Recovery From Cocaine Use

The use of cocaine creates a variety of emotional, psychological and physical symptoms.  Over time, the recovering addict may experience a decrease or even cessation of these symptoms.  In the meantime, however, recovery may bring its own sufferings.  The body and brain have adapted to the presence of cocaine and will take time to return to more normal functioning.  Some of the symptoms that the recovering addict may experience are depression; chills; body aches; tremors or shaking; an inability to experience pleasure; anxiety; difficulty concentrating and bodily pain.  Most of these symptoms will begin to disappear after a week or so.

There are no medications available to ameliorate these symptoms.  If the recovering addict also suffers from anxiety, a doctor may prescribe a benzodiazepine.  These drugs are used to treat anxiety, but they can also help with the symptoms of recovery.  Benzodiazepines are not prescribed solely to treat the symptoms of recovery from cocaine addiction.  If there is any good news regarding the sufferings that accompany recovery from cocaine addiction, it is that the negative impact of cocaine on the body and mind is lessened the earlier the person enters into recovery.  In other words, the symptoms of recovery get worse the longer the person abuses the drug.  A person who has used cocaine for a year will suffer more than a person who used for only a week.  The sooner you enter into recovery, the better off you’ll be.

A former victim of addiction to cocaine will often experience symptoms that are the opposite of the experience of being high on cocaine.  If the cocaine addict felt like they had almost endless energy, they will now feel a lack of energy.  As the body and mind return to normal function, without the presence cocaine in the system, the person will have to adapt to a different experience of life.  What seemed normal while the person was using cocaine will now seem strange and even uncomfortable.

It may be difficult for the recovering addict to admit that they need help.  Recognizing that their life was out of control, they, may be embarrassed or ashamed of their previous behavior.  In addition, they may have harmed other people in various ways.  They may have stolen from others or neglected their children resulting in seriously damaged relationships.  Their families may be unwilling to trust them and their children may resent their poor treatment.  They may have to form new friendships if they formerly spent most of their time with other addicts.  Repentance and atonement, while they may be painful, are very necessary.

Physical Signs of Cocaine Use

As difficult as these behavioral and emotional problems are, there will also be physical symptoms, such as blood-borne diseases and changes in heart rhythm.  When the addict is using crack cocaine, there will often be burns on the fingers or lips since it is smoked.  An observer may also notice white powder around the user’s nose from snorting the drug or needle tracks in the skin from using a syringe to inject cocaine in a liquid form.  Having a crack pipe is a clear sign of the use of crack cocaine.  The addict may disappear for a few moments so they can go somewhere and use the drug secretly.  Dilated pupils; runny nose and even nosebleeds will eventually develop in people who snort the drug.

Long-term use of cocaine may result in lasting damage to the body and/or the mind.  Watch for depression or for difficulty sleeping even though the person feels tired.  They may appear very unhappy with no real reason to feel that way.  Nasal perforation; increase in body temperature and gangrene in the lower intestine are also common symptoms of long-term cocaine use.  As the body and mind adapt to cocaine use, the victim of addiction will develop intense cravings for the drug.  Malnutrition, sexual dysfunction and muscle twitches are also common symptoms of long-term cocaine use.  Cocaine use is especially hard on the heart.  The victim of cocaine use usually develops a fast heart rate; increased heart rate; increased blood pressure; an enlarged heart or even cardiac arrest.  The longer cocaine use continues, the more intense the symptoms may become.

To an outsider, it may be very difficult to understand why a person would do this to themselves.  One important reason is that the drug produces strong cravings in the addict.  More generally, cocaine use has become the addict’s primary or only skill for managing their life.  It is how they cope with the difficulties, challenges and sufferings of life.  Therefore, the addict may be unable or fearful of living without this coping mechanism.  While most of us have a variety of skills for coping with life, the victim of cocaine addiction has only used one skill with any frequency:  getting high on cocaine.

If you are the addict and you are engaging in recovery from cocaine use, then you must work to learn and practice coping skills that do not involve the use of cocaine.  There will still be challenges and sufferings in your life, but you must learn new and better ways to manage those problems.

Behavioral Symptoms of Cocaine Use

Family and friends sometimes suspect that a particular person is using cocaine but knowing for sure can be difficult.  While only a drug test will tell you for sure, there are some symptoms that indicate there is a drug addiction issue.  If you suspect a person may be abusing cocaine, you should watch for the emotional and physical symptoms discussed below.  Cocaine produces several problems for the person who uses it.  Among these problems are emotional symptoms.  The individual who is abusing cocaine may display increased energy; violence; erratic, risky, reckless or bizarre behaviors.  You may also notice that they steal or borrow money and are extremely talkative.  These are behaviors another person may notice.

The person who is abusing cocaine may feel anxiety; depression; superiority; euphoria; panic; and fearfulness.  Psychological symptoms, which may or may not be obvious to other people, include paranoia; hallucinations; lack of motivation and violent mood swings.  In severe situations, the victim of cocaine addiction may suffer from a break from reality.  Legal problem; unemployment and relationship problems are also frequent.  As the drug wears off, many of the symptoms will be reversed.  Increased energy alternates with extended sleep.

If you notice many of these symptoms in a friend or family member, it would be a good idea to address the issue with them.  Almost always, the victim of cocaine addiction will deny using the drug.  This is due in part to shame on the part of the addict.  Because cocaine addiction produces intense cravings, they will probably resist any effort to suggest that they have a problem that needs to be treated.  That is, they will deny that they are addicted to cocaine.  Be prepared for a very uncomfortable encounter when you suggest that somebody you love is addicted to cocaine.

The addict may often become angry with the person who, as they would describe it, accuses them of having a problem with cocaine.  This is an attempt to discourage somebody from challenging them about their problem.  Nobody wants to fight with somebody they love, so getting angry will keep the other person from intervening in their drug use.  In other words, the person who suggests that the addict is using cocaine is met with anger in the hope that they will just drop the issue.

It is important that you see this anger or denial for what it is.  The addict probably doesn’t want to face up to their problem.  It’s up to you to move past these negative responses for the good of your friend or relative.  If we love one another as Jesus calls us to do, then we must bear hardships when necessary to help them.

Support in Cocaine Recovery

If there is somebody in your family or among your friends who displays symptoms of addiction to cocaine, you must now decide what you are going to do about it.  Often, the necessary first step is an intervention.  In the Gospel, Jesus instructs us that, if we see your brother engaged in sinful behavior, then you should speak to them alone.  If this doesn’t work, then bring somebody with you who also recognizes that the person has a problem.  If that doesn’t work, then bring the matter before the community.  While Jesus focuses here on challenging a sinner, these steps can also be applied to a victim of cocaine addiction.

First, speak to them personally and encourage them to enter into recovery.  If they won’t listen to you, bring along somebody else who also sees the problem.  If they won’t listen to the two of you, then gather together friends and members of their family and challenge them to enter into recovery.  This intervention may also need to involve consequence, informing the addict that they must change or they will lose the support of their family and friends.

When the addict agrees to enter into recovery, the next step will be determining how that recovery will progress.  Some form of inpatient treatment may be needed, such as in a hospital or treatment center.  It may be necessary for them to reside in the treatment center continually, or they may only need to spend part of each day there.  In even less severe cases, outpatient treatment in which the recovering addict attends a certain number of treatment sessions each week may be sufficient.  Individual or group therapy may be all that is needed.  In the case of individual therapy, common models are Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Motivational Interviewing.  Self-help groups such as Narcotics Anonymous or Smart Recovery are enough for some recovering addicts.  The help of a professional may be needed to determine how intense the treatment needs to be.

Once formal treatment is concluded, whether it involved inpatient treatment or outpatient treatment, ongoing maintenance is important.  Self-help groups generally encourage continued participation in an ongoing manner.  This ongoing treatment is important in helping the recovering addict to maintain their recovery for the rest of their life.  There may be a temptation to believe that you have beaten the problem, that you are ‘cured’.  Don’t give in to that kind of thinking.  Even if you no longer suffer from cravings, the problems that initially led to your decision to abuse cocaine may still be present.  You have used cocaine to cope with those problems once, you may run the risk of doing so again unless you remain vigilant.

Cocaine Relapse

A relapse can be said to be a setback after a period of progress where one reverts to a previous state. When speaking in terms of drug abuse and recovery, it is a return to the drug of choice after a period of living without that drug in an effort to rid oneself of the habit. The sad truth about relapse is that for many people they will go through cycles that involve relapse for the rest of their lives, but just as many manage to live without their drug of choice for good. It very much depends on the individual. Within one year about 1/4th or 25% of individuals will return to cocaine use on a weekly basis.

Medical professionals have stressed that relapse is not a binary state where you are either sober or not sober. Rather they describe relapse as a progressive decline in which the state of sobriety deteriorates giving way to the previous lifestyle and eroding the progress made bit by bit. The notion that it is binary contributes to further relapse by convincing the recovering addict that they have succumbed completely and totally to the addiction when this is in fact not the case. Recovery is not zero sum, all or nothing. It is a process.