The popularity of the addictive stimulant drug known as cocaine has withstood the test of time.It remains one of the top illegal street drugs that people use. In earlier days, coca leaves native to South America were chewed and ingested for their potent effects. And, in the early 1900s, purified cocaine was used in tonics and elixirs to treat a variety of illnesses and doctors used it to relieve pain in their patients, according to research cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Cocaine (also known as Coke, C, Blow, Powder, and Snow) stimulates the central nervous system and affects the brain’s reward centers that are associated with eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse. It can be smoked, snorted, injected, or mixed with other drugs. The intense, euphoric but short-lived effects keep users coming back for more of the drug as their appetites for food are reduced. The more they take, the longer the “crash” or “come down” period is delayed, which signals the beginning of the withdrawal process. Binging can lead to overdose, which can be fatal.
Despite its enduring reputation as a party drug, recreational cocaine use glosses over the damage the drug can do to the body and mind. Frequent or regular cocaine use can lead to addiction and damage blood vessels, the nose and sinus cavities, and vital organs such as the heart, kidneys, and the brain.
Long-time cocaine users develop a high tolerance for the drug, which means they must take larger amounts of it for their bodies and brains to respond to it the way they once did. This means users will use more of the drug to satisfy users who quit the drug abruptly in an attempt to go cold turkey could be doing more harm than good. When use suddenly stops or is cut back, withdrawal starts soon after that.
Cocaine withdrawal can be more subtle than withdrawals from other drugs. Physical symptoms, such as chills, tremors, muscle aches, and nerve pain, can occur during this period when use has stopped or been reduced. However, psychological symptoms are often the bigger challenge of cocaine withdrawal, and they can disrupt users’ daily lives. The following are withdrawal symptoms that can happen when excessive cocaine use is discontinued:
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Cocaine withdrawal will not be the same for everyone. The intensity and duration depend on various factors, including:
Cocaine has a short half-life, about an hour, so withdrawal symptoms can start 90 minutes after the last dose is taken. Symptoms can last up to one to three weeks to a month or longer, depending on the person.
Here is a general overview of what happens when a cocaine user stops taking the drug.
Recovering cocaine users may experience a “crash” period within 90 minutes after taking cocaine. After some hours have passed, users may either have insomnia or other sleeping difficulties or they may feel exhausted. They also may feel disoriented, irritable, depressed, and have an increased appetite and fewer cocaine cravings.
Psychological symptoms are the most challenging during this period. Recovering users may experience increased cravings for cocaine, anxiety, paranoia, vivid dreams, and other symptoms that make it difficult to make them not return to using. Relapse is common during this period. People pick up the drug again to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms they are experiencing.
Users may start to feel better physically and exhibit confidence. They also may have an increased appetite and decreased cravings for cocaine. Some may find it hard to concentrate, and feelings of restlessness, agitation, and irritability are common at this stage.
Cravings for cocaine may return as recovering users continue to deal with psychological symptoms, among them anger, restlessness, depression, stress, and vivid dreams.
Long-time cocaine users will generally feel better but may have Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). This is a period when persistent withdrawal symptoms randomly appear from here for several more weeks or months, and in severe cases, years. PAWS symptoms include emotional instability or mood swings, short-term memory loss, depression, insomnia, dizziness, and cravings for cocaine or other drugs and alcohol. Professional addiction treatment programs and other supports, such as a 12-step program, can help recovering users manage this period.
Quitting cocaine abruptly after frequent or longtime use is often a recipe for relapse. The highly addictive drug makes it difficult for some users to stop, but once they do, the psychological discomfort they feel may prompt them to pick up the drug again just to alleviate the withdrawal.
Because of this, some people choose to go to a medically supervised detox facility to make sure that they are well taken care of while they deal with cocaine withdrawal.
A 24-hour detox conducted by medical professionals ensures you or your loved ones are monitored in a controlled setting as uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms are managed.
There currently are no medications that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has specifically approved for cocaine withdrawal. However, clients could be given medications to help ease high blood pressure, nausea, chills, cravings, depression, and other symptoms.
It is important to note that detox is not for everyone. Some people aren’t able to put their lives on hold to spend a week in a detox facility.
For those people, outpatient treatment may be sufficient to help them overcome their cocaine addiction. However, if you are using other dangerous substances such as alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines alongside cocaine, the withdrawal symptoms could be deadly. In these cases, medical detox is always recommended.
Whether or not you go through a cocaine detox, clients are encouraged to enter aresidential or outpatient treatment program where they can focus on their addiction. Outpatient treatment offers the most flexibility while residential require a stay of 30 days or longer at the treatment facility.
Research shows that at least three months or more are needed to treat drug addiction. A longer stay gives residential clients a chance to develop the life skills and strategies they need to live cocaine-free. They can benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, mindfulness, and other therapies and approaches that support their path to recovery. While residential treatment is not mandatory for effective treatment, it all depends on the severity of the case and whether or not other substances were abused alongside cocaine.
Once done with detox and your main treatment program (outpatient, inpatient, residential), graduates have the chance to participate in treatment aftercare programs. From family counseling to case management (and everything in between), you can interact with your treatment team and any friends you may have made in treatment.
Simply being a member of a bigger recovery group can easily give someone the motivation they need to continue their sober life even after treatment. Recovery is about more about creating a happier and healthier new life that should feel less of a chore and more of a blessing.