seizures. 
  • Cerebral atrophy. 
  • Aneurysms. 
  • Brain damage. 

Repeated cocaine use often can lead to liver damage and in more severe cases, liver failure. This is due to a person’s body being flooded with toxins that the liver cannot filter-out, leading to a variety of side-effects that contribute to organ failure. 

Conditions and side-effects of cocaine use that contribute to liver failure include viral hepatitis, which is one of many side-effects of cocaine that can damage the liver. The infection causes liver inflammation and swelling that is a result of the substance entering the body in harmful amounts and causing the tissues in the body to become injured or infected. 

Excessive cocaine use can also lead to rhabdomyolysis, which is a severe muscle injury that causes a breakdown of muscle tissue that enters the bloodstream and affects the liver. 

Also a potential consequence is portal hypertension, which is elevated pressure in the major vein that leads to the liver and due to this, new red blood cells and other substances will bypass the liver and enter general circulation, resulting in more complications that may be hard to treat. 

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