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Crack Cocaine Withdrawal And Detoxification

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

March 18, 2019

After using cocaine regularly for extended periods of time, a person will likely experience withdrawal symptoms when use is stopped. Withdrawal occurs during the body’s natural detoxification process during which the body rids itself of harmful toxins when the person is no longer taking the drug.

It’s possible the crack/cocaine withdrawal and detoxification process may occur while a person still has crack/cocaine in their system. Symptoms of withdrawal often happen as soon as the effects of the drug wear off.

Due to the addictiveness of crack/cocaine, regular use is likely to lead to psychological dependence. Using crack/cocaine changes the way a person’s brain works, and stopping use of the drug removes the happy chemicals the brain has come to rely on, potentially causing mental health issues like anxiety and paranoia.

When a person is no longer using cocaine, the detoxification process can be unpleasant, uncomfortable, and depressing. Cravings for crack/cocaine may persist long after stopping use of the drug.

It’s during this stage when people may turn to more crack/cocaine, or other substances like alcohol and prescription medications, in an attempt to self-medicate their symptoms of withdrawal. This is dangerous because it may shift one drug addiction to another, and also increase the health risks associated with combining various substances.

The withdrawal and detoxification process may cause a person to experience emotional lows due to what is happening in their brain.

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Crack/Cocaine And The Brain

Using cocaine is likely to cause long-lasting changes in a person’s brain. Numerous scientific studies show how crack/cocaine use changes reward pathways in brains. The chemical found in these pathways is called dopamine, which affects pleasure and movement.

This means when a person uses cocaine, they feel pleasure. Consistent use of cocaine changes the brain to expect more and more after long-term use. If the brain doesn’t get cocaine, the dopamine or pleasure pathways are blocked, and the person feels little to no pleasure at all.

When the brain doesn’t communicate pleasure, the process of crack/cocaine withdrawal and detoxification can be emotionally difficult for a person. During this time, the person is neurobiologically dependent on cocaine.

Prolonged crack/cocaine use also affects the brain’s pathways which cause stress. This makes stressful situations much harder without using cocaine, and stress is likely to cause relapse after or during the crack/cocaine withdrawal and detoxification process.

Abstaining, or continuing to stop use, can be an emotional burden on an individual and their loved ones after withdrawal symptoms kick in.

Crack/Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms

As soon as a person with a psychological dependence stops using crack/cocaine, a nearly immediate crash is likely to follow. During this crash, the person will experience intense cravings to use more crack/cocaine.

Certain symptoms are likely to onset very early in the crack/cocaine withdrawal and detoxification process. These symptoms may include:

  • anxiety
  • intense paranoia or suspicion
  • irritability
  • lack of pleasure
  • sleepiness

Because the effects of a crack/cocaine high are short-lived, these early withdrawal symptoms are likely to occur not long after the last use. This is one reason people continually crave cocaine while they’re still actively using it.

Crack/cocaine withdrawal doesn’t generally involve observable and physical symptoms, like vomiting or shaking. Most of the withdrawal symptoms take place on a deep psychological level, making it difficult to abstain from further use.

Other withdrawal symptoms are likely to include:

  • agitation
  • continual feeling of discomfort
  • depression
  • drug cravings
  • fatigue
  • increased appetite
  • insomnia
  • restless behavior
  • slowed thinking
  • unpleasant dreams

Withdrawal symptoms, especially cravings and depression, are likely to last for months. Cravings for crack/cocaine will likely be intense, yet achieving the high or euphoric effect caused by cocaine will require more and more of the drug.

During withdrawal, the high will produce less pleasure and euphoria and may instead lead to feelings of fear, suspicion, and paranoia. For some people, withdrawal symptoms can be so intense they may produce thoughts or feelings of suicide.

The persistence of intense psychological symptoms makes the process of crack/cocaine withdrawal and detoxification very hard for a person to endure without help or treatment.

Treatment For Crack/Cocaine Addiction

While the symptoms of withdrawal may disappear over time, people with a history of heavy cocaine use or other substance use disorders may need extra care during recovery.

One treatment method is called medically-supervised detoxification. This takes place in a medical facility or inpatient treatment center. A medically-supervised detox program allows medical staff to carefully monitor a person’s health and mental well-being during the crack/cocaine withdrawal and detoxification process.

Staff may also administer medications to help ease with the pain and discomfort of withdrawal, but there are currently no government-approved medications for the specific treatment of cocaine withdrawal or addiction.

For people with a severe addiction to crack/cocaine, a stay at an inpatient treatment center is likely the best course of action. During the process of crack/cocaine withdrawal and detoxification, close observation and care can help a person deal with the anxiety and depression caused by withdrawal.

Behavioral therapy is also crucial to overcoming the disease of addiction. Therapy is likely to help with a crack/cocaine addiction because it aims to change a person’s thoughts and attitudes towards drugs.

Call now to find the right treatment for crack/cocaine addiction.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - DrugFacts: Cocaine

National Institute on Drug Abuse - How is cocaine addiction treated?

National Institute on Drug Abuse - What are some ways that cocaine changes the brain?

U.S. National Library of Medicine - Cocaine Withdrawal

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