Crack Cocaine Abuse, Addiction, And Treatment

Abusing crack cocaine places an individual at risk of addiction and fatal overdose, even on the first use. Crack addictions are best treated with comprehensive, individualized treatment.

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Crack cocaine is the most addictive form of cocaine. Smoking crack allows the drug to reach the brain quickly, creating an almost immediate high. For these reasons, a person can become addicted to crack after their first “hit”. A single hit of crack can be so potent that a person experiences a fatal overdose the first time they try the drug. Choosing inpatient treatment is an investment which could save a life.

What Is Crack Cocaine?

Crack cocaine is the freebase version of cocaine. Crack is made from processing powdered cocaine with baking soda or ammonia. Crack may be purchased in this form or an individual may alter powdered cocaine on their own.

This chemical reaction yields a yellowish-white, crystalized, rock-like substance. Crack can be found in large “rocks” or in smaller nuggets. The name comes from the crackling sound the substance makes when it’s smoked. Street slang for crack includes the terms “base,” “hard rock,” and “rock.”

Like cocaine, crack is a powerful central nervous system stimulant, or “upper.” This action speeds up critical life support systems within a person’s body, including blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and breathing rates.

Crack cocaine is most commonly heated in a glass pipe so that the vapors can be inhaled. When smoked, the high is almost instantaneous. In lesser instances, individuals may crush the rocks into powder so that they can snort the drug or dissolve it for injection.

The rush from smoking crack is relatively short-lived, lasting only about five to 15 minutes. To overcome this, many drug abusers take dose after dose of crack, a behavior referred to as binging. These patterns make crack even more addictive and deadly.

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Signs And Symptoms Of Crack Cocaine Abuse

Crack cocaine stimulates or speeds up a person’s mental and physical processes. A person may appear overly stimulated, happy, talkative, or energetic and have little need to sleep or eat. Crack cocaine can inflate a person’s sense of self, making them feel overly confident and powerful. This perception often leads people to engage is risk-taking behaviors

During binges, these behaviors may go on for days until a person crashes. This is referred to as a binge and crash cycle. When a person crashes they become mentally and physically exhausted. Intense sadness and fatigue may overtake a person for days on end. At this time, strong cravings rise, pushing many people back into this dangerous cycle of drug abuse.

Signs of crack abuse include:

  • aggression
  • alertness
  • anxiety
  • dilated pupils
  • excitability
  • euphoria
  • increased heart rate
  • insomnia
  • loss of appetite
  • overwhelming cravings
  • quickened breathing
  • quickly shifting mood
  • raised blood pressure
  • tremors

When a person is chronically using crack their behaviors may become unpredictable. Prolonged exposure to crack may cause a person to become aggressive, defensive, paranoid, and prone to violent outbursts.

Everyday routines surrounding self-care, family life, job responsibilities, and school-related activities begin to slip away. In their place, a person becomes increasingly preoccupied with finding and using the drug. A person may steal or trade sexual favors in order to fuel their drug use.

As drug use increases, a person may push close loved ones away and adopt new “friends,” or other individuals who use or sell the drug. When questioned about drug use, a person may lie outright, become evasive, or claim they can’t function without the drug.

Dangers Of Crack Cocaine Abuse

Crack cocaine is so potent that even the first dose can cause addiction or death. Should a person not become addicted on the first dose, continued use will likely forge addiction fast.

Crack cocaine can imbalance a person’s mental health, causing:

  • anxiety
  • delirium
  • depression
  • hallucinations
  • mood disturbances
  • paranoia
  • psychosis

The physical risks and dangers of crack abuse include:

  • birth defects
  • bleeding within the brain
  • brain seizures
  • cardiac arrest
  • dental problems
  • gastrointestinal problems
  • heart attack
  • heart disease
  • infertility
  • malnourishment
  • nosebleeds
  • overdose
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • reproductive problems
  • seizures
  • severe weight loss
  • sexual dysfunction
  • stroke
  • tolerance

Crack has to be heated to high temperatures when smoked. In doing so, a person may burn their fingers, tongue, or lips on the glass pipe. This can cause blisters, bleeding, and chapped lips.

Crack smoke enters a person’s lungs at very high temperatures. It is also full of toxins. Chronic crack smoking may cause a person to develop a persistent lung condition called “crack lung.” A person with crack lung may have a fever, trouble breathing, chest pain, and bouts of coughing which resemble pneumonia.

Snorting crack on a chronic basis can damage the sensitive tissues of the throat and nose, causing chronic sore throats, a hoarse voice, and/or nosebleeds. It may also make it difficult for a person to speak or swallow.

Injecting crack exposes an individual to a variety of transmissible diseases, including HIV/AIDs and hepatitis B and C. Even individuals who don’t inject crack run the risk of contracting these diseases. Crack impairs judgement, leading some people to engage in unsafe sex which can transmit these diseases.

Crack may also be mixed with other substances, or adulterants, which can cause harm to a person’s lungs and body in additional ways.

Signs Of A Crack Cocaine Overdose

Crack enters a person’s body so rapidly when smoked, that even one dose may cause a person to overdose and die. Using large amounts of crack close together during binges places an individual at even greater risk of fatal overdose.

Crack is frequently used with other drugs, like alcohol and heroin. This increases the risk of overdose from both drugs. Using crack with alcohol causes a toxic byproduct called cocaethylene to build up in the body. This chemical has been known to cause sudden death and heart and organ damage.

Signs of an overdose from crack may include:

  • blue-colored skin
  • breathing difficulties or fast breathing
  • excessive sweating
  • high blood pressure
  • high body temperature
  • irregular or fast heart beat
  • loss of bladder control
  • seizures

If you believe your loved one is overdosing on crack, contact emergency medical services right away.

Signs Of Crack Cocaine Withdrawal

A person addicted to crack becomes physically dependent to the drug. This means that their body is unable to perform basic functions without the drug’s chemical influence. If a person isn’t able to use crack, their body will likely go haywire and go into withdrawal.

Symptoms of crack cocaine withdrawal include:

  • agitation
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • fatigue
  • extreme cravings
  • increased appetite
  • irritability
  • poor concentration
  • psychosis
  • slowed thinking
  • strange dreams
  • restlessness

Depression and cravings may continue for several months after cessation of drug use. Withdrawal-related depression has been linked to an increased suicide risk during this time. This makes treatment even more important. Learning relapse prevention skills helps to protect a person from these threats so that they can successfully maintain a drug-free life.

Detoxing From Crack Cocaine

A medically-supervised detoxification program isn’t always needed for the treatment of crack addiction. However, individuals experiencing severe withdrawal may need residential treatment.

At this time there aren’t any FDA-approved medications for crack cocaine addiction. Individuals experiencing mental health concerns such as anxiety or depression may require treatment with medications to reduce or alleviate these conditions. Nutritional support may be administered at this time to replenish vital stores of nutrients and vitamins lost during crack-induced malnourishment.

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Treatment For A Crack Cocaine Addiction

Strong cravings for crack may occur for several years after a person quits the drug. Without the proper arsenal of coping and relapse prevention skill offered during treatment, a person may return to crack abuse.

A comprehensive and individualized inpatient drug rehabilitation program delivers treatment which is tailored to the unique demands of a person’s life, so that a person is prepared to meet these challenges. A combination of counseling and behavioral therapies builds skills which strengthen and nurture a person’s sobriety in the time during and after treatment.

Contact to learn more about crack cocaine addiction treatment options.


Center for Substance Abuse Research — Crack Cocaine
MedlinePlus — Cocaine Intoxication, Cocaine Withdrawal
National Institute on Drug Abuse — Cocaine: Research Report Series

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