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Cocaine Eyes

Dillon McClernon

Authored by Dillon McClernon

Are you concerned about a loved one, but you’re not sure what’s wrong? Maybe you suspect substance use but don’t have enough proof and aren’t sure how to ask. Or maybe you’ve used substances, like cocaine, in the past and have noticed new health issues, but you aren’t sure where they come from. Most people know that there are side effects of substance use, but not everyone thinks about the eyes and how they’re impacted because of substance use.

Our eyes are delicate but pivotal parts of us. While there are many who live without sight on a daily basis, those of us who have it can’t imagine life without it. Cocaine is one such substance that can impact your eyes. In fact, the phenomenon is so common that the term “cocaine eyes” has been coined because of it. 

Knowing about the side effects of things, from medications to substances, can be important for your health. If you know why something has developed, you can better take the steps to try and fix it. Here at Recovery Centers of America in Indianapolis, we believe in lowering as many barriers to care as possible to make it accessible to all. One of the barriers people often forget is education. When subtler side effects of substance use pop up, people can only react if they know what’s actually going on. That’s why today we’re going to talk about how cocaine use can impact your eyes, the signs to look out for, and how to help treat it.

What Are Cocaine Eyes and What Causes Them?

Cocaine eyes refer to a specific look caused by a combination of side effects that occur because of cocaine use, especially long-term cocaine use.

One of the most common side effects of cocaine use is dilated pupils. This can be one of the signs of cocaine eyes, but it’s much larger than that. There are many ways that cocaine use, especially long-term cocaine use, can impact the eyes. Let’s take a look at a few.

How Exactly Does Cocaine Affect the Eyes?

Cocaine can impact the eyes in many ways beyond just dilating the pupils. One of the ways your eyes can be impacted is due to high blood pressure, which is a known side effect of cocaine use. Another is what can occur when you accidentally touch or rub your eyes when you have cocaine on your hand or fingers.

Long-term substance use increases the risk of additional or worsening side effects. While it’s easy to see “high blood pressure” as a side effect and know what that means, it’s also important to know what side effects can lead to other side effects.

What Other Eye Conditions Can Cocaine Cause?

Here are the four most common conditions that can be caused by cocaine use:

  • Exophthalmos – This is a condition that causes your eyes to bulge or protrude. This puts pressure on your optic nerve, which can eventually lead to a permanent altering of your vision. High blood pressure is a common factor in those who develop this condition.
  • Cycloplegia – This condition is known for paralyzing the ciliary muscle in the eye, aka the muscle responsible for helping us focus on nearby or faraway objects. Cocaine use forces pupil dilation and this can lead to the muscle “staying that way” – much like when your mom warned you that your face would “stay like that” if you kept sticking your tongue out. Those with this condition often experience squinting and blurry vision.
  • Corneal ulcers – When cocaine gets into your eyes or tear ducts, this can damage your eye and the sensitive layers on top of it. The small powder can be an irritant and even scratch the cornea. This can lead to pain and redness. 
  • Upper eyelid reduction – Long-term cocaine use has been linked with the retracting of the upper eyelid. This can cause your eyes to always appear wide open. Because of this, it can increase dryness in the eye, which can lead to irritation and a higher risk of other damage.

 What Is Cocaine and Why Does it Impact the Eyes?

Many people can picture what cocaine is if someone were to ask, but do you actually know what it does or where it comes from?

Cocaine originated in South America and is derived from the leaves of the cocoa plant. Originally, native people would chew on the leaves to experience some of the effects. Nowadays it’s normally produced into a fine powder or crystal form and is illegally sold across borders. 

Cocaine is a stimulant. It primarily impacts the dopamine production of the brain, which is the reward chemical our bodies produce in response to stimuli like food or sex. It goes to dopamine receptors which trigger us to feel pleasure or happiness.

For a substance that is primarily ingested through the nose or mouth, and sometimes directly into the bloodstream, how does it impact the eyes? 

There are two main reasons for this. The first is the primary side effects of cocaine use, such as high blood pressure, which can impact your eyes over time.

The second reason is related to substance use itself. Often times those who develop an SUD can start to slack in taking care of themselves. This, combined with the side effects, can lead to damage in the body that ranges from easily fixable to long-term. 

Getting Treatment For Cocaine Use Disorder

Addressing concerns regarding your eyes can be very important if you want to continue to have your current level of vision for as long as possible. Many eye conditions that come from cocaine use can be treated and even reversed, but only if caught on time. If you’ve noticed a loved one has been showing signs of cocaine use, now might be the time to talk with them about their recovery options.

Treatment for any substance use only starts if a person is either willing to work on it themselves, or they’re able to get to a treatment center. If you’re thinking about talking with your loved one about their substance use, remember not to approach them with judgment or anger. Remind them you care and just want to see them happy and healthy. Offer your support to help them during recovery in any way they wish to have assistance. Most importantly, if they seek recovery, don’t forget to find help for yourself, too. Substance use often impacts loved ones just as much as it impacts those managing an SUD.

Here at Recovery Centers of America, we want to see everyone in our community thrive. We’ve lowered as many barriers to care as possible because we know when someone finally decides to take that step, that it’s important that they’re easily able to do so. We’re in-network with most insurances, we offer transportation to our facility within a 4-hour drive, and we accept admissions 24/7. 

Our goal here at RCA is to help lay a strong foundation for long-term recovery. We do this through our Pathways Program, which has three different pathways that are specified for a variety of unique individuals. This way, our clients can go into a program that works best for them, instead of into a one-size-fits-all treatment plan. In addition to that, we pair our clients with case managers from the start so they can plan out their recovery and know what lies ahead of them. Our staff will also work to help address any other concerns that may have arisen due to substance use, such as any damage to the eyes or vision, and find pathways to help our clients address these concerns.

We offer a full continuum of care for those seeking recovery from cocaine use. This includes detox to outpatient, as well as other services like family therapy, work programs, alumni support, and even nutrition and wellness options. 

We want to see you succeed. We want to see you at a place you’re proud of. Our team at Recovery Centers of America is ready to help you get started on your recovery journey. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to give us a call at (855) 761-2897.


Why are eyes red after cocaine use?

High blood pressure or accidentally getting cocaine in your eyes can cause red eyes after cocaine use. 

How long after using cocaine do the eyes stay dilated?

The length of time your eyes will stay dilated after cocaine use varies depending on how much you consumed, your own personal metabolism, what other substances are in your system, as well as your history of substance use.

Why do eyes get bigger after doing cocaine?

Cocaine impacts muscles and blood pressure. One of the muscles it’s known to impact is the ciliary muscle, which is the muscle that controls how we focus when looking at anything around us. This can impact the dilation of the pupil, causing it to enlarge. 

Authored by

Dillon McClernon

Dillon McClernon

Dillon currently serves as the Senior Director of Sales and Marketing at RCA. After his tenure as Chief Communications Officer and senior advisor to RCA, he opted for a full-time position at RCA where he could build a new team linking sales and marketing to directly impact RCA’s mission of saving 1 million lives.


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