Flakka Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Effects, and Treatment
What is Flakka?
Flakka, also called “gravel” due to its appearance, is a synthetic (manmade) derivative of the naturally occurring cathinone found in the khat plant, known as a synthetic cathinone or stimulant.1, 4 Flakka is similar in chemical structure to other synthetic cathinones known as bath salts and considered a new psychoactive substance (NPS), which is unregulated and potentially dangerous.1, 2
Flakka typically comes in a pink or white crystal form that can be eaten, injected, snorted, or vaporized.2 Synthetic cathinones like flakka are typically sold as bath salts, jewelry cleaners, or phone screen cleaners and labeled “not for human consumption.”1
People take flakka for its stimulant-like effects and because it’s cheaper than stimulants like cocaine.2
Is Flakka Addictive?
Flakka and other synthetic cathinones can be addictive.2 More research needs to be done on the effects and addictive potential of flakka and other synthetic cathinones; however, people do report strong urges and cravings to use synthetic cathinones and experience withdrawal symptoms if they quit.2 These are both signs of a substance use disorder.3 Some potential withdrawal symptoms can include:1
- Sleep troubles.
While research continues to be done, it appears that synthetic cathinones affect the brain in similar ways to MDMA, amphetamines, or cocaine.2 However, since they are manmade, they are often much stronger than their stimulant counterparts.2
Recent data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows that in 2020, 118,000 people aged 12 or older used synthetic stimulants like flakka or bath salts in the previous year.4
Short- and Long-Term Effects of Flakka
The medical community is still trying to understand the short- and long-term effects of flakka and other synthetic cathinones. Most of what is known about flakka has been gathered from reports of physicians working in emergency rooms and psychiatric hospitals.
In addition to the stimulant effects people often take Flakka for, there are potentially dangerous or uncomfortable side effects or health issues that can result from use. People who inject or snort flakka may experience more intense adverse effects.1 Common effects of synthetic cathinones include:1
- Being more friendly.
- Increased desire for sex.
- Panic attacks.
- Agitation and/or violent behavior.
Adverse health effects can include:1
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure.
- Chest pain.
- Breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue.
- Kidney failure.
People who become intoxicated by synthetic cathinones can experience overdose and even death.1
Overcome Flakka Addiction
People struggling with addiction to flakka or other stimulants and synthetic cathinones can be diagnosed with a stimulant use disorder by a doctor. Diagnosis is based on the criteria set forth in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). If you or a loved one has displayed at least 2 of the following criteria in the past year, consider speaking to someone who can help you find a recovery program for stimulant misuse:3
- Taking more stimulants or more often than you initially intended to
- Unsuccessful attempts at quitting stimulant use or trying to control or cut down on use
- Spending a lot of time consuming or trying to obtain stimulants
- Neglecting responsibilities at home, at work, or at school due to using flakka
- Cravings or strong desires to use stimulants
- Stimulant use leads to failure to fulfill obligations like work or school.
- Continued stimulant use even when it causes problems in relationships
- Giving up activities a person once enjoyed due to stimulant use
- Using stimulants in situations that could be dangerous or even life-threatening like driving
- Recurrent stimulant use even if a person knows it’s causing or amplifying physical or psychological problems
- Tolerance: noticing that you are using more stimulants to get the same effect or that the same amount of the drug does not have the same effect that it once had
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop or reduce stimulant use
Flakka Addiction Treatment and Recovery
If you or a loved one are struggling with substance misuse like flakka addiction, you can seek treatment. Each facility will offer different amenities and programs, so it is important to understand your needs and what a facility offers before choosing.
Common treatment settings for substance use disorders include:
- Detox: Detox facilities can help you or your loved one through the acute withdrawal symptoms that will occur during the first few days to a week after you decide to quit stimulants. There are no FDA-approved medications for stimulant withdrawal; however, having support can help you safely manage physical and psychological symptoms related to withdrawal.5
- Outpatient programs: People can attend outpatient treatment at varying levels of intensity depending on their needs. Outpatient care allows a person to still live at home while visiting the treatment center to receive support.
- Inpatient programs: Inpatient treatment ranges from 28 days to several months depending on the person’s needs. These facilities typically provide comprehensive care, including individual therapy, family therapy, group therapy, classes on nutrition and a healthy and balanced diet, assistance on lifestyle changes, and exercise and relaxation classes.
Find Flaka Rehab
If you’re struggling with addiction to flakka, help is available. Contact one of American Addiction Centers’ (AAC) caring representatives today at to get help choosing a treatment program that is right for you or your loved one. The representative can check your insurance coverage over the phone and offer treatment options based on your coverage.