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Cocaine Withdrawal

You may attribute cocaine to the disco days of the 1970s and 80s or the movie Scarface, but the reality is that its a drug sweeping the nation today. Its rise in popularity was thwarted by ambitious law enforcement agencies in years past, but the United States has seen an uptick in its use over the past several years. 

The substance has been used for thousands of years by indigenous people in the Andes Mountains and the Amazon rainforest. The raw coca leaves were chewed to achieve an energetic high, and it was helpful for manual labor workers.

In 1850, European scientists began isolating cocaine from raw coca leaves. Cocaine was once viewed as a wonder drug, and experts did not recognize cocaine for the dangerous and addictive substances it has grown to be. 

Cocaine boasts characteristics similar to other drugs that increase dopamine levels in our brains. Dopamine is released to trigger reward sensations in the limbic system when we experience positive stimulus. Any activity that is considered positive by our brain will result in a dopamine  

When these actions continue over time, your brain starts to associate these feelings with a positive reaction. When you continue to use cocaine, the brain begins mistaking it for a life-sustaining action and rewards the brain with a dopamine hit.

Since cocaine is a reuptake inhibitor, it will block the signal and continue its production of dopamine. The build-up causes the rush someone experiences when they use cocaine. When your brain starts relying on the drug, you are considered chemically dependent on the substance. When you attempt to stop, it will cause withdrawal symptoms. 

What Are Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms?

Once you’ve become dependent on cocaine, you will experience withdrawal symptoms as you cut down intake or stop using the drug cold turkey. Drug withdrawals will be determined by the type of drug you try to stop using because they all work in different areas of the brain and body. Stimulant drugs, while not deadly, prove to be challenging to stop on your own and with help. 

You may experience mood swings that are debilitating and cause suicidal thoughts. Your system may work in overdrive to compensate for dopamine that the drug is not producing anymore. It will cause you to feel extremely restless and exhausted. Other symptoms you can expect may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Increase in appetite
  • Nightmares
  • Chills and tremors
  • Feelings of discomfort
  • Slow thinking
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sluggishness

Cocaine withdrawal is not in the same category when compared to benzodiazepines or alcohol. It is considered mild because it is not life-threatening, but the most challenging symptoms will be overcoming suicidal thoughts and psychological issues. Physical symptoms are mild, but intense cravings for cocaine will accompany you during this stage.

The risk of severe medical complications is much lower than other drugs, but there is a likelihood the user will relapse and start using the substance again. If you detox alone, it will be nearly impossible to resist cravings for cocaine. If there is easy access to cocaine, you will likely fall back into using.

What Are the Stages of Cocaine Withdrawal Timeline?

Several factors will determine your timeline and when you will start to feel the effects of cocaine withdrawal. These include the length of time you were consuming cocaine and the amount of cocaine you were using. If you were using long enough to build a tolerance, you might not be able to continue for very long without a dose. Cocaine withdrawals may come on rapidly due to the short half-life of the drug. Other factors include:

  • How fast you stop using
  • Stress
  • Mental health concerns
  • The purity of the cocaine

If you decide to stop using the substance, you will start to feel withdrawals in 90 minutes after your last use. If you quit cold turkey, you will experience intense cravings. Stimulant withdrawal is commonly associated with something users call the crash. As your system works to rid the cocaine from your body, the brain will start to recycle dopamine. You will soon begin to feel the effects of withdrawal. Cocaine users describe severe depression, anxiety, and impending doom as symptoms they encounter.

The withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from seven to 10 days before they dissipate. During this point, you will notice a difficulty in focusing on tasks and attending school or work. Your sleep patterns will be noticeably disrupted, as well.

Why Should I Detox For Cocaine Withdrawal?

Medical detoxification will assist you in a time of need and alleviate the extremes you may encounter. In addition to a helping hand, detox will provide you with accountability and help prevent you from relapsing. It is essential if you are seeking permanent abstinence from the drug. Supervision will also save you from having to go through the comedown alone and struggle with dark thoughts.

What Is the Next Drug Treatment Step?

Detox is the first step in the continuum of care, and once the cocaine is removed from your system, your reward pathways have been programmed to seek cocaine. The only way to avoid relapse is by continuing your care to change your behaviors through therapy. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states the longer someone commits themselves to treatment, the more likely they are to abstain from cocaine long-term. Detox alone will not change addiction, but prolonged treatment is a step in the right direction.

Sources

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). 7: Duration of treatment. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/6-duration-treatment

Treatment, C. for S. A. (1970, January 1). Chapter 3. Intensive Outpatient Treatment and the Continuum of Care. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64088/

Cocaine withdrawal: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000947.htm

History.com Editors. (2017, May 31). Cocaine. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/crime/history-of-cocaine

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Cocaine. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/cocaine

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