Do I Need a Medical Detox from Cocaine?

Do I Need a Medical Detox from Cocaine?
Author: Tulip Hill Recovery
Published: September 29, 2021

Too many people are suffering without adequate treatment for cocaine addiction. According to SAMHSA, in 2016, only 163,979 people checked into rehab for cocaine addiction treatment, very few of whom listed it as a primary reason. By comparison, it is estimated that out of 1.9 million American users, 867,000 men and women were suffering from treatable cocaine use disorders that year. 

This gap is partly rooted in misunderstandings about the nature of cocaine addiction. Many people hear that medical detox and treatment isn’t necessary unless you’re experiencing physical dependence - leading cocaine users to attempt dangerous withdrawals at home. Today we’ll talk about why medical detox is a safer and more effective choice for cocaine withdrawal. 

What is Medical Detox?

Medical detoxification (or detox) is the crucial first step in treating substance dependence and misuse disorders. It refers to the rehab facility’s provision of a safe environment where clients undergo medically-supported withdrawal in the care and careful monitoring of both physicians and psychiatric staff. When necessary, clients may receive medication to relieve withdrawal symptoms. Medical detox places the client’s safety and comfort as the first priority and ensures they are being supported through this uncomfortable process at all times.

Cocaine Withdrawal Syndrome: What to Expect

Withdrawal is hard (and dangerous) alone. Long-term binging of cocaine affects the way the brain synthesizes and responds to dopamine. Once an addicted user decides to quit and flush the drug out of their system, it leaves behind a profound chemical imbalance in the brain that takes time to heal. This imbalance causes an uncomfortable state of withdrawal, characterized by:

  • Slowed thinking
  • Loss of concentration
  • Loss of libido
  • Lack of pleasure or joylessness
  • Depression or intense dysphoria
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Vivid nightmares
  • Paranoia or paranoid episodes
  • Intense cravings 

These symptoms are not easy to manage without support. The standard timeline for cocaine withdrawal is divided into two stages: first, the initial crash, which sets in just hours after your last dose and can last for days as dopamine depletion sets in. After that, there is an extended withdrawal period which can last for weeks, of persistent emotional lows combined with strong cravings for another high. When withdrawing without help at home and surrounded by triggers, these symptoms frequently push users in recovery to relapse. 

A Note On Psychological Addiction

Let’s clarify a few things before we continue. Cocaine addiction tends to be characterized as psychological dependence. People who compulsively abuse cocaine are more likely to have lost control of their use due to a combination of emotional and behavioral rewards rather than physiological changes

This distinction is problematic when it leads people to believe that psychological dependence is less real or less demanding of treatment than physical dependence. Keep in mind that the opposite is often true. Uncovering triggers and healing the mind from addictive thinking is the crux of most SUD treatment - a longer and more complex side of the process than treating physiological symptoms of physiological dependence. 

At the same time, the emotional symptoms experienced during withdrawal should not be underestimated. Cocaine overdose is common, and as soon as you enter withdrawal, your tolerance begins to plummet - greatly increasing the risk of a life-threatening event if you relapse. Take these symptoms seriously.

Detoxing Safely from Cocaine: The Process

During your detox, you stay in the care of the medical team at your drug rehab facility for the duration of your withdrawal. You can expect a restorative, sometimes luxurious medical environment free of substances, triggers, and stressors from the outside world. 

The different therapies available will vary depending on your health history and your treatment program of choice. Still, your team will focus on keeping your experience relaxed and comfortable. Presently, the FDA hasn’t approved any medications to support detoxing from cocaine, but treatment centers generally have psychiatric teams on-call. They are there to help treat withdrawal symptoms through therapeutic approaches or medication when needed. 

Medical detox is particularly necessary for individuals that suffer from any comorbid conditions that often accompany cocaine addiction. The dopamine imbalance experienced by a user who normally suffers from depression or anxiety is even greater and more difficult to cope with. Treatment facilities that offer dual diagnosis will also assess clients for common co-occurring disorders, allowing them to:

  • Personalize care during this emotionally heightened period
  • Prescribe necessary medication during and after withdrawal
  • Build a more molded, streamlined plan for this stage of therapeutic treatment

To conclude, if you’re considering quitting cocaine use for good and are willing to engage in support during the detox period, you’re setting yourself up to thrive in recovery. Medical detox is worth it - both for your safety and your success. 

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