Cocaine Withdrawal

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Due to the intense feelings of joy and energy that are experienced when a person takes this popular drug, cocaine is extremely addictive.

When an individual attempts to stop abusing cocaine, however, he or she suffers from cocaine withdrawal symptoms.

Some of these withdrawal symptoms such as depression, craving, and displeasure, are as excessive and strong as the withdrawals experienced with any other drug.

Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant that directly affects the brain. Cocaine elicits a sense of intense joy, euphoria, and quick energy that is caused by the brain's releasing of higher than normal amounts of certain biochemicals such as dopamine and serotonin.

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Since, however, cocaine also interferes with the re-absorption of dopamine, if the person is to again experience the desired "high," he or she needs to take more cocaine.

Cocaine addiction can occur very rapidly and can be extremely difficult to overcome. This fact points to at least one major difference between alcohol abuse and drug abuse: it usually takes significantly longer to become dependent on alcohol than on drugs such as cocaine.

Cocaine and Psychological Addiction

Regular use of cocaine can lead to strong psychological addiction. Psychological addiction occurs when a person starts to rely on drugs in order to experience "good feelings" such as self-esteem, and freedom from anxiety, self-confidence, and relaxation.

Individuals who suddenly stop taking cocaine usually experience cocaine withdrawal symptoms as their brain and body attempts to readjust to functioning without the drug.

The length and intensity of cocaine withdrawal depends on the amount that is taken and the frequency of use. Since no two people are identically alike, cocaine withdrawal also varies from person to person.

Cocaine and Physical Addiction

According to some research scientists, cocaine is also physically addictive. Physical addiction occurs when an individual needs drugs in order for their body to function normally. If the drug is not taken, unpleasant and painful withdrawal symptoms typically take place.

What complicates the entire issue, however, is that according to the vast majority of users, the only way to avoid the withdrawal symptoms is to take more cocaine.

While this "quick fix" may appear to be promising in the beginning, increased tolerance and dangerous life choices usually follow repeated cocaine use.

Indeed, cocaine addicts have been known to go to great lengths to get and take cocaine in spite of the fact that it hurts their job or school performance and typically disrupts or destroys their most significant relationships.

The Brain and Cocaine Addiction

Unlike alcohol or heroin, which are known to produce severe physical withdrawal symptoms when heavy users abruptly stop their use, the physical withdrawal symptoms experienced by most cocaine addicts are usually less excessive.

In fact, unlike the physical addiction and the corresponding strong withdrawal symptoms experienced by heroin or alcohol addicts when they stop using their respective drug, the physical addiction to cocaine essentially takes place in the brain. With repeated use, the brain becomes addicted to cocaine.

To understand why discontinuing cocaine use leads to agitation and other unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, it is necessary to briefly discuss the relationship between dopamine and cocaine.

Dopamine is one of the brain's natural "pleasure" neurochemicals. Cocaine abuse interferes with the re-absorption of dopamine, thus leading to a surplus of dopamine in the brain.

Since, however, the overall synthesis of this dopamine by the neurons is reduced by cocaine use, the cocaine abuser experiences depression, fatigue, and altered moods because of lowered levels of "usable" dopamine in the brain.

Essentially, this dopamine shortage results in feelings of agitation and anxiety and makes a person feel miserable.

The "solution," all too frequently, is to simply take more cocaine. It is this vicious cycle that can escalate and lead to out-of-control behavior that can and does result in severe mental and physical health problems and possibly in death.

Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms

When cocaine use is suddenly stopped, a "crash" follows almost instantaneously that is characterized by an intense craving for more cocaine.

Although cocaine withdrawal does not typically have visible physical symptoms like "the shakes" and vomiting that are common with heroin or alcohol withdrawal, the level of depression, lack of pleasure, and craving caused by cocaine withdrawal equals or surpasses what is experienced with most other withdrawal symptoms.

The good news is that cocaine withdrawal symptoms can disappear completely over time. The bad news, however, is twofold. First, if the abuse has been chronic, various symptoms such as depression and craving can actually last for months.

And second, the research literature points out that many people who experience cocaine withdrawal frequently try to self-medicate themselves with anti anxiety medications (such as valium), sedatives, alcohol, or hypnotics.

Obviously, self-medication is ill advised mainly because each "new" addiction results in a shift from one substance to another.

Moreover, since at least 50% of the individuals who are addicted to cocaine have a co-existing mental disorders such as attention-deficit disorder or depression, these latter conditions must be addressed and treated along with the person's cocaine addiction.

Common Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms

The following represents a list of common cocaine withdrawal symptoms:

  • Fatigue

  • Depression

  • Lack of pleasure

  • Generalized malaise

  • Anxiety

  • Vivid and unpleasant dreams

  • Increased appetite

  • Irritability

  • Slowing of activity

  • Agitation and restless behavior

  • Sleepiness

  • Extreme suspicion

Cocaine Withdrawal Complications

If cocaine addiction is not treated professionally and immediately, the following long-term complications are possible:

  • Extreme depression

  • Overdose

  • Suicide

Cocaine Abuse Warning Signs

Like most addictions, cocaine use and abuse possesses various identifiable and predictable "warning signs." The following list represents some of the signs of cocaine use:

  • An unusual, frequent need for money

  • A runny nose or frequently sniffing

  • A change in eating or sleeping habits

  • Noticeable behavioral changes

  • Red, bloodshot eyes

  • Avoidance of long-term friends

  • Depression

  • Acting withdrawn or extremely tired

  • A sudden change in friends

  • Carelessness about personal appearance

  • Loss of interest in family, school, or in activities that used to be important or fun (such as sports)

Conclusion: Cocaine Withdrawal

Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant that directly affects the brain. Due to the fact that cocaine elicits a sense of instant energy, euphoria, and intense joy, addiction can occur quite rapidly and can be exceptionally difficult to overcome.

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When people who are addicted to cocaine abruptly stop taking the substance, an almost immediate "crash" takes place. This sudden let down is typified by an extreme craving for more cocaine.

If the person refuses to give in to this craving, he or she will experience a number of cocaine withdrawal symptoms that are signals by the brain that it is trying to adjust to the drug to which it had become acclimated.

Due to the fact that cocaine addiction is exceptionally complex, immediate treatment is imperative if recovery is possible. Like any quality treatment protocol, cocaine treatment approaches need to assess the social, pharmacological, and psychological factors of the patient's drug abuse.

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