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Crack Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms and Stages

Man experiencing crack cocaine withdrawal symptomsCrack cocaine is an extremely addictive stimulant drug. Because it is smoked or heated, and the vapors inhaled, crack cocaine produces rapid effects throughout the central nervous system. It stimulates the dopamine, or reward system, of the brain.1

People who use cocaine quickly develop tolerance, meaning that as their bodies become accustomed to the drug, they require more of the substance to produce the same results. Tolerance often develops alongside dependence, in which the person’s brain comes to rely on crack to function normally.

When you try to stop using, you will likely experience crack cocaine withdrawal signs and symptoms that can make it hard to quit on your own. These symptoms may include depression, fatigue, anxiety, and strong cravings. The timeline for withdrawal effects varies but usually begins within a few hours to a few days after you stop using and can last for up to 28 weeks. The withdrawal process often plays out in 3 stages.

Withdrawal isn’t usually life-threatening. But some people experience serious complications, such as seizures, relapse, overdose, or suicidal thoughts and actions.

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Signs, Symptoms, and Effects

Symptoms include depression, irritability, fatigue, and increased need for sleep.

Even if they want to stop, many people continue using crack cocaine simply to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal signs and symptoms include:1,4

  • Depression.
  • Irritability.
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Increased need for sleep.
  • Vivid, unpleasant dreams.
  • Anxiety.
  • Severe drug cravings.
  • Psychosis.

What Is Detox?

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Detoxifying from alcohol and drugs is crucial to recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction.

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Many factors can affect the intensity and severity of crack cocaine withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • The extent of your addiction.
  • The length of time you have been using.
  • The amount and frequency of use.
  • Whether you use additional drugs or substances, including alcohol.
  • Whether you have any co-occurring mental or physical health conditions.

Unlike users of other drugs such as heroin or benzodiazepines, crack cocaine users may not suffer visible withdrawal effects, such as shakiness, vomiting, and sweating.6 But this doesn’t mean that withdrawal is easy. Some people find cravings to be so intense that they can’t imagine not ever using again.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms

You may also suffer from post-acute withdrawal symptoms that persist long after you’ve actually stopped using, especially if you have been a heavy abuser. Some of these symptoms may continue for weeks after your last use.

Post-acute crack cocaine withdrawal signs may include:2

  • Difficulty with short-term memory.
  • Mood changes, including depression or anxiety.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Panic attacks.
  • An inability to experience pleasure, also known as anhedonia.

Not everyone will experience post-acute withdrawal symptoms, and many people who do experience these symptoms experience them for only a short time. The thing to remember is that these symptoms are the result of drug use and are not a disorder or a fundamental problem with you that crack can reverse. 2

Seeking help for crack cocaine withdrawal can help you better manage symptoms and become clean and sober. Crack cocaine withdrawal treatment almost always begins with a period of detox, which is then followed by a formal recovery program.

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Withdrawal Stages and Timeline

The crack cocaine withdrawal timeline differs from person to person. It usually occurs in 3 stages.

  • Crash. Most users experience a crash within a few hours to a few days after they stop using crack. Symptoms in this stage include increased appetite, exhaustion, irritability, need for sleep, and restlessness.3
  • Withdrawal. After this period has subsided, you may enter the second phase of withdrawal, which can last up to 10 weeks.3 During this stage, you may experience crack cocaine withdrawal effects such as increased cravings, irritability, sleepiness, and problems with concentration.
  • Extinction. The third phase of the crack cocaine withdrawal timeline is known as “extinction.” 3 Former users may experience intermittent cravings that are largely dependent on social situations and triggers, such as people with whom you previously used or being in environments where crack cocaine is available.

Medical Complications

Woman suffering from depression

Crack cocaine withdrawal can cause a range of mild to severe physical and mental health complications.

The possible medical complications associated with crack cocaine withdrawal symptoms include: 3,4,6

  • Cardiovascular problems. You may experience chest pain, elevated blood pressure, or an increased heart rate.
  • Pulmonary disorders. You may experience difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, or coughing up blood for up to 48 hours after your last use (especially common when cocaine is used in freebase form, such as crack).
  • Neurological problems. Many users experience headaches during the withdrawal phase. Some may even suffer from seizures.
  • Cravings and overdose. Cravings can lead to overdose, especially if you relapse after a period of abstinence.
  • Depression. You may experience an inability to feel pleasure during withdrawal. You may also have a risk of developing clinical depression, which is characterized by symptoms such as a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, angry outbursts, feeling frequently sad or tearful, sleep and appetite problems, difficulty with memory, problems with thinking, and a lack of energy. 5
  • Suicide. Feelings of depression can become so intense that some people experience suicidal ideation, meaning they have thoughts about harming themselves. In some cases, people may take action on those thoughts.

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Read next: Cocaine Withdrawal Medications and Help

Sources

[1]. Center for Substance Abuse Research. (2013). Crack cocaine.

[2]. Mercer, D. and Woody, G. (1999). An individual drug counseling approach to treat cocaine addiction. Rockville, M.D.: National Institute on Drug Abuse.

[3]. Australian Government Department of Health. (2004). The cocaine withdrawal syndrome.

[4]. The University of Arizona Methamphetamine and Other Illicit Drug Education (MethOIDE). Medical complications.

[5]. Mayo Clinic. (2016). Depression (major depressive disorder): Symptoms.

[6]. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2015). MedlinePlus, Cocaine withdrawal.

Crack Cocaine Withdrawal Medications and Help

Crack cocaine is a hard, crystalline form of cocaine—often encountered as small white rocks on the street. Unlike powdered cocaine, which is more commonly snorted or dissolved into a solution to be injected, crack cocaine is smoked in a small glass pipe.1 Many people go through withdrawal when they stop using crack and have trouble overcoming the symptoms without professional help.

For many, professional detox is the first step in getting help for crack cocaine withdrawal. Once detox is successfully completed, the person should follow up with an additional treatment to ensure the best chance of sustained recovery. People who do not continue with treatment after detox have a high risk of resuming drug use.2

Crack cocaine withdrawal treatment options include detox centers, inpatient treatment, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient. At present, no medications are approved to treat crack cocaine withdrawal.

However, some medications that have shown promise in studies include baclofen and propranolol. Detoxing cold turkey at home can increase the risk of relapse.

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Treatment Options

Inpatient Detox Centers

Nurse attaching IV in inpatient detox Inpatient facilities provide medical care and continuous support for patients even after detox.

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There are several options to help people with crack cocaine withdrawal and addiction. Treatment generally includes supportive care to manage symptoms and teaching relapse prevention techniques to resist cravings.

  • Detox centers, where a person goes for medical support while their body rids itself of crack cocaine. These facilities do not serve as comprehensive treatment for addiction, but they do provide around-the-clock medical care to usher individuals through the difficult withdrawal period.
  • Inpatient treatment, a facility where someone resides 24/7 for medical and therapeutic assistance in withdrawal and recovery. Inpatient might be a good fit for someone who has relapsed, does not have a good home environment, or has been addicted for a long time. Luxury and executive rehab centers offer high-end features such as internet workspaces, tennis, massage, and horseback riding and are often located in beautiful locales.
  • Standard outpatient treatment, which involves going to a treatment center a few days a week for a few hours at a time. Outpatient is relatively less structured and more flexible than other forms of treatment. These programs may not provide detox or require you to be detoxed before you start treatment.
  • Partial hospitalization, which allows a person to return home each day but still provides intensive and supportive treatment. This option involves a commitment of several days a week for several hours each day and acts as a step down from detox or inpatient treatment. Generally, these programs provide medical care.
  • Intensive outpatient program (IOP), which offers treatment multiple days a week for a few hours each day. These programs may or may not provide medical support for withdrawal.
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Withdrawal Medications

No crack cocaine withdrawal medications are currently approved. Antidepressants may be used to manage depression and anxiety symptoms.

Medications that have proved effective in clinical trials include the following:

  • Amantadine and bromocriptine, drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease and hormone problems, among others, may help to reduce cocaine cravings, increase energy, and normalize sleep. 3
  • Propranolol, a beta-blocker, may be able to reduce the anxiety associated with cocaine withdrawal as well as cravings. 4
  • Baclofen, a muscle relaxant, may help to reduce cravings in users during withdrawal. 4

Tapering Off Crack Cocaine

Unlike some other drugs, crack cocaine is not tapered down during detox. Attempting to taper off crack cocaine can lead to increased cravings or an overdose.

There is no research to suggest that tapering off crack cocaine is a safe and effective method to treat crack cocaine withdrawal.

Detoxing Cold Turkey at Home

Someone in crack withdrawal is at increased risk of relapse without professional help.

Although crack cocaine withdrawal is not immediately life-threatening, a person is at an increased risk of relapse and overdose without professional help. The cravings during withdrawal can be very powerful. 3 Detoxing at home can also lead to depression or exacerbate pre-existing mental or physical health conditions.

Crack cocaine withdrawal can be very unpleasant. It is not easy to predict the extent to which someone will experience symptoms such as high anxiety, lack of pleasure, agitation, and extreme paranoia.3

Detoxing in a treatment program offers the safest method of detox and provides the medical and psychological oversight needed to treat any physical or mental health symptoms.

Find Detox Programs

Help is available for you or someone you love who is experiencing crack cocaine abuse or withdrawal. Call us now at 1-888-935-1318Who Answers? to find the right crack cocaine withdrawal treatment program for you or the person you care about.

Read next: Crack Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms, Timeline, and Effects

Sources

[1]. MedlinePlus. (2016). Cocaine.

[2]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Treatment approaches for drug addiction.

[3]. MedlinePlus. (2016). Cocaine withdrawal.

[4]. Kampman, K. M. (2005). New medications for the treatment of cocaine dependence. Psychiatry (Edgmont), 2(12), 44.