Learn about 8 dangerous cocaine withdrawal symptoms. Knowing the signs of cocaine withdrawal can show a potential drug abuse problem
Cocaine is an extremely dangerous drug as it is highly addictive. In 2011, 16.3% of adults in the US have used cocaine in their lifetime. As a powerful stimulant, it has life-threatening effects on the human body. Withdrawal symptoms when stopping cocaine use can cause you or a loved one to lapse back into taking the drug, or they can serve as indicators that someone is addicted to cocaine and may need drug rehab. Here are some of the signs to watch for in yourself or others. You should seek immediate help if more than three of these symptoms appear at once or if you notice suspicious behavior in someone you know.
1) Depression and Suicidal Thoughts
Cocaine is a stimulant that induces feelings of euphoria and happiness in the user by activating the pleasure centers in the brain and increasing the effects of hormones such as oxytocin and dopamine. Eventually, you become dependent on the drug to keep a normal mental state, and even when the drug is present it may cause feelings of paranoia or anger as you build up tolerance. During periods of cocaine withdrawal, the user is depressed and in extreme cases may have suicidal thoughts because of the lack of pleasure hormones. This is one of the most dangerous cocaine withdrawal symptoms, and is a reason people attempting to quit using cocaine should be placed in inpatient rehab for at least the detox period. Depression usually sets in approximately four days after last use, but this does vary. It can be expected to last a week. Learn more about the symptoms of depression that can affect you or a loved one.
Paranoia is another common symptom of cocaine withdrawal. People who are paranoid may have irrational fears and suspect that others are out to cause them harm. This is similar to the way that methamphetamines affect the brain. When dealing with someone in the grip of paranoia, it’s important not to be defensive or play along with their delusions. In extreme cases of paranoia, the person may also become psychotic verging on violent. Hallucinations may occur; if so, try to gently talk the person down while maintaining a nonthreatening distance to prevent the person from feeling trapped or on the defensive.
3) Excessive Sleeping
From about eight hours to four days after the last cocaine use, hypersomnolence, or extreme sleepiness, is likely to occur. Although this in itself isn’t a danger, it can be if driving or operating heavy machinery. Some people report having nightmares or unsettling and traumatic dreams. When awake, feelings of lethargy are prevalent, which can go hand in hand with the depression or even compound it. Sometimes, the sleeping is used as a defense mechanism, or may be passed off as an illness rather than cocaine withdrawal, especially if it’s the first such experience.
4) Impaired Motor Function
Gross and fine motor functions will deteriorate during the withdrawal phase, because the neural pathways will have been affected by the recent presence of cocaine. Usually, this manifests as agitation such as twitching or restless movement, possibly due to paranoia. It can also cause psychomotor retardation, or the slowing down of the nervous system and muscles. This makes it hard to perform complex motor tasks or results in lack of coordination and the inability to react to stimuli in a timely manner. This is why it is very important for someone who is withdrawing from cocaine, and who is not in a treatment center, to not drive or undertake complex or dangerous work.
5) Increased Appetite
Because cocaine is a stimulant, it causes the body to produce adrenaline, which in turn reduces appetite. Therefore, when cocaine isn’t present in the body of an addict, appetite is restored and the person may begin to eat more, often in extreme amounts. Eating too much can cause sickness, discomfort, and indigestion. During the first stage of withdrawal, the phase called “the munchies” often occurs alongside sleeping problems. Although increased appetite isn’t inherently a danger, it’s important that the person eat healthy foods to keep blood sugar levels within a safe range, which also helps to stabilize mood.
6) Cognitive Impairment
Stimulants such as cocaine temporarily increase the ability to focus and solve problems because of increased oxygen to the brain and adrenaline in the bloodstream. When withdrawing, mental function slows down because of the rebound effect associated with drugs. In particular, a person may find it more difficult to speak clearly or think of the right words to use. This is partially due to the deterioration of semantic networks in the brain that control speech. If you notice someone has trouble focusing, seems fatigued, or has difficulty speaking properly, it may be a sign of cocaine withdrawal.
7) Abuse of Medication
One of the less obvious cocaine withdrawal symptoms is the use of painkillers, whether they are over-the-counter or prescription medications. Cocaine withdrawal often causes severe muscle aches, shaking, and sickness. The use of painkillers produces a new sense of euphoria that cocaine may not provide any longer. Also, the painkillers make withdrawal easier to cope with. Muscle relaxants, benzodiazepines, and other types of prescription medications are commonly used. However, without proper monitoring, a person may accidentally overdose and need hospitalization. If you find someone who has overdosed, never induce vomiting, and have the medication on hand when you call your local Poison Control Center. Learn more about the signs of prescription drug abuse.
As with any addictive drug, cocaine creates a physical and psychological dependency, leading the person to crave another hit to restore their perceived normal functioning. These intense cravings make it virtually impossible to quit cocaine without outside help. The most successful way to withdraw from cocaine use is to completely remove all association with the drug, including friends or family who may have accidentally or knowingly enabled the habit. Inpatient rehab is the best way to deal with cocaine withdrawal symptoms, because it’s possible to remain under restriction while the body naturally acclimates to its normal state again. Psychotherapy can then begin.
If you or a loved one needs to visit a rehab treatment center, you should read our guide to drug and alcohol rehab insurance.