Can Cocaine Cause a Stroke?

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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Suffering a Stroke by the Use of Cocaine

A recent study suggests that adults may raise their risk of suffering from stroke by up to six-fold every time they use cocaine. The study also asserts that relatively young adults in their 30s and 40s also increase their chances of suffering from the condition when they use cocaine. Simply put, using drugs like cocaine is a risk factor for stroke. 

Understanding the Risk: Cocaine’s Impact on Stroke Likelihood

The risk is so high that cocaine and other drugs have been purported to be one of the main causes of ischemic stroke among young adults. Another thing to note is that even the first use of cocaine and other drugs can lead to stroke. But how exactly does cocaine cause a stroke? You must note that when ingested, cocaine can damage the blood vessels in the heart and brain, thereby increasing high blood pressure and other similar conditions that can lead to a stroke.

Young Adults at Risk: A Closer Look at the Demographics

Researchers conducted a study among younger victims of a first stroke, and after making a comparison, they noted that when younger adults used or misused cocaine 24 hours before the event, the risk of a stroke rose significantly. In cases where younger victims smoked cocaine in “crack” form, the risk rose by up to eight-fold.

Types of Strokes Associated With Cocaine Use

Researchers also relied on data from a study about the relationship between stroke and cocaine to determine whether cocaine can cause a stroke. The data had over 1,000 cases of ischemic stroke and focused on individuals aged between 15 and 49 years. If you did not know, ischemic stroke is one of the most common types of strokes, meaning more is known about it compared to others. A blockage in the blood vessels inside or leading to the brain is one of the causes of an ischemic stroke. A blood vessel may be blocked because of a blood clot. 

To ensure the results are reliable, researchers matched the cases to over 1,000 similar individuals who had not had a stroke. Researchers then found that individuals who had used cocaine the previous day were six times more likely to have a stroke than individuals who had never had cocaine. The researchers also analyzed the data based on alcohol use and tobacco smoking and realized the results remained pretty much the same.

Researchers pointed out that from the data, less than 30 individuals who had used cocaine within 24 hours suffered from a stroke. Of this number, around 14 had used the drug within six hours before having a stroke. Researchers also noted that 10 to 20 young individuals per 100,000 suffer from an ischemic stroke. They further asserted that the risk is greater for Caucasian people and African Americans.

Researchers conclude that smoking the “crack” form significantly increases the risk of a stroke. On the other hand, cocaine hydrochloride appears to mostly cause bleeding in the brain. However, this does not make it less potent because it’s those kinds of bleeds that can lead to a blood clot, which can block the blood vessels in the brain, leading to a stroke.

According to experts, young patients, especially men, should be screened for drug use when they have a stroke with an unknown cause. Such a form of stroke is referred to as a cryptogenic stroke, and drug use often increases the chances of having one.

While the above findings are not conclusive, health practitioners and researchers can make a strong claim that cocaine can cause a stroke. Ideally, health practitioners can use the information above for clinical practice and help reduce the chances of people suffering from the condition.

Immediate Effects: The Dangers of First-Time Cocaine Use

While it has been noted that long-term use of cocaine increases the risk of a stroke, it’s important to also highlight that first-time users are not safe either. Cocaine is like other drugs in the sense that it can have many substantial and often sudden effects on the body. A good example is when cocaine causes an instant surge in blood pressure, thereby leading to bleeding, which, in turn, increases the risk of a stroke. At the same time, cocaine can narrow or constrict blood vessels in the brain, thereby reducing the flow of blood and causing a blockage. 

Aside from cocaine, researchers have concluded that other substances, such as heroin and amphetamines, can cause a stroke. Heroin can cause a stroke by exposing the inner lining of your heart to infection, while amphetamines, which is a group of stimulants, can increase the risk of stroke by raising blood pressure. This means it is not just cocaine you should avoid but also other drugs because they are equally dangerous. If you are struggling with addiction, it is recommended that you seek the right channels for help.

Symptoms of a Stroke Caused by Cocaine

It is important to note that the symptoms of a stroke caused by cocaine are no different from those caused by other factors. That said, the following are the symptoms of a stroke:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Face slumping or drooping
  • Severe headache
  • Difficulty walking or loss of balance
  • Trouble speaking or slurred speech
  • Sudden vision changes 
  • Memory problems or confusion
  • Numbness or weakness in the legs and arms

Since this is not a full list of the symptoms of a stroke, you should always be on the lookout so the situation does not get worse and even become fatal. If you or someone you know is showing the above symptoms, the right thing to do is call 911 ASAP. A stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention.

Once you are around paramedics, ensure you are as honest as possible so professionals can have an easier time saving your life. One way to be honest is to ensure you let paramedics know of any substance you have been using. Paramedics need this kind of information to develop the right treatment for you.

Carrying Out First Aid for a Drug-Induced Stroke

First things first, stroke can only be treated at the hospital; there is no at-home treatment for the condition. Nevertheless, this does not mean you cannot do anything when you or someone you know is having a stroke. While waiting for emergency services to arrive, you can consider the following:

Stay Comfortable

Lie on the floor or sit in a chair, preferably on your side with your head elevated. You are advised to do this so as not to choke if you have been vomiting.

Check for Breathing

If a friend or relative is having a stroke in your presence, one of the things to do is to check if they are breathing. If not, perform CPR while waiting for an emergency service to arrive. Keep doing the CPR until the emergency service takes over.

Never Leave Their Presence

It is not advisable to leave someone having a stroke on their own. The situation is often frightening, so it’s important to be there to comfort them and provide support. Keeping an eye on them also ensures you can take note of the changing symptoms and alert emergency responders if need be.

Provide Details to Emergency Responders

Since someone having a stroke may not express themselves well enough, you will be tasked with providing emergency responders with crucial details. It is important that you stay calm and level-headed when speaking so paramedics can accurately record what you are saying and provide aid in a timely manner.

Assessing the Evidence: Cocaine Can Cause a Stroke

The evidence is clear: cocaine use significantly increases the risk of a stroke. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a first-time experience or long-term usage. However, long-term use of cocaine incredibly heightens the risk of suffering from the condition. A vital aspect to consider is the likelihood of recurrent strokes following an initial episode, especially in the context of continued cocaine use. 

Recognizing and responding swiftly to stroke symptoms is critical. Quick response not only saves lives, but it may also help lower the chances of a stroke reoccurring in the future. While direct at-home remedies for stroke are non-existent, providing immediate first aid to someone experiencing a stroke is a crucial intervention that can prevent further health complications and aid in their recovery process.

Additionally, the most effective strategy for reducing stroke risk is the cessation of cocaine and other drug use. This task can be daunting, particularly for those grappling with addiction. It is in these challenging times that the support and guidance offered by Defining Wellness Centers (DWC) become invaluable.

Get Support at Defining Wellness Centers

With the aim to change lives for the better, DWC relies on a unique combination of evidence-based addiction treatment and holistic healing to help you recover smoothly from addiction. We treat our center as a sanctuary where you and your family and friends can find much-needed care and support while recovering from addiction.

Catering to various needs and preferences, we have a wide range of evidence-based treatment programs at DWC, including inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab, and our specialized “Wellness for Warriors” program, among others. In our efforts to provide a holistic recovery experience, we also integrate many different therapeutic techniques to help you achieve optimum wellness. These include equine-assisted therapy, family programs, and art and music therapy.

At DWC, we believe you should not suffer in silence. Our mission is to help you rediscover joy and restore balance in your life. We recognize the dangers of cocaine and the fact that it can increase the risk of a stroke or, in some cases, cause it. If you are seeking a path to recovery and wellness and a life free of addiction, DWC is here to provide support every step of the way. Reach out to DWC for compassionate addiction treatment today.

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