Medically Reviewed

How to Quit Using Cocaine

5 min read · 4 sections
Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant that is listed as a Schedule II substance because of its high potential for misuse.1 Quitting cocaine can be challenging, especially for individuals trying to do it on their own—without professional help. That’s because chronic cocaine use causes long-term brain changes, and continued use has reinforcing effects that can lead to addiction.1 Cocaine addiction is a challenging yet treatable, chronic medical disease. With proper help, people can and do recover.2
What you will learn:
Understand how to help a loved one who is addicted to cocaine
Quitting cocaine
Helpful resources
Find help for cocaine or coke addiction

Understand the Effects of Cocaine

Cocaine is highly addictive because of its effects on the brain’s reward system. Dopamine, an important neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger in the brain, plays a key role in this system. Cocaine interferes with the normal communication process in the brain. When someone uses cocaine, the drug binds to the dopamine transporter, preventing it from reabsorbing dopamine and leading to increases in dopamine levels, altering the way the nerve cells communicate with each other.1

Dopamine impacts movements, emotions, motivation, and reinforcing stimuli, including food, sex, and drugs such as cocaine.1

The abnormal levels of dopamine, brought on by cocaine use, create the immediate euphoria people experience, which makes them want to continue use. However, over time, repeated cocaine use results in desensitization of brain pathways that make natural rewards—felt during exercise or sex, for instance—less appealing, and, at the same time, sensitization of stress circuits, leading to feelings of unhappiness and displeasure when the individual doesn’t use cocaine. Thus, individuals may become more interested in seeking and using cocaine over everything else in their lives, which is a hallmark of addiction.1

In addition to euphoria, cocaine produces a variety of short-term effects.1 These effects can include:1

  • Increased energy.
  • Talkativeness.
  • Increased alertness.
  • Hypersensitivity to sound, touch, and visual stimuli.
  • Reduced need to sleep or eat.
  • Constricted blood vessels.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Increased heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure.

At higher doses, individuals may experience bizarre, violent, or erratic behavior and some may feel restless or irritable.1

Individuals can also suffer severe medical complications from cocaine use, including heart attack, seizures, strokes, coma, and sudden death. Combining cocaine with alcohol increases the risk of toxic effects of both substances on the heart.1

With ongoing use, people can develop tolerance, meaning that they need to use more cocaine to experience previous effects; physiological dependence, a physical adaptation that can cause withdrawal symptoms when cocaine is stopped; and addiction.1,3,4 Addiction is a treatable medical disease characterized by the compulsive use of a substance despite significant negative consequences to an individual’s normal functioning.2 A cocaine addiction is diagnosed as a stimulant use disorder.1,3,4 According to the American Psychiatric Association, some individuals who use cocaine can develop a stimulant use disorder in as little as 1 week, though it doesn’t always happen this rapidly.3

How to Help Someone with a Cocaine Addiction

Only a qualified medical professional can diagnose someone with a stimulant use disorder, but it can be helpful to understand some of the observable diagnostic criteria so you know when it might be time to reach out.

Someone with a cocaine addiction may display the following, which are only some of the diagnostic criteria for a stimulant use disorder:3

  • Take more cocaine than they originally intended.
  • Express a persistent desire or make unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control their cocaine use.
  • Spend a lot of time trying to obtain, use, and recover from cocaine use.
  • Fail to meet obligations at home, school, or work due to cocaine use.
  • Experience persistent social or interpersonal problems due to cocaine use.
  • Give up important social, recreational, or occupational activities because of cocaine use.
  • Use cocaine in dangerous situations, such as while driving or operating machinery.
  • Keep using cocaine even though they know they have a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely due to cocaine use.

If you’re concerned about a loved one’s cocaine use, there are steps you can take to help. You can’t force someone into treatment, but you can encourage them and let them know you care. You might first consult an addiction professional, mental healthcare provider, or your family physician to obtain advice before discussing your concerns with your loved one.5

You may also consider the following:5

  • Educate yourself about addiction so you better understand what your loved one is experiencing.
  • Make a list of your concerns and observations so you can refer to it during your conversation.
  • Approach them in a quiet, safe place when they are not intoxicated, high, or recovering from the effects of drug use.
  • Use “I” terminology instead of blaming and avoid lecturing or stigmatizing terms like “addict” or “junkie.” You might say, “I am concerned about your cocaine use. You don’t seem like yourself anymore,” instead of “You’re an addict and you need help.”
  • Remain nonjudgmental and compassionate.
  • Return to the conversation at a later date if they are not yet willing to hear your concerns.

It’s also important to ensure your physical and emotional safety. Despite your best efforts, your loved one might feel defensive or become angry. Stay calm and seek help if necessary.5

Besides keeping yourself physically safe, you need to keep yourself mentally well. It’s not easy dealing with a loved one who is struggling with addiction, and it’s not uncommon for you to experience stress, difficult emotions, or even symptoms such as headaches, depression, anxiety, or insomnia.5 Reach out to a therapist or find a mutual-help group such as Nar-Anon, which is a 12-Step group for the loved ones of those who struggle with addiction.

How to Quit Cocaine

While there’s no step-by-step guide to quitting cocaine, it’s important to understand that the changes that occur in the reward circuit of the brain can make it very difficult to quit cocaine use. Experts liken being exposed to triggers—the people, places, and situations associated with your cocaine use—to riding a bike. The brain remembers. And this learned “reflex” can bring on intense cravings even in individuals who have been in recovery for years.6

Additionally, if you’re dependent on cocaine—meaning the body and brain have gotten so used to having cocaine in the system—suddenly cutting down your intake or stopping use altogether can cause uncomfortable and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.1 Withdrawal symptoms may include:1,3,7

  • Negative mood.
  • Fatigue.
  • Unpleasant dreams.
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia.
  • Severe dysphoria (depression or negative thoughts and feelings), which may include suicidal ideas or attempts.

Cocaine withdrawal is not typically life-threatening, but it can be difficult to deal with on your own, which is why many individuals, who try to quit, often end up resuming cocaine use to stave off withdrawal symptoms.3

Recognizing that you have a problem with cocaine use is the first step towards recovery, but you might not know when or how to ask for help. Consider the following:5

  • Write down what you want to say in advance to help you stay on track.
  • Talk to an addiction treatment specialist, employee assistance professional, or a trusted friend or family member.
  • Schedule an appointment with your physician to get an evaluation, and bring a supportive friend or family member.
  • Ask your doctor for referrals to treatment or search online using the website.

You might want to make a list of questions to ask facilities you call as you narrow your options for treatment. You might ask questions such as:8

  • How soon can I be seen?
  • How much does treatment cost?
  • Do you accept my insurance?
  • Is your facility accredited?
  • What types of treatments do you offer?
  • Do you offer transportation, or do I need to arrange this myself?

Millions of people enter treatment each year for various substance use disorders. Recovery is possible, and it begins with asking for help.9

Helpful Resources

You may also consider looking into the following resources to help you on your recovery journey:

Cocaine Addiction Treatment Options

Research shows that professional treatment for cocaine addiction is effective.1 There are different types of interventions to treat substance use disorders; however, the most effective, evidence-based treatment for stimulant use disorders is based on behavioral therapies and psychosocial treatments to promote abstinence and harm reduction.1,10

A treatment program for cocaine addiction may involve different levels of care, including:10,11

  • Detox. Medically managed detox is not typically required for cocaine-only use; however, it may be recommended when other substances—such as alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines—are involved since these substances can have severe, dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
  • Inpatient treatment. Inpatient care means you live onsite at the facility and receive 24/7 support. Inpatient treatment allows you to fully focus on your recovery without external distractions.
  • Outpatient rehab. There are various levels of outpatient care, including partial hospitalization programs (PHPs, also called “high intensity outpatient”) and intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), each with varying intensities and amount of time spent in treatment. However, in any outpatient program, you live at home or in a sober living environment and attend treatment sessions at predetermined times.
  • Aftercare. Aftercare, also referred to as ongoing treatment, refers to continuing care that takes place after a formal treatment program ends. Aftercare programs can be made up of many components and may include a combination of mutual-help groups, sober living homes, ongoing therapy and counseling, alumni programming, and regular check-ins—all designed to help support your sobriety and prevent relapse.

Although there are no FDA-approved medications for use in the treatment for cocaine addiction, physicians may use some medications on an off-label basis—since research suggests that these drugs may be effective in the treatment of a cocaine use disorder.10 Additionally, medications may be used in the treatment of co-occurring stimulant use and other mental health disorders, such as depressive or anxiety disorders.10

During treatment for cocaine addiction, behavioral therapies—such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), community reinforcement approach (CRA), or contingency management (CM)—may be utilized to help you remain in treatment, reduce drug use, teach you healthy coping skills, promote abstinence, prevent relapse, and support your recovery.1

It’s never too late to turn things around. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of treatment for cocaine addiction, with treatment centers located across the nation. Contact one of our caring admissions navigators at to learn more about the treatment options that might be best suited for your needs.


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