My cocaine abuse history was somewhat unusual in that it wasn’t my drug of choice. I wasn’t Tony Montana, as much as I’d like to think I was. Cocaine complimented every other drug I consumed. Not to say I used cocaine casually. I binged to ward off hangovers or smooth the transition from one drug to another.
With cocaine, the party lasted longer. I could drink for 12 or 14-hour blocks without puking or blacking out – a problem that had begun to plague my drinking. No matter where the night started, I knew how it would end. After last call at the bar, a group of us took the party to someone’s coffee table. This after party went on for hours until the blow was no more.
Cocaine acted as a supplement and less like a drug from my addicted perspective. As a result, cocaine use didn’t get acknowledged as quickly as other drugs once I got sober. Fortunately, I came to realize how a failure to accept my white powder problem jeopardized any chance for long-term abstinence.
Without the tools I learned to stay sober from alcohol and other drugs, my logic could have justified cocaine as something I had control over. But an alcoholic and drug addict doesn’t take substances like normal people. The moderation gene skipped over us. It took time, yet I finally realized that cocaine, my beloved drinking buddy, wasn’t something I could ever use successfully. It is my opinion that unless you concede without reservation that you cannot use any substance successfully, sobriety won’t last.
I’d been through alcohol and cocaine withdrawals many times. I can’t stress the importance of professional help. I have never had quality sobriety without engaging in some form of residential treatment (for me outpatient does not qualify as treatment unless complemented by a period of time in an inpatient cocaine treatment program).
Think of getting high on cocaine as taking out a loan – you get an advance on some good feelings while you are high, but then you are saddled with the debt of those same feelings during the “crash” of withdrawal. This is called a rebound effect, part of your body’s way of maintaining homeostasis. Once you have paid off the “debt,” you can feel good again naturally.
Cocaine Cravings: Most people who are withdrawing from cocaine experience a strong desire to take more cocaine. This is known as experiencing cravings, and cravings are common among people withdrawing from many addictive substances. Part of the craving is driven by the wish to reduce the symptoms of cocaine withdrawal, and part of it is the desire to re-experience the pleasure of the cocaine rush.
Mood Changes: Feeling depressed, anxious or irritable, also known as having a dysphonic mood, is a normal part of cocaine withdrawal. It is the debt for the euphoria you experienced during the cocaine high. Although these feelings are often intense during acute withdrawal, they tend to pass once the initial acute withdrawal phase is over.
Fatigue: Feeling very tired is a normal part of cocaine withdrawal. You may have tired yourself out through lack of sleep and energetic activity while you were high on cocaine, which will worsen the feelings of fatigue as the effects of cocaine wear off.
Sleep Problems: Despite the tiredness you are probably feeling, cocaine withdrawal often causes sleep problems, such as vivid and unpleasant dreams, insomnia (having trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep), or hypersomnia (too much sleep).
Depression: Using cocaine depletes your brain’s supply of “feel good” chemicals. After using cocaine, most people experience a “crash”. This refers to a period of intense depression brought about by the absence of feel good chemicals in the brain, like endorphins.
- Cravings do not last forever. They come in waves – first they build up, then they reach a peak, then they subside. Ride out the wave rather than giving in to the craving. It will pass.
- Keeping busy to distract yourself from the cravings can be helpful by focusing your attention away from the desire to use.
- Exercise is one of the easiest ways to reduce cravings. It releases endorphins, which make you feel better, and it changes your bodily sensations, making it easier to distract your attention away from triggers and cravings. Start gently, particularly if you have fatigue and/or muscle weakness. Avoid a substitute exercise addiction by keeping your daily exercise under two hours.
If you have been using cocaine for awhile, whether in binges, on the weekends or regularly (dependent), you may want to know what to do if you stop taking cocaine and go into cocaine withdrawal.
First, you will probably experience some withdrawal symptoms when you quit, especially if you are dependent, but withdrawal can also happen after period(s) of heavy use. The initial “crash” of cocaine withdrawal can vary in time and intensity, and can last from hours to days.
In experimental stages of addiction, cocaine withdrawal resolves within 24 hours. Those who graduated from experimental use to full-blown addiction may experience Post-Acute Withdraw Syndrome (PAWS).
PAWS occurs after an initial stage of acute withdrawal. The person may endure several days of general uneasiness, heightened anxiety and difficulty sleeping. This syndrome usually decreases in severity with time. It is virtually impossible to predict whether a cocaine abuser will display post-acute withdrawal symptoms. Contributing factors include age, frequency of use, duration of use and amount of time sober.
PAWS: Acute withdrawal symptoms usually subside after a few days of abstinence and are well-managed in medical detox. However, minor withdrawal symptoms can last much longer, a condition known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome can last weeks, months or even years after quitting cocaine and other drugs.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome tips
- Talk honestly about your feelings with an understanding (non-using) friend or therapist.
- Learn about your addiction – this can put your post-acute withdrawal syndrome into perspective.
- Explore spirituality… Don’t be scared off by this word! Spirituality varies greatly from person to person and is only defined by what you’re comfortable with. Also, don’t underestimate the power and effectiveness of a spiritual discipline in assisting with mental turmoil. Mindfulness meditation is a phenomenal tool in combating both acute and post-acute withdrawal symptoms.
- Work towards moderation and balance in all areas of your life. Many people with substance abuse problems cling to a side addiction after they become abstinent. I’ve seen people sober up and develop problems with pornography and sex, compulsive eating, etc. It’s important to start cultivating healthy lifestyle practices after sobriety. Eat right, exercise, meditate and participate in a program of recovery. If necessary, find support fellowships for side addictions if you start to develop a problem.
- If possible, prepare for withdrawal depression by thinking of some non-narcotic ways of cheering yourself up. Supportive people, low-key entertainment such as a favorite comedy movie, and good self-care practices can ease this unhappy time.
- Remember, withdrawal depression is temporary, and only lasts for the first few days after you stop taking the drug. If your mood changes are severe, last longer than your other withdrawal symptoms, or include thoughts of harming yourself, or suicide, seek support immediately.
- You may be experiencing substance-induced mood disorder, or you may have had a pre-existing mood disorder which was masked by your drug use. Either way, your doctor or qualified medical professional can help get you proper treatment.