Deciding to detox from cocaine is the first step in healing an addiction to the drug. While the process of detoxing may be long, the benefits experienced when a person reclaims their life from their addiction will make the journey well worth it.

Since cocaine is highly addictive, detoxing from the drug is best when facilitated by professionals that can guide the user through this difficult time. Whether the user has been abusing cocaine for a short time or has been struggling with a long-term addiction, a team of professionals will know how best to handle each unique situation.

In this article, we will explore the cocaine detox timeline, cocaine addiction treatments, and the cocaine rehab process to get a better understanding of how a user can break free of their addiction.

What is Cocaine?

Before we jump into what it takes to detox from cocaine, we should first understand exactly what this drug is and why the user’s body has developed an addiction to it.

Cocaine is an addictive stimulant derived from the coca plant native to South America. While the coca plant had been used in ancient communities for thousands of years, a more modern adaption of the plant came in 1859.  Like many illicit drugs, the derivative created by German chemist Albert Niemann was originally intended to be used as a medical treatment.

By the early 1900s, it became clear that cocaine was a dangerous drug that was being used recreationally. In the 1970s, drug trafficking organizations permeated the U.S., bringing cocaine and violence with them.

In the United States alone, an estimated 1.5 million people over the age of 12 abuse cocaine every month. This has led to an influx of medical crises in hospitals around the country, with cocaine becoming involved in about 40% of drug-related emergency room visits. Illicit drugs also come with a risk of overdose, particularly when mixed with other, more deadly substances.

How Cocaine Affects the Body

This addictive substance affects the reward pathways of the brain called the mesolimbic dopamine system. Cocaine use disrupts this system’s normal function by binding to the dopamine transporter and postponing the removal of the chemical from the synapse, or the space between two neurons. Once dopamine builds up in the synapse, a feeling of euphoria is triggered by the release.

Over time, use of this drug actually changes the chemistry of the user’s brain. Prolonged use of cocaine affects the reward circuit of the brain. Since cocaine produces higher levels of dopamine, the user seeks more and more of the drug to achieve the same euphoric state originally experienced when using the drug. When an addicted user refrains from using the drug, he or she may exhibit withdrawal symptoms as the body is craving that high to function.

Cocaine Detox and Withdrawal

Before a person can overcome their addiction, they must first rid the body of abused substance. Detoxification describes the process of removing toxic substances from the body. During the detox, the user is bound to experience withdrawal symptoms.

While the detox can be attempted without assistance, inpatient and outpatient programs provide a multitude of benefits. Trained professionals are able to usher the user through their withdrawal symptoms and provide support during this physically painful and psychologically difficult experience. Cocaine abusers that decide to use these types of programs are generally more successful in breaking their habit.

The cocaine detox may also be accompanied by a variety of psychological withdrawal symptoms, such as depression, mood swings, and suicidal thoughts. Cocaine robs the brain of its normal dopamine activity, causing these severe symptoms at the beginning of the detox process. Those who struggle with mental health disorders, have experienced a relapse when detoxing in the past, or lack a supportive environment may consider inpatient programs during the initial phase of their detox. Professional programs help ensure that a user detoxes safely and doesn’t become a threat to themselves during this trying time.

Cocaine Detox Timeline

The length of time it takes for cocaine to leave a person’s system can vary depending on the severity of the addiction. The amount of time the drug has been used, the amount that is taken each dose, the purity of the drug, and the environment around the user all influence the how long it will take a person to detox from cocaine.

Generally, due to cocaine’s short half-life, the drug can leave a person’s system within 7 – 14 days. For those who have only been using for a short time, the withdrawal symptoms may only last a few days. More severe addictions could extend over a period of weeks and could warrant medical intervention when necessary.

Before the Detox

When a user decides to detox from cocaine, he or she should set themselves up for success by priming their environment for the process. Users should avoid people, places, and situations that may trigger their desire for the drug.

To curb the restlessness caused by cocaine withdrawal, the user should create a peaceful environment within the home. Whether it be with friends, family, or a group, the user should seek support during their detox.

Outpatient and inpatient programs should also be considered when beginning to detox from cocaine. As mentioned above, those with a history of drug abuse or psychological disorders, a tendency to relapse, and users who are unable to seek a healthy environment could greatly benefit from professional cocaine detox services.

Week 1 of Cocaine Detox

During the first week of detox, the harshest of the withdrawal symptoms will occur. Patients going through a medical detox may be prescribed medication if they experience particularly harsh withdrawal symptoms.

While there are no FDA-approved medications for cocaine withdrawal, there are drugs available that can help individuals get through their detox more comfortably. Medications such as gabapentin, modafinil, and topiramate are a few drugs that a doctor might prescribe to help restore a cocaine addicts normal brain function during their recovery.

Gabapentin is a drug used to prevent seizures, a typical side effect of severe cocaine withdrawal. Modafinil is prescribed to treat sleep disorders and combat fatigue. Topiramate is another drug that helps prevent seizures by calming the central nervous system.

The goal of these medications is to promote relief in the central nervous system during the detoxification process. Cocaine disrupts the brain’s production of neurotransmitters and sensitivity to dopamine is affected during the withdrawal phase. During a medical detox, drugs to help ease symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and muscle spasms may be prescribed. Typically, medication isn’t used as a long-term treatment, but rather as a way for patients to get through their detox safely.

1-3 Days of Detox

Cocaine’s short half-life means that some users experience withdrawal symptoms as soon as 90 minutes after their last dose. Because of this, one can expect the first few days of the cocaine detox to involve the most severe of the withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Irritability
  • Hunger
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of motivation

These symptoms can be expected to be severe enough to interfere with the user’s daily life. The first few days are uncomfortable at best and painful at worst. Disturbed sleep may also be accompanied by nightmares and strange dreams.

The person experiencing a detox should always seek support during the first week or more of their withdrawal. Not only will someone be able to monitor their health and behavior, but a supportive friend, family member, or professional can remind them that they are stronger than their addiction.

4-7 Days of Detox

Due to cocaine’s manipulation of the neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood, the first week of detox is likely to be plagued with extreme emotions. The user’s brain has become accustomed to the influx of dopamine and now requires those levels to feel the same amount of satisfaction. So, as the brain begins to slowly regain its normal function, the addict is likely to experience mood swings, apathy, and intense cravings for the drug.

Symptoms during this time often include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Exhaustion
  • Paranoia
  • Restlessness
  • Tremors
  • Muscle spasms
  • Anhedonia
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

Though the symptoms experienced by individuals vary based on the criteria we have discussed, such as length of use and average dosage amount, these emotional and physical disorders are very common during cocaine detox. During this time, the user can expect periodic cravings that range from mild to extreme. These cravings may cause the addict to seek out the drug, which is why continuous support is essential during this period.

Depression may be accompanied by feelings of dissatisfaction with life or suicidal thoughts. When suicidal thoughts or actions become persistent, the user or a concerned loved one may need to call a medical professional to help them through the transition away from their addiction. If the user becomes a threat to themselves or others, the proper authorities should be contacted as soon as possible.

Luckily, cocaine withdrawal doesn’t cause the same physiological dependence that substances such as alcohol or opioids cause, meaning a cocaine detox is not lethal. However, for users that have abused alcohol in conjunction with cocaine may be at risk of cardiac issues during withdrawal. Seizures may also occur in some users during cocaine detox.

Week 2 of Cocaine Detox

The good news is that the withdrawal symptoms typically become easier in the second week of the detox process. While symptoms of depression, anxiety, and apathy may persist, they will likely begin to improve during this time. If severe symptoms continue to occur multiple weeks after stopping the use of cocaine, a medical professional should be contacted.

Like with many addictions, cocaine detoxification may be best accompanied by therapy. This may include individual talk therapy, group classes that offer a supportive environment, or family counseling to help guide loved ones through this difficult experience.

Talk therapy can help the addict identify the root cause of their addictive behavior and empower the former user with the strength to overcome their drug habit. A therapy that many professional recovery organizations might employ is cognitive behavioral therapy. Not only does cognitive behavioral therapy have an incredibly successful track record, this type of talk therapy is an excellent long-term solution to help addicts recover from their destructive behavior.

In cognitive behavioral therapy sessions, a professional will help the patient recognize negative patterns of thinking or behavior that may be adding to his or her addiction. This type of therapy may also be helpful as a former cocaine user experiences prolonged withdrawal symptoms, like depression or anxiety.

Group therapy sessions, like narcotics anonymous, are also heavily suggested during cocaine detox. Under the supervision of a trained professional, recovering addicts will meet to discuss difficulties, successes, and coping skills as they navigate through their healing process. This environment allows patients to connect with others with similar experiences and build relationships that keep them accountable for their actions. There are multiple kinds of group therapy classes, including cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and coping skills group classes.

The Road to Recovery

While cocaine detox can be successfully achieved in as little as 10 days, choosing to abstain from the drug is a continuous decision that an individual makes for the rest of his or her life. Former cocaine users should avoid environments and activities that tempt them to use cocaine or any other illicit drug.

Cocaine use can also affect the parts of the brain that respond to stress. There are overlaps in the way that the drugs interact with the reward receptors and stress circuits of the brain. Research suggests that cocaine helps numb stress hormones, causing the user to crave the drug in stressful situations even after detoxification has been completed. Because of this, users should be mindful when dealing with stressors that might trigger cravings.

For some users, talk therapy may be useful for months, even years, after their initial detox. This habit will help former cocaine addicts refrain from relapse and provide a support system that has their best interests in mind.

Choosing to break an addiction to cocaine and detox from the drug is an important first step in the recovery process and should be celebrated. If you or someone you know could use professional assistance during recovery, you are encouraged to reach out to us.