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What Cocaine Does to Your Eyes?

What Cocaine Does to Your Eyes?

Also known as crack or coke, cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant that’s sold illegally as a white, crystalline powder. It can be snorted in powder form, modified to be injected, or smoked in a process called freebasing. Cocaine’s effects are usually short-lived, and users often end up bingeing to maintain the high. Abusing cocaine comes with a variety of risks, including eye problems. As part of the central nervous system, the visual system is heavily affected by drugs. Our Texas rehab is exploring what cocaine does to your eyes and how to treat it.

What Are Cocaine Eyes?

Otherwise known as cocaine pupils or coke eyes, cocaine eyes refer to the appearance of the person’s pupils after using cocaine. Almost all drugs cause changes in the eyes, whether it’s dilation, constriction, redness, or glassiness. Eyes tend to be the most telltale sign of drug abuse, and cocaine abuse is no different. 
Cocaine is a CNS stimulant that stimulates the release of dopamine in the brain and prevents certain proteins from reabsorbing the excess, causing a rush of euphoria. In addition to side effects like increased energy and alertness are also dilated pupils or cocaine pupils. 
If you’ve ever had your eyes dilated for an eye exam, then you may recall how sensitive your eyes became to light. Using coke causes extreme pupil dilation, increasing the person’s sensitivity to light. People who are on cocaine may wear sunglasses even when it isn’t bright outside or inside. You may have wondered, "does cocaine make your eyes red?" Yes, red eyes may also occur after use because it expands blood vessels, which can result in bloodshot eyes or redden the whites of the eyes.  

Cocaine Effects on the Eyes

In addition to pupil enlargement and sensitivity to light, the vapors from smoking crack can also irritate the eyes, causing redness. The movement of cocaine users’ eyes may also seem irregular or unfocused until the side effects of the drug wear off. Below are some other common effects of cocaine on the eyes. 


Jaundice refers to the yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. It’s a common indicator that someone has a liver or kidney problem. Cocaine abuse can damage the liver, which can eventually lead to symptoms like jaundice. However, long-term coke addiction can cause permanent liver damage or failure. Therefore, it’s crucial to seek cocaine detox and treatment immediately. 


Cocaine eye problems that may occur as a result of long-term use also include nystagmus. Also known as rapid eye motion, nystagmus causes a permanent shift in eye movement and usually indicates brain damage. Coke produces this disorder by breaking down muscles, nerves, and brain tissue associated with eye movement or the visual system in the brain. This is why some coke users may seem as if their eyes jump from one thing to another or don’t focus. 


Glaucoma refers to a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain. Optic nerve health is crucial for good eyesight. Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in the United States and is also a common side effect of cocaine abuse. Cocaine causes glaucoma by affecting blood pressure, altering the pressure of fluid within the eye. When fluid pressure increases over time, the result is usually glaucoma. 


When you smoke cocaine, the vapors and fumes can numb your eyes, suppressing your ability to blink, thus leaving your eyes exposed and dried out. In the long run, cocaine users may experience eye problems such as keratitis, or an inflammation of the cornea, because the eyes are frequently exposed to the elements. Blinking protects our eyes from foreign particles and vapors, but when this reflex is suppressed, these things can scratch the surface of the eye or kill cells, leading to ulcers, scarring, and permanent blurred vision. 

Talc Retinopathy 

Drug dealers often make cocaine with cutting agents or additional substances to make it weigh more so they can sell less product for more money. A common cocaine cutting agent is talcum powder, which contributes largely to what cocaine does to your eyes. Snorting or smoking talcum powder can lead to talc retinopathy, which is a buildup of yellow/white crystal deposits in the retina. In serious cases, these blockages can even cause blindness. 


Did you know that you can even get an eye infection from coke? Endophthalmitis is an eye infection that occurs from using dirty needles, which is common among cocaine users who inject themselves. If left untreated, the infection can spread to the rest of the body, causing a variety of side effects.

Ocular Bone Damage

Ocular done damage refers to perforations (holes or deterioration) to the septum and other nasal passages. This is a common side effect in people who snort cocaine, which is why they may have thin or collapsed noses. Continued cocaine use can damage other connected tissue and small bone structures, including the bones around the eyes (ocular bones). 

Retinal Vascular Occlusive Disease (ROVD)

ROVD is the most common disease linked to blindness. It can be caused by long-term cocaine use as a result of the drug’s ability to change blood pressure. Specifically, ROVD is the result of blocked circulation that can lead to swelling and bleeding within the retina, causing abnormalities in retina blood vessels and resulting in partial or complete loss of vision. 


Maculopathy refers to any pathological condition or disease in the macula, which is the small spot in the retina where your vision is the sharpest. Maculopathy or macular degeneration is characterized by a gradual loss of central vision, causing you to see a gray or dark spot in the middle of your vision. While this doesn’t lead to complete blindness, it can be frustrating. 

Cocaine eye effects and their impact on other areas of the body vary from person to person, depending on how much of it they use and how often they use it. What cocaine does to your eyes is only one of the many risks of abusing this drug long-term. From liver failure to heart disease to 
overdose, there’s no telling how severely this drug can impact you. Unfortunately, because coke is so addictive, it can be difficult for people who are addicted to quit. But there’s hope. 

How Does Cocaine Affect The Brain?

Cocaine influences brain function primarily by increasing the levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. Normally, dopamine recycles back into the neuron that released it, shutting off the signal between nerve cells. However, cocaine prevents the reuptake of dopamine, causing an accumulation in the synaptic gap, thus intensifying and prolonging pleasurable sensations.

The initial effects of cocaine on users include intense bursts of happiness and increased energy. However, these short-lived highs can quickly lead to a desire to use cocaine repeatedly to recapture the euphoric feelings, setting the stage for potential addiction.

Over prolonged periods, cocaine use can lead to more severe neurological impacts, including changes in brain structure and function. Users may experience difficulties with concentration, decision-making, and memory. Additionally, chronic cocaine use can alter the brain’s reward system, increasing the risk of developing an addiction and making it challenging to derive pleasure from normally enjoyable activities without the drug.

If you or a loved one has a cocaine addiction and wants to stop, our Texas treatment center can help. Banyan Treatment Centers offers a variety of options for 
drug addiction treatment in Texas, including cocaine treatment. Whether it’s medically monitored detox or drug therapy, we offer comprehensive levels of care to suit the needs of every patient. 

To learn more about the addiction services offered at our Texas rehabilitation center, call us today at 

Related Reading:
Cocaine & Weight Loss: The Details on the Skinny Drug  
What Does Cocaine Do to Your Nose? 

Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.