Crack Cocaine Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Risks, and Treatment Resources
- Crack cocaine is a Schedule II drug that is most often smoked
- The drug has significant side effects, including an initial surge of energy, overwhelming happiness, and hyperfocus, followed by a period of depression, irritability, and extreme cravings.
- Individuals with co-occurring disorders may be more at risk for developing a crack cocaine addiction
- The DSM-5 classifies an addiction to crack cocaine as Stimulant Use Disorder
- Recovery from crack cocaine is possible and involves physical detox, therapeutic interventions, and healthy lifestyle changes
What is Crack?
Sometimes called crack cocaine, this stimulant is derived from cocaine. The off-white substance that’s broken into small, hard chunks called “rocks.” Cocaine is typically smoked but may also be injected.
A Schedule II drug, crack cocaine, is highly addictive and affects individuals, families, and communities from every geographic and socioeconomic background. According to data from the U.S. Department of Justice, an estimated 6.2 million U.S. residents have tried crack cocaine at least once.
Crack Cocaine Quick Reference
|Drug Category||Commercial & Street Names||DEA Schedule||Administration|
|Stimulant||Crack, crack cocaine, rock, base, candy, cookies, kryptonite, sleet, hard, tornado, snow coke, sleet, chemical, and others||Schedule II||
Effects of Crack
Users often report an initial surge of energy, overwhelming happiness, and hyperfocus in the first ten to fifteen minutes after taking crack cocaine. This is followed by a period of depression, irritability, and extreme cravings for more of the substance.
Crack cocaine affects multiple systems in the body and brain.
What Does Crack Do To The Brain In The Short Term?
In the short term, crack cocaine causes a buildup of the neurochemical dopamine, giving users feelings of euphoria and satisfaction. It also impacts other areas of the brain, including the hippocampus and amygdala areas , memory centers that imprint the recollection of the high in a permanent way, contributing to the strong urge to use again.
Crack can heighten the senses, amplifying the experiences of sights, scents, and touch. As a stimulant, crack cocaine can lead to feelings of intense energy, talkativeness, and in some cases, agitation, restlessness, and nervousness.
How Does Crack Affect Our Brains Over A Longer Time Period?
Crack cocaine users stop producing enough dopamine naturally, resulting in an increased reliance on the drug. This puts users at greater risk for serious mental illnesses, including psychosis. Lasting damage to the brain due to crack cocaine use also results in poor judgment, impulsiveness, and memory.
How Does Crack Affect The Body In The Short Term?
Crack causes an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature right after it is smoked or injected. Users may experience muscle spasms, convulsions, jitteriness, and other forms of involuntary movement. In some cases, users may experience seizures.
When crack is smoked, it causes blisters, sores, and cuts on the lips and mouths of users, putting them at an increased risk of contracting HIV and other diseases. Because crack slows down the pupil’s reaction to light, users often have bloodshot eyes and may experience vision problems.
What Does Crack Cocaine Do To The Body Over Time?
Long-term crack cocaine use puts immense strain on the body’s cardiovascular system, leading to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, and death. Liver damage, chronic malnutrition, sexual dysfunction, and infertility. Severe tooth decay, asthma, and lung damage are also associated with smoking this substance.
How Does Crack Affect People Living With ADHD and Other Neurodiversity?
For some people, especially those living with ADHD and neurodiversity, crack cocaine can provide a calming effect and lead to greater confidence and self-control. This may lead to crack cocaine being used to self-medicate these disorders.
Crack Cocaine and Addiction
Crack cocaine is extremely addictive, often causing people to crave it again immediately after trying it out for the first time. This sparks a vicious cycle, with users chasing that initial high again and again, requiring more of the drug to achieve the same feeling and leading to crack dependency.
Crack cocaine replaces the brain’s natural ability to create dopamine. Because of this, users require more and more crack to function. Without the drug, users experience debilitating periods of depression and irritability, with or without paranoia.
Withdrawing from crack cocaine also causes physical symptoms, including severe muscle cramps, agitation, diarrhea, tremors, restlessness, and insomnia. These unpleasant sensations contribute to people continuing to use the drug.
Diagnosing Crack Cocaine Addiction
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), addiction to crack cocaine is clinically referred to as a Stimulant Use Disorder.
Stimulant use disorder is present if a person meets 2 or more of the following criteria in the last 12 months:
- The stimulant is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
- There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control stimulant use.
- A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the stimulant, use the stimulant, or recover from its effects.
- Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use the stimulant.
- Recurrent stimulant use results in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
- Continued stimulant use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of the stimulant
- Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of stimulant use.
- Recurrent stimulant use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
- Stimulant use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the stimulant.
- Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:
- A need for markedly increased amounts of the stimulant to achieve intoxication or desired effect.
- A markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the stimulant.
If you suspect that you or someone you care about is experiencing Stimulant Use Disorder, speak to your medical provider about treatment options.
Can You Overdose on Crack?
Yes, it is possible to overdose crack. Symptoms of a crack overdose include a rapid heart rate, delirium and paranoia, pain in the chest, uncontrollable tremors, and a rise in heart rate and body temperature. In case of a potential crack cocaine overdose, call 9-1-1.
The likelihood a user will overdose increases with the length of their addiction as the person continues to take bigger and bigger doses in search of the same high.
Additionally, the illegal nature of crack cocaine makes it more likely that it will be cut with dangerous additives, including fentanyl, levamisole, and lidocaine, increasing the risk of overdose and death.
Overdose deaths in Tennessee involving any stimulant increased 245% from 2017 to 2021 with 620 deaths specifically from cocaine. But the state of Tennessee is working hard to change this with education and life-saving interventions.
From the fall of 2017 to the spring of 2023, over 60,000 lives were saved from drug overdoses in our state, as reported by the Regional Overdose Prevention Specialists (ROPS).
Is It Possible To Recover From A Crack Cocaine Addiction?
Recovery from crack cocaine is possible and becomes more likely with the support of family, friends, and medical professionals. It also requires the crack cocaine user to want to recover. Recovery takes the form of three stages — withdrawal, treatment, and lifestyle maintenance.
Crack Cocaine Withdrawal
Detoxing from crack cocaine is the first step in recovering from this addiction. Unfortunately, the symptoms of withdrawal from crack cocaine can be very severe. Wherever possible, it’s best to undergo this process while supervised by medical professionals, which may include your family doctor, an additional treatment specialist, or a rehabilitation center.
When stopping crack cocaine, people are likely to experience psychological symptoms, including extreme depression, anxiety, irritability, mood swings, and intense, painful cravings for the drug.
Physical symptoms range from restlessness and muscle pain to diarrhea, tremors, and a marked increase in appetite. These symptoms are most pronounced during the first 14 days and should begin to taper out by the 21-day point. Ask your doctor to prescribe you medication to help manage these symptoms.
Crack Cocaine Addiction Treatment
After the physical detox is over, the next stage of treatment for crack cocaine addiction begins. During this time, medical professionals, including doctors, therapists, and social workers, help address the underlying causes of addiction, for example, depression or anxiety and set up this individual for long-term sobriety and success.
This treatment may take place through inpatient or outpatient programs. Both of these treatment models typically involve individual psychotherapy, support groups, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and social and life skills training.
Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Crack Cocaine Relapses
Once someone has experienced crack cocaine addiction, they always need to be vigilant in avoiding a return to old habits.
According to researchers, lasting recovery from substance use disorder can be supported by six key elements:
- Nutritious and appealing diets
- Individualized physical activity plans
- Improving and maintaining good sleep
- Managing stress through healthy coping strategies
- Building and fostering strong social relationships
- Stopping tobacco smoking.
Recovery is an ongoing journey, but adding in some or all of these building blocks can help transform this challenge into a meaningful and hopeful lifestyle.
Frequently Asked Questions
According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Nearly 20% of adults ages 18 to 25 reported illicit drug use in the last month and over 10% of teens over the age 12 reported the same. Cocaine-specific numbers for the same age groups are 3.57% and 1.53% respectively.
The same SAMSHA study reported over 24% of adults ages 18 to 25 and more than 10% of teens over 12 using illicit substances in the last month. Cocaine use numbers are also higher than Tennessee at 4.77% and 1.59% respectively.
Some other common or “street names” for crack include crack cocaine, rock, base, candy, cookies, kryptonite, sleet, hard, tornado, snow coke, sleet, chemical, and others.
Crack and cocaine are both made from the coca plant. However, crack is made from a mixture of cocaine and other substances that often includes baking soda or ammonia in order to make it easier for users to smoke. By comparison, cocaine is typically snorted or injected.
The illegal nature of crack cocaine means that it’s likely any batch might contain unexpected and often dangerous contaminants. Levamisole is often added to crack cocaine and can cause serious infection and black patches on the skin. Other common contaminants include fentanyl and lidocaine.
Crack use during pregnancy can have serious negative consequences. Crack cocaine can cross the placenta and enter the fetus’ body, contributing to an increased risk of miscarriage, premature birth, and low birth rate. Another serious risk of using crack during pregnancy is placental abruption, which may result in death for both mother and child.
Are you or a loved one struggling with Crack use? Reach out today.
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Regional Overdose Prevention Specialists. Tennessee State Government – TN.gov. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.tn.gov/behavioral-health/substance-abuse-services/prevention/rops.html on May 18, 2023