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Cocaine Relapse and Prevention

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

Medically reviewed by

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

January 23, 2019

Cocaine is a highly addictive drug, making relapse not only possible but common for those in recovery. Staying diligent after treatment and following a clear plan of recovery can help prevent cocaine relapse.

Cocaine is a powerful psychostimulant with effects that can be felt almost instantly upon taking. This drug produces intense feelings of euphoria, energy, and motivation and works directly on the brain’s reward system.

Because of these reasons, cocaine is highly addictive. People who only use cocaine once are even at risk of developing an addiction to the drug. Cocaine addiction can be incredibly dangerous and have a number of negative effects of an individual’s health.

Luckily, help is possible when it comes to overcoming an addiction to cocaine. However, because of the highly addictive nature of the drug, many people relapse on cocaine due to the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings.

What Is A Cocaine Relapse?

A cocaine relapse is when a person returns to using the drug after being sober for a period of time. While relapse does not mean that a person has failed at recovery, it can put some at risk for the potentially dangerous side effects of the drug.

A cocaine relapse is not rare and in some circles is even seen as part of the recovery process. Addiction is a chronic condition and can impact an individual for the rest of his or her life. As such, drug addiction treatment should be treated as a life-long process regardless of relapses.

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Why Does Cocaine Relapse Happen?

Cocaine is a highly addictive substance, making relapse that much more common for people who have an addiction to the drug. According to a study, roughly 24 percent of people return to using cocaine on a regular basis within a year of getting sober. Eighteen percent of those individuals will re-enter a treatment program.

There are numerous reasons why someone may relapse on cocaine, and each situation will be different for each person.

Some of the most common triggers for a cocaine relapse include:

  • stress
  • symptoms of withdrawal
  • dealing with uncomfortable emotions
  • isolation
  • overconfidence (e.g. thinking that the addiction is gone or overcome)
  • unhealthy or failed relationships
  • neglected self-care
  • hanging out in old places where cocaine use took place
  • hanging out with old friends who use cocaine

These are just a few of the many triggers that can lead to cocaine relapse.

What Are The Warning Signs Of A Cocaine Relapse?

Many people with an addiction to cocaine used the drug as a coping mechanism to deal with life situations and uncomfortable emotions. When these situations or emotions arise in sobriety, some people may feel that their only choice is to use the drug to cope.

A relapse typically begins several days or weeks before the person actually returns to using the drug. There are many warning signs that someone may be at risk for a cocaine relapse. If action is not taken, the individual could end up using cocaine again.

Warning signs of a cocaine relapse may include:

  • isolating from others who are in recovery as well as friends and family
  • engaging in pre-recovery behavior
  • lying
  • discontinuing aftercare programs such as therapy and 12-step meetings
  • ineffectively dealing with stress
  • intense cravings for cocaine
  • impulsive behavior
  • hanging out in places where drug use previously took place
  • romanticizing the use of cocaine
  • planning a relapse

Additionally, it is believed that relapse happens in stages. These stages include emotional relapse, mental relapse, and physical relapse.

Emotional relapse is defined by experiencing emotions or to engage in behaviors that may result in a relapse in the future. Emotional relapse symptoms may include mood swings, isolation, and irritability.

Mental relapse is when the person has begun to think about using cocaine but has not actually done so. Symptoms of mental relapse include glamorizing past use of cocaine, hanging out with old drug-using friends or in places where drug use takes place, and planning a relapse.

Physical relapse is the actual act of using cocaine. Going through the three stages of relapse can happen over the course of a few days to several months. It’s important to be aware of one’s thoughts and emotions surrounding using cocaine so that when a mental or emotional relapse occurs, actions can be taken to prevent a physical relapse.

Steps To Take After A Cocaine Relapse

Cocaine relapse does not mean that the person has to return to a life of drug abuse and addiction. Relapsing on cocaine also does not mean that the person is a failure. It simply means that changes in the individual’s plan of recovery may need to be made.

Re-engaging with the previous program of recovery, such as 12-step groups, can help a person get back on track after a relapse.

Other steps someone can take after a relapse include:

  • being aware of any negative thinking or further plans to abuse cocaine and talking to someone about them
  • remembering why cocaine was given up in the first place
  • forgiving oneself and not dwelling on the relapse
  • getting the help of a supportive person like a sponsor
  • attending counseling
  • creating a new relapse prevention plan

Getting Treatment For A Cocaine Relapse

Depending on the severity of a person’s addiction and relapse, it may be best for them to re-attend a formal treatment program. Speaking with a loved one and support system can help determine the best course of action.

Formal treatment, such as an inpatient treatment program, can help to get someone back on their feet in recovery and help to uncover the reasons they relapsed. This allows people to set up barriers through a relapse prevention plan for the future.

To learn more about cocaine relapse and relapse prevention, contact our treatment specialists today.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (2016) - What is the Scope of Cocaine Use in the United States?

Arch Gen Psychiatry - A national evaluation of treatment outcomes for cocaine dependence.

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