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Crack Cravings, Relapse, and Finding Help

Crack cocaine is a highly addictive and illegal stimulant drug. People who chronically use crack can have a hard time quitting the drug largely due to changes it causes to the brain’s reward system.1

Crack can quickly cause dependence, which means people can develop withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop or cut down their crack use because their bodies become used to functioning with crack cocaine.1 Withdrawal can include cravings as well as other unpleasant and uncomfortable symptoms that may contribute to relapse.1, 2

What Are Crack Cocaine Cravings?

Cravings are defined by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as “intense desires or urges” to use the substance. Crack cravings are more likely to occur when you are in an environment where you previously used or obtained the substance.3

Cravings are one of the criteria for substance use disorders, which can develop when a person regularly uses crack cocaine despite the negative consequences.4 Stimulant use disorder is the diagnostic term for addiction to stimulants like cocaine and crack.4

Crack cravings can be difficult to withstand and they can lead to relapse, partly because of brain changes that occur with crack use. This is one reason why it is challenging to quit using crack without proper support and treatment.4

Stimulants like crack cocaine can affect the functioning and release of different neurotransmitters in your brain, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, the key chemical that acts on the dopamine reward system in the brain.4

When you use crack, your brain releases huge amounts of dopamine, which causes short-lived feelings of pleasure and euphoria, or the “high.”4 These euphoric and pleasurable sensations help reinforce your desire to seek out and use the substance.

How Long Do Crack Cravings Last?

Many people who use crack experience cravings, but the exact duration and extent of cravings can vary from person to person. Cravings can occur at any time whether a person is in acute withdrawal or has been abstinent for years.4, 11 The intense cravings that occur during cocaine withdrawal often leads people to relapse and may result in a return to the binge cycle of using crack cocaine.4

Different individual factors may influence the strength and pattern of cravings, such as:4, 5, 6

  • Your age.
  • The presence of triggers (people, places, and thoughts that lead to the misuse of crack).
  • The availability of crack.
  • Your environment.
  • Whether you have co-occurring psychiatric disorders.
  • Poly-substance use.
  • The phase of treatment that you are in.

Common Types of Crack Cravings

Common cravings associated with crack use include:4, 5

  • Strong physical urges to use crack.
  • An intense psychological desire for crack.
  • Intrusive thoughts about crack that cause significant distress.
  • Wanting to use crack so badly that you are not able to think about anything else.

Crack Cocaine Cravings and Relapse Prevention

Cravings can be difficult to overcome on your own and can contribute to relapse.5 According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), relapse means that you resume substance use after you’ve tried to stop using.7

Relapse is common for many people who are in recovery and should not be viewed as a sign of failure but rather a sign that one needs to make changes to their current treatment and recovery plan.7 The NIDA points out that drug addiction is a relapsing disease that has comparable relapse rates to those of other chronic diseases, such as asthma or hypertension.7

Having a relapse prevention plan in place is important as a part of your continuing care plan and recovery.7, 8 Once you have completed rehab, your treatment team will help you develop an aftercare plan that may include different supportive components, such as attending mutual support meetings, therapy, or other forms of step-down care like outpatient treatment.

Relapse Warning Signs

It’s not always easy to recognize when you may be at risk of relapse; however, understanding your triggers and potential relapse warning signs may help you avoid relapse.4

Common relapse warning signs can include:8

  • Inability to identify emotions.
  • Isolating from others.
  • Avoiding support group meetings.
  • Focusing on others and not yourself.
  • Poor self-care.
  • Experiencing cravings.
  • Feeling that cravings are too overwhelming to resist.
  • Thinking about people, places, or things that remind you of using crack.
  • Minimizing or making light of the consequences of your crack use.
  • Lying to others.
  • Thinking of ways that you can control your crack use.
  • Looking for opportunities to use crack again.
  • Feeling like you won’t “get caught” if you relapse, or that you can use “just once.”
  • Feeling like you can’t have fun without substances.
  • Feeling like recovery is too hard.

How to Safely Stop Using Crack

Treatment is important for helping you safely quit using crack. Due to intense withdrawal symptoms and discomfort associated with crack withdrawal, detox can be an important phase of the recovery process. It can help you stay safe and comfortable while your body returns to a drug-free, medically stable state.4, 7

There isn’t a Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medication for crack cravings or crack cocaine withdrawal, but detox can provide monitoring and support, and address any co-occurring conditions or symptoms that may arise.4

The potential for psychosis, depression, self-harm, and suicide is of particular concern during cocaine and crack cocaine withdrawal, especially during the first 1-2 weeks of withdrawal and protracted withdrawal. People who are deemed of being at risk for these symptoms should be closely monitored.4

In addition to these potentially serious withdrawal symptoms, people who undergo withdrawal can experience:4

  • Dysphoria or low mood.
  • Anxiety.
  • Agitation.
  • Fatigue.
  • Other uncomfortable and distressing symptoms can make it difficult to stay sober.

Professional detox and treatment can help address these symptoms and can help ensure your safety and comfort during withdrawal from crack cocaine.

Treatment for Crack Cocaine Addiction

Recovery looks different for everyone. Treating crack cravings and treatment for crack cocaine addiction should be individualized and tailored to your unique needs. The NIDA points out that everyone has different needs, and no single treatment is right for everyone.9

Your treatment plan should account for all of your needs, including:9

  • Physical and mental health.
  • Social support.
  • Academic or employment needs.
  • Legal problems.
  • Ethnicity, race, gender, and culture.

Treatment can occur on a continuum that begins with detox and continues all the way to aftercare. Depending on your needs, you may enter an inpatient or outpatient facility for detox and ongoing treatment.

Inpatient care means that you live onsite and stay overnight for the duration of treatment. You receive round-the-clock care and monitoring and participate in different treatments and therapies. Inpatient care can be useful for many people, especially those with co-occurring psychiatric disorders or severe addictions.4

Outpatient care means that you live at home and travel to a treatment center on a regular schedule, which is determined by you and your treatment team. People sometimes step-down to outpatient care after they have completed an inpatient stay, but they can also directly enter treatment as an outpatient.

Outpatient treatment can occur on different levels of intensity. These can range from partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs that require frequent attendance at treatment, to standard outpatient care that may only require attending group or individual counseling sessions a couple of times a week.10

Evidence shows that behavioral therapy may provide the greatest support for people recovering from stimulant use disorders.4 Common therapies used in the treatment of stimulant use disorders are contingency management, cognitive behavioral therapy, and motivational interviewing.4 If you feel ready to enter treatment and have insurance, we can also help you check your coverage so you can start recovery today.

Find Support for Crack Cocaine Addiction

If you or someone you love is struggling with crack cocaine misuse, crack cravings, or have relapsed and aren’t sure what step to take next, American Addiction Centers is here to help. Our compassionate admissions navigators are available 24/7 at to take your call and help you understand treatment options. If you feel ready to enter treatment and have health insurance, we can help you quickly check your coverage so you can start recovery today.