Crack Cocaine Addiction and Recovery Facts
Crack cocaine is a form of cocaine that is made into a rock-like form and gets its name from the crackling sound when it is heated then smoked.1 Crack cocaine is an extremely powerful and addictive stimulant that many people take because it is cheaper than pure powder cocaine and is a fast-acting substance that produces feelings of intense pleasure or euphoria.1, 3
With repeated and chronic use over time, the body may build up a tolerance, resulting in the need for a higher amount of crack cocaine to obtain the same high.2 This repeated use can lead to short- and long-term effects, which can be dangerous and potentially increase the likelihood of an overdose.1, 2
If you or a loved one are struggling with crack cocaine misuse, this article will help you understand more about the substance and how to get help if you are struggling with misuse.
What Is Crack Cocaine?
Crack cocaine is a highly addictive central nervous system stimulant that is made by processing cocaine with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to form small “rocks,” which make a cracking sound when heated then smoked.1 Crack cocaine can range in color from white to a light tan.
Smoking crack cocaine results in very rapid absorption into the bloodstream, which leads to its effects being felt almost instantly. These instant effects are short-lived, lasting for only 5 to 10 minutes, and then wear off quickly. This can lead people into a cycle of binge use to maintain the high.1, 3
What’s the Difference Between Cocaine and Crack Cocaine?
The difference between crack cocaine and cocaine is in how they’re made. Cocaine is derived from coca leaves found in South America and is a pure hydrochloride salt in a white powder form.1, 7 Crack cocaine is an impure form of cocaine that is in a rock crystal form. Crack cocaine is made by combining cocaine with water and baking soda or ammonia (freebase), then heated to take out the hydrochloride.7 What’s left is a substance that can be smoked.7
Cocaine is often combined with other substances like cornstarch or baking soda to increase profits.1 It can also be cut with other drugs like amphetamines or synthetic opioids, which can make it very risky to use and may even be related to the increase in cocaine-related overdose deaths.1
Common street names for cocaine and crack cocaine include:6
What Makes Crack Addictive?
The rapid way in which crack cocaine affects the brain, coupled with its pleasurable effects, are key motivators for people to keep using the drug more frequently and in greater amounts.1, 2, 5
Crack cocaine’s euphoric effects are caused by an increase in dopamine in the brain.1, 2 A buildup of dopamine in the brain reinforces impulsive behaviors to use crack cocaine, which may lead people to keep using the substance even if they experience negative consequences related to misuse.1
As people continue using crack cocaine, their brains can adapt and become less sensitive to the drug, resulting in a higher tolerance. This tolerance can lead people to use crack more frequently and in larger doses, so they can feel the same euphoric effects.1, 2
As crack cocaine changes the brain over time, people may become less able to identify the negative consequences related to its misuse and as a result, experience poor decision making, which may contribute to the development of addiction.4
What Are the Health Effects of Crack Cocaine?
Crack cocaine misuse can lead to several short- and long-term effects that can be risky and even deadly. Some of the short-term effects of crack cocaine include:8
- Narrowed blood vessels.
- Enlarged pupils.
- Change in heart rate.
- Elevated body temperature.
- Increased energy.
- Erratic behavior.
Some of the long-term effects of crack cocaine are:8, 9
- Lung damage.
- Worsened asthma.
- Reduced blood flow to organs.
- Weight loss.
- Heart problems.
Signs of Crack Cocaine Addiction
A person who has a crack addiction will continue to use the drug despite negative consequences. These consequences can range from health issues and legal problems to struggles in relationships.
Diagnosing an addiction is done by a medical professional; however, knowing the signs of a crack addiction may be helpful in deciding when to seek support. If you have experienced 2 or more of the following criteria from the American Psychiatric Association (APA) for stimulant use disorder, it may be time to get help:10
- Using crack cocaine in larger or more frequent doses than originally intended.
- Unable to reduce or quit cut crack cocaine use, even if you want to.
- Spending significant time seeking, using, and recovering from the effects of crack cocaine.
- Craving higher amounts of crack cocaine.
- Inability to fulfill your responsibilities at work, home, or school due to crack cocaine misuse.
- Continuing crack cocaine misuse even if you have challenges in your relationships.
- Giving up hobbies you once enjoyed because of crack cocaine misuse.
- Using crack cocaine in risky situations like driving or operating machinery.
- Development of withdrawal symptoms if you reduce or discontinue the use of crack cocaine.
American Addiction Centers has helped thousands recover from addiction and we can help you or your loved one too. Check your insurance to find out instantly if your insurance provider may be able to cover all or part of the cost of rehab and associated therapies. You can also sign up 24/7 text support for addiction questions at your convenience.
Crack Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms
People who use crack cocaine and then stop or decrease their use, are at an increased risk for experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Physical dependence is when your body is used to the drug to the point it undergoes withdrawal syndromes when the drug is stopped or reduced. These symptoms can range from mild to severe and last for a few days to even months.1
Unlike the withdrawal syndromes of some other substances like alcohol, benzodiazepines, or opioids, crack cocaine withdrawal is not typically associated with severe, dangerous, or life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms may include:1, 8
- Increased appetite.
- Bad dreams and insomnia.
- Slowed thinking.
Overdose and overdose deaths are risk factors associated with crack cocaine misuse.1 The total number of cocaine overdose deaths rose from 5,419 in 2014 to 19,447 in 2019, making it even more important to prevent crack cocaine misuse.11
A person who has developed a tolerance (needing more crack to produce effects) to crack cocaine may be at higher risk of an overdose.9 Combining crack cocaine with other substances may also increase the risk of overdose and other adverse health effects.1, 8
If you or someone you know is experiencing a crack cocaine overdose, call 911 immediately. Symptoms of crack overdose include:1
- Heart problems like chest pain or irregular heartbeat.
- Irregular breathing.
- High blood pressure.
- Elevated body temperature.
- Anxiety and agitation.
Crack Cocaine Treatment
Choosing to get treatment for crack cocaine addiction is a brave first step toward a healthier lifestyle. Unlike other substances, there are not any FDA-approved medications to specifically treat stimulant use disorder.1 However medications may be used to help treat some of the general symptoms of withdrawal.
Treatment for stimulant use disorders often includes behavioral therapies. These therapies work to address underlying triggers associated with substance misuse and develop healthy coping skills to avoid relapse.1
Common treatment options include:
- Residential or inpatient treatment centers may be best for people with a severe addiction or those who have relapsed. People stay in inpatient facilities for the duration of treatment.
- Outpatient treatment centers allow you to live at home while going through crack cocaine rehab. Treatment can be at varying levels of intensity and duration depending on a person’s needs.
- Recovery housing acts as safe, sober, transitional housing for people stepping down from other forms of treatment. It can help people adjust to life without using crack cocaine before living independently.
Treatment services may include:1
- Mutual support groups like 12-Step programs involve regular meetings with others struggling with crack cocaine addiction to support the recovery process.
- Behavioral therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy and contingency management.
- Co-occurring disorder treatment for people with co-occurring mental health disorders.
- Continuing care planning helps people plan for the next steps in their recovery journey like therapy or step-down treatment.
Crack Cocaine Statistics
- Use rates: An estimated 0.2% of people aged 12 or older (or 657,000 people) used crack in 2020.
- Age differences: Rates of crack cocaine use increased with age going to 0.3% for those over age 26.
- Cocaine use disorder: An estimated 0.5% (or 1.3 million people) of people aged 12 or older had a cocaine use disorder in 2020.
How to Find Help
If you or someone you love are struggling with crack cocaine misuse and you aren’t sure what step to take next, American Addiction Centers is here to help. Our caring admissions navigators are available 24/7 to take your call, listen to your story and help you understand treatment options. You can contact us for free at . Check your insurance benefits online with AAC now. We can also provide other addiction resources to help you get the support you need.