Cocaine Withdrawal and Detox

Just as with many other drugs that have addictive qualities, discontinuing cocaine use often results in withdrawal symptoms like fatigue, sleep disturbances and agitation. This is one of the major reasons people keep using cocaine. For some, the symptoms can become so great, it’s easier to continue using than it is to try and stop. To help people safely stop using cocaine, treatment centers like The Recovery Village offer detoxification services, also known as detox. A majority of people who use cocaine fail to get clean when going at it alone, as the side effects of withdrawal and the temptation to seek out more drugs can be overpowering. With physician-assisted detox and close supervision, patients can safely flush the drugs from their system and prepare their body and mind for the recovery process.
Contrary to what many believe — or want to accept — addiction can happen to anyone, at any time. As a habit forms and a tolerance builds, so does the person’s internal dependence on the drug, both mentally and physically. Physical withdrawal symptoms and psychological withdrawal symptoms can appear under the radar at first. Many people who use cocaine don’t even consider the possibility at any point in their timeline of abuse. The experience is different for each person using, and there is no predictable order or timeline that these dependencies will develop. With that being said, research over the years has revealed some trends that can help describe the overall process of cocaine use unfurling into withdrawal.

One of the most common withdrawal-related symptoms of cocaine abuse is a heavy “crash” following the cessation of heavy usage, or even minimal use in some cases. Symptoms of a cocaine crash include:

  • A general feeling of depletion
  • Dysphoria or depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Exhaustion
  • Increased appetite
  • Strong desire for sleep
  • Diminished cravings

This crash period can be all-consuming and cause the person using to miss work, school or social events in order to rest and return to normalcy. The time period after the crash is when someone who uses cocaine regularly may feel the onset of withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can include any combination of both physical and psychological side effects, ranging in intensity depending on a number of factors such as how long the person has used and the size of the dose they last consumed. The withdrawal period can last as long as 10 weeks in more serious cases. Common symptoms of cocaine withdrawal include:

  • Strong cravings to use
  • Irritability or anger
  • Lethargy and extreme fatigue
  • Depression
  • Hyperactivity
  • Insomnia and erratic sleep
  • Poor concentration
  • Tremors
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • Vivid, unpleasant dreams

The psychological implications of addiction and severity of withdrawal can create a sense of desperation, which is exacerbated by the person’s individual circumstances and any co-occurring mental or emotional disorders. Psychiatric disorders can develop as a direct result of cocaine abuse, and cocaine can greatly exacerbate preexisting mental disorders. According to one study, those who use cocaine with a lifetime history of depression are up to five times more likely to report withdrawal symptoms from cocaine and have more severe cravings. Another study revealed that up to 22 percent of suicides may involve cocaine or cocaine withdrawal.

As the intensity and scope of withdrawal widens, someone addicted to cocaine may go to great lengths to remedy the problem. To cope with withdrawal usually means buying and using more of the drug. It also means spending a majority of their time and energy to finding more, disregarding friends, family and other obligations in the process. Many turn to illegal activities such as theft or violence to obtain money or goods to exchange for cocaine. Some natural results of this pursuit are lost employment, apathy towards school, socialization, or romantic relationships, and taking more and larger amounts of cocaine despite a growing awareness of its consequences. The brief reward of using cocaine can overshadow an otherwise destroyed life. The only way many men and women with an addiction find a way out of this cycle is intervention from loved ones, which often leads to detox and treatment in rehab.

cocaine eyes
There are varying opinions about whether cocaine use can and should be stopped “cold turkey” or all at once in the event of addiction. While some people who are addicted to cocaine may have success in quitting the drug flat out, research shows the severity of withdrawal symptoms can be magnified and become too much to bear. After periods of heavy use, an attempt to go cold turkey can send the person who’s addicted to the hospital in many cases due to extreme and violent reactions.

Many rehab specialists recommend a period of “tapering,” or gradually taking smaller amounts of the drug to train the body to live without it. In a medically-assisted detox scenario, doctors may oversee the process and wean the patient off the drug using cocaine or other medicine. If there are any complications or side effects, the treatment staff is there to offer assistance in whatever way they can. Most importantly, the patient is prevented from going out and using if the temptation arises.

The Recovery Village strives to address each patient’s unique situation and develop a treatment plan most likely to help them overcome their cocaine addiction safely and completely. If someone close to you is abusing cocaine, reach out and speak with a professional before insisting on a cold turkey detox that may create additional problems.

Just as there are many factors that impact a person’s substance habits and addictions — along with their decision to use in the first place — there are numerous factors that affect withdrawal. Accordingly, each addiction has its own timeline that can help doctors understand the problem and treat it appropriately. There are some commonalities associated with cocaine abuse, addiction and withdrawal, though. Scientists have conducted many studies to paint a clear picture of this drug’s effect on the person using it, and the research has revealed some key identifying moments in the withdrawal timeline. A popular study treatment specialists reference — released in 1986 by Drs. Frank Gawin and Herbert Kleber — defines the withdrawal process of cocaine as a series of three phases. Those phases of the cocaine withdrawal timeline are:

  • The Crash – As described earlier, those who use cocaine are likely to experience a crash after they halt their intake of the drug, whether it’s after one dose or an extended period of binging. The duration and intensity of a crash is dependent on factors such as how much was taken, the purity/quality of the substance, other substances that were taken concurrently, how much food or water was in the person’s system, and so on. A cocaine crash period can last anywhere from one to 40 hours following the final dose, during which sleep man be difficult, if at all possible. Even with a successful period of sleep, general sleepiness and fatigue may last more than two days, or up to 50 hours following the last use, according to the study. Cravings for more of the drug decrease over the course of the crash, as the need for sleep builds and builds. However, the cravings return in the next phase of withdrawal. 
  • Withdrawal – Those who use cocaine may experience one to five “near-normal” days on the other side of a crash, returning to regular sleep routines and minimal cravings. Lethargy, anxiety and cravings soon set in, paired with fond memories of their cocaine experience. People, places or things often trigger these cravings. As worded in the original report, based on observations of various men and women withdrawing from cocaine, “subjects then became preoccupied instead with the mechanics of finding cocaine, paying for it and hiding their cocaine use from concerned significant others. If they obtained cocaine, a binge would recur.” The urgency of finding another fix — as well as the disregard for health or personal obligations — increases as various side effects develop in the person using the drug. Side effects can come and go for up to 10 weeks, while the desire to use again grows and grows. For millions of people who are addicted to cocaine, this results in a vicious cycle of succumbing and repeating the first two phases repeatedly, until a proper intervention or tragic event interrupts the cycle.
  • Extinction – If and when someone who is addicted to cocaine can make it through withdrawal without using, they can enter a period of less severe cravings and some other side effects that can last several months. The cravings can be intensified without warning due to certain social cues or emotional triggers. The only way for someone addicted to cocaine to fully complete the withdrawal timeline, according to these researchers, is to “experience” and “master” the cravings in this extinction phase.

Each person’s withdrawal experience hinges on certain individual factors, including:

  • Physical and mental health
  • Environment (school, home life, etc.)
  • Other substance use or duration of cocaine abuse
  • Peer pressure
  • Traumatic events or stimuli

The safest course of action for anyone working through the withdrawal process is to enlist the help of rehab specialists and participate in some form of supervised detox.

The cocaine withdrawal peak is often very difficult for many. Physical and psychological side effects can pile up one after the other, making it nearly impossible to focus on day-to-day life or have positive feelings as a whole. For too many people trapped in the web of withdrawal, using cocaine again can feel like an inevitability, if only to soothe these burgeoning pains. Some consume alcohol or smoke cigarettes in an effort to numb the pain. Others turn to prescription pills or herbal remedies that promise to reverse the side effects or balance the brain’s dopamine levels. Some commonly used cocaine withdrawal medication and supplements include:

  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Zolpidem (Ambien)
  • Desipramine (Noraprim)
  • N-acetylcysteine (NAC)
  • Melatonin

There are many more over-the-counter aides and prescription drugs designed to calm stress, induce sleep, and balance brain chemicals. Many who are addicted to cocaine have tried combinations like these in an attempt to reduce the agony of withdrawal. But by taking matters into their own hands, they run the risk of worsening the problem. Prescription drugs in particular are no less dangerous than cocaine when used improperly.

The only surefire remedy for cocaine withdrawal is a healthy lifestyle and abstinence from the drug. Considering the side effects and daily temptation to use, though, it’s no surprise how so many men and women who use cocaine don’t make it through this arduous period. If you think someone you care about is abusing cocaine, approach them as soon as possible and get the issue out in the open. Help them realize that a supervised detox in the best possible way for them to survive the withdrawal, avoid a relapse, and set them up for success with a full recovery.

The stepping stone between quitting cocaine and a successful rehab program is a process known as detox. Only certified treatment professionals know how to safely detox from cocaine and can guide even the most troubled addiction cases through the proper cocaine detox protocol. The majority of stints in rehabilitation, particularly when someone is still in the stages of withdrawal, begin in the detox center.

Detox is designed to assist people who are addicted to cocaine as well as those struggling with any other substance problem, in safely and carefully flushing the drugs from their system while assisting them through the cravings and other side effects associated with withdrawal. The detox process occurs in the days or weeks following a patient’s last use of the drug, and helps “cut them off” from seeking a fix or socializing with the people who may enable the addictive behavior. Only when someone has detoxed can they begin the true rehab process. As confirmed by doctors, the best way to detox from cocaine is under the care of professionals.

There is no guaranteed length of detox, as each patient is unique and requires special attention. Someone who is addicted and admitted for detox can expect, first and foremost, to be evaluated thoroughly to help determine the extent of their condition and their individual needs. It’s standard for both a physical and psychological evaluation to take place. According to the National Library of Medicine, at least half of the people addicted to cocaine have a co-occurring mental health disorder — depression and attention-deficit disorder are among the most common. It’s essential for doctors to get to know each patient and adjust their recovery outline to accommodate any additional issues such as these. As those in recovery move onto actual treatment, doctors continue to evaluate their mental, emotional and physical health, and adjust the program as needed.

Following the evaluation stage, the detox center meets with the patient and assess the extent of their addiction. This may involve a number of tests to help accurately determine how much cocaine and other offending substances may be in the patient’s system, and any allergies the patient may have to medication. Supervised medical care can then begin, which varies in intensity based on the patient and amenities of the clinic.

Patients who have abused cocaine experience a spectrum of withdrawal symptoms and side effects during detox. Rehab facilities such as The Recovery Village offer 24/7 medical supervision for those detoxing from cocaine. Our nurses and doctors make sure all patients are comfortable, fed and hydrated, and that pain is kept at a manageable level. In some cases, we use detox medication to aid patients who experience severe pain or other potentially serious side effects during withdrawal.

Along the way in the detox process, treatment centers including The Recovery Village discuss options for continued care and paving the way for a successful, full recovery. Our trained staff does everything they can to help prepare patients for rehab, as well as maintain communication with loved ones outside of the facility. This is another benefit of medical detox at a rehab facility — it creates a strong foundation and eases patients into treatment, including getting to know the addiction treatment professionals on staff.

Finally, a very important goal of professional detox is to try to understand the reasons the person is abusing drugs and address any larger problems they might be dealing with outside of substance use. Treatment is of no service if it doesn’t help each patient in addressing their lifestyle choices and, if necessary, providing them with the right connections and resources to improve their life overall.

cocaine detox
Australian Government Department of Health. “The Cocaine Withdrawal Syndrome.” Australian Government Department of Health, Apr. 2004, Accessed 11 Mar. 2017.

MedlinePlus. “Cocaine Withdrawal.” MedlinePlus, 13 Apr. 2015, Accessed 13 Mar. 2017.

Morton, WA. “Cocaine and Psychiatric Symptoms.” PubMed Central (PMC), Aug. 1999, Accessed 11 Mar. 2017.

Cocaine Withdrawal & Detox
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Cocaine Withdrawal & Detox was last modified: October 20th, 2017 by The Recovery Village