While cocaine detox may not be as intense as withdrawal from other drugs or alcohol, it does come with its own set of challenges. Detoxing from some substances, such as alcohol, can cause severe or even life-threatening physical symptoms. Cocaine withdrawal, however, leads to mostly psychological or cognitive symptoms.
Symptoms of cocaine detox may include the following:
- Impaired concentration
- Slowed thinking
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Muscle aches
- Diminished libido
- Depression or anxiety
- Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
- Vivid dreams or nightmares
- Increased appetite
- Drug cravings
When Is a Cocaine Detox Necessary?
A detox for cocaine may be administered on an outpatient basis, but an inpatient medical detox may be the wisest choice in some cases. If relapse was a problem during a previous attempt to detox, around-the-clock supervision offered by a medical detox may be beneficial. Moreover, if a person has a history of depression or suicidal thoughts, medical detox is usually recommended to ensure that the person is safe and supported emotionally during the process of withdrawal.
If the person using cocaine also suffers from any co-occurring mental health disorders, a medical detox should be immediately followed by comprehensive treatment. Both the symptoms of withdrawal and mental health issues should be treated simultaneously.
Among the more problematic effects associated with stimulant withdrawal are severe depression and an increased risk of suicide. Persons who abruptly stop using cocaine use after addiction has developed can experience depression and extreme mood swings, including suicidal ideations and behaviors.
These effects can occur because the brain will have grown accustomed to elevated dopamine activity caused by regular cocaine abuse. Over time, the brain’s pleasure and reward centers are basically hijacked, and tolerance and dependence will develop as a result.
By this point, the cocaine user will often require increasing amounts of the drug to experience the desired effect. Without it, they are apt to feel extremely depressed and unsatisfied with life.
Acute cocaine withdrawal symptoms tend to subside by around 7-10 days. As with many substances, however, cravings may persist for an extended period and could onset suddenly, even years after a person has entered recovery.
Cocaine has an extremely short half-life, and for those who are dependent, symptoms of withdrawal can occur as quickly as 90 minutes after the last use. The timeline and duration of withdrawal symptoms, however, can vary depending on individual factors.
Some key factors that affect the cocaine detox timeline and withdrawal symptoms include the following:
Duration of Use and Typical Amount Administered
Those who use cocaine for a relatively brief period may encounter withdrawal symptoms that are also short in duration. On the other hand, those who have abused cocaine for years may experience withdrawal symptoms that persist for weeks, in part due to the vast accumulation of the drug in their system.
Also, people who have cocaine in excessive amounts may experience more intense withdrawal symptoms than a person who has traditionally administered lower doses.
A Word on Polysubstance Abuse and Dependence
A person who has developed a dependence on two or more substances may encounter withdrawal symptoms associated with both. This may complicate the withdrawal timeline and make the experience more unpleasant and dangerous for the person who is detoxing, especially if they do not seek medical help. For example, it’s not uncommon for people to abuse cocaine in combination with alcohol, and alcohol withdrawal itself can be life-threatening.
If cocaine was being used as a means of escaping from a particularly stressful environment, additional stress might lead to the desire to use it again. Moreover, environmental factors that provoke stressful feelings, such as relationship problems or work challenges, may induce intense cravings for more cocaine. This added stress can hinder the emotional process of withdrawal.
Co-occurring Medical or Mental Health Disorders
If a person experiences co-occurring medical or mental health conditions, the cocaine withdrawal process may be more severe and complicated. Mental illnesses, such as anxiety or depression, may be likely to intensify and will require additional treatment by professionals who can offer help and support.
Treatment for Cocaine Withdrawal
Unfortunately, there are no prescription drugs currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of cocaine detox. However, there are a few medications that may help people by relieving both the acute and long-term symptoms of withdrawal. For example, medications indicated to treat depression and anxiety disorders may be helpful for those going through cocaine withdrawal, as they are often effective at stabilizing a patient’s mood and improving outcomes.
After detox, patients are urged to enroll in an intensive addiction treatment program, such as one offered by Harmony Recovery Center. In doing so, patients can take advantage of integrated, evidence-based modalities, such as behavioral therapy, counseling, group support, and aftercare planning.
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