Cocaine withdrawal describes the symptoms a person experiences after quitting substance use. When a person stops using cocaine, they may experience issues such as depression, a lack of energy, and other severe symptoms. It is important to understand why someone may struggle with withdrawal and what are some of the temporary symptoms. Learning about these issues provides a better understanding of what is going on when you or your loved one begins their cocaine detox process.
Cocaine is a powerfully addictive and harmful substance. This drug is the purified form of coca leaves in South America. Natives ate these leaves for thousands of years before forming cocaine hydrochloride, and this purified version is what we know as cocaine.1
Cocaine is a Schedule II drug, categorizing it as a very addictive substance. However, it still allows professionals to use the substance for medicinal purposes such as local anesthesia. Cocaine is under the stimulant drug class.2 This listing is because it stimulates the brain and the body, resulting in bursts of energy, increased alertness, increased focus, and increased attention.3
Cocaine causes an increase in dopamine levels within the brain, which leads to a person having high amounts of energy and a sense of euphoria. Eventually, the brain will adapt to the chemical and become dependent on the drug. Addiction and a possible overdose could settle in due to continued use of the drug.4
Every person who consumes cocaine can become addicted to it. Several different aspects can increase a person’s probability of becoming addicted. Some risk factors include a family history of drug abuse, addiction to other drugs, and mental illnesses.5
Most people do not start taking drugs simply because they could not control themselves. Many times, there is a genetic link or a history of drug abuse within their family. One study showed that almost half of a person’s risk factor for whether they would develop substance use disorder was due to genetics.6 If a person has had a family history of cocaine abuse, they may be more likely to struggle with it.
If a person struggles with another substance use disorder, they may be more likely to use cocaine. This issue can occur if a person is trying to mitigate some of the symptoms of a stimulant with a depressant or vice versa. Moreover, if someone has decided to consume one type of drug, they may be more likely to decide to try a different substance as well.
An individual may be more likely to struggle with cocaine addiction if they are suffering from a mental health disorder. Normally, this problem would be considered a dual diagnosis, where a person is diagnosed with a mental illness and substance use disorder. Struggling with both can become a vicious cycle that makes one’s addiction and mental illness worse.6 A person who struggles with mental illness may turn to cocaine to help self-medicate some of their symptoms, leading to dependence and addiction.
The brain reward system is a term used when referring to the structures within the brain that are activated whenever it is exposed to a rewarding stimulus. When these structures are stimulated, the brain will release dopamine within the brain. The more that substances such as cocaine continue to enter the body, the more dependent the brain becomes on these dopamine highs.7
The brain communicates within itself by sending neurons between neurotransmitters and receptors. Drugs can impact the ability of the brain to send and receive messages, and some drugs activate neurons.
Drugs such as cocaine “can cause the neurons to release abnormally large amounts of natural neurotransmitters or prevent the normal recycling of these brain chemicals by interfering with transporters.”8 Because cocaine causes large amounts of different neurotransmitters, specifically dopamine, the brain starts to adapt to abnormal amounts, which leads to a physical dependence on the drug.
Within the brain, some systems limit the number of reward neurotransmitters that the brain can receive. When the brain becomes overstimulated with the reward system, it will overreact to shut down the abnormal amount of the chemical. This issue can lead to extremely negative effects such as depression, which can lead to the reuse of the drug to become stimulated once again.9
When someone stops using cocaine, they enter a phase called detox, which is when someone abstains from using a drug. During detox, an individual will likely start to experience cocaine withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can vary from person to person, and not everyone experiences all the symptoms.
A person may start to struggle with anxiety while going through cocaine withdrawal. This issue is normally due to the brain’s dependence on the substance to function.
For similar reasons, a person may struggle to sleep when first going through withdrawal from cocaine. They may fight insomnia or other sleep disorders through the beginning stages.
Because the anti-reward system of the brain is in full effect, someone may become more irritable because their brain is not producing the proper amount of dopamine that they need to function.
Cocaine abuse can also lead to feelings of depression. Until the brain rebounds back to a normal level of dopamine needed to function, the person may struggle with varying levels of depression.
Alongside depression, cocaine abuse can also lead to a lingering feeling of sadness. Someone may also struggle with grieving their old way of life or the damage their substance use disorder caused themselves and others.
Strong cravings for cocaine will be present within a few hours, which is due to the brain trying to seek out more dopamine to function.
Due to the stress caused by the other symptoms, a person may struggle with poor concentration. Many times, cocaine increases focus and attention spans. Concentration may drastically decrease if someone was dependent on the drug to concentrate and stops using it.
Finally, a person may become lethargic. The reasoning for the lack of energy is like a lot of the previous symptoms. If a person used cocaine to help increase their energy, they will see a steep decline during the withdrawal stage. It is like an overcorrection.11
If you or a loved one are struggling with cocaine addiction, it is best to seek medical help when going through the rehab process. Withdrawal effects can be extreme and should be monitored under the care of a health professional. Treatment centers can be a great place to go through this detox process.
Detox is the process of getting the substance out of your system. It can take several days or a couple of weeks. During this time, the patient will normally experience extreme cocaine withdrawal symptoms. Doctors normally suggest that a patient begins therapy during the detox process or immediately afterward to prevent relapse.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a preferred method that helps a patient identify what behaviors they are doing, ways they are reacting to stress, and better ways they can cope with everyday life. Therapy can help support a patient through the recovery process as they learn new ways to handle stress instead of using cocaine.
Depending on the severity of the case, a doctor may suggest inpatient or outpatient care. An inpatient treatment facility provides a place for the patient to stay at the hospital during the rehab and detox process. Outpatient care allows the patient to come in for check-ins regularly to monitor their progress.
Cocaine withdrawal can be very severe and difficult to overcome alone. A person’s brain is actively working against them during the early stages of withdrawal, and it is important to detox completely to balance out the chemicals within the brain. If you or a loved one is struggling with cocaine or experiencing withdrawal effects, seek out the advice of a trained medical professional.