By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Apr 12, 2024
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Alice! Health Promotion. "Can cocaine make you 'dope sick'?." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 12 Apr. 2024, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/can-cocaine-make-you-dope-sick. Accessed 24, May. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2024, April 12). Can cocaine make you 'dope sick'?. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/can-cocaine-make-you-dope-sick.

Dear Alice,

I have been shooting cocaine steadily for almost two months now and want to know what the difference between the physical and emotional addiction is. I am not sure if I have been experiencing withdrawals, but I feel sick a lot lately. I know shooting heroin has made me sick before. Can cocaine eventually make you dope sick as well?

Dear Reader, 

It’s never fun to feel sick! It’s certainly possible that your body is reacting negatively to prolonged cocaine use given that you’re experiencing various sicknesses. Read on for more information about the difference between physical and psychological reactions to substance use, the different reasons you might feel sick from cocaine use, and ways you can monitor your journey to health. 

“Dope sick” refers to the withdrawal people experience after opioid use. Opioids are a class of drugs that include heroin, morphine, and oxycodone among others. However, you mention using cocaine, which is a stimulant, not an opioid. So, while technically cocaine isn’t making you dope sick, you might still be experiencing withdrawal symptoms. 

To explore withdrawal more in depth, it may be helpful to first distinguish between tolerance, withdrawal, and dependence: 

  • Tolerance refers to a person’s decreased response to the same dosage of a substance after continual use. This may lead a person to use higher amounts to achieve the desired effect. Tolerance levels vary from person to person based on the drug of choice, the amount used, and the period in which the drug is consumed. 
  • Dependence happens when an individual has difficulty functioning without their drug(s) of choice. 
  • Withdrawal is a sign of dependence. Symptoms occur when a person’s body is adjusted to the presence of drugs, and the drug is suddenly no longer present. Once the body acclimates to being drug-free, withdrawal symptoms tend to decrease. However, depending on the type(s) of drugs used, amount consumed, method of consumption, and timeframe in which the drug(s) were used, symptoms may last anywhere from days to weeks. 

You raise an interesting question about the difference between physical and emotional addiction. It turns out many aspects of drug use are motivated by both physical and psychological processes, and it can be hard to fully distinguish one from the other. That said, psychological dependence generally refers to the emotional and mental changes you might experience during withdrawal, like irritability or mood swings. Physical dependence, on the other hand, involves bodily symptoms, like vomiting or dizziness. 

In order to get to the bottom of your sickness, it might be helpful to examine what symptoms you’re experiencing. Cocaine withdrawal symptoms usually include anxiety, vivid dreams, memory problems, difficulty focusing, fatigue, depression, increased appetite, and lethargy. If you experience more serious symptoms like severe depression, suicidal thoughts, seizures, or abnormalities in your heart rate, you may want to seek urgent medical care. It’s also possible that cocaine withdrawal symptoms that compromise sleep and eating habits may have left you vulnerable to general, non-drug related sickness. 

While it’s not possible to know for sure how long you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms, there’s a general timeline you can follow to track your symptoms: 

  • Acute withdrawal. This initial phase tends to include symptoms such as cravings, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and irritability. It typically lasts between one to two weeks. 
  • Post-acute withdrawal. This phase, which could last two weeks or longer, often includes symptoms like exhaustion, excessive sleeping, extreme mood changes, and increased appetite. 
  • Protracted withdrawal. This phase refers to any lingering symptoms that persist after the initial phases. These prolonged symptoms may raise cause for concern, as the severity of depression and cravings may intensify. 

List adapted from Oxford Treatment 

This timeline is just one of many ways you might monitor your withdrawal symptoms on your own. Feel free to check out the guide on home-based withdrawal techniques from the Alcohol and Drug Foundation for more information about how to manage your symptoms yourself. 

It's not always easy to be the only one in charge of your health, especially when you may already be feeling overwhelmed. If you’re interested in receiving medical care to help manage your withdrawal symptoms, consider exploring treatment centers across North America. If you choose to work with a treatment center, health care professionals can help guide you through the detoxification process and provide suggestions to meet your specific needs. 

Hoping you feel better soon, 

Additional Relevant Topics:

Substance Use and Recovery
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