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Cocaine Withdrawal

Cocaine withdrawal can be tough, but it doesn’t last forever. Medical support and good self-care can help manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings so you can break free from cocaine use.

What Is Cocaine and How Do People Abuse It?

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug that comes from the seeds of the coca plant. It works by increasing activity in the brain, making users feel more alert, confident, and optimistic. Though often overlooked, cocaine is a highly addictive substance that can have detrimental effects on a user’s health, work, and social life.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies cocaine as a Schedule II substance with a high potential for abuse. While it is available on prescription for certain conditions, all recreational use of cocaine is illegal.

People usually abuse cocaine to experience the pleasurable high it offers, often at a party or a social event with friends. Cocaine users may snort, smoke, inject, or orally ingest cocaine. Street dealers may mix cocaine with other substances to make production cheaper, which can be extremely harmful to the body.

Users usually begin to feel the effects of cocaine between a few minutes to an hour after ingesting the substance. Injecting and smoking cocaine leads to a more instant and shorter high than other methods. For example, the high from smoking cocaine may last five to 10 minutes, whereas the high from snorting typically lasts around half an hour.

Cocaine is one of the most commonly abused drugs in the United States. In 2020, around 5.2 million people over the age of 12 reported using cocaine in the previous year. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1.3 million had a cocaine use disorder (CUD).

How Does Cocaine Affect the Brain?

Our brains consist of many distinct areas of cells that regulate different bodily functions. Brain cells, known as neurons, communicate with each other by sending molecules called neurotransmitters from one cell to another. Dopamine is one of several types of neurotransmitters.

Cocaine works by increasing dopamine in brain circuits that affect movement and reward. When the brain functions normally, dopamine transporter neurons (DAT) recapture dopamine that they release, regulating dopamine levels in the brain. Cocaine inhibits this process, causing large amounts of dopamine to build up in the brain, preventing cells from communicating.

Increased dopamine has several psychological and physical effects on the brain and body, including:

  • Increased happiness and energy
  • Alertness
  • Hypersensitivity to sight, sound, and touch
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia

Dopamine also floods the reward pathway in the brain, a circuit that reinforces drug-seeking behaviors. It can hijack the reward system, producing strong urges to use cocaine that can be difficult to resist. Over time, these physical brain changes can lead to cocaine addiction.

What Is Cocaine Withdrawal?

When you repeatedly use cocaine over time, your body adjusts to the presence of the substance and begins to adapt its natural production of chemicals in response. As a result, your brain circuits may become less sensitive to the drug, so you may need to take higher and higher doses to experience the same effects.

After a while, your brain and body become dependent on cocaine to function normally. If you stop using cocaine, you are left with chemical imbalances, which trigger a series of withdrawal symptoms.

These symptoms can be uncomfortable and, in some cases, dangerous. However, with professional medical support, you can safely detox from cocaine and break free from cocaine abuse.

What Is the Difference Between Addiction and Physical Dependence?

While repeated use of cocaine can lead to both physical dependence and addiction, they are different conditions.

Physical dependence is a physical adaptation of the body and how it functions. Cocaine addiction, on the other hand, is a distinct behavioral and psychological condition characterized by compulsive seeking or using of a substance.

Cocaine withdrawal results from dependence on cocaine rather than addiction.

What Are the Symptoms of Cocaine Withdrawal?

Everybody experiences cocaine withdrawal differently. The severity and type of cocaine withdrawal symptoms you experience may vary according to how much cocaine you take, how long you have used it, and your metabolism.

Cocaine withdrawal symptoms tend to be more psychological than physical. If you have any co-occurring mental health conditions, you may experience a more prolonged cocaine withdrawal with severe cocaine withdrawal symptoms.

Physical symptoms of cocaine withdrawal may include:

  • Dehydration
  • Muscle aches
  • Slow heart rate
  • Tiredness
  • Weight loss
  • Nerve pain


Psychological withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Feeling irritable
  • Difficulty concentrating and remembering things
  • Increased appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Intense cravings for cocaine

How Severe Are Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms?

The severity of withdrawal symptoms and the length of the withdrawal process vary from person to person. While withdrawal symptoms aren’t life-threatening in most cases, they can sometimes be severe.

Severe symptoms typically include suicidal thoughts and behaviors. They may also include paranoia, anxiety, panic attacks, severe depression, and other mental disorders. While this may seem scary, professional medical support can support you through these cocaine withdrawal symptoms and reduce the risk of harm.

Professional medical detox can also help make the process as safe and comfortable as possible.

What Is the Timeline of Cocaine Withdrawal?

Cocaine has a relatively short half-life of around 90 minutes, so most people experience a crash soon after their last dose of cocaine.

There is a lack of consensus in the medical community about the exact course and timeline of cocaine withdrawal. Some studies suggest a three-phase withdrawal process, while others point to a more linear return to normality.

The most cited study into cocaine withdrawal was conducted by Gawin and Kleber in 1986. They proposed a model of cocaine withdrawal involving ‘crash,’ ‘withdrawal,’ and ‘extinction’ phases.

The ‘Crash’ Phase

The crash phase begins at the onset of symptoms and lasts from a few hours to a few days. Symptoms of the crash phase may include:

  • Exhaustion
  • Hypersomnia (sleepiness)
  • Increased appetite
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Jerky body movements

The ‘Withdrawal’ Phase

The withdrawal phase lasts between one and 10 weeks. It might involve:

  • Lethargy
  • Anxiety
  • Erratic sleep
  • Strong cocaine cravings
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Poor concentration
  • Unpleasant dreams

The ‘Extinction’ Phase

The extinction phase follows the withdrawal phase and may last up to 28 days. By this point, symptoms of withdrawal will have subsided.

You may, however, still experience sporadic cravings and some dysphoria – a sense of general dissatisfaction, frustration, restlessness, or unhappiness.

Medical Detox at Empowered Recovery

Cocaine withdrawal syndrome can be extremely uncomfortable and, in some cases, severe. Withdrawal also can involve intense cocaine cravings that make quitting cocaine more difficult.

At Empowered Recovery, we offer medical detox for cocaine withdrawal to support clients through the withdrawal process and into a sober life. Our medical detox programs involve professional medical support to design a withdrawal plan, assess and treat withdrawal symptoms, and help manage cravings.

During medical detox, doctors are on hand to check for any physical health complications and offer comprehensive mental, physical, and emotional support.

Our detox programs offer mental health treatment throughout the withdrawal process and beyond, helping clients manage psychological symptoms like depression and anxiety.

Partial-Hospitalization and Outpatient Programs

At Empowered Recovery, we offer partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient treatment, and outpatient programming.

Partial hospitalization involves full-day sessions in our treatment facility, with the option to stay in sober living facilities overnight. Here, you can access 24-hour medical support and detox in a safe, drug-free environment.

Partial hospitalization is suitable for people who are likely to experience more severe withdrawal symptoms – heavy cocaine users, for example, or those with co-occurring mental health issues.

Outpatient detox involves regular visits to our substance abuse treatment center for medical check-ups, advice, and prescriptions. Outpatient detox is suitable for those with less severe addictions who want to balance home and work responsibilities during the withdrawal process.

What Are Some Tips for Making It Through Cocaine Detox?

Cocaine withdrawal symptoms can be tough, but you can get through them. Professional support is the most effective strategy for managing cocaine detox. However, there are also steps you can take to help make the process easier.

  • Practice good self-care. It’s normal to feel irritable, depressed, or anxious during cocaine withdrawal. Practicing good self-care – such as healthy eating, exercise, and meditation – can help you cope with difficult emotions and make it to the other side.
  • Take it a day at a time. Many people undergoing withdrawal worry that they will feel that way forever. However, withdrawal symptoms don’t last forever, and most people feel better within a week of quitting cocaine. Try to take every day at a time and avoid worrying about the future.
  • Eat a balanced diet. It can be tempting to binge on high-sugar food during cocaine withdrawal. However, eating a balanced diet provides your body with the nutrients it needs to repair physical damage from cocaine, produce neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, and regulate your mood. It will also help you have more consistent energy levels, rather than highs and lows, which can ease some lethargic symptoms.

Cocaine Addiction Treatment

Cocaine detox is the first stage in most addiction treatment programs. However, overcoming addiction involves more than just withdrawal from cocaine. It requires extensive addiction treatment that helps you identify and overcome the underlying causes of addiction so you can achieve long-term sobriety.

At Empowered Recovery, our top-tier addiction treatment program supports clients in overcoming addiction and rebuilding their lives. Our expert-led program includes:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group programming
  • Support groups
  • Family therapy
  • Life skills development

We are committed to helping you move on from cocaine use and reclaim your future. Our compassionate team of professionals provides comprehensive and individualized treatment for every client. Call us today for a free and confidential consultation.

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    Marietta, GA 30066

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