Cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug made through the chemical processing of a plant called the coca plant. This processing can produce a powdered form of the drug. It can also produce a rock-like substance commonly known as “crack” cocaine. Whether you use powdered cocaine or crack, brain changes created by regular and/or heavy use of the drug can lead to the onset of addiction. If you or your loved one develops this damaging condition, you must go through detox (detoxification) before beginning active cocaine addiction treatment. During detox, you experience symptoms of cocaine withdrawal as the drug gradually leaves your system.
Unlike withdrawal from certain other substances (including alcohol and opioids), withdrawal from cocaine may produce no obvious physical symptoms. However, this does not mean that people going through cocaine detox don’t face serious challenges. In fact, detoxification from the drug can lead to some serious and long-lasting mental/psychological symptoms. In some cases, these symptoms may pose a threat to safety and well-being. In addition, 50% or more of all people detoxing from cocaine have serious, separately diagnosable mental health issues. For all of these reasons, cocaine detox should always take place under the guidance of health professionals trained in addiction withdrawal.
Why Does Cocaine Withdrawal Occur?
If you or your loved one develops a cocaine addiction, your brain has undergone significant chemical changes in an area called the pleasure center. Basically, these changes make your brain expect continued intake of the drug over time. When use of cocaine comes to an end (or drops sharply), your brain reacts by sending unpleasant signals that are meant to encourage a return to active drug intake. These signals are the symptoms of cocaine withdrawal.
Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms
There are several common cocaine withdrawal symptoms. The list of the most likely problems includes:
- Lack of energy
- An unusually restless or agitated mental state
- A depressed mental state
- A general sense of physical and/or mental unease
- Graphic or realistic nightmares
- An unusual increase in appetite
- Reduced speed of body movement
- Extremely strong cravings for more cocaine intake
In some cases, people withdrawing from cocaine may also think about committing suicide. In individuals with a lengthy history of using the drug in large amounts, strong cravings can linger long after other withdrawal symptoms have resolved. This same group of users may also experience lingering symptoms of depression. Some people addicted to cocaine experience the early stages of withdrawal as a notable “crash” that lasts for a period of hours or days. However, others experience a more gradual progression of symptoms in early detox. A person who relapses while going through cocaine detox runs a very real risk for the onset of a drug overdose.
Cocaine Detox Treatment
For certain types of drug withdrawal, doctors can rely on medications to ease some of the symptoms of the detox process. However, no such medications produce reliable benefits for people withdrawing from cocaine. This means that doctors focus their attention on making you or your loved one comfortable during withdrawal, as well as on monitoring behavior to help ensure that a drug relapse does not occur. Since so many people addicted to cocaine have separate mental health issues, treatment during detox may also need to address these issues in any given individual.
How Long Does Detox Last?
No one can say for sure how long it will take to detox from the use of cocaine or any other addictive drug or medication. Factors that influence the overall length of the process include the amount of cocaine habitually consumed, the purity of the cocaine consumed, the severity of the addiction to the drug and the severity of the symptoms experienced during withdrawal. Some people may successfully detox in just a few days. However, it may take others much longer to complete the process.
What Happens Next?
Successful completion of cocaine detox sets the stage for active cocaine addiction treatment. Since there are currently no medications proven to help with the treatment process, programs typically focus on behavioral approaches, including forms of therapy called contingency management and cognitive behavioral therapy. Other potential treatment options include long-term residency in a therapeutic community and enrollment in a 12-step mutual support group.
U.S. National Library of Medicine – MedlinePlus: Cocaine Withdrawal https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000947.htm
National Institute on Drug Abuse: Cocaine https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-cocaine
Australian Government – Department of Health: The Cocaine Withdrawal Syndrome http://www.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/Content/drugtreat-pubs-modpsy-toc~drugtreat-pubs-modpsy-3~drugtreat-pubs-modpsy-3-7~drugtreat-pubs-modpsy-3-7-cws