Yes, cocaine use can cause vertigo, but it is rare. Cocaine use does not affect the ear’s motion-sensing system as much as other drugs, like alcohol, do. However, using large amounts of cocaine or overdosing on cocaine may produce vertigo symptoms.
What Causes Vertigo?
Vertigo is the sensation of motion of either the self or the surroundings in the absence of actual motion. Vertigo is a feeling of moving or spinning even when the body is still.
The medical community has not yet specifically studied cocaine and vertigo, so it is not well understood. Vertigo is a symptom reported by people who use cocaine heavily, but it is not common enough or dangerous enough to study further.
Vertigo and the Inner Ear
In each ear, three semicircular canals are filled with fluid. Within this fluid are little hairs attached to nerve cells that send signals to the brain. When a person moves their head, the fluid moves in the opposite direction for a brief moment, bending the hairs and creating three sets of electrical signals that are sent to the brain. Since these three sets of hairs are bent at different angles, the brain can use these signals to compute motion and produce the feeling of movement.
How Cocaine Use Could Cause Vertigo
Cocaine may cause vertigo in a few different ways:
- Cocaine might alter the signals sent between the brain and the ear: Cocaine use increases the levels of epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine in brain cells (neurons). It may be over-activating them and altering the signals.
- Cocaine can decrease blood flow to the cells of the ear: Cocaine causes blood vessels to constrict (tighten) and deliver less oxygen to some tissue. If these tissues lose blood flow and oxygen for a long time, the cells can die or malfunction.
- Cocaine makes people more sensitive to sounds: People might react more quickly or in a more tremorous or twitchy manner when they’re using cocaine. This behavior would cause rapid acceleration and deceleration that might give the feeling of vertigo.
Chronic Cocaine Use and Vertigo
Symptoms like vertigo do not usually show up until a person uses a large amount of cocaine over a long time. Heavy cocaine use is defined as two or more grams per week. A gram of cocaine is about ten lines.
Some symptoms of heavy cocaine use, which can be long-term, include:
- Muscle Twitching
- Sudden Death
Treating Cocaine-Induced Vertigo
Vertigo is treated by treating the underlying cause. If heavy cocaine use is the reason a person is experiencing vertigo, then the most important first step is to stop cocaine use. Treating cocaine use might include outpatient treatment with a psychiatrist, or it might include inpatient rehab with a team of medical professionals to treat the whole patient.
There are medications for dizziness, but they have a lot of side effects that might be dangerous for someone who uses cocaine heavily. Medications should be used for the shortest time possible because of their side effects.
In situations where cocaine is not involved, vertigo is managed by watchful waiting, if it is mild. Most vertigo symptoms go away on their own. If they do not, a person can minimize symptoms by changing positions slowly, looking straight ahead while walking, or turning the entire body when looking left or right.
Key Points: Cocaine and Vertigo
Some key takeaways to remember about cocaine use and vertigo include:
- Vertigo can happen to people who use cocaine heavily
- Heavy cocaine use is more than two grams per week
- The medical community does not completely understand how cocaine causes vertigo
- Stop heavy cocaine use to treat and prevent vertigo
- Medications used to treat vertigo can be dangerous for someone using cocaine
Heavy cocaine use is serious and can lead to harm and even death if left untreated. To avoid cocaine-induced vertigo, and cocaine addiction, avoid cocaine use altogether.
ScienceDaily. “Chronic, Heavy Cocaine Use Associated With Long-Lasting Impaired Function.” 1999. Accessed May 14, 2019. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What are the long-term effects of cocaine use?” 2016. Accessed May 15, 2019. Guido R. Zanni. “Vertigo: Is Your Patient’s Head Spinning?” Pharmacy Times, 2012. Accessed 14 May 2019.
ScienceDaily. “Chronic, Heavy Cocaine Use Associated With Long-Lasting Impaired Function.” 1999. Accessed May 14, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What are the long-term effects of cocaine use?” 2016. Accessed May 15, 2019.
Guido R. Zanni. “Vertigo: Is Your Patient’s Head Spinning?” Pharmacy Times, 2012. Accessed 14 May 2019.