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Crack Cocaine Short-Term, Long-Term, Side Effects, and Addiction Treatment

How Is Crack Taken?

Since it first appeared on the illicit drug scene during the 1980s, crack cocaine has solidified its reputation as one of the most addictive substances available on the street. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, part of its popularity is due to the fact that almost anyone can make it, provided they have the right tools. Additionally, it can be produced in smaller, easily transported quantities that are cheaper to buy than powdered cocaine. A common method of production involves mixing cocaine with ammonia, baking soda, and water. As the water dissolves, dried crystals—known as crack cocaine—form.

Users typically insufflate (snort) or first dissolve in solution, then inject powdered cocaine. However, people who use crack typically smoke the substance. While uncommon, crack can be dissolved in aqueous solution and injected, similarly to its powdered counterpart. Smoking the drug produces a faster, more intense high than snorting does because it reaches the bloodstream and brain more quickly. However, the effects of smoking cocaine are shorter in duration, lasting only 5 to 10 minutes verses 15 to 30 minutes for insufflated powder.

Some of the potential dangers associated with using crack include:

  • Lung damage.
  • Respiratory problems.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Tachycardia or racing heart beat.
  • Onset of psychotic symptoms.

Short-Term Effects of Crack Use

While users claim to feel euphoric or high when using crack, there are some paradoxical drawbacks to using the drug. The initial euphoria can quickly turn to feelings of depression and paranoia.

The short-term physical and mental effects of using crack are generally more intense than the effects of snorting powdered cocaine and similar to those of injecting cocaine. These effects are also similar to those of other commonly abused stimulants, such as methamphetamine.

Because crack is produced in unregulated settings from cocaine of inconsistent purity and quality, the precise effects vary greatly, but they generally include:

  • Euphoric “rush.”
  • Increased alertness.
  • Excited state.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Dilated (enlarged) pupils.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Intense craving for another dose shortly after the high subsides.

People experiencing crack-induced paranoia might find themselves thinking that someone is trying to get into their house, that someone is following them, or that others are trying to attack them. This can lead to aggressive behavior or unprovoked attacks on others and dangerous situations for both the user and innocent bystanders.

Side Effects of Crack Use

The fleeting high from smoking crack can be outweighed by a host of negative effects. Though these can vary as widely as the positive effects listed above, commonly reported side effects of crack use include:

  • Irritability.
  • Anxiety.
  • Headaches.
  • Depression.
  • Aggressive, paranoid behavior.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Sudden death due to heart attack or stroke.

Potential for Crack Cocaine Addiction

According to an article in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, crack use is associated with a higher rate of dependence than powdered cocaine.

Crack cocaine gives the user an intense, euphoric feeling. The first time a person uses crack, he or she feels an initial high that cannot be recreated by subsequent use. Users sometimes describe this as a feeling unlike anything else in the world.

Once the person experiences this initial high, they may spend years trying to chase this feeling as tolerance to the drug effects develop rapidly. In these attempts, they may take increasing amounts, putting them at risk of overdose.

This pattern of compulsively chasing an elusive euphoric feeling is a fundamental component leading to the diagnosis of a mental condition known formally as ‘crack use disorder’—but, more commonly, as addiction. It can only take one use for a person to be well on their way to forming an addiction to crack.

Video: Crack Cocaine and Your Brain

The following video shows how your brain is affected by crack cocaine use and how using it can lead to dependence, addiction, and an array of negative effects.

Credit: AsapScience

To learn more, visit our blog, Crack Cocaine’s Effect on the Brain.

Long-Term Effects of Crack Use

In addition to negative short-term effects, long-term crack cocaine abuse can have even more pronounced drawbacks that affect users even when they are not getting high.

A list of the most serious long-term side effects of crack use includes:

  • Ever-increasing tolerance.
  • Severe, unpleasant withdrawal syndrome.
  • Mood disorders, including depression.
  • Delirium.
  • Psychotic symptoms, including auditory and tactile hallucinations, and/or paranoid delusions.
  • Addiction.

Some users experience a problem that abusers refer to as “coke bugs” or “crack bugs. This is a type of tactile hallucination—also called formication—that makes the abuser feel like bugs are crawling on or below their skin. The user might have long scratch marks on the surface of his or her skin caused by scratching in an effort to get rid of the bugs. Such hallucinations can make it impossible to sleep, and the resulting sleep deprivation contributes to the user’s disordered, delusional thinking.

Lasting Health Effects of Crack

Long-term crack cocaine use puts the user at risk of not only the mental effects listed previously, but also serious damage to their health. Some lasting health effects of crack cocaine smoking include:

  • Cardiovascular and respiratory problems.
  • Seizures or convulsions.
  • Sexual dysfunction.
  • Reproductive damage and infertility.
  • Malnutrition.
  • “Crack lip, which refers to painful blistering, bruising, and cracked lips caused by repeated exposure to the hot temperature of the crack pipe as it is pressed against the lips.
  • Oral issues, including infection, tooth decay, and broken and yellow teeth.
  • Systemic toxicity resulting from inhalation of harmful fumes from the ammonia or other volatile compounds used in the creation of the crack.
  • Increased risk of developing an acute injury to the lungs known as “crack lung. The crack cocaine smoke constricts blood vessels in the lungs, preventing proper circulation in these delicate organs. Over time, permanent damage and scarring can occur, which result in difficulty breathing and chest pain.
  • Damage to the kidneys, heart, and liver.
  • Neglect of daily life and responsibilities.
  • Sleep deprivation.

Crack Dependency

Because crack use itself is known to cause depression and anxiety, using it to alleviate the onset of these feelings becomes a vicious cycle—one that can quickly result in addiction.

People of any age and gender can become dependent on crack. Crack dependency occurs after users develop a tolerance to the drug and begin using more often and in larger amounts to achieve the desired effects.

This frequent exposure to crack cocaine causes users to depend on the substance to help them avoid negative moods and feelings; those ensnared by crack dependency will experience extreme anxiety when they are not able to obtain the drug.

The pleasurable or euphoric short-term effects of the drug can usher a user towards addiction after using it just once.

Crack Withdrawal and Addiction Treatment

man in recovery

Although withdrawal from crack specifically—and cocaine in general—does not cause as many physical symptoms as that of other recreational drugs, the psychological effects of stopping use can be quite intense, including:

  • Depression.
  • Irritability.
  • Fatigue.
  • Anxiety.
  • Cravings for more crack.
  • Psychosis.

Inpatient treatment centers are a desirable choice for many crack abusers because these centers keep the user away from the drug and anyone using it. Inpatient programs can also provide the intensive counseling and therapy many people require to recover from crack cocaine addiction. Additional aftercare or sober living programs can help ex-abusers maintain their sobriety and rebuild their lives once they leave the safety of inpatient treatment.

Addiction is not a disease that should be faced alone. If you or someone you love needs help addressing a problem with crack cocaine, you can call American Addiction Centers (AAC) free at at any time, day or night. All calls are confidential.

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