What Is Cocaine Withdrawal?
Cocaine is a highly addictive drug, and most users experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using or reduce their use. Although withdrawal from cocaine generally has some physical symptoms, the psychological symptoms, such as cravings, can be much more difficult to endure.
Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms
Cocaine withdrawal can include both physical and psychological symptoms, including:
- Difficulty feeling pleasure (anhedonia).
- Feeling agitated or restless.
- Feeling anxious.
- Feeling irritable.
- Feeling paranoid.
- Increase in appetite.
- Overall feeling of discomfort.
- Sleeping too much or not enough.
- Slowed heart rate.
- Slowed motor activity and reflexes.
- Strong cravings for cocaine.
- Suicidal thoughts.
- Intense or disturbing dreams.1, 3, 4, 5, 6
Not everyone will experience all of these symptoms, and the strength of the withdrawal effects is linked to how severe the addiction is.6 The amount of cocaine used, how often it was used, and the length of time a person was using factor into the strength of the withdrawal symptoms. A person who used heavily on a daily basis for several years would have more severe withdrawal effects, while a person who uses once or twice a week may not have any withdrawal symptoms.
If you need help with cocaine withdrawal, call 1-888-319-2606
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Cocaine withdrawal symptoms do not usually require medical attention. But treatment professionals should still supervise the withdrawal process of a heavy user due to the risk of severe depression and suicidal thoughts, which can become life-threatening if not appropriately managed.1
Risks of Withdrawal
Withdrawal from cocaine is not life-threatening, and it usually consists of psychological symptoms rather than medical complications.4 However, withdrawal can cause extremely powerful cravings for cocaine. Users may also relapse at high doses to alleviate withdrawal symptoms, which increases the risk of overdose.1
Cocaine withdrawal can also lead to depression and suicidal thoughts, which can lead to suicide if not monitored and properly managed.1
Cocaine has a short-half life, which means that the body eliminates it quickly. Therefore, withdrawal symptoms can start within a few hours of the person’s last use of cocaine.1, 5, 6
- The “crash” (several hours to several days). The first part of withdrawal is known as a crash.1 When a person is crashing, they may feel tired, agitated, irritable, anxious, or depressed, and they often experience intense urges to use cocaine.1, 5
- Withdrawal phase (1-2 weeks). Withdrawal symptoms will usually fade over time, and generally last about a week or two.7 Cravings may last longer than the other withdrawal symptoms.
- Post-acute withdrawal. Some people may suffer from a longer period of cocaine withdrawal known as protracted or post-acute withdrawal. This period can last longer than the acute phase of withdrawal and include continued effects of anxiety, sleep disturbances, fatigue, cocaine cravings, depression, difficulty feeling pleasure, and irritability.7
Causes of Withdrawal
Cocaine is a stimulant that causes euphoria, high energy, alertness, and talkativeness.3
Over time, the brain becomes less sensitive to cocaine’s effects, and a user will need to take increasing amounts of the drug to get the same effects. This is known as tolerance, and increased use of cocaine can often lead to dependence.
Once a cocaine user has become dependent, stopping or drastically reducing use often leads to withdrawal symptoms.
Treatment for Withdrawal
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Various treatments are available to help manage cocaine withdrawal. These include detox centers, inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, or a partial hospitalization program.
Detox facilities can prevent relapse by limiting access to cocaine or other substances, since many users struggle to detox at home. This can be due to several factors, such as seeing or hearing from people associated with using, giving in to intense cravings, or self-medicating with alcohol, prescription medications, or other substances, which involves switching addictions from cocaine to another drug.1
That said, detox alone doesn’t address the deeper issues surrounding the addiction.9 Cocaine addiction not only causes changes in the structure and functioning of the brain, but also affects the person’s relationships, work environment, finances, physical health, and mental health.8 Treatment outcomes are improved by following detox with another form of treatment, though not every person who uses cocaine will need detox.
- A detox facility is a medically supervised center where a person can safely detox from cocaine or other substances on an inpatient or outpatient basis. It can be located in a hospital or non-hospital setting, and treatment lasts approximately one week, though the length of treatment may vary.
- Inpatient rehab can take place in a hospital or non-hospital setting as well, and it lasts approximately 28 days, though some people can stay up to 3 months if required. Inpatient treatment often includes a combination of detox, individual counseling, group counseling, addiction education, and the development or refinement of skills to help recovering users succeed. Self-help meetings are often incorporated into treatment as well. 9, 11
- Outpatient rehab provides a less restricted environment that can tailor schedules to the individual’s needs and availability, with treatment occurring in both individual sessions and groups.9, 11 Research indicates that outpatient treatment is highly effective for cocaine addiction, and some programs offer detox.1 Outpatient allows people to continue working, go to school, and remain involved in the lives of family and friends. However, these can be stressors or triggers for some.
- A partial hospitalization program offers the type of treatment provided in an inpatient rehab setting, but the person spends up to 20 hours a week in the hospital setting on an outpatient basis. This allows for more intensive treatment on a less restrictive basis, and it can ease the transition from inpatient treatment or be used as a higher level of care for someone who needs more treatment than can be provided at a traditional outpatient setting.11
Depending on the person’s needs and the severity of the substance use disorder, he or she may need a specific type of treatment facility. At least half of people with an addiction to cocaine have an underlying mental disorder (also known as dual diagnosis), and proper diagnosis and treatment of these disorders can drastically reduce the risk of relapse.1
Special Concerns in Treatment
People in recovery often have issues controlling impulses and regulating emotions.
Impulse control and regulating one’s emotions are often issues for people recovering from cocaine abuse. These areas can be improved upon in sobriety, but it can take a significant period of time to see changes. Learning about emotions, learning how to express and manage emotions appropriately, and developing and using coping techniques are areas that show significant improvement after a month of sobriety. Improvements in impulse control may take considerably more time.7
Medications for Cocaine Withdrawal
Currently, no medications are available to treat cocaine withdrawal.4, 8 Antidepressants can reduce the depressive symptoms experienced during the withdrawal process.4
Research and testing are being conducted on medications that may ease the withdrawal symptoms and lessen the likelihood of relapse, including medications such as modafinil (Provigil), amantadine, and bromocriptine.1, 4
Find a Detox Center
Call 1-888-319-2606 Who Answers? to get help finding a treatment center for cocaine withdrawal and addiction. A trained representative can guide you through the process of choosing the correct treatment program.
. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2015). Cocaine withdrawal.
. National institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). What are the short-term effects of cocaine use?
. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Stimulants.
. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2006). KAP KEYS based on TIP 45: Detoxification and substance abuse treatment.
. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
. The University of Arizona. (2006). Medical complications.
. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2010). Protracted withdrawal. Substance Abuse Treatment Advisory, 9(1).
. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). How is cocaine addiction treated?
. National Institute on Drug Abuse (2012). Types of treatment programs.
. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Behavioral health treatments and services.
. Johns Hopkins Medicine Center for Substance Abuse Treatment and Research. Treatment Settings.