Committed to Safety: Latest information on COVID-19 PrecautionsLearn More

On November 10, 2018, the Woolsey Fire destroyed The Canyon at Peace Park’s treatment facility. At this time, The Canyon at Peace Park is not accepting patients for any services. Click here to learn more about our closure or request medical records.

Cocaine Withdrawal

cocaine withdrawalCocaine’s dangers tend to be misrepresented or underrepresented in media and popular culture. The drug is portrayed as fun or glamorous. Withdrawal is portrayed as dramatic and agonizing. Neither of these images is accurate.

Use may seem pleasurable at first, but every cocaine hit causes serious damage. Even a first or single use of cocaine can be deadly or have other serious consequences. A first or single hit can set the stage for addiction. BBC News[1] shares, “Taking cocaine can change the structure of the brain within hours in what could be the first steps of drug addiction.” The longer the drug is used, the more changes occur. These changes are both mental and physical. They contribute to dependence and addiction. For example some of the longer-term effects include serious changes in brain function and neurochemistry. The National Institute on Drug Abuse[2] (NIDA) shares that many of these changes involve glutamate. Cocaine causes, “profound changes in glutamate neurotransmission—including how much is released and the level of receptor proteins—in the reward pathway.” Cocaine makes it more difficult for individuals to experience pleasure and reward without the drug. It also changes how individuals experience stress. NIDA explains that cocaine also affects, “a critical integration site in the brain that relays information about both stress and drug cues to other areas of the brain, including ones that drive cocaine seeking…Cocaine elevates stress hormones, inducing neuroadaptations that further increase sensitivity to the drug and cues associated with it.” Cocaine causes stress. It also causes the brain and body to crave more cocaine in response to this stress. Cocaine use reinforces itself. It does so through pleasure channels, stress channels and by changing how individuals think and make decisions. NIDA shares, “Cocaine diminishes functioning in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), which appears to underlie the poor decision-making, inability to adapt to negative consequences of drug use, and lack of self-insight shown by people addicted to cocaine.” Changes caused by cocaine explain why it is hard for individuals to stop using or why they won’t choose to try stopping at all. Changes in brain chemistry lead to changes in thought and behavior. They lead to excuses for continued use and explain why cocaine withdrawal is challenging.

Cocaine withdrawal involves few of the symptoms associated with withdrawal from drugs like opioids or alcohol. These substances creates potentially dangerous physical reactions. Because cocaine causes so many changes in how the brain functions, its withdrawal symptoms are largely psychological. They are no less serious for being so. They do require a different approach for treatment and management.

Cocaine withdrawal symptoms include depression, dysphoria, trouble sleeping and irritability. These seem mild compared to the physical pain, potential seizures and additional symptoms other drugs cause. Cocaine withdrawal symptoms are mostly psychological. They cannot be ignored for being less visible. Cocaine withdrawal is serious and difficult. It requires professional support and supervision as much as any other withdrawal experience. Addiction treatment needs to begin with supervised detox services. Psychiatry[3] explains, “The presence of cocaine withdrawal symptoms may make it difficult for cocaine users to attain a period of initial abstinence…Patients who enter treatment with severe cocaine withdrawal symptoms are more likely to drop out of treatment prematurely and are less likely to attain abstinence from cocaine in outpatient treatment programs.” Cocaine’s psychological effects make withdrawal serious. This early phase of recovery sets the stage for successful long-term abstinence.

Treatment begins with withdrawal. It continues by helping patients reform and retrain thoughts relating to cocaine use and to how they experience life in general. Addiction is often related to mental health issues such as stress, depression and more. After withdrawal ends, professionals can assess and diagnose mental health concerns. Therapy helps individuals examine thought patterns and develop healthy coping skills. Skills and strategies for relapse prevention are essential for long-term recovery. The New York Times[4] explains, “Cues like viewing drug paraphernalia are enough by themselves to activate memory circuits and unleash drug craving. Where you are and what you are doing when you use a drug like cocaine is inextricably linked with the high. And these associations are stored not just in your conscious memory, but also in memory circuits outside your awareness…Long after someone has apparently kicked the habit, long after withdrawal symptoms subside, the individual is vulnerable to these deeply encoded unconscious associations that can set off a craving.” Addiction treatment provides support for unexpected emotions and thoughts during withdrawal. It helps individuals understand why they use. Patients learn who they are and work on strategies for becoming who they want to be. Treatment provides support for long-term recovery. Call The Canyon to learn more about cocaine withdrawal and treatment. Ask about our supportive services such as nutrition programs, equine-assisted psychotherapy and adventure therapy. We are here for you at every phase of recovery, from withdrawal to long-term aftercare and alumni services.


[1] “Cocaine Rapidly Changes the Brain.” BBC News. 25 Aug 2013. Web. 15 Feb 2017.

[2] “What Are Some of the Ways Cocaine Changes the Brain?” National Institute on Drug Abuse. May 2016. Web.15 Feb 2017.

[3] “New Medications for the Treatment of Cocaine Dependence.” Psychiatry. 2005. Web. 15 Feb 2017.

[4] “Lasting Pleasures, Robbed by Drug Abuse.” New York Times. 30 Aug 2010. Web. 15 Feb 2017.