Does Cocaine Lower Immune System Response?

Cocaine can have some devastating effects on a person’s immune system, but does cocaine lower the immune system response? In short, yes. 

A suppressed immune system due to drugs invites infections, diseases and can lead to death if left untreated. 

Furthermore, those with specific pre-existing conditions can be more susceptible to immune system deficiencies, leading to heightened fatality risks.

The immune system is responsible for keeping you healthy, but a weakened immune system becomes less likely to fight even minor infections. 

Therefore, the common cold can do considerably more damage to your body than it would with a healthy immune system.

In this educational guide, we discuss cocaine and the immune system.


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Cocaine and Your Immune System

Cocaine can have harmful effects on the body in general. In particular, a suppressed immune system due to drugs like cocaine can cause users to be at risk of contracting infections and diseases that non-users could more easily fight off.

Your immune system is built of organs, tissues, and cells that act as your body’s defense. White blood cells, spleen, bone marrow, tonsils, lymph nodes, and other organs work together to fight off bacteria, infections, fungus, parasites, and much more.

It is easy to forget about all the possibilities of illness, as your body’s immune system has kept you safe up to this point.

Your immune system after cocaine use is weakened and vulnerable. Not only can the common cold overpower a weakened immune system and thrive in the body for much longer than it would otherwise, but some diseases that are normally minor can become life-threatening.

The liver is responsible for clearing out harmful toxins and chemicals from the body. This includes not only illicit drugs but prescription medications as well.

Those who use cocaine, especially in combination with alcohol, are sacrificing their liver functionality. Liver failure then becomes a real possibility, and humans cannot survive without the liver.

While cocaine can suppress the immune system for a minimum of four hours after use, anyone who uses cocaine and then goes into public places is at a dramatically heightened risk of getting sick.

Even the common cold can become a severe health risk, as your natural immunity is no longer strong enough to fight off infections.

Cocaine and HIV, Hepatitis, and Other Health Conditions

Furthermore, cocaine users with HIV or Hepatitis are at an all-time high risk of liver complications, infections, or even failure. Their liver is already working harder to fight the disease, and adding cocaine to the mixture can only worsen their condition.

Additionally, using cocaine during pregnancy can have harmful effects on the unborn child. The baby’s immune system can also become compromised, potentially leading to severe health risks that can last throughout their lifetime.

Cocaine often causes dehydration, exhaustion, and skin irritation side effects. While these conditions invite infections independently, when caused by cocaine use, the results can be even more detrimental.

Deciding to Stop Using Cocaine

Chronic drug use often results in withdrawal symptoms, informally known as the “comedown.” However, unlike most drugs, cocaine does not show typical withdrawal symptoms like vomiting or tremors. Most of the withdrawal symptoms from cocaine are mental or emotional.

Additionally, when using cocaine, the addict does not have to have all of the cocaine out of their system before experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

Aside from cocaine cravings, the comedown for chronic users is likely to include:

  • Sleepiness or exhaustion.
  • Anxiety.
  • Irritability or agitation.
  • Paranoia.

Furthermore, as cocaine manipulates dopamine levels in the brain over time, an inability to feel happiness or pleasure is a common result.

Dopamine is a naturally occurring chemical in the brain that controls feelings of happiness or reward. With that system overloaded by cocaine use, healthy activities that ordinarily bring pleasure can seem pointless.

Cocaine Overdoses

As with most drugs, an overdose is possible when using cocaine. And while it’s not unusual for a person to overdose on purpose as a suicide attempt or cries for help, accidental overdoses are more common than most people might think.

Especially on a cocaine binge, it’s easy for an addict to lose track of how much they’ve used.

Cocaine produces an energy burst that lasts for about 15-20 minutes. Afterward, your body feels exhausted and ready to crash. Before the crash hits, chronic users often use a “bump” to get their high back.

Repeating this pattern can cause someone to lose track of how much they have used, paving the way for an accidental overdose.

Like meth, cocaine is a drug that can have detrimental effects after just one use. As a party drug, cocaine is often mixed with alcohol.

Combining cocaine with alcohol can be fatal, as the mixture often leads to an overdose. Remember, it only takes one time to have a potentially disastrous result.

Getting Help for Cocaine Addiction

There are no officially approved medicines to treat cocaine addiction. However, health professionals are researching whether medications currently used to treat other addictions could be effective for this one.

The drugs they are testing include:

  • Disulfiram: typically used for treating alcoholism.
  • Modafinil: often prescribed for patients with the sleeping disorder narcolepsy.
  • Lorcaserin: often prescribed to those who struggle with obesity.
  • Buprenorphine: used when treating patients with opioid addiction.

Furthermore, there are modern therapies available that can work to restore healthy brain function.

Behavioral therapy works efficiently when addressing mental and cognitive function, rebuilding risk-reward skills, and cultivating environments that encourage sobriety.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy works to rebuild damaged mental processing skills.

Chronic drug use typically impairs a person’s ability to process emotions and demonstrate healthy decision-making.

Throughout therapy, motivational incentives such as small cash vouchers and rewards are effective ways of re-training the brain’s risk-reward calculator.

Furthermore, attending therapy can introduce those struggling with addiction to like-minded groups filled with people on the same journey you are.

Regardless of how isolated you may feel, you are not alone.

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Understanding that No One is Beyond Help

Addiction is hard. With societal stigmas that label addicts as “dirty,” it can be isolating and degrading to be mistreated due to a disease that many people don’t understand.

Though you may feel alone, a lot of people share your struggle.

A family may disown someone for straying from their belief system. Addiction can cost relationships, jobs, and livelihoods. Writing off an addict as a “lost cause” is all too common.

It’s an unfair social stigma that often ignores the scientific and medical recognition of addiction as a disease and a disorder.

Unfortunately, many people avoid treatment because they fear judgment from others.

A negative self-image or the sense that you’re not supported only furthers issues with depression and anxiety.

Remember that although you may have made mistakes, you are worthy. You deserve respect, dignity, and proper care.

What Can I Do to Preserve my Health?

Chronic cocaine use will result, sooner or later in a suppressed immune system due to drugs. Infections, diseases, fungus, bacteria, and parasites are all kept at bay because of a healthy immune system.

The components that make up your immune systems, such as vital organs, white blood cells, and lymph nodes, can become dysfunctional due to cocaine use.

Additionally, a person can overdose on cocaine on the first use, especially when combining it with alcohol.

Furthermore, those who have HIV, Hepatitis (of any kind), or are pregnant can experience worsening symptoms with long-lasting effects. Cocaine can cause severe liver complications, and if left untreated, even liver failure.

However, it is essential to remember that no one is beyond help.

Though there are no approved medications for treating cocaine addiction, there are options available to you that can help you to overcome addiction.

Participating in therapy can introduce you to support groups and programs that bring together like-minded people to grow with in recovery.

Sources of Information

[1] Drug
[2] U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
[3] Science Direct Study
[4] Medline Plus
[5] Cocaine Facts

susana spiegel author headshot

Susana Spiegel

About the Contributor

Susana Spiegel is an author and recovery advocate with over 7 years in recovery from addiction. Her passion for recovery has led her to research and write extensively on the topic, with over 5 years of writing content specifically related to addiction and recovery. Susana believes that recovery is possible for anyone who is willing to put in the work and is dedicated to helping others find the strength, support, and resources they need to live a life of sobriety. Susana also has a Bachelors in Christian Studies from Grand Canyon University. 



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As an affiliate, we may receive compensation from BetterHelp if you purchase services through the links provided.

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