Cocaine Withdrawal

Often referred to as the “caviar of street drugs,” cocaine is frequently associated with the idea of wealth and even glamour, with movies and TV shows depicting it as the drug of choice for models, celebrities, and high-powered executives.  

Of course, the reality of cocaine is anything but glamorous. Regular, long-term abuse of cocaine can cause serious damage.

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Damage to the respiratory, cardiovascular, and central nervous systems and has been correlated with the use of cocaine and can lead to the development of Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders.

Cocaine is a stimulant that works by altering the user’s dopamine levels. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s pleasure centers, and cocaine blocks the brain from reabsorbing it, which causes the dopamine to build up in the brain’s synapses and create intensely increased feelings of energy, alertness, and euphoria. It also can cause long periods of paranoia and confusion and a high risk of seizures and suicide ideation.

According to statistics from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 1.5 million people aged 12 years and older have used cocaine in the past month.

The health risks associated with cocaine are largely based on the means by which the drug enters your body. If someone abuses cocaine by regularly snorting it, then at the very least they can expect to experience a constant inflamed and runny nose, along with chronic nosebleeds, problems, swallowing, a loss of sense of smell, and the collapse of the nasal cavities.

What Are the Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms?

While it’s just as addictive as other substances, cocaine withdrawal differs from that of many other drugs based on the fact that it doesn’t have any of the physical symptoms commonly associated with substance abuse withdrawal like nausea, vomiting, tremors, and other flu-like symptoms. Instead, cocaine’s withdrawal symptoms are largely psychological and mood-based, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Increased appetite
  • Inability to experience sexual arousal
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Intense and vivid nightmares
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Restlessness
  • Suicidal thoughts

The severity and length of these symptoms significantly depend on how long someone has been abusing cocaine and how much of it they were using, which, based on its short-term high and how rapidly the body and brain become tolerant and crave more, can be quite a lot.

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What Are the Stages of the Cocaine Withdrawal Timeline?

The process of cocaine withdrawal, including the length of time it takes to detox fully, are going to vary from person to person based on several contributing factors, some of which include:

  • How long someone has been abusing cocaine
  • How much cocaine they were abusing
  • Their current overall physical and mental health
  • How they were taking the cocaine (snorting it, injecting it, etc.)

With that in mind, the cocaine withdrawal timeline is typically broken into three stages:

The high from cocaine peaks very quickly, and its half-life is very short, which means that someone could potentially start feeling withdrawal symptoms as early as 90 minutes of their last dose, but will definitely be experiencing them within 24 hours.

The crash phase can last up to several days and is generally when the symptoms of exhaustion, hunger, depression, and anxiety will be at their most severe and uncomfortable. This is also the phase during which people attempting to detox on their own are most likely to relapse.

Once people have passed through the crash period, the symptoms of fatigue, anxiety, and depression will have significantly lessened and be replaced by a strong craving for cocaine. As thoughts of and cravings for cocaine become nearly all-consuming, this is where the symptoms of irritability, difficulty concentrating, and restlessness will be at their peak.

Unfortunately, the craving phase can, depending on the factors listed above, last anywhere from one week to 10. If someone has been frequently abusing cocaine for an especially long period of time, then they are far more likely to remain in the craving phase for the full 10 weeks.

The final phase of cocaine withdrawal can last for up to six months, and while the majority of the symptoms will have either disappeared completely or greatly decreased, someone in this phase will still experience random, intermittent cravings for cocaine. These cravings; however, will not be nearly as intense or frequent as the ones in the craving phase.

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  • Why Should I Detox?

    Cocaine withdrawal is rarely a life-threatening situation, and so detox can often be done on an outpatient basis. However, sometimes inpatient medical detoxification becomes necessary if, for example, someone has attempted to quit cocaine several times without success.

    This does not mean that it is safe to quit cocaine “cold turkey” by yourself. In fact, attempting to do so is incredibly and unnecessarily dangerous. Regular abuse of cocaine makes the brain rely on it to function properly, as the brain will have become used to the increased levels of dopamine.  

    When someone abruptly stops using cocaine after depending on it, the dopamine levels in the brain bottom out and can throw both the brain and the body into shock. The flood of dopamine dries up, taking the feelings of happiness and euphoria with it, creating an increased risk of suicide, which is just one of many reasons it is always safer and smarter to detox under the 24-hour supervision of a medical professional in a detoxification center. The traumatic emotional nature of cocaine withdrawal may prove to be too overwhelming for some people, who may, in turn, relapse or worse.

    Underlying health conditions may also play a key role in your detoxification from cocaine. Since many people who struggle with active addiction may not keep up-to-date on their doctor visits or maintain basic health care practices, over time other health problems may develop. These pre-existing conditions may flare up or present serious issues while your body undergoes the strenuous and stressful process of cocaine withdrawal.

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    By having a team of medical professionals at your disposal to assist you in you cocaine withdrawal as well as monitoring your overall health and progress, you may be able to avoid a potential tragedy. These trained professionals will be able to detect and even diagnose a previously unknown medical issue that may be exacerbated during the detoxification process.

    Another key reason why attending a medical detox may be the right step for you is that most batches of cocaine that make their way to the streets are rarely pure cocaine. Much of the imported cocaine supply is altered with various different cutting agents in order to stretch out the batch and make the dealers more money at the cost of their customer’s health.

    Due to the impurity of street-level cocaine, it’s entirely possible that you’ve been ingesting other drugs. Getting an accurate medical assessment is crucial in order to ensure your physical health and safety during the detoxification process. Having access to this kind of treatment can provide insight into what kind of drugs you may have been inadvertently doing as well.  

    cocaine withdrawal symptoms

    What Is the Next Treatment Step?

    If you want to successfully recover from cocaine dependency, it has to start with detoxification. The key word there is “start,” because forgoing any rehabilitation treatment or aftercare once you have completed the withdrawal process only puts a bandage on the addictive behaviors that led you to start using and almost guarantees a relapse.

    Rehabilitation treatment is crucial to remaining abstinent from cocaine. There are many kinds of aftercare treatment programs available. 

    Some of these include counseling, both cognitive and dialectical behavioral therapy, sober living communities, educational workshops, and more. Your treatment program will be customized based on what will be most effective for your recovery.

    Start Your Journey to Recovery Today

    If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to cocaine, know that you are not alone and that there is hope

    The Palm Beach Institute will be there to help with every stage of your recovery journey, starting with detox all the way to our post-treatment alumni program. Call 1-855-960-5456 now to speak with one of our addiction specialists for more information.