Remembering something pleasurable is a key part of the brain’s job. Things that bring pleasure tend to be things that keep us healthy, happy, and alive. That’s why the smell of baking bread, the brush of a loved one’s hand, or the sight of a sunrise fill us with pleasure. We need all of these things to survive.
Cocaine hijacks the brain’s pleasure pathway, creating a sense of bliss in response to something that isn’t at all good for us. The cocaine molecules cause the flood of emotion even while they do damage. Each hit of cocaine releases pleasure chemicals into the brain, and in time, the brain struggles to release pleasure signals in response to anything but cocaine.
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The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that there were an estimated 1.5 million cocaine users in the United States in 2014, and most users were ages 18 to 25. That means cocaine isn’t at all uncommon, especially among young people. These people may abuse cocaine in concert with other drugs, or they may use cocaine as their drug of choice. They may work very hard to hide the abuse from the people they love, but there are signs families can look for.
People who abuse cocaine may exhibit a variety of symptoms, including aggression, excitability, and confidence. They may also have a constant runny nose, and that nose drip could be just the start of a major health issue.
The nose is more than a resting place for glasses. It plays a vital role in each breath we take. Cocaine use and abuse can be devastating to the nose.
What Does the Nose Do?
The lungs don’t tolerate dry air, according to the Cleveland Clinic, and the nose helps to humidify and moisturize air particles before they move into the lungs. The nose also helps to regulate the temperature of the air, so a whiff of air isn’t too hot or too cold for the lungs.
There are a variety of structures that help the nose to carry out this work, including a network of blood vessels that line each nostril. When those blood vessels interact with cocaine, the trouble begins.
Cocaine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning that it can shrink the diameter of blood vessels on contact. A blood vessel that is smaller cannot distribute as much blood as a vessel that is large and wide. When tissues are deprived of blood, they begin to swell.
When nasal passages swell up, people may find it harder to take in the next breath. Natural nose secretions may also move from inside the nose to the outside of the nose, causing a persistent drip.
Ongoing nasal congestion with a nose drip is known as rhinitis. While it can be caused by allergies, there is a nonallergic form of the condition caused by drugs.
In an article published in the journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy, researchers report that there is no specific treatment for drug-induced rhinitis except avoidance. People who develop a persistent runny nose and congestion due to drugs should see their symptoms clear up when they stop taking drugs, although doctors may use antihistamines and other medications to address other issues that may contribute to congestion.
Living with rhinitis can be incredibly uncomfortable. In an article in the Primary Care Respiratory Journal, researchers say that a drippy nose can make concentration difficult, which could make it hard to succeed at work or school. People with asthma in addition to a drug-induced runny nose could even face life-threatening complications due to their inability to breathe properly.
Ongoing Drug Use and the Nose
If people push past the runny nose and keep abusing cocaine, more health issues are likely. One of them involves holes in the nose.
In an overview article in the University of Western Ontario Medical Journal, researchers report that close to five percent of cocaine abusers have a hole between their two nasal passages. This hole is caused by ongoing blood loss within the nose, and it can lead to a whistling sound while breathing and eventual collapse of the bridge of the nose. If the abuse continues, researchers say, holes can also develop in tissues that separate the mouth from the sinuses. That can lead to fluids leaking from the nose during meals, and it can also lead to choking.
Holes like this require surgical correction, as the dead tissues will not come back without help. But people who continue to abuse drugs after the surgery will see their holes come back. That’s what happened to a patient profiled in the journal Nederlands Tijdschrift Voor Geneeskunde. A man with extensive deformities in his nose and palate had surgeries to correct those issues, but he kept using drugs. In time, his tissue death issue came back.
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Other Consequences of Cocaine Abuse
While damage to the nose can be severe and quite uncomfortable, it’s not the only danger people face when they abuse cocaine. Drug use can cause:
- Job loss
- Financial distress
- Arrests and/or jail time
Cocaine has also been associated with damage to the heart, the bowels, and the brain. All of this damage could lead to long hospital stays, extensive medical bills, or long-term disability.
Treatment is a better option. People who enroll in treatment programs for drug addiction have the opportunity to learn skills that can keep them away from drug use for good. So, don’t delay and call The Palm Beach Institute at (855) 960-5456 right away to talk with an addiction specialist. If you're abusing cocaine or any substance now, it's time to enroll.
(May 2016) What Is the Scope of Cocaine Use in the United States? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-scope-cocaine-use-in-united-states
(October 2015) 7 Surprising Facts About Your Nose. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/7-surprising-facts-nose/
(February 2010) Drug-Induced Rhinitis. Clinical and Experimental Allergy. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2222.2009.03450.x
(2010) Management of Allergic and Non-Allergic Rhinitis: A Primary Care Summary of the BSACI Guideline. Primary Care Respiratory Journal. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/pcrj201044
(2015). Oronasal Fistula with Palatal Involvement Secondary to Cocaine Use. University of Western Ontario Medical Journal. Retrieved from http://www.uwomj.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/v83s1_02.pdf
(January 2013) Local Complications of Intranasal Cocaine Abuse: Diagnostic and Therapeutic Guidelines. Nederlands Tijdschrift Voor Geneeskunde. Retrieved from https://europepmc.org/abstract/med/23759180