Most drug withdrawals have a combination of mental and physical symptoms. But cocaine withdrawal symptoms are different. The mental ones and the length of withdrawal make it a unique drug withdrawal experience.
Cocaine is a very addictive stimulant that comes from the leaves of the coca plant. People in South America have been chewing these leaves for 1000s of years. But within the past 100 have people been isolating the chemical in the leaf that causes the effects. This makes cocaine much more addictive and harmful. It leads to a more intense withdrawal experience1
Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms
Many people use cocaine because it makes them feel more sociable, alert, and productive. They may believe they need cocaine to perform at work or in life–especially those in the Los Angeles Area who are in The Industry. For this reason, the psychological symptoms of cocaine withdrawal can feel particularly miserable:
- Trouble concentrating
- Thinking slowly
- Moving slowly
- Lack of sexual arousal
- Inability to feel pleasure and joy
- Suicidal thoughts
- Intense cravings
- Vivid nightmares and strange dreams
- Increased appetite
A person may also have some physical withdrawal symptoms like:
- Unexplainable pain
Cocaine withdrawal can be intense. But it doesn’t last forever. People can endure it. They can begin to feel alertness, pleasure, contentment, and productivity again without cocaine.
What Causes Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms?
To understand cocaine withdrawal, we need to take a look at dopamine. Dopamine is a natural neurotransmitter produced by your brain. These chemical messengers travel between nerve cells primarily during moments of joy and pleasure.2
Dopamine is a reward system in the brain. The brain produces it when something good happens — especially if that something is unexpected. Dopamine release can promote positive actions from a person because people like being rewarded. Dopamine makes the brain feel more engaged in what it is doing and alert doing it.
Dopamine is also a natural pain reliever. For this reason, cocaine was used as a pain reliever before it became a widely-used recreational drug in the US. But it was discontinued because of the addictive nature and the development of better options.
Dopamine normally breaks down after a time. It’s recycled so the body can use it later. This gives people short bursts or intense joy, pleasure, alertness, motivation, and energy when we need them.3
Cocaine disrupts the natural breakdown of dopamine. It cannot be recycled, and it stays in the system, keeping a person in this state. The body is not designed to experience heightened awareness for more than a few moments. It puts a strain on the heart, blood vessels, brain, and other systems.
So with continued use, cocaine changes the structure of the brain. A halt in dopamine recycling means the brain has less dopamine to release when a person normally feels happy or energized. Because the body cannot stay in a continued state of arousal, it begins to respond less to the dopamine floating in the system.
Cocaine becomes the only way to feel happy, alert, and energetic. The brain is now depending on the cocaine to function “normally.” Once the cocaine is removed from the brain, the brain is dopamine-deficient. This causes the mental and physical symptoms of cocaine withdrawal.
But the good news is that the brain can heal and start producing normal levels of dopamine again. It just takes some time and a focus on healthy living.
Cocaine Withdrawal Timeline
The intense cocaine withdrawal symptoms normally last 7-10 days. However, because cocaine has changed dopamine production in the brain, it can take a year or more to restore the brain’s natural reward system. Researchers have used brain scans to verify that the brain does heal significantly within around 12-14 months. It will continue to heal over time.5
During this time, a person may particularly struggle to manage emotions and stress. For this reason, cocaine addiction treatment is critical. In treatment, people learn life skills that can improve their quality of life. These include managing tough emotions, ongoing cravings, negative thinking patterns, relationships, and bad habits. By learning these skills, people can and do recover for a lifetime.
The cocaine withdrawal timeline that any one person experiences is unique to them. But one can estimate how long their withdrawal timeline might be by considering several factors.
Cocaine Tolerance Level
When a person first begins using cocaine, a small dose has a big impact. But over time, they may begin to use more and more often. Someone who takes higher doses more frequently may have a longer cocaine withdrawal.
Length of Use
Some choose to go through cocaine detox and treatment before cocaine abuse becomes an active addiction. Others have been abusing cocaine for years and are dependant on it. The sooner someone takes that step to get into cocaine treatment, the shorter cocaine withdrawal will usually be. And the brain’s dopamine reward system will need less time to recover.
Addiction to Multiple Substances
People develop both physical and psychological dependencies on drugs. They begin to think and feel they must have them to function. Even if cocaine is the only substance involved, a person going into detox will have some work ahead of them. But if they have developed a psychological dependence on more than 1 drug, their brain needs to free itself of all substances. This can prolong withdrawal symptoms.
A person doesn’t have to be in The Industry to have a demanding job. Some positions require long hours, unreasonable deadlines, and overwhelming expectations. Many turn to cocaine to manage work stress or ease social anxiety when networking. Remaining in this environment after detox can prolong withdrawal. It can trigger cravings and make it harder to stick with the resolve to quit.
The work environment must be taken into consideration during the recovery process. This doesn’t mean quitting a demanding job necessarily. But it may require someone to learn different ways to manage stressful work.
Home environment, including social life and social expectations, can also contribute. Often people develop a psychological dependence on cocaine as a means to fit in or deal with relationships.
Some may have family or housemates using cocaine. They may go to parties where cocaine use is accepted. This situation can be difficult but far from impossible. Transitional housing may be a good option for those who cannot return to their current home situation. Even though it’s temporary, it gives the internal systems and mind-set to reset for health and recovery.
Those who are currently dependant on cocaine may also have medical or mental health disorders. These other conditions may have existed long before the cocaine abuse. They may have developed along with it. Or they may have led to the abuse in the first place. Either way, these “co-occurring conditions” can complicate drug withdrawal as well as recovery.
Any cocaine treatment program must monitor and manage these during detox and recovery. Dual diagnosis care addresses conditions together.
When Is Medical Detox Recommended?
In medical detox, people complete the detox process in a safe and comfortable environment. In this setting, professionals oversee the process. They help a person understand what to expect and what they are experiencing. They compassionately care for the individual through this difficult time. They attend to both their physical and emotional well-being. If a person has any co-occurring conditions, they can manage those as well.
In the below situations, medical detox is not just encouraged. It is strongly recommended.
When Cravings Could Overwhelm Willpower
During the 7-10 days that a person is in active withdrawal, the cravings for cocaine can be overwhelming. On top of the desire for cocaine, a person is also faced with this reality. If they use cocaine, then these horrible symptoms will stop.
Those who’ve tried to detox on their own and could not withstand the cravings should consider medical detox. Those who already know that the compulsion is too strong, should also opt for this safer route.
When a Person Is at Risk of Suicide
While in the midst of these symptoms, it feels like they will never stop. For this reason, suicide is common. The mind can go to a very despairing place. Those who have ever considered suicide or attempted it, would be good candidates for medical detox.
During medical detox, trained professionals can ensure the person does not have access to cocaine. And professionals can reassure the person in detox that the psychological symptoms won’t last forever.
When a Longer Cocaine Withdrawal Timeline Is Expected
Medical detox is strongly recommended for those who are likely to have a longer cocaine withdrawal timeline.
Medications that Help with Cocaine Withdrawal
There are currently no FDA-approved drugs to manage cocaine withdrawal symptoms. However, there are some medications that can make it a little easier on the mind.
Propranolol is a beta-blocker. Beta-blockers are normally used to treat heart health issues. But they have the added benefit of quickly lessening feelings of agitation and anxiety. This drug may also reduce cravings. It blocks some of the pleasurable feelings people have when using cocaine. That may make it easier to resist cravings.6
Beyond that, medical or mental health professionals may prescribe medications that treat anxiety or depression. These can stabilize the mood, especially during that 7-10 day withdrawal period.
Treatments for Cocaine Withdrawal
Detox is only the beginning. After the initial detox period which typically lasts 1-2 days, a person may transition into a residential treatment program. Here, they learn life and addiction management skills for sustainable recovery. These include topics like manage cravings, triggers, tough emotions, relationships, and work stress. They will help them function more effectively at home, work, and life.
- Individual Psychotherapy – Meeting one-one with a licensed therapist to explore your unique drivers, triggers, goals, habits, emotional traumas, and needs.
- Psychotherapy in Groups – Exploring feelings and thoughts in a guided, small group setting, so you can hear from others and develop a deeper understanding of yourself
- Pscyho-Educational Groups – Guided groups in which you learn recovery skills and practice them in a safe setting before using them in the real world
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – Identifying negative thinking patterns and habits that don’t serve you and replacing them with more constructive ones. In guides sessions you talk through and develop solutions that will work for you.
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) – Learning how to live in the moment and manage emotions in real-time so that feelings don’t fester and grow out of control
- Family Therapy – Opening up healthy dialogue among family members about boundaries, helping family understand how best they can support you in recovery
- Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) – A form of therapy that helps you identify mental barriers you may have to recovering and find the motivation you need to stop using cocaine and heal your life.
- Holistic and Experiential Activities – Intergrative activities like acupuncture, massage, nutrition, exercise, mindfulness meditation, and other activities can help the whole person heal–body, mind, emotions, spirit.
- Healthy Living Practices – When the body and mind are healthy it’s easier to manage stress, stay connected, and be productive without drugs.
- 12-Step Facilitation – A step-by-step system that allows you to face the power that cocaine has over your thoughts and actions. You’ll find the strength to forgive yourself and ask for the forgiveness of others.
Harmony Place recognizes that you are a whole person with goals, dreams, obligations, and emotional pain. We have designed a comfortable place where you can do difficult work. We can show you how to get healthy and find the strength to overcome cocaine addiction to live a fulfilling life. Please call us at 1(855) 652 – 9048 to learn more about beginning your recovery journey.
1.National Institute on Drug Abuse (2016). What is Cocaine?
2. McGovern Instittute (MIT) (2020). How Dopamine Drives Brain Activity?
3. National Institute on Drug Abuse (2016). How Cocaine Produces its Effects
4. National Institute on Drug Abuse (2016). How Does Cocaine Change the Brain?
5. Recovery Research Institute (2020). The Neuroscience of Addiction Recovery
6. National Institutes of Health (2005). New Medications for the Treatment of Cocaine Addiction