Cocaine Detox: How it Works and What to Expect

Cocaine is one of the hardest drugs to quit due to intense cravings and a deep depression that can set in when use stops. A cocaine detox program is monitored by medical professionals who administer medications to reduce the intensity of cocaine withdrawal symptoms and improve feelings of wellbeing during the withdrawal process. Cocaine detox through a high-quality treatment program dramatically reduces the risk of relapse during withdrawal and is the start to addiction treatment.

What is Cocaine Dependence?

Medical detox treats dependence, which is characterized by withdrawal symptoms that set in when you stop using cocaine. Dependence is different from addiction, which is characterized by compulsive cocaine abuse despite the negative consequences it causes.

Dependence is a physical reliance on cocaine that develops as a result of heavy abuse. Cocaine affects the function of a variety of brain chemicals, including dopamine, the neurotransmitter that produces feelings of pleasure. When you chronically abuse cocaine, the brain reduces the activity of dopamine to compensate for the presence of the drug and normalize brain function.

This produces tolerance, which means you need increasingly larger amounts of cocaine to get the desired effects. But as you use more, neurotransmitter function continues to shift until the brain begins to function more “normally” when cocaine is present than when it isn’t. When you suddenly stop using cocaine, normal neurotransmitter function quickly rebounds, flooding the brain with some chemicals and slowing the activity of others, which causes physical withdrawal symptoms to set in.

What are Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms?

During detox, cocaine is withheld from the body so that brain function can begin to return to normal. Cocaine withdrawal isn’t particularly dangerous, but it can be extremely uncomfortable. That’s why most people who try to detox on their own will relapse very quickly, if only to end withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting cocaine include:
  • Agitation and restlessness
  • Deep depression
  • Fatigue
  • Vivid nightmares
  • Intense cravings
  • Sleep problems
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a combination of medication and counseling offers the best outcomes of detox and treatment. 1 While no medications have been approved specifically to treat cocaine dependence, withdrawal symptoms can be treated with a number of medications, including:
  • Amantadine or bromocriptine to ease cravings, improve sleep patterns and increase energy levels
  • Diazepam to reduce irritability and agitation
  • Antidepressants to reduce depression
Several medications are in currently development to reduce the intensity of cocaine cravings specifically, which, along with depression, can last for weeks or months after quitting.

What to Expect in Cocaine Detox

How long detox lasts depends on the severity of the dependence. Many detox programs offer a variety of complementary therapies to help increase comfort during detox. Restorative yoga, acupuncture and massage are commonly used in detox to reduce stress, promote feelings of calm and wellbeing and help increase retention in detox.

There’s plenty of time for rest, relaxation and reflection during detox, but the detox process also involves a variety of assessments and therapies. Assessments help your team of providers determine the severity of your addiction and dependence and identify the problems it has caused in your life. Assessments are used to develop an individualized addiction treatment plan, which will address your multiple needs and issues and help you restore your life and recover for the long-term.

Therapies used in detox help you develop relapse prevention techniques and address pressing issues that need immediate attention. Motivational interviewing is a therapy commonly used in detox to help you identify your own reasons for wanting to quit. Therapy helps to engage you in treatment and build your intrinsic motivation to stay sober.

What Happens After Cocaine Detox?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) stresses that medical detox is not addiction treatment. 2 It only addresses the physical dependence on cocaine and does little to address the compulsive drug use. Addiction almost always has underlying issues, often including mental illnesses like anxiety and depression; a history of trauma; or chronic stress. Getting to the bottom of these issues and restoring function and joy to your life is the central goal of treatment.

If you’re ready to quit cocaine once and for all, medical detox helps by easing you through withdrawal comfortably and getting you engaged in an addiction treatment program. Willpower and good intentions are rarely enough to help you end an addiction for the long term, according to NIDA. 3 Professional help is almost always needed, and a high quality program can help you restore your life and improve your happiness and wellbeing for a healthier, brighter future.