How to Help a Crack Addict
People may become addicted to crack cocaine after trying it only once... Addiction to crack cocaine can be overwhelming, and all but impossible to manage alone.
Crack is a form of the stimulant cocaine and is sold as white or off-white crystals called rocks. Crack first gained popularity in the 1980s as a cheaper alternative to powdered cocaine and is smoked to produce a quick, intense, and short-lived euphoric high.
Crack has a powerful potential to cause devastating addiction in those who use it. Fortunately, treatment is available and recovery from addiction can be found with the right care.
Approaching a Loved One About Crack Addiction Treatment
A person who is abusing crack cocaine may be going through a lot of different psychological struggles — mood swings, cravings, insomnia, feeling unable to stop using despite the desire to, and many other issues. How can a helping hand fit into all of this, especially when you’re not sure where to begin?
The first, and most important, thing that you can do is show your support. Make sure the person knows that you love them and will do whatever you can to help them in their struggle against crack addiction. A supportive network can make a big difference in a recovering addict’s life.
Try not to throw blame around. Remember that your loved one is going through a very serious struggle and what they need is abstinence support. People suffering from addiction are commonly stigmatized and blamed for their drug use and the consequences that arise from it. Approaching them with blame will only further isolate them and put them on the defensive. Your loved one may already be rationalizing his use and denying there's a problem. Instead of getting angry or trying to force them into treatment, express compassion for what they're going through. Tell them the ways you've seen their life suffer because of the drug. Use “I” statements when communicating how their crack use has affected the relationship, and maintain encouraging language when discussing the possibility of treatment.
Ask them calmly if they'd be willing to discuss treatment. Be prepared for them to find a lot of reasons why they can't go, e.g., they may say they can't leave home because of their children or that they can't afford it. If you can help them to overcome these objections by making plans ahead of time, you may be able to get a yes to treatment eventually. For example, you could arrange for childcare, or you could call treatment facilities to discuss insurance and other methods of payment beforehand. If they don't agree right away, take some time and broach the subject at a later date.
Professional guidance can be a huge help in this process of speaking with someone you love about treatment. A program known as Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) is a very effective method of training with a therapist in order to prepare for convincing a person to get help (Meyers, Smith, & Lash, 2005). It involves teaching sessions where you will learn the best ways to:
- Cope with stress.
- Productively communicate with the substance abuser.
- Avoid enabling.
- Encourage treatment in a productive way.
When approaching a loved one about their crack problem, bear in mind that they are going through some things that you might not understand. Your support in their sober efforts, even through potential relapse, can have a major positive impact on their long-term recovery.
Crack Addiction Treatment
There are currently no drugs approved for treating people with cocaine or crack addictions, but there is promising research into this field. For now, crack addiction treatment is focused on behavioral therapies and education.
One of the most effective therapies during the time when a crack addict is working toward initial abstinence is motivational incentives, or contingency management. This involves rewards for sobriety and clean drug tests.
Preventing crack cocaine abuse relapse involves a different type of technique: cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps the user better understand their addiction and triggers for use. In this therapy, patients practice refusal skills and learn how to cope with relapse temptations.
One proven method of treating crack cocaine addiction incorporates many different therapies into one cohesive program. This treatment course is known as the Matrix Model, and it works to foster a strong relationship between the recovering addict and his therapist.
Per the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Matrix Model involves:
- Relapse prevention.
- Family and group therapy.
- Self-help groups.
- Addiction education.
- Drug tests to ensure sobriety.
These formal treatments can occur in either an inpatient or an outpatient program. An inpatient drug rehabilitation center provides patients with a safe, controlled, and sober environment. Durations vary depending on the person’s particular situation and severity of drug use.
For people with strong social support and necessary responsibilities at home, outpatient facilities provide treatment that allows the patient to attend treatment during the day, typically for 1-2 hours once or several times a week. These programs may rely on drug tests to ensure sobriety throughout the treatment process.
When people in recovery are ready to return to their lives after treatment, sober living programs can provide long-term support during recovery. Peer support groups, like Cocaine Anonymous or LifeRing, are also widely available and can play a crucial role in maintaining sobriety over the long term.
Is Crack Addictive?
Crack, like all forms of cocaine, is an addictive drug. Smoking crack causes an immediate, intense high that wears off very quickly—usually within 10 to 15 minutes after the last use. These properties usher in a binge pattern of use, in which people who take crack will smoke large amounts of the drug over a short period of time in an attempt to maintain the high and stop only when their current supply is used up.
As with many addictive drugs, using crack cocaine often leads to the development of tolerance—a condition in which, over time, larger and larger doses of the drug are needed to produce the same results. Tolerance can be one of the first signs of physiologic dependence in a person abusing crack.
A study in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology showed that people who smoked crack were more likely to become dependent on it than those using more standard, non-freebased cocaine; the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland warns that people may become addicted to crack cocaine after trying it only once.
What Are the Signs of Addiction?
Because most people who are addicted to crack or other drugs will attempt to deny or minimize their use, it can be difficult to determine whether someone is in danger.
There are several signs that can indicate that someone is smoking crack, including:
- Possession of paraphernalia such as small glass pipes.
- Dilated (enlarged) pupils.
- Manic activity and very high energy levels.
- Speaking in an excited, rushed manner.
- Burns or other injuries to lips (“crack lip”).
- Paying less attention to their health and appearance than usual.
- Money problems and/or increased work or school absences.
Am I Addicted to Crack?
Addiction to crack or other forms of cocaine is a medically recognized mental illness – diagnosed broadly as a "stimulant use disorder" – that often renders people unable to rationally control their use of the drug.
Like other forms of cocaine, crack produces a strong psychological dependence in users. Someone who is dependent on crack will feel depressed, irritable, or anxious when they are not able to use the drug. A dependent person will also experience intense cravings for crack between uses that can distract from other responsibilities and goals, and furthermore decrease any resolve to stop using the drug.
People who are dependent on crack cocaine will continue to use the drug despite negative life consequences like being fired from a job, being arrested, or the breakdown of personal relationships due to crack use. Crack abusers will also often lose interest in activities or hobbies they used to enjoy.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. What treatments are effective for cocaine abusers? (2016). How Is Cocaine Addition Treated?
- Drug Enforcement Administration. (2013). Drug Fact Sheet: Cocaine.
- WebMD. (n.d.). Cocaine Use and Its Effects.
- Forrester JM, Steele AW, Waldron JA, Parsons PE. Crack lung: an acute pulmonary syndrome with a spectrum of clinical and histopathologic findings. Am Rev Respir Dis. 1990 Aug;142(2):462-7.
- O'brien, M., & Anthony, J. (2005). Risk of Becoming Cocaine Dependent: Epidemiological Estimates for the United States, 2000–2001. Neuropsychopharmacology, 1588-1588.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2010). What treatments are effective for cocaine abusers?
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). The Matrix Model (Stimulants).
- Meyers, R. J., Smith, J. E., & Lash, D. N. (2005). A program for engaging treatment-refusing substance abusers into treatment: CRAFT. International Journal of Behavioral and Consultation Therapy, 1(2). 90-100.