Crack Cocaine: Addiction and Abuse Guide

This Page was last reviewed and changed on August 14th 2022

Content Overview

Crack cocaine affects the pleasure receptors of the brain. When the drug is used constantly, reward pathways in the brain become immune to normal, everyday pleasures. This means that users will eventually find that they can only feel good or happy when they have smoked crack cocaine. In simple terms, crack addiction occurs when the user has abused crack cocaine for a period long enough to affect the pleasure receptors of the brain.

The abuse of cocaine in all forms has gradually declined over the past decade but is still one of the most abused illicit drugs in the world. Every year, millions of people are negatively impacted by the abuse of crack cocaine; furthermore, addiction isn’t rare, due to the drug’s initial euphoric effects and a high potential for dependence.

Aside from the danger of addiction and dependence, crack cocaine abuse also carries a high risk of overdose, with thousands of hospital visits and deaths reported in the U.S alone.
This guide will explain the effects, symptoms and dangers of crack cocaine abuse and addiction, based on studies carried out on active and recovering abusers of the drug.

What Is Crack?

‘Crack’ (or crack cocaine) is derived from the drug, cocaine. A rock form of cocaine, it is commonly consumed by smoking. Crack is highly potent and poses a significant risk of addiction, due to its intense and immediate ‘high’, as well as how it affects the chemical structure of the brain. Crack is derived by mixing water with cocaine and baking soda or ammonia, then heating the concoction to create a freebase form.

The name ‘crack’ is derived from the crackling noise the drug makes when it’s smoked. While the name ‘crack cocaine’ is itself a slang term, there are other street names for the drug, such as Hard Rock, Base, Sugar Block, Kryptonite, Rock, and Apple Jack.

Crack is commonly smoked either with tobacco, marijuana, heroin or on its own. The apparatus used in the consumption of the drug includes metal screens, glass pipes, and extended tools for scraping residue from the pipe.

What are the effects of crack?

Crack is smoked by inhaling its active components into your lungs, from where they will be quickly absorbed into your bloodstream. The drug’s ‘high’ is fast, but short-lived, typically lasting for about five to fifteen minutes. This short-lived ‘high’ can result in crack abusers experiencing intense cravings for more of the drug, not long after usage.

Crack in the human body leads to the brain being flooded with dopamine, which results in a user feeling euphoric, energetic, and sensitive to stimuli, whilst experiencing increased alertness. However, alongside its enjoyable attributes come a range of unpleasant short-term side effects, which include:

What does Crack look like?

Because its production is unregulated, the form of crack can vary from batch to batch. Generally, crack can appear as off-white, white, or yellowish chunks. These chunks will be broken into smaller pieces, which can each weigh about a tenth of a gram.

What are the Risks of Crack Addiction?

Abusing crack long-term can result in lasting damage to your body and mind. Some of the physical risks of long-term abuse and addiction to crack include a compromise of the blood vessels, heart, reproductive organs, gastrointestinal tract, nervous system, lungs, and brain. Aside from the health risks, addiction to the drug also devastates personal finances and strains relationships.

Some other risks with moderate to severe consequences include:

  • Abdominal pain, nausea and ulcers
  • Aggression
  • Irritability
  • Malnutrition from lack of appetite
  • Increased risk of heart attack, seizure, or stroke
  • Reduced impulse control
  • Impaired memory
  • Extreme paranoia
  • Panic
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis or delirium
  • High likelihood of overdose and even death

Because of a crack addict’s impaired ability to make sound decisions and judgement, they will be at greater risk of engaging in risky sexual behaviour, which in turn exposes them to dangers such as contracting HIV or Hepatitis C.

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Key facts about crack abuse

Crack cocaine is popular amongst drug addicts because of its potency, fast acting nature, and inexpensive cost. The appearance of crack is generally dependent on how it is ‘cooked’, which means you can find it in an off-white, white, yellow or pink colour.

The drug can be found on the street under slang terms such as:

  • Candy
  • Cookies
  • Dice
  • Gravel
  • Jelly beans
  • Nuggets
  • Piece
  • Rocks

Crack cocaine is a powerful stimulant, capable of eliciting a quick, euphoric ‘high’. As a stimulant, it speeds up a number of physical and mental processes, increases energy, as well as heightens focus and attention.

The immediate effects of crack take hold quickly, but are short-lived, typically lasting only five to ten minutes. This actually increases the drug’s risk of tolerance, dependency and addiction. Those who abuse the drug frequently do so because of its ‘high’, which includes effects such as euphoria, sharpened focus, a feeling of escaping reality, as well as an intense burst of energy.

Your crack abuse affects not just you, but also those who you love. It also has extensive consequences that touch the community as a whole. Fortunately, crack abuse and addiction are treatable; you can access effective treatment by contacting a UKAT facility today.

The difference between crack abuse and addiction

Crack abuse refers to the continued and inappropriate use of the drug, either alone or in combination with other substances. Typically, the aim is to experience its pleasurable ‘high’ effect. On the other hand, crack addiction occurs after your body and mind have developed dependence to the drug.

Once crack addiction takes hold, quitting the drug becomes difficult without professional help – even when you know it is endangering your health and wellbeing. Addiction will be diagnosed clinically and is characterised by the compulsive use of crack, despite knowing the negative consequences.

Stages of Crack Cocaine Addiction

Each individual will experience crack addiction differently. Generally, if you’re addicted to crack cocaine, you’ll likely experience the following stages (or have already experienced some of them):

Panic stage

During this stage, you will become obsessed with sourcing more crack cocaine. You’ll constantly worry about not having enough money to buy crack or being unable to find a dealer. This will lead to illogical behaviours such as stealing, lying, or trading sexual favours for crack (or money to buy the drug). This stage typically occurs a few hours after a user last ingests crack.

Crash stage

24 hours after your last use of crack, you will experience a ‘crash’, which is characterised by symptoms such as depression, despair, and possibly even suicidal thoughts.

Honeymoon stage

After the first couple of days since last using the drug, you may feel you’re overcoming the need for crack. This will lead to an increase in confidence and a greater ability to fend off cravings.

Cravings return

Typically, after five to 14 days since last using crack, your cravings will return. This is caused by the natural production of dopamine/serotonin in the body, which causes you to need crack to boost the production of these brain chemicals.

Emotional intensification

After 14 to 28 days (and in certain cases, up to two years), you’re likely to experience exaggerated responses to the trauma and stresses of everyday life. This will be characterised by dramatic mood swings. A support group and a healthy environment can be helpful during this period. Physical activity and healthy eating will also be beneficial. However, it’s not uncommon for addicts at this stage to experience anxiety, irritability, nightmares, mood swings, and depression.

Secret cravings

28 to 35 days after since your last crack cocaine consumption, you might experience some cravings and it’s not unusual to experience a relapse at this stage. Relapse can lead to thoughts of guilt, so sticking with the recovery programme is vital.

Cue conditioning

From 35 days onward, you could experience triggers or stressors that lead to cravings, such as activities that you associate with the use of crack cocaine. A support plan can help you get through this period.
If you or a loved one are currently struggling with a crack cocaine addiction, reach out to a UKAT facility near you today for support and assistance.

Overdosing on Crack Cocaine

Overdosing on crack is possible, as the continued abuse of the drug will lead to increased tolerance, which in turn causes you to need higher and higher doses of the drug to attain the desired effects. There are also rare cases of people experiencing sudden death after their first use of crack cocaine.

If you experience a crack cocaine overdose, it’s vital to seek immediate medical attention. Signs of crack overdose include:

  • Agitation
  • Convulsions
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased body temperature

An overdose can result in a potentially fatal heart attack, stroke, or seizures.

Effects of Crack Abuse

The immediate effect of crack abuse is a short-lived, but intense ‘high’. Once this passes, it will immediately be followed by edginess, depression, and strong cravings for more of the drug. Crack cocaine can also result in experiencing paranoia, anger and anxiety.

No matter the dose at which you’re abusing crack, there is a strong probability of you experiencing a stroke, heart attack, seizure, or respiratory failure, which can all result in sudden death.

Crack Cocaine Health Risks

Smoking crack cocaine comes with a number of health risks, which may be short or long-term. Some of the short-term health risks of crack abuse include:

  • Anxiety and panic
  • Accelerated heart rate and respiration
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Delusional thinking
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea
  • Odd or bizarre behaviour
  • Paranoia
  • Seizures

Long-term effects can occur days, weeks, or even months after prolonged abuse of crack. Some long-term effects include:

  • Lasting cardiovascular issues such as stroke, heart attack, and damaged blood vessels
  • Major depression, anxiety, and irritability
  • Malnutrition
  • Liver and/or kidney complications
  • Damage to the lips, mouth, teeth
  • Marked cognitive decline
  • Persistent psychotic symptoms

It’s best not to wait until the side effects of crack abuse worsen considerably. Instead, contact a UKAT facility today to get on the safe path to recovery.

The Consequences of Crack Cocaine Abuse

Abusing crack cocaine you and those around you in harm’s way. Some of the dangerous consequences of crack abuse are brought on by the following behaviours:

  • Engaging in risky sexual behaviour whilst ‘high’ or attempting to trade your body for crack or money with which to buy the drug.
  • Increased tendencies towards violence.
  • Wilfully entering risky situations just to obtain crack, such as visiting dangerous drug dealers.
  • Neglecting work and family responsibilities/obligations.
  • Breaking the law.

Crack abuse statistics

As of 2018, Bristol is believed to have the highest rate of crack cocaine use in the UK. The number of crack abusers in the UK seeking help with addiction rose by 23% in 2016.

Altogether, 279,793 people in England sought drug treatment services in 2017. 69%. The overall population of England’s crack abusers was up by 10% between 2010 and 2015, according to an estimate from the Public Health Institute at Liverpool John Moores University. In 2017, the Home Office stated that there was a 16% increase in crack seizures.

Recognising Crack Cocaine Addiction

Getting professional help as soon as you notice crack addiction is very important. Typical signs and symptoms of addiction include:

  • Exhibiting difficulty in controlling usage; for instance, using larger amounts of crack cocaine than originally intended.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you don’t use crack (or take a smaller dose).
  • Spending more time and/or money trying to acquire crack cocaine.
  • Experiencing cravings for crack cocaine.
  • Continued use of crack, despite experiencing health issues and personal problems.
  • Needing larger doses of crack to achieve the desired results.
  • Development of risky behaviours, such as using crack whilst driving
  • Neglecting hygiene and physical appearance.
  • Loss of interest in personal and professional responsibilities.

If you or a loved one are exhibiting at least two of the aforementioned symptoms, please contact a UKAT facility near you for professional assistance.

Dependence on Crack

The euphoric ‘high’ that follows the use of crack cocaine is caused by the drug triggering a flood of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical that influences the brain’s pleasure and reward systems. The brain normally releases dopamine in small amounts, but with the use of crack, dopamine is released in large quantities, which results in an intense, but short-lived ‘high’. Many abusers of the drug use it repeatedly to sustain this ‘high’.

Continued use of crack cocaine will lead to your system adapting to the presence of the drug and the unnatural levels of dopamine being released. This leads to needing higher doses of the drug to experience the desired ‘high’. This state is referred to as ‘tolerance’. Continued tolerance will lead to your body needing further consumption of crack to feel normal. This is how crack dependence begins; it can eventually escalate into addiction, characterised by compulsive, drug-seeking behaviours.

Crack Cocaine and Mental Health

Being a substance that affects how the brain works, crack cocaine can also have a direct effect on mental health. Addiction to crack is considered a psychological disorder, as it modifies normal operations of the brain. Smoking crack excites the brain’s dopamine receptors and also increases the normal functioning of dopamine; this then disrupts communication within the brain.

Continued abuse of crack will change your brain’s reward system or pleasure centre, leading to long-term psychological damage such as depression or anxiety.

Crack and Depression

Continued abuse of crack will affect your brain’s production of dopamine. The absence of the drug from your system will lead to your body being unable to naturally produce dopamine, as it has become dependent on the effects of crack to fulfil this function. With the body being unable to produce dopamine on its own, side effects such as depression may take hold, as the body needs dopamine to elicit feelings of happiness. This is why depression rates are high in crack cocaine users.

Crack and Anxiety

Crack cocaine causes a euphoric ‘high’ and subsequent rush of energy, but it can also have negative effects such as increased paranoia, aggression and/or anxiety. People who suffer from anxiety prior to using drugs could attempt using crack to treat their anxiety. For people in this scenario, the use of crack can heighten anxiety symptoms and worsen the condition.

There are a number of reasons why anxiety is linked to crack use. They include:

  • As a stimulant, crack accelerates and amplifies neurotransmitter activity in the brain. This increased activity can lead to anxiety – especially if you suffered from anxiety prior to using crack cocaine.
  • During crack cocaine withdrawal, intense anxiety may also occur as a symptom. This is as a result of the sudden drop in neurotransmitter levels in your brain, which can bring about anxiety and/or depression.
  • Also, a side effect of abusing crack is insomnia, which can contribute to anxiety or worsen it.

Treatment Options for Crack Cocaine Addiction

Crack addiction treatment can be accessed by all who need it in the UK. Treatment typically starts with medically assisted detox and is followed by rehabilitation. Rehabilitation may make use of behavioural therapy to help you comprehensively recover from addiction.

Behavioural therapy can consist of:

  • The Matrix Model: This consists of drug education, self-help programmes and therapist-guided support. It will help you develop self-esteem and a sense of dignity via private, group, and family sessions. It will also equip you with the tools to prevent a relapse.
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): This involves working with trained therapists to recognise your patterns of behaviour that bring about drug use and subsequently change them. CBT equips you with the skills to avoid drugs and avert relapse by identifying your stressors and triggers.
  • Contingency Management/Motivational Incentives: This effective technique involves participating in treatment that rewards you with incentives for progress made and reinforces healthy living

Detox for crack cocaine addiction

Detox is essential to recovering from and beating crack cocaine addiction. Detox involves weaning you off your drug dependence and minimising withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, headaches, insomnia, and so on. The goal is to help you safely withdraw from crack cocaine through the use of medical intervention and supervision.

In a professional rehab centre, your detoxification will be medically assisted by applying medication to minimise your symptoms and make recovery as smooth and painless as possible. You’ll also be helped to sleep more and eat better to make up for the lack of nutrition and rest during heavy crack cocaine use.

Rehab for Crack addiction

Rehab for crack addiction can occur in any of the following settings, depending on the severity of your addiction or your personal preference:

  • Inpatient setting: You will reside within the addiction treatment facility for the entire course of treatment and be provided 24/7 monitoring and support. Intensive group and individual therapy sessions will also be applied.
  • Partial hospitalisation programmes: This is partially an inpatient setting, as you’ll spend the majority of the day receiving treatment and therapy in the facility, but can return home at night.
  • Outpatient setting: You will be allowed to visit the treatment facility for scheduled therapy and leave as soon as it is complete. The schedule of treatment will depend on the severity of your addiction. This form of treatment is only suitable for individuals with less severe addictions which require less monitoring.
  • Long-term residential facilities or therapeutic communities: This is recommended for people with very severe addictions. Such facilities usually offer assistance with vocational, legal, and social issues.
  • Support groups: Support group meetings (such as 12-step programmes) can provide continued group support from other people, also in recovery. This is very effective for relapse prevention.

Long-term Recovery from Crack Addiction

If struggling with crack addiction, rehab and behavioural therapy can provide you with the tools and skills to stay sober long-term and avoid relapsing. If you are ready to achieve lasting sobriety, contact one of our UKAT facilities today to begin your journey to a healthy life.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is crack cocaine addiction like?

Crack cocaine addiction is characterised by compulsively seeking and using the drug in increasingly higher doses. Addicts will typically exhibit the following symptoms:
• Difficulty controlling usage
• Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you don’t use crack (or take a smaller dose)
• Spending more time and/or money trying to acquire crack cocaine
• Experiencing cravings for crack cocaine
• Continued use of crack, despite experiencing health issues
• Development of risky behaviours, such as using crack whilst driving
• Neglecting personal hygiene and physical appearance
• Loss of interest in personal and professional responsibilities

How Can Crack Cocaine Affect Appearance

Severe crack cocaine use typically results in undernourishment, with individuals paying little attention to personal hygiene. Typically, yellow teeth, tooth decay and burnt lips result from frequent crack cocaine use.

Why is crack cocaine highly addictive?

This drug is highly addictive because of its intense, but short-lived pleasurable effects, which drive an abuser to use it repeatedly over a short period of time. The drug’s powerful effect on the brain’s dopamine regulation also contributes to its addictiveness.

Is there such a thing as an addictive personality?

There is such a thing as an addictive personality, as there are certain individuals who are more likely to become addicted to crack cocaine, such as those with a pre-existing mental disorder.

Where else can I find help?

You should never try to beat a crack addiction on your own, as this can be dangerous. Instead, seek help in a private rehab facility or try to access addiction treatment via the NHS.

How does crack cocaine addiction start?

The first and most crucial sign of crack addiction is an increased tolerance to the drug. Using crack in any amount is dangerous, but if you find yourself needing higher and higher doses of the drug to achieve the desired effects, this means you’re one step closer to becoming an addict.

How can I help someone who is addicted to crack cocaine?

If you want to help a loved one overcome a crack cocaine addiction, you need to first of all stop enabling their habit. Next, you’ll need to convince them to seek professional help by staging an intervention.

What causes crack cocaine addiction?

The cause of crack cocaine addiction can be traced to your system adapting to the influence of the drug on your mind and body – especially in terms of your body’s production of dopamine. Continued use of the drug will result in your body depending on crack to produce high amounts of dopamine, which your body will not be able to achieve when you quit using the drug. In the absence of crack cocaine in your system, dopamine levels will drop and you will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms.

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