Cocaine can make you feel euphoric, energetic, and confident, like you are at the height of your powers. Not long after, however, it can send you crashing back to earth, leaving you feeling sad, sick, and suicidal.
A cocaine crash or comedown can cause you to feel aches, pains, and headaches. Cocaine can cause the nose to run like a faucet and the mouth to dry out as if it were scraped raw with a plug of steel wool. It can make you feel as if you have the flu. Few substances can make people experience polar opposite feelings quite like cocaine, where users can hurtle from euphoria to depression in minutes.
What’s more, a crash strickens users with intense cocaine cravings, locking them into a cycle of sustained use, dependence, and addiction. It’s that comedown that leads users back to the drug in the hopes of thwarting those low, sickly effects.
It is also what causes cocaine users to engage in a roller coaster ride of abuse that can make them prone to severe, life-threatening effects and even death. That’s why people who are addicted to cocaine must seek professional help to navigate the rocky waters of a cocaine comedown. Why? Because their very lives depend on it.
What Cocaine Does to Your Mind
After marijuana, cocaine is the most commonly abused illegal drug in the U.S. It has high addiction potential and can be snorted, swallowed, injected, or smoked in freebase or crack-cocaine form.
In 2014, an estimated 1.5 million people or .6 percent of the U.S. population, aged 12 and older, used cocaine in the past month, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Also in 2014, more than 900,000 people met the criteria for cocaine abuse or dependence as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR).
What makes cocaine so addictive is the way it profoundly impacts the brain’s reward pathways. Cocaine binds to the dopamine transporter, blocking the natural removal of the chemical that governs feelings of pleasure. This causes a rapid buildup of dopamine in the brain, which produces a euphoric rush in the user.
Because cocaine has a relatively short half-life, a high typically lasts only 15 to 30 minutes when snorted and 5 to 10 minutes when smoked. Frequent use extends these effects, which is why users tend to binge cocaine to experience a sustained sensation.
Yet, within hours or even minutes after cocaine has left the body, the onset of debilitating withdrawal symptoms, aka the cocaine comedown, emerges. They are physiological and psychological in nature and include:
- Intense drug cravings
- Increased appetite
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Difficulty concentrating
- Agitation and mood swings
- Suicidal thoughts
- Intense nightmares
- Inability to experience sexual arousal
The effects of a comedown or crash from cocaine can last from hours to days. However, chronic users can experience post acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) like depression and intense cravings, which can last weeks or even months.
When people use cocaine in larger doses to recapture a high, they develop a tolerance. That tolerance morphs into dependence when they use more cocaine to halt the painful withdrawal symptoms that come with use.
However, that dependence declines to addiction, where a user will fixate on obtaining and using cocaine over familial and professional obligations.
Yet, the symptoms that come with use and dependence are the least of their worries, because chronic, long-term cocaine use can inflict life-threatening effects and bodily damage.
What Cocaine Does to Your Body
The effects of a cocaine comedown are temporary when compared to the permanent damage and possible death that comes with chronic use.
People who snort cocaine can develop a runny nose, nosebleeds, loss of a sense of smell, or experience an inflamed nasal septum. They can also experience difficulty swallowing. People who smoke crack or freebase can cough up blood, develop fluid in the lungs and/or suffer bleeding in the lungs. When users choose to inject the drug, they develop tracks and put themselves at risk for contracting HIV, hepatitis, other infectious diseases, and also abscesses.
Cocaine impacts the cardiovascular system the most. Because cocaine use leads to increased heart rate and blood pressure, users report having chest pains. A single occasion of use can make someone prone to heart attack, cardiac arrhythmia, and sudden cardiac death. Chronic use, over a long period or a single occasion, can also heighten the risk of heart inflammation and disease.
The substance also puts users at risk of suffering neurological complications such as headache, seizures, and stroke, as well as kidney failure.
When users ingest cocaine, which usually comes as a hydrochloride salt, they also expose themselves to the effects of fillers that have been incorporated into the product. Dealers adulterate cocaine to “stretch” it and/or enhance its effects.
Users can expose themselves to three types of fillers that serve individual purposes when included in cocaine. They include::
- Psychotropic substances that serve to heighten cocaine’s potency, such as heroin or fentanyl
- Toxic fillers that have no psychotropic effects but are toxic and even lethal to the body like strychnine or arsenic
- White powders that only serve to mimic the appearance of cocaine and diminish the effect of the product such as quinine, thiamin, or washing powders
Any of these three types of additives can produce its own hazardous bodily effects in addition to those produced by a cocaine comedown.
If you or a loved one is experiencing the effects of a comedown, professional addiction treatment can be a critical hedge against addiction, depression, disease, bodily damage, and even death.
Why Professional Addiction Treatment Is Necessary
When it comes to any substance addiction, relapse is a common part of the recovery process. Rates of relapse tend to hover between 40 percent to 60 percent, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Someone with an addiction who opts to quit on his or her own by going “cold turkey” is more likely to succumb to relapse and return to active addiction.
That’s why professional addiction treatment is your best course for recovery. Professional treatment will offer you a medically supervised process where you can safely deal with the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that come with a cocaine comedown. You will collaborate on the development of a treatment plan that is tailored to your specific needs and can get treatment for co-occurring disorder as well.
The steps involved with professional addiction treatment include:
Medical detoxification: A medical staff will provide around-the-clock care as cocaine and other toxins are removed from the body. During this phase, your mind and body’s natural chemistry will be restored.
Inpatient substance abuse treatment: A team of therapists and counselors will provide you with a range of services designed to help you get to the root of your addiction and strategies to prevent relapse. You may also receive holistic treatment that addresses the critical areas of mind, body, and spirit.
Aftercare programs: Outpatient treatment and sober living programs that will offer you a supportive recovery community. You will understand the triggers and daily stressors that lead to relapse. You will also learn life skills to help you combat cravings and urges to use cocaine.
The Consequences of Cocaine Overdose
The sheer potency and lethality of cocaine, not to mention the added effects of fillers, make overdose a common occurrence. Again, cocaine comedowns are minor compared to the life-threatening effects of an overdose.
Overdose symptoms include convulsions/seizures, tremors, cardiac arrest, stroke, and arrhythmias. Cardiac arrest, stroke, and multiple organ failure are the hallmarks of a fatal overdose.
Cocaine use during pregnancy can also produce harrowing effects on the fetus, effects that make a comedown appear minor by comparison:
When expectant mothers use cocaine, they are at an increased risk for:
- Placental abruption
- Lower birth weight
- Preterm delivery
- Spontaneous abortion
- Microcephaly (a birth defect in which a baby’s head is smaller than expected because of abnormal brain development)
- Urological and genital birth defects
- Neurobehavioral dysfunction
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
While cocaine comedowns produce an array of harrowing effects, they can reinforce a pattern of use and abuse that ultimately leads to terminal health conditions, permanent bodily damage, and death.