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Cocaine Relapse: 6 Warning Signs

By Jon McKenna
It’s common to have a cocaine relapse during recovery. Watch for these relapse warnings signs.

It’s not easy to get cocaine out of your life for good if you're addicted, but it's also not impossible. Yes, relapses may occur but they don't have to throw you into a spiral.

If you’ve been addicted to cocaine and you stop using it, you might be at highest risk for a relapse about 1 to 6 months after you quit the drug, according to a 2016 study in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. “That’s kind of the threshold. Within the first few weeks of recovery, the intensity of cravings is nowhere near what it is in months 5 and 6,” Michael Crisanto, a counselor with Advanced Recovery Systems in Palm Beach, FL, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

“I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it’s because over time, you’re gradually coming out of the daily structure of recovery and you’re hit with all these cues to use.”

Given those realities, the National Institute on Drug Abuse says it’s important to understand that relapse is common and normal during addiction recovery. The key is to get back into treatment as soon as possible after it happens. Framing relapse as a disaster and weakness simply makes repeat slip-ups more likely.

Still, avoiding relapse is the goal. The warning signs often are subtle. But if you or a loved one is trying to stay sober, you should watch for these red flags:

1. Outward stress. Recovery programs emphasize stress-coping skills for cocaine users, but sometimes those skills clearly aren’t working or aren’t practiced.

2. An increase in cravings. Seems obvious, but you can’t understate the danger of “increased cravings, anticipation of use, and focusing more time to prepare for use,” says Harshal Kirane, MD, medical director at Wellbridge Addiction Treatment and Research in Calverton, N.Y.

3. A glamorous spin on the “old” cocaine life. The bad parts of that life are no longer discussed by the person in recovery. “They almost romanticize the cocaine and only think about the good times they had,” Crisanto explains.

4. Badmouthing recovery.When someone starts complaining that the recovery program isn’t working and they no longer believe in the sacrifices, Crisanto knows the risk of relapse is high.

5. Outward isolation and boredom. “Both of those can increase the attraction of the stimulant qualities of cocaine,” Kirane says.

6. Changes in routine and behavior.“That’s one of the biggest warning signs, I think,” according to Crisanto. “Suddenly they have stopped attending 12-step meetings, stopped seeing mentors, missed therapist sessions.”

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Understanding Addiction: General Information