The best drug addiction treatment programs are typically structured in phases. The addict moves from detoxification, to treatment, to ongoing care. Each phase builds upon the one prior, allowing the addict to gain knowledge and improve with each step taken along the way. People who are addicted to alcohol or heroin often have predictable treatment programs, and they must complete detoxification before they can move on to the treatment stage. People who are addicted to cocaine, however, might have a less straightforward route to take to recovery. The cocaine withdrawal process can be lengthy, and it can be hard to measure. Therefore, some people enter top treatment programs for cocaine while they are still moving through the detoxification phase.
When a user takes in cocaine, the drug begins to create changes in the body almost immediately. The high the user feels, however, might be incredibly short. For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that people who snort cocaine may feel a high for only 15 to 30 minutes. It can be easy for cocaine abusers to believe that the drug is no longer in the body, doing damage, when the high is gone. In reality, the changes that cocaine abuse brings about can persist, long after the high is gone.
Cocaine tends to create longstanding changes in the brain. It targets the brain’s reward center, making it hard for the cocaine abuser to feel happy or fulfilled unless cocaine is present. And, the drug also seems to target portions of the brain that are involved with impulse control. As a result, people who abuse cocaine may have difficulty making good decisions or staying in control of their urges. It can be a devastating problem.
The goal of a detoxification program is to clear the body of any remaining remnants of cocaine. For most users, this process is complete in just a few days. It’s a natural process that the body can do without help. However, in a detoxification program, experts also attempt to help users adjust to living without access to cocaine. As the brain realizes that no more of the drug is coming, and it attempts to undo the damage that has been done, a variety of unpleasant symptoms begin to take hold. Some of these symptoms can be treated with medications, but others cannot.
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- Throw up
- Develop muscle twitches in the arms and legs
- Experience watering eyes
People withdrawing from cocaine, by contrast, may develop symptoms that are primarily mental. They may be hard for outsiders to see, but they can be incredibly difficult for the person to deal with.
- Unpleasant dreams
- Increased appetite
- Thoughts of suicide
These might be symptoms an outsider might not be able to see, at first glance, but that does not mean that the symptoms are not real. The person might feel a crushing sense of despair, as though a cloud has blocked the sun, and that feeling does not seem like it will ever lift.
In addition, people going through cocaine withdrawal also feel an intense, powerful craving for cocaine. Seeing images of people who use cocaine or just walking by places where the person once bought or used cocaine can make these cravings stronger. These are not mild cravings that anyone might feel from time to time. For example, hungry people who see images of juicy hamburgers might begin to think that a hamburger seems like just the right treat to have, right now, but that thought might be transient and the person might eat a sandwich instead. By contrast, a cocaine craving is so powerful, and so intense, that it seems almost impossible to control. It’s as though the person’s mind is hijacked, and nothing but cocaine would make that thought go away.
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Length of Withdrawal
A typical detoxification program for alcohol or heroin would last for several days. Once the person is no longer exhibiting any physical signs of discomfort, the process is considered complete and the person can move on to the next phase of treatment. By contrast, cocaine withdrawal can last for months.
In order to determine how long it takes to complete the cocaine detoxification process, researchers from the NIDA taught rats to poke their noses into a wall to obtain a hit of cocaine. Once the rats were hooked, the researchers stopped giving the rats cocaine when they poked the wall. Then, they measured how many times the rats poked the wall. The higher the poke count, the more desperate the rats would be to get the drugs they’d become accustomed to. The researchers found that rats poked the wall twice as often on withdrawal day 45 than they did on the first withdrawal day. It seems as though the cravings increase in intensity over time, rather than decreasing in intensity.
Given that cocaine withdrawal is so lengthy, consisting of symptoms that are mental rather than physical, most cocaine detoxification programs are brief. It’s important to shuttle the person directly into a top treatment drug treatment program for cocaine addiction. Here, the person can receive therapy that can help the person to control cravings and develop new habits that don’t revolve around the destructive use of cocaine.
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Detoxification programs often use medication therapies to help reduce physical discomfort. While there have been effective medications developed to assist people going through recovery from a variety of drug addictions, there have been no such medications developed that specifically target cocaine abuse or addiction. There are some existing medications that might provide some level of relief, however. For example, according to a study outlined in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the beta-blocker propranolol can be helpful for some people dealing with severe cocaine withdrawal as it seems to reduce cravings and anxiety levels. People who did not have severe symptoms didn’t seem to respond as well to the therapy, however.
Some people find relief through common anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants. These medications might be prescribed with the strong warning that people who take them should not mix them with alcohol or other drugs. Taking one medication while abusing other substances at the same time can have deadly consequences. In addition, some antidepressants take several days to kick in, but users cannot stop taking the medication abruptly. They must give the medication an appropriate amount of time to work.
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According to an article produced by the Center for Health Care Education (CHCE) of the Department of Veterans Affairs, many people can go through cocaine detoxification while they continue to live at home. In other words, many people don’t need to enter a treatment facility for cocaine detoxification and stay in that facility until the process is complete. Instead, they can take medications as prescribed by their doctors and take care of themselves at home until their formal cocaine addiction treatment program begins. There are a few exceptions to this rule, however. This same article produced by CHCE states that some people who take very large doses of cocaine develop an extreme form of delirium. They may be unable to tell where they are, and where they are going, and they may be in danger of hurting themselves or others. These people might need medical supervision, and they might benefit from sedating medications.
People who take large doses of cocaine for long periods may also develop persistent heart damage. For example, a study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found that eight of the 21 patients studied exhibited a form of heart disease upon testing, and these episodes seemed to taper off after two weeks of withdrawal from cocaine. People who exhibit signs of cocaine-related heart damage might need more extensive monitoring, just so doctors can make sure that they don’t suffer a heart attack during withdrawal.
Some people who abuse cocaine also abuse other substances at the same time. They might experiment with cocaine and alcohol, for example, or they might abuse cocaine and prescription painkillers. These poly-drug users might have a difficult journey during detoxification, as their bodies have multiple substances to taper away from, and they might also need close monitoring in a top drug treatment inpatient facility.
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Cocaine detoxification programs often begin with a complete physical, including urine screening to check for the presence of other drugs. The person’s overall physical health is important to assess, as cocaine can cause a significant amount of physical damage and that damage must be treated properly. Once the assessment phase is complete, it will become clear how the detoxification will progress and where it will take place. In most cases, the person’s family doctor will handle this process, although some people choose to start the process by speaking with an addiction counselor. This counselor can then find an appropriate doctor to handle the physical screening, and then immediately begin pulling together a treatment plan to address the cocaine addiction itself.
Recovering from a cocaine addiction can be a lengthy process, but recovery is certainly possible. At Alta Mira, we provide the best inpatient programs to help people recover from addiction, and we provide outpatient care for those who cannot commit to a residential program. We would love to tell you more about our top drug treatment programs, and how we can help. Please contact us today.
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