How Long Does Withdrawal From Cocaine Last?

Man holding bag of cocaine

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Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug. While it is sometimes used recreationally, it is illegal in the United States. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that nearly 15% of adults in the U.S. have used cocaine at least once during their lifetime. Regular use of cocaine can lead to physical dependence, which means that people will experience symptoms of withdrawal once they stop taking the drug.

Here is what you can expect if you stop taking cocaine and go into cocaine withdrawal.

Overview

If you have become dependent or addicted to cocaine, you are likely to experience some withdrawal symptoms when you quit, and these symptoms can become more severe after heavy use.

One way of understanding why cocaine users experience withdrawal is that it is like taking out a loan of some good feelings while you are high, but then when it is time to repay the debt of those same feelings, you feel much worse during the "crash" of withdrawal. This is called a rebound effect and is part of your body’s way of maintaining homeostasis.

How Long Will Symptoms Last?

It is important to remember that the effects of withdrawal, although intense, are not permanent. The initial "crash" of cocaine withdrawal can vary in time and intensity and can last from hours to days. Some users experience weeks or months of withdrawal symptoms, known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).

Signs & Symptoms

Everyone’s experience with cocaine withdrawal is different, but there are certain common symptoms that are typical of the withdrawal experience.

Cocaine Cravings

Most people who are withdrawing from cocaine feel a strong desire to take more cocaine. These feelings are known as cravings and are common among people withdrawing from many addictive substances. Cravings are driven by the wish to reduce the symptoms of cocaine withdrawal as well as the desire to re-experience the pleasure of the cocaine high.

Mood Changes

Feeling depressed, anxious, or irritable, also known as having a dysphoric mood, or more commonly, depression is a normal part of cocaine withdrawal. Although these feelings are often intense during cocaine withdrawal, they tend to pass once the withdrawal stage is over.

Fatigue

Feeling very tired is a normal part of cocaine withdrawal. In addition to the exhaustion that you naturally feel after the stimulating effects of cocaine, you may have tired yourself out through lack of sleep and energetic activity while you were high on cocaine.

Cocaine can mask the discomfort that you usually feel when you are overactive. This will worsen the feelings of tiredness as the effects of cocaine wear off.

Sleep Problems

One of the frustrations that people can have during cocaine withdrawal is difficulty sleeping. Despite the tiredness, cocaine withdrawal often causes sleep problems, such as vivid and unpleasant dreams, insomnia (having trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep) or hypersomnia (too much sleep).

Increased Appetite

Increased appetite is a recognized aspect of cocaine withdrawal, and may be exacerbated by not eating properly while you were high on cocaine. However, it is important to support your recovery through eating a healthy diet, and small, manageable amounts, rather than bingeing.

Physical Slowing or Agitation

People going through cocaine withdrawal often experience a kind of physical slowing down, called psychomotor retardation, or conversely, they can feel physically agitated.

Coping & Relief

While there are no FDA-approved medications to help reduce the effects of cocaine withdrawal, there are self-care strategies you can use to find some relief. The first step is to detox from the drug, a process that can vary depending on how much and how long you have been taking the drug. Compared to some other types of drugs, the cocaine detox process is relatively short, but it can often be intense. 

The most important thing to do during this time is to get support from people who understand what you are going through, whether that includes loved ones or medical professionals. As you are going through the detox and withdrawal process, focus on taking care of yourself physically and mentally. Healthy habits like getting regular exercise, eating nutritious food, and getting enough sleep can be a good jump-start toward feeling better. 

Warnings

Detoxing on your own at home can present risks if your withdrawal symptoms become severe. While cocaine withdrawal is generally safe, medically-supervised detox may sometimes be necessary. Side effects of withdrawal can sometimes result in severe depression, paranoia, psychosis, or suicidal thoughts.

People who are experiencing severe cocaine withdrawal symptoms need inpatient treatment or hospitalization as they go through the detox process.

Remember that you do not need to go through this alone. Talk to your doctor if you feel that you need extra support during this time either through residential or outpatient treatment. Addiction professionals can offer evidence-based treatment options that will help you develop to overcome drug cravings and prevent future relapses.

Long-Term Treatment

While the first phase of cocaine withdrawal, often referred to as "the crash," typically passes within a few days, people usually continue to experience withdrawal symptoms that include cravings, irritability, and low energy levels for around 10 weeks. 

The final phase of withdrawal, known as extinction, can last as long as six months. During this time, drug cravings and mood changes may come and go.

Because cocaine use can create lasting changes in the brain, addiction can be hard to treat and relapses can happen. 

Long-term treatment for cocaine addiction usually focusing on individual counseling that incorporates behavioral therapy. People learn new skills that will help them fight drug cravings and change underlying thoughts and behaviors that might contribute to drug use. 

Contingency management is one treatment option that utilizes motivational incentives to encourage people to abstain from drugs such as cocaine. In exchange for clean drug tests, people can earn vouchers that can be used for items that help encourage healthy choices (such as gym memberships, dinners at local restaurants, etc.). This approach can be particularly effective during the initial phases of treatment to help encourage drug abstinence.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), particularly when used in conjunction with other treatments, can also be effective for supporting long-term abstinence and relapse prevention.

Research suggests that the severity of cocaine dependence as well as the frequency of recent use play a role in determining treatment success. Chronic, heavy, and recent use may make recovery more difficult.

Resources

Online and community-based recovery groups can also be helpful during cocaine withdrawal and addiction treatment. Cocaine Anonymous is one such group that utilizes a 12-step approach to achieving and maintaining abstinence over the long-term.

Talk to your doctor if you need help going through cocaine withdrawal. You can also call the SAMHSA National Hotline at 1-800-662-4357 or use their online treatment locator to find treatment options in your area.

A Word From Verywell

Cocaine withdrawal can be difficult, but overcoming drug use is possible. Having a support system that includes friends, family, medical professionals, and treatment resources can help you cope with this challenging phase of your recovery. 

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