This time will be different, you tell yourself. You'll throw out all the needles. You'll cut off all your dealers. You're determined to make sobriety stick, and you feel confident…
You know the food you eat moves through your body slowly. It’s broken down, and then, your body prompts you to eat more.
Cocaine detoxification works in the same way. The remaining drug in your body is consumed, and your body calls out for more drugs.
Here’s where the analogy breaks down.
It’s important for you to keep eating. Your body needs fuel to survive. But repeated use of cocaine damages your brain, your body, or both. As part of a cocaine detox program, you’ll let vital systems adjust to life without drugs.
The acute portion of cocaine detox lasts for about a week, but the rest of the process can take you weeks or months to complete. Therapies from your doctor can ease your distress during this time.
Why Does Cocaine Cause Withdrawal?
Your body doesn’t need cocaine to survive — but you may not believe that after you’ve used the drug for awhile. Abuse makes your system primed for cocaine. When it’s gone, withdrawal sets in.
Cocaine works by altering the brain’s pleasure pathway. A chemical called dopamine spikes in the aftermath of a drug hit, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and that boost of chemicals results in a wave of pleasure.
In time, brain cells become accustomed to huge amounts of dopamine, and they change. Small amounts of the drug don’t seem to do the trick. Only big hits will do, and each hit starts this process all over again.
Adjusted brain cells can’t respond to small, normal amounts of dopamine. They need a lot, and they will call out for it. That’s responsible for the big cravings for drugs you feel during cocaine withdrawal. Your brain is searching for a solution.
What Does Withdrawal Feel Like?
Symptoms of cocaine withdrawal are mental, not physical. But they can be severe. If left untreated, they can lead you right back into drug abuse.
- Unusual dreams
You may not shake, vomit, or deal with the flu-like symptoms that are common to other types of drug withdrawal. But you won’t feel like yourself. Your symptoms may feel even stronger to you, as you’ll know that one hit of drugs could make them go away for good.
Among all these symptoms, cravings are the most significant. From the moment you awaken to the second you fall asleep, you’ll be thinking about where to get cocaine. This is not only distracting, but it’s also deeply discouraging. You may believe you simply can’t get better because you’re destined to relapse.
Restlessness, paranoia, and other symptoms last about four days. But the cravings can last for weeks, if not months. If you’re exposed to a trigger that reminds you of cocaine, even years later, you may have a pang of need that you can’t ignore.
How Does Treatment Help?
When you’re distracted by cravings, it’s difficult to focus on getting better. Rather than listening to your therapist and working on your skills, you’ll have part of your brain plotting to obtain cocaine and use it.
NIDA says there are no medications approved to treat cocaine addiction. That means you won’t have a pill or a shot to lean on as you walk through this process.
But your doctor can use medications to treat the symptoms of cocaine withdrawal. You might benefit from:
- Antidepressants to boost pleasure chemicals in the brain and ease depression.
- Benzodiazepines to reduce a sense of anxiousness and nervousness.
- Sleeping aids so you can rest throughout the night.
Treatments like this can be remarkably effective. For example, a study from 2012 found that treating symptoms of anxiety in people in recovery from cocaine addiction helped them to resist the urge to relapse to drugs. When their persistent discomfort was treated, they seemed less likely to return to the pleasure they knew.
You can have cocaine treatments in an inpatient facility, or you can continue to live at home while you get better. But if your cravings are strong, you’ll need an equally robust support system. People can keep you from acting on the urge to use. If you don’t have that community at home, care in a facility might be best for you.
Why Treatment Matters
If cocaine withdrawal is so difficult, shouldn’t you just keep using? That’s a question many people ask themselves, and it’s vital for you to understand the answer.
Cocaine abuse isn’t benign. If you keep using, your risk of death rises.
Consider this: NIDA says close to 14,000 people died from a cocaine overdose in 2017. That figure represents an increase from the year prior, and there’s no reason to expect it to drop.
When you keep using, your life remains on the line. Treatment can help you get your sanity, your health, and your future back. It takes time to heal, but it’s well worth the effort.