What to Expect from Cocaine Withdrawal

And How to Feel Better

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Cocaine withdrawal can make you tired. Peter Cade/Iconica/Getty Images

Cocaine is a drug that can seem non-addictive to some people the first few times they use it in small doses, and they may not be concerned that they will experience cocaine withdrawal symptoms. Some people find they can use a little as a stimulant on the weekend without feeling the need for more the next day. But if you have been using cocaine for a while, whether as a regular pattern, in binges, or if you have become dependent, you may want to know what to expect if you stop taking cocaine and go into cocaine withdrawal.

If you have become addicted to cocaine, you are likely to experience some withdrawal symptoms when you quit, but withdrawal can also happen after heavy use. The initial "crash" of cocaine withdrawal can vary in time and intensity, and can last from hours to days -- although in experimental conditions, cocaine withdrawal resolves within 24 hours, some users experience weeks or months of withdrawal symptoms, known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).

Everyone’s experience of cocaine withdrawal is different, but there are certain common features, which are outlined here.

One way of understanding why cocaine users experience withdrawal is that it is like taking out a loan of some good feelings while you are high, but then when it is time to repay the debt of those same feelings, you feel much worse during the "crash" of withdrawal. This is called a rebound effect and is part of your body’s way of maintaining homeostasis.

But the effects of withdrawal, although intense, are not permanent, and you can feel good again normally once you have paid off the debt.

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 high.

Mood Changes

Feeling depressed, anxious or irritable, also known as having a dysphoric mood, or more commonly, depression, is a normal part of cocaine withdrawal and is the debt for the euphoria you experienced during the cocaine high. Although these feelings are often intense during cocaine withdrawal, they tend to pass once the withdrawal stage is over.

Fatigue

Feeling very tired is a normal part of cocaine withdrawal. In addition to the exhaustion that you naturally feel after the stimulation, which is an effect of cocaine, you may have tired yourself out through lack of sleep and energetic activity while you were high on cocaine. Cocaine can mask the discomfort that you usually feel when you are overactive. This will worsen the feelings of tiredness as the effects of cocaine wear off.

  • Withdrawal Fatigue Tips

Sleep Problems

One of the frustrations that people can have during cocaine withdrawal is difficulty sleeping. 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).

Increased Appetite

Increased appetite is a recognized aspect of cocaine withdrawal, and may be exacerbated by not eating properly while you were high on cocaine. However, it is important to support your recovery through eating a healthy diet, and small, manageable amounts, rather than bingeing on huge amounts of unhealthy food.

Physical Slowing or Agitation

People going through cocaine withdrawal often experience a kind of physical slowing down, called psychomotor retardation, or conversely, they can feel physically agitated.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TR Fourth Edition (Text Revision). American Psychiatric Association. 2000.

Justice Institute of British Columbia. Substance Use/Misuse Certificate Program. Victoria, BC. 2001.

Walsh, S., Stoops, W., Moody, D., Lin, S., & Bigelow, G. "Repeated Dosing with Oral Cocaine in Humans: Assessment of Direct Effects, Withdrawal, and Pharmacokinetics." Exp Clin Psychopharmacol 17:205–216. 2009.

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