For many addicts, the withdrawal from the drug is worse than the addiction, and for cocaine addicts, the worst of the withdrawal is the intense cravings that come soon after their last high. While it may feel like the world is coming to an end, withdrawal from cocaine is not fatal, just very unpleasant.
For the purpose of discussing cocaine withdrawal, we will define addiction as the intense desire for more drug, even when that brings negative consequences. It’s the inability of the user to stop using. We will center on the withdrawal itself, not the negative physical consequences of using the drug.
Treatment centers are helpful
Drug treatment centers can help addicts along in the process by taking them through detoxification, a medical procedure that removes the drug from the body. The problem for cocaine users is their desire for the high is at times overwhelming. These “cravings” can last for months. One addict, who had been in and out of treatment for years, said he feared the cravings more than the thought of being an addict.
Come down VERY quickly
Cocaine gives the user a sense of euphoria, a very pleasurable high, but if the person stops using he/she will come down quickly. Cocaine users are always “chasing the high” and they crave the euphoria of that early experience. They enjoy the “alert” feeling, the energy and the “top of the world” feeling.
However, as users take more and more drug, trying to achieve the same high, their experience of the drug may not be pleasant at all. There are no physical signs of cocaine withdrawal, unlike the shakes and vomiting that accompany heroin or alcohol withdrawal.
However, cocaine users can experience psychological problems, such as anxiety, suspicion, irritability and agitation. Withdrawal from cocaine is every bit as intense as that of other drugs, despite the lack of physical symptoms
Can be dangerous
One of the problems with cocaine withdrawal that is “unseen” is the danger that people can actually become suicidal because they can’t get the drug, or if they do go through treatment, they get back out on the street after detoxification and go back to using the same amount of coke they did before, risking overdose. That can lead to cardiac arrest, seizures, respiratory failure and other serious bodily damage.
Cocaine addicts can become depressed, as their way of coping with the world had been to use the drug to achieve their balance in life.
Medications can help
The treatment for withdrawal should begin with a physical examination by a doctor. Users can start with the least restrictive option, out-patient, and move onto more restrictive plans if needed. There is research that suggests that outpatient treatment can be just as effective as in-patient, but that is most likely due to the fact that there is no known “cure” for the cravings that cocaine addicts experience.
There are medications, such as amantadine, or bromocriptine that are given to help the cravings of the most seriously addicted patients, but these merely help to increase energy or normalize sleeping patterns more than reduce cravings.
Another hidden aspect of cocaine withdrawal is the fact that at least half the people who are addicted to cocaine have some other form of mental illness going on. Depression is common in cocaine addicts, as is attention-deficit disorder (ADD).
In treating the withdrawal, medical professionals who recognize the co-occurring disorders can more effectively treat the withdrawal.
Also, cocaine users will often turn to alcohol, sedatives or anti-anxiety medications when they are coming down off a high and do not have cocaine to satisfy their desires. This self-medicating approach to withdrawal is the wrong approach and potentially very dangerous. In effect, the addict is just going from one drug to another.
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Dr. Al Wilson discusses Motivational Interviewing as a way to help an addict decide to quit using, this week on Recovery Now!