Cocaine Detox: How Long Is It in My System?
The detox process varies depending on the type of drug that has been used, as well as on the individual’s personal health and the degree of addiction or abuse. For this reason, people who are concerned about withdrawal can find comfort in learning about the detox process for their individual circumstances.
Unlike detox from various types of depressants, like alcohol and opioids, detox from stimulants like cocaine can take less time and present with milder symptoms. However, some of the symptoms of stimulant withdrawal can last for months or even years after detox, making it more difficult to avoid relapse on a long-term basis.
Detox from Cocaine
Cocaine detox is a relatively fast process, compared to that of some other drugs. However, it can be longer if the drug has been used for a long time or if the individual has particular health issues. In addition, cocaine use can lead to damage to certain parts of the brain that can cause some symptoms of withdrawal, as well as cravings for the drug, to last a long time following detox.
According to the National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus, withdrawal symptoms for cocaine include:
- General discomfort
- Increased appetite
- Lethargy or slowing of activity
- Intense, unpleasant dreams
Cravings to begin using again can be extremely intense during withdrawal, leading to a high risk of relapse. These cravings can also last for months after the drug has left the person’s body if use was heavy for a long period of time. Another long-lasting aspect of cocaine withdrawal can be anhedonia, which is a diminished ability to feel pleasure.
The Journal of Analytical Toxicology describes the process through which cocaine is used by the body, referred to as the drug’s metabolism. This process helps in understanding how the drug affects the body and also how quickly it leaves the body after use. These processes can vary depending on the way that cocaine is used, because the drug is absorbed differently depending on how it enters the body.
When cocaine is injected or smoked, it peaks very quickly in the bloodstream, usually within five minutes. This also provides a high concentration of the drug in the blood, resulting in an intense high. However, if it is snorted or used through the mucous membranes, it takes much longer to have an effect; this route provides a milder high over the course of about an hour, resulting in a lower concentration of the drug. In all cases, the length of time it takes for the drug to peak in the body can vary depending on the individual as well.
Once it is in the body, cocaine is processed and broken down into smaller components, called metabolites. The major metabolite of cocaine, benzoylecgonine, is found in the blood within 15-30 minutes regardless of the method of use, with inhaled cocaine taking longer than smoked or injected cocaine to metabolize.
Half-Life and Drug Elimination: Detox Timeline
Once cocaine has reached peak concentration in the body, it begins to leave. How long it takes for half the dose to be eliminated from the body is known as the drug’s half-life, and this is a good way of measuring how long it takes for the drug to be fully eliminated. According to Mayo Medical Laboratories, the half-life of cocaine can be up to six hours, depending on the means of use, meaning that the drug can be eliminated from the body within 3-4 days.
In the case of cocaine, the metabolites take substantially longer to be eliminated. In fact, benzoylecgonine has a half-life of 6-12 hours, meaning that it can take a few days longer to eliminate this chemical from the body completely.
This results in the following detox timeline for cocaine, described by Mental Health Daily:
- The crash phase: The initial drop from euphoria can last from a few hours to 3-4 days
- The craving phase: This stage of intense, sometimes debilitating cravings can range from one week to 10 weeks.
- The extinction phase: After 10-30 weeks, cravings for cocaine diminish, though they can continue on an intermittent basis that is easier to manage.
Chronic Cocaine Abuse and Duration of Withdrawal
While the half-life and process of detox are not generally variable, the degree of drug abuse can have an effect of the duration of the withdrawal process. When cocaine has been used on a regular or continual basis for a long time, withdrawal symptoms and cravings can be much stronger over the course of detox and beyond. This can account for some of the longer durations of the craving and extinction phases.
How withdrawal feels and how long it lasts can also depend on more than just the severity of the abuse. Cocaine is often mixed with other drugs like heroin or marijuana, and it is also diluted in some cases, either by the distributor for higher profits or by the person using it for injection or smoking. This lack of purity can have an effect on the individual using it, including affecting how high concentrations get in the body and how long it takes to eliminate the drug, its metabolites, and the associated withdrawal symptoms.
Managing Cocaine Detox
While withdrawal symptoms of cocaine detox can be intimidating, it is helpful to know that it is possible to recover from cocaine addiction. It is helpful to get support from loved ones, including friends and family who will encourage and understand what the individual is going through during detox and avoid people who might encourage relapse.
Other supports during the cocaine detox process include healthy habits like eating good food and getting exercise, as well as keeping busy. These can strengthen the body’s ability to overcome the challenges of withdrawal and keep the individual distracted from cravings for the drug.
All of these areas can be supported through the assistance of a professional, research-based detox and treatment program. With treatment, the individual can develop needed skills and have access to more tools to prevent relapse than someone trying to detox from cocaine without help.