Once addicted to cocaine, attempts to quit are paired with uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and extreme cravings.
Breaking a cocaine addiction is difficult, but very possible. The risk of relapse is highest during the first period of abstinence, when withdrawal symptoms are strongest, but people who receive addiction treatment during this initial phase increase their odds of success.
Although cocaine withdrawal symptoms are not physically dangerous like the withdrawal symptoms of an alcohol detox, cocaine withdrawal can result in intense feelings of depression and an increased risk of suicide.
Additionally, research shows that over half of all cocaine addicts suffer from a co-occurring mental disorder, like depression or ADHD1 and the left untreated, these conditions greatly increase the risks of relapse.
You may wish to attempt to break free from your cocaine addiction alone, without the assistance of professionals. However, because addiction treatment increases the odds of long-term abstinence greatly and because getting in contact with addiction specialists and mental health workers allows for accurate diagnosis and treatment of any co-occurring disorders, there is a lot to be said for getting a little help during what is always a very challenging period.
Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms
- During the first weeks and months of abstinence following cocaine addiction, you can expect to experience some or all of the following withdrawal symptoms:
- Sleepiness and lethargy
- Extreme suspicion or paranoia
- Depression (and with it, an increased risk of suicide)
- An inability to find pleasure in much of anything
- Anxiety and irritability
- Vivid dreams or nightmares
- Increased hunger
- Intense drug cravings
Although cocaine produces no physical withdrawal symptoms like vomiting or shakes, it is considered a difficult drug to detox from due to the extreme nature of the cravings, agitation and irritability experienced during the withdrawal phase. The difficulty of the detox is compounded by the fact that for heavy users (daily users) withdrawal symptoms like depression can endure for months into abstinence.2
No medications are yet FDA approved for the treatment of cocaine addiction and for the management of cocaine withdrawal symptoms. Many people going through cocaine withdrawal symptoms self medicate their uncomfortable symptoms with alcohol or other illicit drugs. This is a bad idea that tends to increase addiction problems rather than alleviating them.
Getting behavioral addiction treatment and support during the withdrawal period can help you to manage your symptoms and deal with your cravings. Some addiction treatment examples include:
- Working with a substance abuse counselor, therapist or psychologist
- Joining an outpatient addiction treatment program
- Going to drug rehab
As a general strategy, experts advise starting off with the least intensive/intrusive form of addiction treatment – trying it out – and moving up to more intensive forms of treatment only if necessary.
In addition to addiction treatment, it can be helpful to also participate in community support groups, or in self help groups, like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Cocaine Anonymous (CA).
Minimize Your Cravings
Cocaine withdrawal symptoms don’t end as abruptly as the physical withdrawal symptoms to drugs like heroin or alcohol, they linger for longer and become gradually more manageable, over the first weeks and months of abstinence.
During this initial phase, the risk of relapse is high but that risk can be moderated by participation in an outpatient or residential addiction treatment program (research shows that outpatient programs are as effective for cocaine addiction)3
In addition to getting treatment, you may also want to reduce your exposure or plan for things (triggers) that increase your cravings to use cocaine. Some examples of common triggers include:
- Special occasions, such as holidays or birthdays
- Going on vacation
- Times when you have to meet new people
- Feeling stressed by work or financial problems
- Feeling bored
- Hanging out with friends you used to use with or going to places where you used to use
- Having relationship problems
- Holding yourself up to unrealistic expectations
- Letting yourself get too tired or hungry4
Although it’s wise to minimize your exposure to those things that trigger your cravings, you’ll never be able to eliminate all risky stimuli from your life, and since things that trigger a cocaine memory can induce powerful cravings, even years into abstinence* it is very important, that you learn strategies to manage and overcome your cravings. This is one of the primary reasons why addiction treatment is so necessary for most people.
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