I knew I was going to end up feeling bad. Things had gotten way out of hand in my life and it took some scary stuff to make me realize how much trouble I was really in. I was addicted to cocaine—I knew it and yet I couldn’t say it out loud. The thought was even so scary I would argue with myself some days.
“You’re addicted,” I’d think, then a second or two later, “No you’re not, calm down. It’s fine.” But that first thought would scare me and it would stay in the back of my mind. Then one day I decided I wasn’t going to do any cocaine; I had it all planned out.
That was the first day I thought I probably needed help. I ended up buying some and doing it all. I wish I could say I asked for help that day, but it took a lot more energy, a lot more trying, and a lot more failing before I made it happen.
Actually, when I say I knew I was going to feel “bad,” that’s not true. I was scared of feeling horrible when I detoxed, of feeling like you see in movies or hear about in stories. It scared me enough that it stopped me from asking for help some days.
Without knowing what would actually happen I was stuck imagining or looking things up where I could. I wanted someone to tell me what it was going to be like. People sometimes don’t realize how scary that is.
One thing I kept thinking over and over was, “Am I in too far?” And that just meant, am I even capable of being okay? It was hard to get past that. When I finally felt prepared though, when someone helped me get ready, I knew I was going to get sober.
If you’re struggling with cocaine addiction and are wondering what will happen when you don’t have cocaine, you’re not alone.
How is that going to feel?
How Cocaine Affects You And For How Long
Cocaine is a drug that can leave your system relatively quickly, though that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not detectable by certain tests for longer periods of time. Scientists know the “half-life” for cocaine—which is the amount of time it takes for half of the drug to leave your system—is only 90 minutes.
That might seem relatively fast, but put that into context by thinking about how long the “high” of using cocaine lasts. There are three ways people are usually doing cocaine: what’s called “intranasal,” which is snorting it; “intravenously,” which is injecting it; and smoking it.
Each method has different lengths of effect which is also determined by how much cocaine is being consumed, and how often.
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, a Canadian mental health education hospital, lists the different methods and their general length of effectiveness as:
- Snorting can produce an effect in you for between 15 and 30 minutes
- Injecting it typically brings along a short period of euphoria, or a “rush,” within 30 seconds and can last as long as 20 minutes or as short as 10
- Smoking has nearly immediate effect on someone and will last somewhere between five and 10 minutes
All of these methods are also affected by the amount of cocaine being consumed as well as differences in physiology. In general, each of our bodies can tolerate different levels of nearly any substance due to how we have developed throughout life.
How cocaine works in our brains, however, is due to one thing we all have in common.
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Cocaine Offers A False Reward
Your brain naturally produces a substance called dopamine which you might hear people refer to as the “reward” or “pleasure” chemical. It’s one of the ways your body will signal to itself, and you, that you are feeling good.
One study found that meditation is a way to naturally release dopamine into your system. The most commonly referenced natural and healthy activity that can lead to dopamine release is exercise. It’s been studied in both animals and humans and leads to quite a few positive effects, not only in brain chemistry but in overall health.
Cocaine essentially short circuits your brain and causes dopamine to act in a way it normally wouldn’t. Specifically, according to the National Institutes of Health, cocaine prevents dopamine from being absorbed like it would naturally.
This leads to dopamine building up in your system and giving you a much bigger “pleasure” response than you’d regularly experience from, say, exercising. This means cocaine is basically set up to do one thing: make you want to do more cocaine.
Since we know the “high” you experience from cocaine is going to last anywhere between 5 and 30 minutes, we can assume that eventually your brain will want to feel what it perceived as “pleasure” again.
It’s not hard to see how this could quickly lead to dependence and/or addiction that requires cocaine rehab.
Going Through Cocaine Withdrawal
You could begin experiencing cocaine withdrawal quickly, maybe even on a regular basis. That’s because the euphoria it creates from overloading your brain on dopamine is an incredibly temporary feeling.
Part of being a human is discovering the things that feel good to us and seeking them out again. It’s a function deep within our DNA. We needed it to survive when we had to find food in the wilderness.
“Oh, that plant tastes good, I’ll eat it again,” or “Whoa, that plant tastes horrible, I won’t eat that again.” Our brains use their natural chemicals to reinforce both of these experiences. A strawberry may taste amazing and thus release dopamine (along with other chemicals) but the peel of a banana doesn’t.
Cocaine breaks this process by supplying your brain with an unhealthy amount of dopamine overall, but also in an incredibly short amount of time. Your body will know soon after your cocaine “high” ends that it’s not feeling like it did.
The Australian Department of Health lists three stages of cocaine withdrawal.
First, you experience what’s called the “crash.” Rapidly stopping cocaine use, especially heavy cocaine use, will bring this stage around quickly. It depends on how much cocaine someone is using, obviously.
If a person is snorting cocaine and experiencing a “high” of 30 minutes they may begin doing cocaine shortly after this. Reports show the “crash” can happen somewhere within an hour or a few days of stopping cocaine use.
A “crash” happens when the body has no cocaine and is, essentially, reacting to the brain trying to return to normal levels of dopamine.
Those normal levels don’t feel normal, though, due to the constant cocaine use. The “crash” brings with it several side effects including:
- feeling exhausted and tired in general
- hunger and an increased appetite in general
- occasionally depression or a general lack of motivation
One of the more confusing aspects of the “crash” is it can produce a lack of desire for cocaine. Because this can happen within hours or the first few days after using, it may feel like no more than an alcohol hangover at first.
The next stage will feel much worse, which is the full withdrawal phase.
This stage can last for 10 weeks. That’s a little longer than two months. The Australian Department of Health says the symptoms can include:
- disturbed sleep patterns and trouble sleeping in general
- decreased levels of concentration
- exhaustion and low energy levels in general
- the strong urge to consume more cocaine
Another study, this one by the U.S. National Libraries of Medicine, found significant effects on brain function during cocaine withdrawal. Specifically, the study found people had a hard time focusing and with memory.
The scientists also describe someone in cocaine withdrawal struggling with “verbal fluency” and “verbal memory.” This means someone struggling through cocaine withdrawal had difficulties with things like correctly saying the names of colors, animals, and remembering certain words for other objects.
The End Of Withdrawal
Sometimes called “extinction,” this is the last stage of cocaine withdrawal. It’s another daunting amount of time.
The last phase can last up to 28 weeks. That’s potentially around seven months of feeling occasional cravings to consume cocaine again. It can also come with a lack of motivation or slight depression.
It can be incredibly challenging for someone to move past cocaine withdrawal. If someone has become addicted to cocaine, stops consuming it, and has to go through potentially seven months of feeling the urge to use it again, they will be presented with a lot of challenges.
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One of the challenges to staying sober is external influence.
That’s a big part of what will influence the urges during the final stages of cocaine withdrawal and it’s a tough one. Maybe an object reminds you of cocaine, or even an emotion you had. Trying to move past these cues, to reframe your life in a way that cocaine isn’t featured, can be stressful, discouraging, and feel impossible.
So, how do people do it? How do they get past all those roadblocks and start moving freely again? Asking these questions is a big part of it. Another way is to possess the strength for change.
You have the strength. We know you do. If you’re in need of cocaine rehab, we have help.
Vertava Will Focus Your Strength To Recover
Your strength is one of our secret ingredients. It’s the thing you bring with you wherever you go. Sometimes you might have a hard time locating it, but we know it’s there. It helps you, and us, through detox and inpatient treatment, and is especially helpful with dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) one of our core treatment methods.
We’re here for you and we know you can make the hard decisions. You are resilient. Give us a call at (844) 551-7335 and we can chat about how your strength will power your recovery.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Until Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms Show?
Withdrawal symptoms can begin within hours or days of stopping cocaine use. It depends on how often and how much cocaine someone has been using.
How Long Do Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms Last?
Symptoms can last for a long time. Specifically, once active withdrawal starts—”stage two,” after the initial stage, sometimes called the “crash”—can last as long as 10 weeks, which is slightly longer than two months. The third stage, sometimes called “extinction,” where your body is moving toward fully recovering from cocaine, can last as long as 28 weeks. Overall this means your cocaine withdrawal symptoms could last as long as 38 weeks. There are 52 weeks in a year, so half of the year could potentially be spent with cocaine withdrawal.
What Signs and Symptoms Indicate Cocaine Withdrawal?
Early withdrawal signs can include irritability or grouchiness, increased and abnormal anxiety, a heightened appetite, and confusingly, a decreased urge to use cocaine. After that depression, strong urges to use cocaine, trouble sleeping, the inability to concentrate and/or remember things, and general disinterest in life may develop.