Cocaine is a drug that when ingested is associated with the release of dopamine and other “feel good” neurotransmitters in the brain. Cocaine acts as a triple reuptake inhibitor (TRI) by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine simultaneously. This results in a person getting a stimulant effect, feeling euphoric, and decreased appetite. It is considered highly addictive due to the fact that it stimulates the mesolimbic reward pathway in the process.
It is considered a dangerous drug due to the fact that at higher doses, it blocks sodium channels – which can result in cardiac death. For this reason, it is widely regarded as being more dangerous than other stimulants – including amphetamines. It crosses the blood-brain barrier faster than most psychoactive substances and is hypothesized to potentially induce a breakdown of the blood-brain barrier.
If you take into account the potency of this drug, along with the half life (just one hour), it is no wonder that people experience significant withdrawal symptoms when attempting to kick the habit. Many of the withdrawal symptoms become so severe that people end up struggling psychologically.
Factors that influence cocaine withdrawal
There are various factors that influence withdrawal from cocaine. These include things like: time span, dosage / purity, individual physiology, and whether you decide to conduct a gradual taper or quit cold turkey.
1. Time Span
Typically the greater the time period you were using cocaine, the more difficult it will be to withdraw from. Let’s face it, any time a substance is used over an extended period of time, it serves as a psychological crutch and creates dependency. If you were using cocaine for years, you are likely going to have a much greater tolerance than someone who only used it intermittently for a month or two.
2. Dosage + Purity
If you have been using cocaine for an extended period of time, you may have built up a tolerance to the drug. Therefore you may be using an extremely high dose compared to a first time user. Various factors can have an influence upon the dosage including: purity of the cocaine and the preferred method of use. Generally the more pure the cocaine and the greater the amount used, the more difficult the withdrawal process is going to be.
3. Physiology + Environment
Everyone is unique and will have a different experience coming off of cocaine. One individual may have an extremely difficult time coping with symptoms and another may not notice much. There have been cases where some people didn’t think the withdrawal process was too difficult. Yet there have been other cases where withdrawal is a lifelong battle – each person is unique as well as their circumstances. If you are having an especially difficult time withdrawing from cocaine, do not be afraid to seek help.
4. Cold turkey vs. tapering
Most individuals end up quitting cocaine cold turkey and evidence suggests that this may be the best way to quit. If you consistently used a lot of cocaine and were able to conduct a gradual taper, this may work. However most people that have successfully quit just stopped using it and fought through the symptoms that they experienced. Since there’s really no easy way out, most people that are seriously determined to stop their drug use just quit cold turkey, brace themselves, and don’t look back.
Note: You may want to see a doctor if you are concerned about the withdrawal process. The doctor may be able to give you some tips, suggestions, and possibly medication if you are experiencing extreme symptoms.
Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms
Below are some symptoms that you may experience upon withdrawal from cocaine. It may be difficult to cope with these symptoms, especially from the 1 to 10 week marker of withdrawal. At about 30 weeks withdrawn from the substance, individuals tend to have a much easier time coping with symptoms. Keep in mind that everyone’s withdrawal experience is unique and that you may have an easier or more difficult time than average when coming off of cocaine.
- Anxiety: It is common to experience anxiety when you stop taking this drug. This could range from feeling minor generalized anxiety to extreme levels of fear. Understand that this will eventually go away.
- Appetite increase: This is especially common especially during the earlier phases of cocaine withdrawal. Within a couple days after stopping usage, most people report increases in appetite. This is almost a counteractive effect because the drug itself is a stimulant that reduces appetite.
- Agitation: An individual coming off of cocaine may get very agitated. This agitation can interfere with the person’s daily activities and make life pretty difficult until it finally goes away.
- Anhedonia: Some people go through an extreme withdrawal in which they are unable to experience any pleasure or are in a state of “anhedonia.” This is thought to be a result of significant decreases in dopamine – which will eventually increase to natural levels over time.
- Body chills: If you experience chills throughout your body, know that this is a symptom that many exhibit during the withdrawal process.
- Concentration problems: It is very common to experience problems staying focused or concentrating on a specific task. Not only does cocaine have an effect on your brain that can produce cognitive slowing in early stages of withdrawal, all of the other symptoms that you experience during the withdrawal process take away your focus.
- Cravings: The cravings that a person experiences for cocaine during the withdrawal process tend to be very extreme. It is important to have a strategy implemented to combat these cravings and/or not fall into the trap of returning to the drug.
- Crazy dreams: A person undergoing withdrawal from cocaine may endure vivid dreams and/or nightmares on a consistent basis. This is a result of the brain trying to re-establish normal activity and neurotransmitter levels.
- Depression: An extremely common symptom to experience during withdrawal from cocaine is that of depression. Some people may feel extremely depressed when they first stop using this drug. The depression is a result of significant reductions in dopamine and psychomotor slowing. The depression may be so overwhelming that the person may not be able to recognize that it is part of the withdrawal process. This will eventually improve over the course of time.
- Fatigue: You may feel very tired, lethargic, and fatigued throughout the day. A drug like cocaine tends to give people increased energy, so it’s pretty obvious that when you come off of it, you will crash and likely will experience fatigue.
- Insomnia: This is a classic symptom to experience as you come off a hard drug like cocaine. You may be unable to fall asleep because you are experiencing cravings and/or so agitated and restless that you cannot calm down. Do your best to practice relaxation techniques to calm your nervous system.
- Irritability: Individuals may become irritable and little things may upset them during withdrawal. This is especially common during the first 10 weeks or so of withdrawal. This tends to improve over a long period of time.
- Mood swings: It is common to experience rapid, sudden changes in mood when going through with cocaine withdrawal. One minute you may feel good about your progress, and the next you may get extremely depressed or angry. If you are in a depressed state or angry, take a step back and realize it’s part of the process.
- Motor impairment: During the initial withdrawal phase, many people have problems with motor functioning. They are either unable to slow down the nervous system and/or experience excessive slowness. This may result in the person seeming uncoordinated and/or reacting inappropriate to stimuli.
- Muscle aches: Some people have reported aches and pains throughout their body and muscles during withdrawal. These aches will subside and lessen in terms of severity as time continues to pass.
- Paranoia: In the acute stages of withdrawal, someone may become paranoid when coming off of cocaine. In some cases, the individual may also become psychotic and/or violent as a result of paranoid delusions. These will gradually improve over the course of weeks.
- Psychomotor retardation: Although some people experience symptoms of agitation upon withdrawal from cocaine, others may experience a “slowing” called psychomotor retardation. This is associated with slowed thinking, fatigue, and feelings of excessive tiredness.
- Restlessness: Some people become restless to the point that they cannot sit still, stay calm, and/or sleep at night. The best way to deal with this throughout the day is to stay as busy as possible, and at night, practice relaxation.
- Sleepiness: People may fall victim to what is called “hypersomnia” or excessive daytime sleeping. This feeling of sleepiness may be so extreme that it can affect the person’s ability to function throughout the day. This typically does not last more than a week after the last dose of cocaine.
Note: Cocaine withdrawal may not have any major physical symptoms such as vomiting and/or tremors. With that said, just because there may be minimal physical withdrawal symptoms, does not mean that the withdrawal process should be undermined. There are many potent psychological symptoms that can be debilitating at times.
Cocaine Withdrawal Duration: Timeline + Phases
The withdrawal for any drug can differ based on individual circumstances. Not everyone is going to recognize the various phases of withdrawal. However, typically the withdrawal process from cocaine can be divided into three phases: the crash phase, the craving phase, and the extinction phase.
Phase One: “Crash phase” (hours or a few days)
This phase is characterized by experiencing a “crash” after you initially stop using cocaine. For an addict, the withdrawal symptoms even in this initial phase can be pretty severe. People in this phase tend to feel especially depressed, irritable, anxious, and want to sleep for long periods of time. Some individuals may feel exceptionally fatigued or exhausted, have increased appetites, and don’t have any cravings for the drug.
Note: Since cocaine stays in your system for a short duration (nearly 6 hours) after ingestion, you may crash quickly.
Phase Two: “Craving phase” (1 to 10 weeks)
Once the initial low mood and low energy “crash” phase passes, people can enter the “craving” phase. This is characterized by individuals experiencing a strong craving for cocaine. They may think about using cocaine all day and don’t know what to do without it. The person may feel irritable, lethargic, and be unable to concentrate. This phase typically lasts up to 10 full weeks, but may be less for non-addicts or less frequent users.
Phase Three: “Extinction phase” (30+ Weeks)
Once you have made it through the initial couple of phases after 10 weeks withdrawn, you enter what is known as the “extinction” phase. This is characterized by random or intermittent cravings for cocaine, but they are less severe than phase two. Typically these cravings are a result of the person’s environment. For example, if the person is still hanging out with friends that use the drug and/or goes to a place where they frequently used the drug, they may get strong cravings again.
Typically after nearly 30 weeks pass (over 200 days), most people have made it through the withdrawal and the cravings become “extinct.” Not to say that this is the exact same for everyone, but most people should not elicit cravings beyond this point if they stayed completely clean throughout the process.
During cocaine withdrawal: Stay healthy, avoid triggers
It should be mentioned that it is recommended to engage in healthy activities during withdrawal. Avoid things that could potentially “trigger” you to use this substance again. Hang around with supportive family members, friends, and make sure you are getting plenty of exercise. Stay involved in productive activities that take your mind off of the withdrawal symptoms that you may be experiencing.
Make sure you are around a supportive social group during this process. Avoid people that may lead you to use cocaine and be with people that know what you’re going through. Part of setting yourself up for success means being around people that are going to help you engage in healthy activities. Focus on eating healthy foods, staying as productive as possible throughout the day, and get yourself some exercise.
Coming off of a powerful drug like cocaine is certainly not easy and can be the single most difficult thing you go through in your lifetime. The process is going to be a challenge, but focus on doing what you can in the present moment to improve your situation. Each day in the early phases of withdrawal can seem like a milestone. Days will eventually turn into weeks, and weeks into months. Before you know it, months will turn into years, and you will have successfully kicked the habit.