Does Cocaine Make You Skinny?

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Cocaine is a powerful stimulant with many harmful effects on the brain and body. It can suppress appetite, increase metabolism, and cause the body to burn more calories. However, these effects can be dangerous and lead to several adverse health issues, including malnutrition, heart damage, and addiction. For these reasons and others, medical experts strongly advise against using cocaine to lose weight. There are much healthier and more effective ways to shed pounds, and being skinny or underweight comes with its own risks and complications.

If you are using cocaine to facilitate weight loss, remember this illicit drug can rapidly cause physical and emotional dependence. If you are misusing cocaine or have developed a substance use disorder, you are urged to seek comprehensive professional treatment. Guardian Recovery is a specialized rehab facility featuring integrated programspersonalized treatment plans, and a full continuum of care. Reach out to learn more about our streamlined admissions process and evidence-based therapies, services, and activities.

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How Does Cocaine Affect Metabolism & Fat Storage?

Cocaine has long been associated with weight loss, even being labeled “the skinny drug.” However, this body fat loss is due to many factors, such as stimulating drugs and their relationship to satiation, and cocaine altering fat storage methods in people who use it.

As cocaine enacts its psychoactive effects on the brain and body, it doubles as an appetite suppressant, which can lead to irregularity in eating habits. This disturbance changes how the body processes and stores fat, thereby destabilizing the metabolism’s proper function. (1)

Healthy amounts of nutrients and fat consumption are significantly affected by cocaine misuse, specifically when a cocaine-dependent person enters recovery. The imbalance related to eating habits and fat storage methods resulting from cocaine use inhibits the body’s capacity to process nutrients and regulate eating habits. This, in fact, increases the likelihood of becoming overweight due to compensatory overeating and other health issues that arise from substance use disorders.

Increase in Physical Activity

Because cocaine acts on feel-good chemicals in the brain, use can increase energy and elevate mood. (2) As a result, users may frequently engage in physical activity, such as running, dancing, or other repetitive activities. Cocaine also increases heart rate and blood pressure, potentially contributing to compulsive movements and actions. High activity rates burn more calories and can lead to weight loss, but severe dehydration can also result. (3)

Dehydration transpires when the body loses more fluids than it intakes, and it can have many adverse effects.

Common Symptoms of Dehydration Include:

  • Extreme thirst, dry mouth, and dry skin.
  • Headache and dizziness.
  • Fatigue and weakness.
  • Dark urine.
  • Constipation.
  • Increased risk of urinary tract infection.

One of the most dangerous effects of dehydration is heatstroke, also known as sunstroke. This condition can occur when the body’s cooling mechanisms cannot function correctly due to dehydration. Heat stroke occurs when the body temperature rises to 104°F or higher. (4) Heat stroke is a medical emergency that can result in permanent disability or death if left untreated.

It’s important to note that these effects can range from mild to severe, depending on the degree of dehydration and the length of time it has persisted. Severe dehydration can lead to severe health problems such as kidney failure, seizures, and even death.

Decrease in Sleep

Cocaine’s stimulating properties can cause difficulty falling asleep, insomnia, decreased need for sleep, and nightmares. It disrupts the normal stages of sleep and reduces sleep quality. These effects can persist even after the drug has been metabolized and expelled from the body. Sleep is essential for appetite regulation and metabolism, adversely affecting weight loss endeavors.

Research shows people who get insufficient sleep tend to have higher levels of hunger hormones, such as ghrelin, and lower levels of hormones that signal fullness, such as leptin. This can lead to overeating and increased energy intake, especially high-calorie foods, including “foods rich in fat and carbohydrates.” (5) Moreover, because lack of sleep can cause a decrease in metabolism, it may be harder for individuals to burn calories and lose weight. Therefore, poor sleep is more likely to promote weight gain rather than loss.

Cocaine can cause changes in food consumption patterns, as it can suppress appetite and lead to decreased food intake. Cocaine affects the brain’s reward system, increasing levels of neurochemicals such as dopamine and norepinephrine. These changes in brain chemistry can reduce hunger sensations, making it difficult for users to feel the need to eat. Additionally, cocaine can cause anxiety and agitation, further contributing to a lack of appetite.

Reduced Intake of Carbohydrates & Fats

The drug can also affect how the body processes carbohydrates and fats by increasing the rate at which they are metabolized, which can lead to weight loss. According to a recent study, “chronic cocaine abuse directly interferes with metabolic processes, resulting in an imbalance between fat intake and storage.” (6) However, this method of losing weight is not healthy or sustainable in the long run. In fact, the study further explains, “This imbalance in active users could lead to excessive weight gain when the use of cocaine is discontinued during recovery.”

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Dangers of Long-Term Weight Loss Due to Cocaine Use

One of the most harmful effects of long-term cocaine misuse and weight loss is malnutrition. (7) This is a potentially severe health condition caused by insufficient consumption of food—or the right kind of food—or the body’s inability to absorb or utilize the food consumed. Drug addiction that leads to malnutrition is often related to nutrient deficiencies or undernutrition.

While malnutrition is usually thought of as not getting enough nutrients, it also means consuming too much food. Therefore, if a person isn’t eating enough protein and calories to meet their basic nutritional requirements, they could be considered malnourished.

Reasons Why Cocaine Use Can Lead to Malnutrition Include:

  • Affecting the body’s ability to absorb/use nutrients.
  • Suppressing appetite.
  • Making poor dietary choices.
  • Prioritizing substance use over eating or eating properly.

Long-Term Effects of Malnutrition Include:

  • Stunted growth in youth.
  • Impaired vision.
  • Heart disease.
  • Diabetes.
  • Fatigue.
  • Depression and anxiety.
  • Poor concentration.
  • Impaired cognitive function.
  • Difficulties with regulating body temperature.
  • Digestive issues.

The best way to prevent these long-term consequences is by getting professional help for addiction and eating a healthy diet.

Eating Disorders

Additionally, the disordered eating patterns caused by cocaine misuse can lead to eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa. (8) Its appetite-suppressing effects can cause users to lose weight and become preoccupied with their weight and body shape. Cocaine can also cause emotional disturbances, leading to a distorted body image and an unhealthy relationship with food, further exacerbating eating disorders.

People who use cocaine often report an emotional disconnection from food and the pleasure of eating, which can make it challenging to have a healthy relationship with food.

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Using cocaine as a means to lose weight, even short-term, can lead to many harmful health effects. Some of these may be related to cocaine misuse itself, including drug dependence and addiction. Others may be caused by poor diet, chronic dehydration, or malnutrition. The risks of cocaine use are significant and far outweigh any perceived benefits. In fact, it can actually lead to weight gain, especially in those with severe dependencies who are trying to quit using.

If you’ve been using cocaine and are struggling with a co-occurring substance use disorder and an eating disorder or related condition, Guardian Recovery can help. Contact us to speak with an experienced Treatment Advisor and receive a free, no-obligation assessment and health benefits check. You don’t have to wait for your health issues to get worse to get treatment—you can begin your recovery journey today.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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