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Crack Overdose: Signs, Causes, and Treatment

Crack cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug that is a hard, rock-like form of cocaine.1 When it’s heated, it can be smoked or inhaled, and can produce fast-acting pleasurable effects.1

Using too much crack cocaine, intentionally or unintentionally, can lead to adverse effects, which may cause a crack overdose.1 A crack cocaine overdose can be fatal or nonfatal; however, both can take an emotional and physical toll on the person using drugs and/or on those around them.2 Understanding the risks associated with using crack cocaine could be crucial in making sure you or a loved one gets the help they need.

Can You Overdose on Crack?

Yes, a person can overdose on crack cocaine whether it’s their first time using, it or they’ve used it for a long period of time.1 A crack cocaine overdose can occur if a person uses too much of the drug or combines it with other substances.1

If a person relapses after quitting crack cocaine, there may be a higher potential for overdose because their body isn’t used to having the drug in their system.4

What Causes a Crack Overdose?

An overdose on crack cocaine can happen when a person takes so much of the drug that it leads to potentially dangerous health effects, extreme discomfort, or even death.1, 4 The risks increase when people combine cocaine with alcohol, which causes the production of a toxic chemical called cocaethylene.2 Mixing crack with heroin and other opioids can also be a lethal combination.1

A crack cocaine overdose can lead to death or serious health consequences that can affect the heart and lead to seizures or strokes.1 Unfortunately, overdose deaths related to cocaine have risen steadily to reach 19,447 in 2020.3 This is due in part to the rapid increase of people using synthetic opioids with cocaine or crack cocaine.3

Signs of a Crack Overdose

If you or a loved one think you may be experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately. The signs of a crack overdose may include:1

  • Seizures.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Stroke.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Change in body temperature.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Agitation or anxiety.

Risk Factors for a Crack Overdose

There are several potential risk factors for a crack overdose, beginning with a person simply using an excessive amount of the drug.

Cocaine and crack cocaine use can lead to changes in a person’s brain, which causes an increase in dopamine.5 As the brain gets used to the presence of the drug, a person often wants or craves more crack cocaine to achieve a certain feeling, or “high.”5 This can lead to a cycle of binging, which could play a role in a person overdosing on crack.5

 Other risk factors for a crack cocaine overdose may include:1, 4, 6, 7  

  • Mixing crack with other drugs. Many people who use crack cocaine drink alcohol or use it with opioids, which increases the risk of overdose.
  • Change in a person’s tolerance. If a person stops using crack, then starts again, their body may react differently, which can lead to an overdose.
  • Co-occurring physical health conditions. A person with other physical health conditions like heart problems, breathing issues, HIV, or a weakened immune system may be at a higher risk for an overdose.
  • Co-occurring mental health conditions. Many people with a stimulant use disorder have a co-occurring mental health disorder. This can make treatment difficult and may lead them to use crack cocaine or other drugs to ease symptoms related to mental health challenges.

What to Do if a Person is Overdosing on Crack

The first thing to do if a person is experiencing a crack overdose is to call 911. Emergency services may provide breathing assistance, CPR, or anti-convulsive medications if a person is having a seizure.

Unlike opioids, there are no medications that can be given to help reverse a crack cocaine overdose, therefore it’s imperative that a person get help immediately.

If you are with someone who is having an overdose and have called 911, do not leave the person alone and make sure the area around them is safe and secure until first responders arrive.

Treatment for Crack Cocaine Addiction

If you or a loved one have experienced a crack overdose or other symptoms of a substance use disorder (addiction), it may be helpful to seek support. Talking to your doctor, trusted loved ones, or contacting a treatment facility is a brave step in getting help for your crack addiction.

Addiction is a chronic disorder that affects the brain; however, it is treatable and manageable with proper treatment, just like other chronic medical conditions like diabetes.4

When seeking addiction treatment, it’s important that it address your unique needs to be effective.8 Stimulant use disorders cannot currently be treated with medication; however, the use of behavioral therapy is common in treatment for stimulant use disorders.4 Common therapies include:6

  • Contingency management provides rewards for successful efforts in maintaining abstinence. It has been extensively used in cocaine addiction treatment with moderate success.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps people recognize and avoid situations that are likely to result in a relapse.
  • Motivational interviewing works to increase a person’s incentive to abstain from cocaine.

Depending on the level of care needed, treatment can take place in an outpatient or inpatient facility. Treatment often begins with detox to help you safely manage withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting crack cocaine. While detox is an important step in recovery, without further treatment after detox, long-term outcomes may not be as good.8

Outpatient treatment allows a person to continue living at home while visiting the treatment facility for a set number of hours per week.

Inpatient or residential treatment requires people to stay in the facility for the duration of treatment, which varies depending on the progression of recovery.

Both inpatient and outpatient treatment can offer a range of services including detox, therapy, medication management, continuing care planning, mutual support groups, and amenities.

Find a Recovery Center

A crack overdose or any other type of overdose is very serious and should be treated by emergency medical staff. After being treated for effects related to an overdose, you or a loved one may want to seek further addiction treatment.

If you’re not sure where to start, American Addiction Centers (AAC) is ready to help. Call to speak with our team of caring people who understand addiction and can help explain treatment options. If you have insurance, they can also help you check your coverage at an AAC facility so you can get started in recovery immediately. We’re available 24/7 and every call is free and confidential. We’re ready to listen to your story and support you in taking a brave step towards a healthier life.

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