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What Is Crack Cocaine? Side Effects, Crack Withdrawal, and Addiction Treatment

What Is Crack Cocaine?

Crack cocaine is an addictive stimulant drug that is the rock crystal form of powdered cocaine.1,2,5 Crack cocaine is a more potent form of cocaine that is processed so that it can be smoked, which provides an immediate high.5 The name “crack” cocaine comes from the crackling noise the drug makes when it is smoked.2

Crack may also be referred to as rock, freebase, raw, or hard cocaine.4,5 Crack cocaine is white or off-white in color and a solid rock formation in varying sizes and shapes, while cocaine is a white or off-white powder.5,6

Due to its addictive nature, nearly 800,000 Americans aged 12 and over had used crack in 2019, and 1 million Americans aged 12 and over struggled with a cocaine use (including crack cocaine) disorder.3

Crack cocaine can be dangerous and in order to increase awareness, it is important to answer the following questions:

  • What is crack cocaine?
  • How can crack cocaine affect the brain and body?
  • What are the risks of crack cocaine use?
  • What are the signs and symptoms of crack cocaine addiction?
  • How can I find addiction treatment for my crack cocaine use disorder?

What’s the Difference Between Crack and Cocaine?

While powder cocaine and crack are similar forms of the same drug, they can affect a person differently because of how they are made and their methods of use.1 Cocaine and crack cocaine are both derived from the coca plant, but they are processed differently and come in different formations. Crack is created by processing cocaine and mixing it with baking soda into a smokable form that rapidly delivers an intense, euphoric high. Crack is an impure form of cocaine and is often sold on the streets much cheaper than pure cocaine, while still delivering an intense high.1,4  

Some of the major differences between cocaine and crack include:1,4,5,7

  • The duration of the drugs’ effects. Smoking crack cocaine causes an immediate high that is very short, often diminishing within 5-10 minutes.
  • The intensity of the drugs. Crack cocaine results in a near-immediate high that is much more intense compared to pure cocaine in powder form.
  • Addiction potential. The fast, intense high and quick diminishing effects of crack cocaine can make a person more likely to use it repeatedly, increasing the risk of developing an addiction.
  • Cost. Crack cocaine is mixed with impurities and can be made anywhere, making it a much cheaper alternative to cocaine. The low cost associated with crack cocaine is what initially made it so popular.

What Is Crack Addiction?

Substance use disorders (SUDs), including addiction to crack cocaine, occur when a person’s continual drug use causes changes in the brain’s chemistry. This results in the inability to discontinue drug use, despite negative life consequences that are directly linked to crack cocaine abuse.2

Over time, the effects of crack cocaine can become blunted, with a person requiring more of the drug in order to feel the same euphoric high. When an individual uses larger amounts of a drug to produce the same high, they are becoming tolerant to it, meaning that their brain and body have become desensitized to the drug of abuse.7,8,9

Tolerance is different from addiction, as addiction is an all-encompassing term that affects the brain, body, and an individual’s behavior. Oftentimes, individuals who have a substance use disorder will also develop a tolerance to the drug they abuse.

Signs of Crack Cocaine Addiction

Crack addiction is not always easy to detect in yourself or others, so it can be helpful to know what to look for so that you can seek treatment for crack cocaine addiction when appropriate. While it’s best for healthcare professionals to make a substance use disorder diagnosis, the following criteria can be helpful in identifying a potential substance use problem. If you or a loved one has experienced 2 or more of the following in the past 12 months, it may be time to seek help:8,11,12

  • Needing more crack cocaine to elicit the same high, otherwise known as tolerance.
  • Experiencing strong urges to use crack cocaine.
  • Going through symptoms of withdrawal when crack use is stopped or dramatically reduced.
  • Having arguments or strained relationships with friends or loved ones that are caused or worsened by crack use.
  • Having trouble handling obligations at work, school, or home because of your use of crack.
  • Cutting back or quitting enjoyable activities as a result of crack use.
  • Inability to cut back or stop using crack even if you want to.
  • Inability to stop using crack even after you are aware that it has caused or worsened a physical or mental health issue.
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, or withdrawing from crack.
  • Taking crack in larger amounts or for longer lengths of time than planned.
  • Using crack when it is physically dangerous to do so, such as while driving.

What Are the Effects of Crack Cocaine Addiction?

Stimulants such as cocaine initially cause a rush of euphoria, increased energy, an increased sense of alertness, talkativeness, and a sense of grandiosity.2,8 There are a range of physical and mental health effects associated with short-term and long-term crack cocaine use, including:2,6,8,10

  • Abnormal heart rhythms.
  • Anxiety or panic attacks.
  • Increased sensitivity to sensory input.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Feelings of paranoia.
  • Headaches.
  • Impaired judgment.
  • Increased blood pressure, body temperature, and heart rate, which can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Increased irritability.
  • Insomnia.
  • Loss of appetite, which can lead to weight loss or malnutrition.
  • Muscle twitches or tremors.
  • Nausea.
  • Psychosis.
  • Respiratory issues such as chronic cough, damage to the lungs, the development of asthma, difficulty breathing, and a higher risk of developing lung infections such as pneumonia.
  • Seizures.
  • Unpredictable or violent behavior.

Crack Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms

When you use crack cocaine regularly for a prolonged period of time, your brain and body adapt to the presence of the drug, becoming physically dependent on the drug of abuse.10 After crack cocaine use is stopped or reduced, the brain and body’s chemistry is drastically altered, which can result in withdrawal symptoms as the brain works to rebalance its neurotransmitter levels.7

While the majority of these symptoms can be very uncomfortable, they are unlikely to cause physical harm. It is important to know that you can receive professional addiction treatment to help ease withdrawal side effects and prevent future relapses.13 Common crack cocaine withdrawal symptoms include:6,7,11,12,13,14

  • Agitation.
  • Depression.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Changes in sleep patterns.
  • Nightmares.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Difficulty focusing.
  • Exhaustion.
  • Inability to feel pleasure in things that used to be enjoyable.
  • Paranoia or hallucinations if you have been using large amounts of crack.
  • Strong cravings for crack cocaine.
  • Slowed reflexes and thought patterns.

There are no medications approved to specifically manage crack cocaine withdrawal symptoms and, as a result, detoxification is focused on promoting relaxation, hydration, and nutrition in a supportive setting. Antidepressants and antipsychotic medications may be prescribed to manage symptoms of depression and psychotic symptoms.13,14

Crack Cocaine Addiction Treatment

Addiction affects each person differently, so treatment should be tailored to meet the unique needs of each individual.9 An initial assessment will help determine the proper level of care.15

Crack cocaine addiction treatment can occur across various settings and levels of intensity, depending on how severe a person’s struggle with addiction is and other needs they may have.9 Inpatient rehab or outpatient treatment settings can each offer different levels of intensity and may be adjusted to meet your needs as you progress through a program.9,15

Ensuring that treatment is tailored to the individual and not just the disorder increases a person’s likelihood of a successful long-term recovery.9 As you progress in treatment, your needs may change, so the treatment facility should reassess your treatment plan periodically.9 A treatment program may also address:9

  • Your physical health concerns.
  • Family and social relationships.
  • Employment.
  • Legal issues.
  • Parenting skills.
  • Co-occurring mental health conditions.

Treatment programs utilize behavioral therapies—sometimes more than one at a time—to help you overcome substance use and create positive changes in your life.9

Motivational Interviewing

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a type of therapy that is often used at the start of treatment to help people deal with feelings of uncertainty about making changes, such as stopping drug use or starting treatment.12 When a therapist uses MI treatment techniques, you learn how to work through doubts and make your own decisions. The therapist acts as an empathetic listener and helps you identify differences between your values and your behaviors.12 This technique helps to increase self-confidence and hopefulness.12

Contingency Management

Contingency Management (CM) is a type of behavioral therapy that rewards positive, desirable behaviors such as staying sober and attending treatment.9,12 Small prizes or access to privileges are given out when you engage in recovery-focused behaviors and activities, and they often increase as you consistently remain sober and attend treatment without missing sessions.9 This evidence-based technique promotes sobriety and recovery from stimulants such as crack cocaine.9,12

Community Reinforcement

The community reinforcement approach (CRA) is a behavioral therapy that is commonly used on an outpatient basis.9 The goal is to make sobriety more appealing than abusing drugs or alcohol by using tangible rewards and a variety of reinforcements, including family and social relationships, work, and hobbies.9,12

Treatment involves several individual counseling sessions to adopt and improve the following:9,12

  • Developing skills to help you stop using crack cocaine and any other addictive substances.
  • Improve relationships with family members.
  • Participate in healthy and sober activities.
  • Build a supportive sober network of friends.
  • Learn or strengthen job skills.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a commonly used behavioral therapy for the treatment of various forms of substance use disorders, including addiction to crack cocaine.9,12 The goal of CBT is to prevent relapse so that you can maintain sobriety.9 This is accomplished by:9,12

  • Identifying and planning for high-risk situations.
  • Developing effective coping skills.
  • Examining the likely positive and negative consequences of both continued crack use and sobriety.
  • Tracking your cravings.
  • Understanding how distorted thought patterns influence your behaviors and patterns of substance use.

Find Crack Addiction Treatment Programs

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction to crack cocaine or other substances, American Addiction Centers (AAC) is here to help you find treatment. We offer a free, confidential helpline you can reach 24/7. You can contact us at . Call today to speak with a caring admissions navigator who will provide information about detox programs and other addiction treatment options, help you quickly verify your health insurance benefits, and answer any questions you may have. Recovery is possible. Let us help you get started today.

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