Cocaine is a popular recreational drug that offers a powerful euphoric high with some significant consequences. Cocaine addiction can lead to medical, psychological, and social consequences. One of the consequences of cocaine misuse is tolerance and withdrawal.
Achieving sobriety might mean needing to get through uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, and withdrawal may be a frightening barrier to treatment in some people. But what are the side effects of withdrawal, and how can they be treated? Learn more about how cocaine produces withdrawal symptoms, and how you can get through them safely.
Cocaine is a powerful nervous symptom stimulant that can be extremely addictive. Cocaine can lead to chemical dependence and substance use problems quickly, especially if you engage in a cocaine binge. Cocaine’s powerful but short-lived euphoric high can encourage you to take multiple doses in a row to chase that positive feeling and avoid the uncomfortable come down.
Withdrawal symptoms happen after you develop a chemical dependence on a drug like cocaine. Dependence is your brain’s way of adapting to the consistent presence of a psychoactive chemical. In cocaine’s case, your brain adapts to the stimulant by decreasing excitatory chemicals and increasing calming ones. When you stop using the drug, your nervous system becomes unbalanced, causing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
Cocaine dependence can come on quickly after a short period of heavy cocaine use or a longer period of consistent use. If you’ve been using cocaine and you’re wondering if you might experience withdrawal, there are a few signs and symptoms to consider. Dependence can lead to a growing tolerance for cocaine. If you feel like you need more to achieve the same effects that you experienced when you first started, you might be dependent. Other signs and symptoms include:
Cocaine is a powerful stimulant that can cause feelings of wakefulness, alertness, empowerment, and high energy. Like other withdrawal periods, cocaine withdrawal may be characterized by the opposite of its recreational effects. One of the most intense symptoms of cocaine withdrawal is fatigue. Cocaine excites your nervous system and keeps you awake and alert. People who misuse cocaine for long periods may have poor sleep schedules. Some binge cocaine and can stay awake for days at a time.
When you stop using the drug, you may feel exhausted, as your body needs to recover from being overworked. Plus, cocaine dependence causes your brain to adapt to the stimulant. When you stop using, your nervous system may be lacking in excitatory chemicals, leading to fatigue. Stimulant withdrawal is often characterized by hypersomnia, which is long sleep hours and low activity. However, cocaine withdrawal can also cause restlessness, discomfort, and nightmares that make sleep less restful.
Another common symptom of cocaine is depression. Cocaine causes you to feel powerful mood-lifting effects. When it wears off, your mood can plummet, causing negative thoughts, depression, anger, and even suicidal thoughts. These feelings are usually necessary, but lasting mental health issues that are caused by cocaine can be treated.
Other common symptoms of cocaine withdrawal can include:
Cocaine offers a relatively short-lived high. While the effects of cocaine can last for hours in your system, the intense sense of euphoria may only last for a few minutes to a half-hour. The post-high period called the comedown can begin right after that.
Cocaine comedowns can cause uncomfortable symptoms, such as agitation, depression, and fatigue, that last for several hours. If you’re dependent, withdrawal symptoms will start as the drug wears off with similar symptoms to a comedown. The dose you were used to and how long you were dependent on can determine how quickly you experience symptoms and how intense they are.
Withdrawal symptoms can last for a week to 10 days after your last dose. After symptoms start, they will get work until they reach their peak after a few days. Then you’ll slowly start to feel better over time. However, some symptoms, like depression, can linger for weeks or months. If you have an underlying mental health issue that was masked by cocaine use, mental health symptoms can persist indefinitely until they’re addressed. However, many of these long-term issues can be addressed during the addiction treatment process.
Cocaine isn’t as life-threatening during withdrawal as other substances can be. Stimulants are generally less likely than depressants to lead to deadly symptoms or complications. However, like heroin, cocaine withdrawal can pose a threat in a different way.
Cocaine withdrawal does have some physical symptoms, including extreme fatigue. But the psychological symptoms are among the most uncomfortable problems you’ll encounter during cocaine withdrawal. While that might sound like a mild consequence of cocaine dependence, psychological symptoms can be extremely unpleasant and even dangerous.
Cocaine causes feelings of intense empowerment, elation, and positive mood. But after the short-lived euphoric high wears off, you may start to feel an uncomfortable comedown for the next few hours. Instead of increasing your mood and generating positive feelings, you’re really trading extremely positive feelings now for extremely negative feelings later.
Withdrawal can cause feelings of depression, restlessness, and anxiety. In some cases, depression can be severe. If you used cocaine for a long time in high doses, you might experience symptoms like anhedonia, which is the inability to feel pleasure. These feelings may cause you to have compulsions to return to cocaine use as the only source of pleasure. However, anhedonia is usually temporary.
Depression that’s caused by cocaine withdrawal can lead to suicidal thoughts or actions. For that reason, cocaine withdrawal has the potential to be life-threatening. You should avoid going through withdrawal on your own. If you experience depression symptoms, it’s important to recognize that these feelings are likely temporary. Don’t hesitate to speak to someone or to reach out for help getting through withdrawal and addressing mental health symptoms.
Cocaine withdrawal can come with mild, moderate, and severe symptoms. The negative feelings of cocaine withdrawal are usually temporary and fade after your symptoms peak. However, in some cases, it might be necessary to talk to a doctor.
Active addiction can be hard on your body and stimulant misuse can affect vital organs, including your heart. When you decide you need to quit using cocaine, speak to a doctor to learn more about your needs. If you talk to your doctor or enter an addiction treatment program, you’ll go through an intake and assessment process that’s designed to determine your needs.
If you have high-level medical needs, or if you’re likely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms, you may need to go through withdrawal in a detox program. Medical detox involves 24-hour care in a medical setting.
You’ll be treated by medical and clinical professionals that are there to help you avoid dangerous complications and to alleviate uncomfortable symptoms. You may be treated with medications to help with common symptoms like insomnia and sleep disturbances.
Medical detox programs often have clinical staff available to help with some of the deeper issues that may accompany your withdrawal-like depression or anxiety. You may go through individual or group therapy sessions to address mental and social health issues.
Detox may be an important step in treatment, but it’s usually not enough to effectively treat a severe cocaine use disorder.
When you go through an assessment with a doctor or in a treatment program, you may be directed toward detox or another level of care. Inpatient medically managed detox is the highest level of care in addiction treatment, but you may progress to other levels as your needs change. If you no longer need 24-hour medical treatment, but you still need to be monitored for potential complications, you may go through a medically monitored inpatient program.
If you can live on your own safely, without a serious risk of relapse, you’ll move on to outpatient treatment. Outpatient treatment allows you to live at home while attending treatment during the day. Depending on your needs you may attend treatment anywhere between 20 hours and less than nine hours of treatment weekly.
Through treatment, you’ll go through a personalized plan that addresses your needs. You also may meet with your therapist weekly to assess your plan and decide on any potential changes. Your treatment plan may include several therapy options, including individual, group, and behavioral therapy.
You may also participate in therapies designed to address specific problems, such as trauma or social issues. After you finish formal addiction treatment, you should still pursue active recovery through community-based programs like Narcotics Anonymous.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, July). Cocaine. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/cocaine
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, November). 8: Definition of dependence. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/neurobiology-drug-addiction/section-iii-action-heroin-morphine/8-definition-dependence
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, November). 6: Definition of tolerance. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/neurobiology-drug-addiction/section-iii-action-heroin-morphine/6-definition-tolerance
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, July). Treatment and Recovery. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Types of Treatment Programs. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/drug-addiction-treatment-in-united-states/types-treatment-programs