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Understanding Crack Addiction Relapse

Crack Relapse Recovery

Crack cocaine is a highly addictive drug and many users who try to quit relapse at least once. However, a relapse on crack offers an opportunity to learn and grow, as well as to find ways to avoid future relapses.

What Defines a Relapse?

Relapse means to return to prior drug use habits after a period of abstinence.

Relapse is often a gradual process that is preceded by specific warning signs. 1, 2 When a person who was addicted to crack relapses, he or she may quickly return to patterns of using the drug that may feel uncontrollable.

Relapse is a common problem for drug users, with an estimated 80% to 95% of people relapsing when trying to stop drug use, 3 and 40% to 60% of users relapsing after treatment. 4

An exact relapse rate on crack is difficult to pinpoint due to varying statistics in the research literature, as well as most of the research literature focusing on crack addicts who have participated in treatment. However, experts agree that cocaine is highly addictive, relapse rates are high, and crack cocaine is more problematic than non-smoked cocaine. Roughly 68% of treatment admissions for cocaine use are for crack cocaine. 5

Why People Relapse on Crack

Some of the most common causes of crack cocaine relapse include: 2, 6, 7
  • Stress. Stress is one of the main reasons people relapse. Stress can come from many different sources, including major demands or changes in your life. Examples include work responsibilities, losing a family member, getting married, or moving to a new area. Stress management is a key component of relapse prevention.
  • Emotional pain. Depression, anxiety, and loneliness can all lead to a relapse to make yourself feel better.
  • Poor self-care. Isolating yourself, eating poorly, and not getting enough sleep can affect your mood and lead to an urge to use.
  • Being around people or things that remind you of crack use. This includes money, places where you used crack, or other crack users.
  • Not participating in aftercare treatment. Aftercare is follow-up care you receive after leaving a treatment program and may include outpatient therapy, medication, and participation in 12-step groups.

How to Recover From a Crack Relapse

If you’ve relapsed on crack, there are several steps you can take to get back on track.

  • Stop using crack immediately. The longer you use crack, the harder it will be to stop. Quitting again soon after a relapse can minimize the likelihood of experiencing addiction-related problems, including the need to go through a difficult withdrawal again.
  • Reflect on why the relapse happened. How well were you taking care of yourself? Were you bored or lonely? Were there problems with a job, family, or friends? Did your thinking patterns change, such as denying that your crack use was a problem or rationalizing that using “just one more time” would be OK?
  • Contact someone in your support network. This may include a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) sponsor, a therapist, a family member, or a friend. Be honest about the relapse and be open to exploring the steps that led to the relapse.
  • Get back into treatment. Even if you have been in addiction treatment before, re-engaging in treatment after a crack relapse can be a learning experience. You can figure out what went wrong and what needs to change so it doesn’t happen again. In addition, you may be more open to learning and integrating healthy coping skills after a relapse.

Considerations for Engaging or Re-engaging in Treatment

  • The level of treatment depends on how severe the relapse was. A minor relapse requires minor interventions, such as increasing sessions with your outpatient therapist or increasing attendance at NA meetings. A severe relapse, which may have gone on for days or weeks, requires a serious intervention. This may include participating in a medically supervised detoxification program followed by residential rehab treatment, even if you have previously participated in these programs.
  • The previous rehab program may not have been the right fit. Recovery looks different for everyone, and what worked for one person may not work for another. Discuss other treatment options with your sponsor, therapist, or another addiction professional.
  • Consider whether there is an undiagnosed and untreated mental illness or trauma. Co-occurring disorders, in which a person struggles with an addiction and mental illness at the same time, are common and may require additional medication and/or specialized therapy.
  • Develop a relapse prevention plan. You can get help from an addiction treatment team, a therapist, or a sponsor. A relapse prevention plan may include seeing a therapist, going to 12-step meetings, practicing self-care, identifying triggers, building a support network, entering sober living, and learning how to manage cravings.

Crack Relapse Warning Signs

Users often display certain behaviors or have certain thoughts before they relapse. These usually include:

  • Thinking that using just once is OK. Some people think they can control their crack use after a period of sobriety. But using just once, or even using another drug, can lead to a full-blown relapse.
  • Hanging around crack users or other drug users. It’s very easy to fall back into using if you’re spending time around other users and being exposed to drugs and peer pressure.
  • Spending too much time alone. Isolation can lead to loneliness, depression, and despair, which can all cause cravings.
  • Talking or thinking about past drug use. If you find yourself often thinking about how much fun you had using crack, or even how you could get some, call a sponsor or someone else in your support group and tell them about these thoughts.
  • Going through a stressful event or crisis. It can be tempting to relapse during a stressful period to relieve negative feelings.

Moving Forward After a Relapse

Not all crack users relapse after getting clean. But many relapse at least once, and sometimes several times, before achieving long-term sobriety. 1

After a crack relapse, accept it as part of the recovery process and use it as a learning experience to become stronger in your journey to sobriety.

For those who have a loved one who relapses, it’s OK to express disappointment from a place of love and concern. But then it is important to move on and support the person in getting the help he or she needs to prevent a future relapse. When the relapse is viewed as a failure, the person often experiences deep shame, disappointment, and hopelessness. This can lead to continued and more severe relapses. 2

Reframing a Relapse

An important recovery skill is being able to reframe relapses in a positive way<. For example, instead of saying to yourself, “I’m such a failure; I’ll never be able to live a life without crack,” you could say, “Relapses are a normal part of addiction recovery. Even though I’m disappointed it happened, I can use this as an opportunity to figure out what went wrong and make sure it doesn’t happen again.” Also, acknowledge the strengths you bring to recovery and the growth you’ve experienced.

Just as someone with another chronic illness, such as diabetes, may relapse before fully adhering to his or her treatment regimen, so do addicts. 4 Recovery is a long-term process of learning to weather life’s ups and downs without returning to crack or other drugs.

Find a Relapse Prevention Recovery Program

If you or someone you know has relapsed on crack, or is at risk of relapsing, call a treatment support advisor today at . Our phone lines are open 24 hours a day.

[1]. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2006). Counselor’s Manual for Relapse Prevention with Chemically Dependent Criminal Offenders. Technical Assistance Publication Series 19.

[2]. Melemis, S.M. (2015).Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 88 (3), 325-332.

[3]. Hendershot, C. S., Witkiewitz, K., George, W. H., and Marlatt, G. A. (2011). Relapse prevention for addictive behaviors.
Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 6, 17.

[4]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (July 2014). Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.

[5]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (May 2016). Cocaine: Research Report Series.

[6]. Shalev, U., Grimm, J.W., and Shaham, Y. (2002). Neurobiology of Relapse to Heroin and Cocaine Seeking: A Review. Pharmacological Reviews, 54, 1-42.

[7]. Wallace, B.C. (1989). Psychological and environmental determinants of relapse in crack cocaine smokers. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 6 (2), 96-106.