Withdrawal from Cocaine
In general, cocaine withdrawal lasts 7 to 10 days, but the drug purity becomes a large factor in this. After all, if the cocaine being taken is constantly cut with other street drugs, withdrawal may be much longer.
Cocaine has one of the shortest half-lifes of any street drug, with some people experiencing withdrawals symptoms as early as 1.5 hours – just 90 minutes – after their last dose. This will vary from person to person as it depends on the severity of the addiction, the method used to take cocaine, as well as the drug purity.
Cocaine is one of the drugs where detoxing can be done as an outpatient, meaning you don’t need to be within a medical facility and supervised during this time. That said, inpatient detoxing is available and recommended if you’ve attempted getting clean in the past and relapsed. Additionally, if one of the (many) long term effects is co-occurring (such as mood swings or seizures, then inpatient supervision is recommended.
One of the most deleterious side effects of cocaine is depression. As a result, for some people, suicide is the biggest risk in detoxing and getting clean. This is due to the fact that cocaine in particular causes a buildup of dopamine that generates continual feelings of pleasure and happiness. So when cocaine use stops, the dopamine that should cause happiness is still significantly less than what they’re used to. To a degree – and severely simplifying what’s happening – it’s as though there are 3 basic levels for people:
Prolonged use of cocaine however creates a new dynamic. A “good” above good when high. With extended use however, this shifts the feeling hierarchy (with the parentheticals below representing a cocaine addict’s evaluation):
- Super Good (Good)
- Good (Normal)
- Normal (Bad)
- Bad (Agony)
This is what makes withdrawal so painful even if, when compared to other drugs, it has a relatively short half life (for instance, methamphetamine withdrawal can last 4 months or more). However, to go from a cocaine addict’s “Good” to “Agony” is a drastic shift to say the least.
One of the biggest risks with cocaine withdrawal is suicide. If you’re trying to get clean, assess if you have or have had depressing thoughts. If you have, the best thing would be to get supervision during the detoxification stage.
Cocaine Withdrawal Timeline
Cocaine withdrawal typically lasts 7-10 days, and the following is what you can expect.
Days 1-3: These will be the hardest three days of your withdrawal. This is when many refer to the pain as the “crash and burn” phase. Again, in the case of cocaine addicts, what most people would consider feeling “fine” or “normal” now feels bad, and anything beyond that is far worse. In addition to this, most people suffer insomnia and the sleep deprivation doesn’t help headaches, paranoia, and pain.
Days 4-7: The next three days should result in some improvement. There will be increased irritability and sleep may come but it won’t be restful. The craving for cocaine will be present as well, but it will be gnawing on you less; more manageable.
Days 7-10+: This is where so much of your history with cocaine becomes a factor. Some people say they feel the symptoms completely disappear at this point. Others however, feel the cravings come back in full force. In general, this should be when you start to feel better however. If symptoms continue to persist, then it may be time to get outside help as well.
One of the toughest hurdles with cocaine withdrawal is the mental hurdles you need to go through to get clean. While other drugs (like alcohol) can have debilitating physical withdrawal symptoms, cocaine is notorious for having extreme psychological withdrawal symptoms.
Occasionally, some people in recovery of cocaine will start to experience post acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) as few as 3 (and as many as six) months down the road. PAWS can cause you to feel depressed, feel intense cravings return as well as emotional outbursts.
The biggest thing to remember if/when this happens is that it is your brain needs more time to heal. When you quit an addiction, your brain needs to rebalance the chemicals being fired around. This can take a great deal of time, but it is worth it.
Currently there are no FDA-approved medications to treat cocaine withdrawal. However that does not mean there’s no treatment for cocaine.
While some people can (and will) benefit from detoxing outpatient. Others should seek inpatient medical help if they suffer from depression, experience negative thoughts, or have experienced some of the more severe side effects from cocaine (such as seizures or arrhythmia). Cocaine withdrawal has few (if any) physical side effects, but the mental withdrawal has been known to cause many suicides, so it is paramount that you do not take dark thoughts lightly.
Treatment for cocaine extends beyond withdrawal symptoms. Typically, medical facilities show you how to cope in stressful environments as well as how to manage your cravings. For many people, having a tool set like this helps.
Of course, treatment is only one piece of the puzzle. In order to stay clean and sober, you need to build a network of support to help you.