Physically, cocaine is among the easier drugs to discontinue—heroin rehab will make you miserable all over for several days, and the best alcohol detox is medical alcohol detox because effects can be life-threatening, but the withdrawal involved in cocaine rehabilitation may manifest few or no physical symptoms. That does not, however, make the experience pleasant—or harmless. Cocaine withdrawal is like the “crash” after the “high” of individual doses—only worse.
1. Feelings of Deep Depression
Cocaine’s primary effect is encouraging dopamine to build up in the brain, resulting in intense euphoria (though people who use it to the point of addiction often find that the drug starts to generate panic or paranoia instead). So when regular cocaine use is stopped, it leaves the door wide open to euphoria’s opposite—extremely black moods. Fortunately, the worst usually passes within a week, but lower-level unhappiness can persist for as long as 10 weeks. Inspirational reading, well-chosen music, good nutrition, and exercise can help.
2. Experiencing Bouts of Agitation
That may sound incompatible with the depression effect, but it’s common for moods to swing back and forth between the two. Even people who have experienced minor depression (without associated drug use) know how easy it is to get into a cycle of “Maybe if I just try hard enough … I just can’t get what I want, and it’s not fair! … Everything is against me and always will be; there’s no point even trying. … Maybe if I just try a little harder …” Agitation is a way of raging against life, magnified in cocaine withdrawal by the absence of accustomed mood changes and by the anxiety of losing your cocaine “crutch” for good.
3. Displaying Paranoia
The extreme end of agitation is most likely to occur in the early phases of withdrawal, when the brain first starts to get the message, “No more—and this time I mean it!” Psychosomatic effect alone can translate this into “Everyone’s against me,” sometimes to the point where a person becomes dangerously violent. This is one reason why cocaine rehabilitation should always be undertaken in a medical detox center where staff is trained to deal with unpredictable behavior.
4. Higher Risk for Suicide
More commonly than injuring others, those undergoing cocaine withdrawal will turn violent impulses on themselves, or become frantic to escape the immediate agony by any means. No one undergoing any form of drug detox should ever have access to anything that could be used as a weapon.
5. Desperately Craving More of the Drug
Whether or not you ever consider “I’d rather be dead” as a potential way out, “I’ve got to have another snort of cocaine” thoughts are virtually inevitable. This is one area of life where procrastination thinking—“not right now” instead of a flat “No!”—can be good for you, by reducing the pain while you wait for the urge to pass. If you’re having a serious struggle, the treatment center will provide someone you can talk to for reassurance.
6. Difficulty Concentrating
The typical symptoms of cocaine withdrawal would be distracting to anyone—plus, the cocaine itself will upset your brain’s natural functions and make it more difficult to process information. Don’t worry: time and post-withdrawal counseling will help you rebuild concentration skills.
7. Feel Fatigued Much of the Time
Energy levels and the ease of staying awake rise under the influence of cocaine—as that wears off, the reverse effect, physical exhaustion, sets in. Don’t fight it: this is a good time to get all the rest you can. At the same time, you may have difficulty sleeping normally, so practice breathing deeply and letting your muscles relax. Most drug detox programs will be able to offer you personal guidance.
8. Frequently Experience Vivid Nightmares
This is a side effect of the brain’s detoxing itself from cocaine’s interference with neurotransmitter activity. Ask your treatment supervisors for advice if you’re becoming afraid to fall asleep. And keep a journal of your “detox dreams”; it may prove helpful during the therapy period of recovery.
9. Increasing Appetite
Cocaine users tend to lose appetite and weight, so it’s not surprising that appetite should increase when a person stops using. This is one addiction withdrawal symptom that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Besides its effect on appetite, cocaine actually impedes the body’s ability to absorb fat—some people are foolish enough to use it as a diet aid—and many long-term users become dangerously underweight. If this is you, consult with your treatment supervisor or a nutritionist about selecting the best foods for healthy weight gain: many people with cocaine addiction also develop the habit of overindulging in fatty foods.
10. A person in cocaine withdrawal may be tempted to self-medicate with alcohol or other sedatives, or with anti-anxiety medication.
It should go without saying that this is not a good idea, especially in light of the fact that people who have abused both cocaine and alcohol are at high risk for heart trouble during withdrawal. (Note: Professional, medically supervised drug detox programs are always the safe option for anything from getting the best alcohol detox to seeking out heroin detox centers after that drug was used for medical detox from opiates—and when more than one drug is involved, especially effective opposites like cocaine and alcohol, simultaneously cutting off both on one’s own judgment is tantamount to attempting suicide.) If you’re really being tortured by thoughts of “I’ve got to have something,” tell your treatment supervisors; they’ll know what to do and whether a carefully measured medical prescription could help you.
Don’t let fear of unpleasant withdrawal effects lead you to put off seeking treatment at a cocaine detox clinic. Long-term cocaine dependence can cause chronic health issues from nausea to nosebleeds, damage your heart, or lead to stroke and seizures. It can also wreck every aspect of your life from career to relationships—and there’s always the risk of a fatal overdose. Although it might not seem like it when cocaine withdrawal symptoms are at their worst, the unpleasant effects of continuing in addiction are always worse in the end.
Inland Detox, located in southern California’s Temecula Valley, offers cocaine rehabilitation services—and also medical alcohol detox, heroin rehab and medical detox from other opiates, and treatment for benzodiazepine and methamphetamine dependence. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, call (888) 739-8296 for more information.