Intravenous Cocaine Use: Dangers & Risks

Cocaine is a powerful illegal stimulant drug that can be taken in various ways. In powder form, it is snorted through the nose, rubbed on the gums, or dissolved and injected.1 It is also processed to make a crystal, known as crack, which you can smoke.1

There are specific dangers to each way of using cocaine, however most cases of fatal cocaine overdose occur after intravenous injection.2 These dangers can be worsened when cocaine is mixed with heroin (known as a speedball) or other drugs.1 Many people inject cocaine because the fast absorption produces a more intense high.3

This article will explore the risks and symptoms you might experience if you are using cocaine intravenously.

Risks of Injecting Cocaine

Tired woman on bed

Risks that are specific to injection drug use largely come from non-sterile injection techniques. Sharing needles is primarily responsible for HIV, hepatitis C, and other diseases that come along with IV drug use. Cocaine itself also weakens the immune system and can make you more susceptible to HIV and hepatitis C.1 After repeated punctures, it is possible for the veins to collapse or scar over.1

Those who inject cocaine also assume the risks of taking the drug itself. Besides the euphoria and feelings of increased energy or mental alertness that often motivate cocaine use, short-term consequences of using cocaine can include:3

  • Decreased blood flow.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Increased body temperature.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Erratic or violent behavior.
  • Irritability.
  • Anxiety or panic.
  • Tremors.
  • Headache.
  • Seizures and convulsions, stroke, or coma.
  • Nausea and abdominal pain.
  • Heart attack.
  • Skin infections at the site of injection.
  • Sudden death.

Not all of these symptoms occur at the same doses. Usually, the more serious side effects are caused by higher amounts of cocaine.3 But, for someone using it for the first time, it is impossible to know what dose will begin to cause serious or deadly symptoms. Furthermore, taking cocaine mixed with, or alongside other substances can worsen symptoms or cause more effects than what are listed here.

People who use cocaine are at a greater risk for experiencing the following long-term problems and health risks:

  • Appetite loss or malnourishment1,3
  • Restlessness 1
  • Decreased cognitive health, such as with memory, attention, impulse control, or judgment3
  • Paranoia or psychosis1,3
  • Auditory hallucinations1,3
  • HIV and hepatitis C3
  • Ulcers in the digestive tract from low blood flow3
  • Chest pain3
  • Stroke3
  • Weakened or inflamed heart muscle3
  • Internal hemorrhages from aneurysms3
  • Pulmonary hypertension5
  • Tolerance or dependence on cocaine to feel normal3

Cocaine’s effects can be felt all throughout your body. Its widespread short and long-term effects are often caused by its effect on the blood vessels. This is because it constricts your blood vessels, which lowers the blood flow to tissues and organs.5 When blood flow is too low, it can cause ulcers, a weakened heart, pulmonary hypertension, and brain damage.3,5

Overdose Risk When Using Cocaine Intravenously

Statistics show that in 2020, 19,447 people died from an overdose involving cocaine in the U.S.6 Almost 5,000 of those deaths were from cocaine alone.6

Cocaine injection is associated with a much higher risk of loss of life by overdose than other methods of cocaine use.2 This may be due to the frequency of combining cocaine with opioids like heroin. Cocaine wears off much more quickly than heroin or other opioids, so people who use the combination drug might take several doses to maintain the high from cocaine, but end up with too much of the other drug in their systems.3 As a result, people can suffer a heart attack or a seizure while using cocaine. It is important to note that cocaine can often be laced with other drugs such as opioids so many individuals are unaware that they are also using other drugs which can increase their risk of overdose and dangerous side effects.3

Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms

Dependence is a physiological adaptation of the body to a substance, wherein the body becomes so used to the drug being present in the system that when the individual cuts back on their use or quits entirely, withdrawal symptoms emerge. With significant levels of physiological dependence, a person may continue to compulsively drink or use drugs to avoid unwanted withdrawal symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms are a result of the process your body goes through as it must adjust to functioning without the drug. Some cocaine withdrawal symptoms might include:1

  • Depression.1
  • Fatigue.1
  • Increased appetite.1
  • Unsettling dreams and inability to sleep.1
  • Decreased cognitive function.1

Getting Help for Cocaine Use

If using cocaine has become harmful to yourself or a loved one, it might be time to get help. There are resources for all types of addiction treatment, and figuring out insurance coverage can be as simple as filling out a verification of benefits form.

At Greenhouse Treatment Center, you can find the people and quality treatment plan that you need to get on the road to recovery. With capabilities for medical detox, co-occurring disorder care, and individualized treatment plans, nearly 12,000 people have been treated at Greenhouse. Before you leave their care, the staff at Greenhouse can help you plan out sober living and aftercare to give you the best chance at maintaining sobriety.

Start the admissions process today at our inpatient drug rehab and begin your road to recovery. Call us at to speak with an admissions navigator who can answer the variety of questions you likely have, including those regarding payment options and information regarding what to expect. In the meantime, fill out our to verify your insurance.

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