Runny Nose as a Sign of Cocaine Addiction

Not all addictions present themselves in obvious ways. Sometimes, our loved ones may struggle with dependence on a behaviour or substance, such as cocaine, without displaying clear symptoms. Recent statistics also reveal that the UK had the highest number of cocaine users in Europe in 2018. Unlike other addictions, cocaine addiction may not be visible on a user’s face. Instead, it may manifest in subtle, persistent signs of abuse. One such symptom is a persistent runny nose. While a runny nose may seem minor, it can indicate a more significant problem.

Unfortunately, people who struggle with cocaine addiction may face stigmatisation due to these symptoms, often referred to as having a “coke nose” or “cocaine nose.” By understanding the signs of cocaine addiction, we can help our loved ones receive the care and support they need.

Cocaine and the Nose

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The nose is a complex organ that plays a crucial role in our respiratory system. It is composed of bone, cartilage, and tissue and is divided into two nasal cavities by a central wall called the septum. Each nasal cavity is lined with a mucous membrane that contains blood vessels and glands that produce mucus.

When cocaine is ingested, it is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and affects the central nervous system. One of how cocaine affects the body is by constricting the blood vessels in the mucous membranes of the nasal passages. This constriction reduces blood flow to the area, leading to decreased oxygen supply and increased pressure. Over time, this repeated constriction of the blood vessels can irritate the nose and cause symptoms recognised as a “coke nose”.

How Does Cocaine Cause a Runny Nose?

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug with severe short-term and long-term effects on the body. It is typically consumed by snorting, smoking, or injecting. When snorted, cocaine directly impacts the nasal cavity, causing various issues that can result in a runny nose. According to a study of over 400 participants, cocaine-induced runny nose is present in over 30% of cocaine users. A runny nose is a symptom of an underlying effect of the constant snorting of cocaine on the body. Some causes of the runny nose include;

  • Inflammation of nasal tissues
  • Damage to the nasal lining
  • Increased mucus production.

Nasal irritation and inflammation

This is caused by snorting cocaine, the most common form of consumption. Cocaine use can cause irritation and inflammation of the nasal passages due to the drug’s vasoconstrictive properties. Direct contact with the lining of the nose causes irritation and inflammation. Then, it constricts the nasal tissue and blood vessels and decreases blood flow to the area. This can lead to a runny or stuffy nose, nasal congestion, and nosebleeds.

Additionally, the drug can result in infections and complications such as sinus infections, nonallergic rhinitis, nasal sores, and loss of smell. Rhinitis is the inflammation of the mucous membrane lining the nose. It causes excessive mucus production, leading to a runny nose. The mucus can also become thick and discoloured, making breathing difficult through the nose.

In severe cases, the inflammation can cause the nasal passages to become blocked entirely, making it impossible to breathe through the nose. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, there are a few things you can try. Nasal irrigation is a helpful remedy. Here, you flush your nasal passages with a saline solution, which can also help remove irritants and excess mucus. Some medications, such as nasal corticosteroids, can also help reduce inflammation in the nasal passages. Others, such as antihistamines, can reduce the symptoms.

Damage to nasal passages

Repeated use of cocaine can also cause physical damage to the nasal passages, including the nasal septum. The nasal septum is a thin wall membrane that separates the two nostrils. The drug can cause the blood vessels in the nasal septum to constrict, leading to reduced blood flow and tissue death. This can cause the septum to weaken, leading to a perforation or hole in the septum. A perforated septum can cause symptoms such as a whistling sound when breathing, nosebleeds, and a runny nose.

Chronic sinus infections

Cocaine use can also increase the risk of chronic sinus infections due to the damage and inflammation of the nasal passages. Chronic sinus infections are a common complication of cocaine use due to the damage and inflammation of the sinuses due to the drug. When the nasal passages are inflamed and irritated, they can become more susceptible to infections. Additionally, the drug can suppress the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight off infections. In severe cases, a simple runny nose can lead to severe complications such as septal chondritis and nasal bone osteomyelitis.

Cocaine Nose versus the Common Cold

runny nose symptom of substance abuse

It can be difficult to distinguish between a runny nose caused by cocaine use and a common cold, as they share similar symptoms. However, there are some tell-tale signs to look out for that can help differentiate the two. One of the key differences is that a runny nose caused by cocaine use is typically persistent and chronic. It can also accompany other symptoms like nosebleeds, facial pain, and frequent sinus infections. In contrast, a runny nose caused by a cold usually clears up within a week or two and is accompanied by other cold symptoms like a sore throat, cough, and body aches.

If you suspect that your runny nose is caused by cocaine use, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. Chronic cocaine use can cause serious damage to the nasal passages and lead to long-term health problems. Seeking treatment for cocaine addiction can help you overcome your addiction and prevent further damage to your health.

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Treatment and Recovery

If you’ve been struggling with a cocaine-induced runny nose, you might not realise the long-term damage it can cause. In some cases, surgical reconstruction is needed to fix the damage. But the first step to healing is to address the cocaine addiction itself. That means going through detoxification, which involves getting the drug out of your system and managing withdrawal symptoms.

Of course, getting clean is only the beginning of the journey. To truly overcome cocaine addiction, you need to address the psychological aspects of the problem. That’s where therapy and counselling come in. These can help you identify the root causes of your addiction and give you the tools you need to develop new coping strategies and avoid relapse.


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A runny nose that won’t go away might seem like a minor issue, but it could be a sign of something more significant–such as cocaine addiction. While the symptoms of cocaine use may not be as visible, a persistent runny nose is a common sign often overlooked.

If you or a loved one are struggling with cocaine addiction, seeking help is essential before the long-term effects become detrimental. You can get help at our private residential facilities in Bournemouth. We provide free, confidential advice and discuss potential treatment options. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help today and take the first steps towards lasting recovery.