Crack Cocaine Abuse and Addiction: Signs and Symptoms

This Page was last reviewed and changed on August 12th 2022

Content Overview

Crack is a powerful form of cocaine which can be smoked. Smoking delivers higher doses to the brain, and produces more rapid response than taking cocaine powder. After taking the drug for a period of time, you will begin to lack the will to control your intense physical and psychological compulsion for more and more hits.

Crack cocaine, which is commonly referred to as crack among other street and slang names, is a free-base variant of cocaine that comes in a solid form and is smoked. Crack is more potent and addictive than powdered cocaine due to the short but intense feelings of euphoria and pleasure it induces when smoked. It travels very fast through the bloodstream to the brain, inducing a near-instant high.

The drug is created by mixing ammonia or baking soda with water and dissolving powdered cocaine into the mixture to form a solid substance known as crack. Crack is the cheapest and most prevalent version of cocaine and is also considered the most dangerous by researchers. There are telling signs when crack use has spiralled out of control and when you need help. If you have a loved one that you suspect may be abusing crack, it is critical that you get them help as soon as possible.

What Is Crack Cocaine Addiction?

Crack cocaine abuse and addiction, just like with many other illicit drugs, come with different tell-tale signs in people who use it. While these signs can be obvious in many cases, some users know how to conceal their addiction to the drug and, with some medications producing similar effects as crack, it can be difficult to place a finger on crack addiction. The addict may outright deny their addiction or blame it on a prescription.

However, if you have concerns that someone close to you may be using, you shouldn’t wait till they reach rock bottom to confirm your suspicion. You can monitor changes in their regular activities and behaviours and figure out how closely related these changes are to crack cocaine.

There are always telling psychological, physiological and behavioural changes in people who smoke crack. This is mainly due to the drug’s fast acting nature and its effects on brain chemistry and different body organs. One obvious trait in crack addicts is an abnormal switch from excitement to dullness.

Crack cocaine spikes the chemicals responsible for pleasure and euphoria in the brain and also affects the reward system. When these chemicals are spiked, they cause intense “highs” which last for a very short period, usually 5 to 10 minutes. To recreate these feelings as much as possible, users repeatedly consume the drug in higher doses, causing the brain to become dependent on it.

Once the brain begins to rely on the presence of crack cocaine, you’ll feel uncomfortable without the drug, which will prompt you to compulsively seek out the drug and spend all you have in acquiring it. Crack is more potent than the regular powdered cocaine because it is smoked. It’s also cheaper but can destroy your finances because you’ll need to renew your dosage regularly to maintain the effects of the drug.

Cocaine and crack cocaine also differ in various ways including appearance and method of administration. While regular cocaine comes in the form of a white crystalline powder, crack comes in a solid rock-like form because it’s a mixture of powdered cocaine, water, and ammonia or baking soda. Normal powdered cocaine can be snorted, swallowed, injected after being dissolved in water, or applied on the gums in the mouth. On the other hand, crack is mainly heated and smoked.

What Are the Signs of Crack Addiction?

There are different signs that show that a crack addiction is present. The nature of crack can make even first-time users become addicted to the drug. However, telling if a person is addicted to crack requires scrutiny, even though the signs can be quite obvious. It’s important that you watch the situation of your loved one closely

If you have been introduced to crack and have been using the drug regularly, you may find yourself taking the drug compulsively. This is a sign that you have become addicted to crack.

Emotional signs

Crack’s interaction with receptors in the brain causes neurological changes within a short period. This will lead to emotional and psychological impacts that will be visible once the drug is consumed on a regular basis. Users of crack experience an unnatural burst of energy and excitement whenever they smoke crack and are always filled with sensations of euphoria. Mood swings, agitation, and irritability are also emotional signs of crack abuse, with paranoia and hallucinations appearing as symptoms of long-term use.

These signs can cause disruptions in the day to day activity of an addict and can also affect other aspects of their lives such as their interpersonal relationships with others and their careers. Staying off the drug can cause obvious emotional signs such as anxiety, restlessness, irritability, depression, and even suicidal thoughts.

Physiological signs

Use of crack at any time can be dangerous and should be taken seriously, as any user can be exposed to dangerous physical conditions due to the quick-acting nature of the drug. Common physical signs of crack abuse and addiction include:

  • Elevated heart rate
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • An appetite which can be drastically suppressed or increased
  • Nosebleeds
  • Dilated pupils
  • Twitching of the muscles

When a user chooses to quit or stays away from the drug for any reason over a long period, they may begin to experience the opposite physical effects of the drug depending on their level of addiction. These opposite effects include abnormally long hours of sleep, extreme fatigue, shakiness in the limbs and extremities, and irregular tremors. Other physiological signs include burns on fingers, blistered or cracked lips from smoking crack from pipes, and increased breathing rate.

Behavioural signs

One of the clear signs and results of abusing crack cocaine is changes in behavioural traits in the user. If you have a relative who you suspect may be abusing this drug, you’ll find the following behavioural signs present:

  • Volatile mood swings and aggression
  • Focusing more on crack use and forfeiting other responsibilities as a result
  • No longer meeting obligations
  • Failure to keep up with meetings and other normal social functions
  • Deteriorating interpersonal relationships
  • Engaging in risky behaviours such as theft to obtain crack
  • Intense discomfort and unease when the user has not taken crack for a while

How to Know if a Loved One Is Using Crack Cocaine?

If your loved one is abusing crack cocaine, you can find out through changes in their behaviour, unnatural energy levels and excitement, frequent changes in mood meaning they could be hyperactive one moment and dull the next, loss of interest in formerly enjoyed activities, as well as suspicious social separation.

Signs & symptoms specific to the use of crack

Signs and symptoms particular to abusing cocaine include dry mouth, dilated pupils, restlessness, talkativeness, mood swings, insomnia, and hyperactivity.

How you can identify signs and help a loved one

You can identify crack cocaine abuse in a loved one by looking out for the various signs detailed above. You can go on to get them help by helping them understand the dangers of their behaviour. You can also stage an intervention with the help of other close friends and family or with the help of an expert interventionist.

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The Dangers of Crack Cocaine Use

Crack is the most dangerous form of cocaine and it has been associated with fatal health risks and organ failure. The dangers of crack also go beyond mental and physical health consequences. Users will experience difficulties in different areas of their lives as well.

Organs that can be affected by abusing crack cocaine include:


Blood vessels are constricted by crack abuse, which can result in severe pain in the chest and a heart attack. Research has found that users of crack cocaine are 23 times more likely to get a heart attack after using the drug in 24 hours. You’ll also risk the health of your heart further if you combine alcohol with your abuse of crack cocaine.


Smoking crack cocaine can cause a lot of complications in the lungs. It’s been found that people with asthma risk worsening their illness, and breathing can become irregular as a result of chronic crack use.


Liver damage is also a risk that comes with using crack in the long term especially when you abuse the drug alongside substances like alcohol.


Renal problems have been associated with the use of crack cocaine over the years and such issues are known to be life-threatening.

Apart from affecting different organs in the body, crack also causes psychological problems such as paranoia, anxiety, depression, and persistent psychotic symptoms that may end up becoming permanent mental damage.

Addiction to crack also causes users to engage in risky sexual behaviour due to its effect on the libido. Addicts also go to extremes such as engaging in prostitution and theft to obtain the drug. Using crack can cause other life problems like financial crises, employment issues, and legal challenges.

Crack Cocaine Use and the Brain

Crack cocaine mainly interacts with different regions of the brain to induce feelings of energy, euphoria, and excitement. It works by creating a backlog of dopamine, which is responsible for pleasure and is an important part of the brain’s reward system. Under normal circumstances, dopamine is released to induce pleasure when we carry out fun activities and is reabsorbed by cells in the brain once these activities are over. But, with the introduction of crack, these cells are prevented from absorbing dopamine, causing an accumulation of the chemical which results in intense pleasure.

When taken over a long period, the brain will begin to adjust its normal functions to accommodate the presence of crack. As time goes on, the user’s brain will begin to depend on the drug for normal function and will also become tolerant to its effects, causing the need for increased doses. If the abuse of crack continues over time, this can lead to brain damage and other neurological disorders.

Crack Cocaine Overdose

Overdose is one of the possible results of using crack cocaine in the long or short term. You can easily take more crack than your body can handle in a bid to maintain or increase the feelings derived from smoking the drug. Overdose occurs when you have poisoned your body with too much crack to the point where the drug can’t be purged out of your system quick enough before it causes health problems that are life-threatening.

The risk of overdosing on crack will be significantly increased if you abuse the drug alongside another harmful substance such as alcohol. This will happen because your body will find it difficult to expel two alien substances at once.


When taken in larger doses than the body can handle, crack cocaine can cause the heart rate of a user to spike abnormally, resulting in heart problems or a heart attack. Increased blood pressure is also a common symptom of cocaine overdose. More symptoms include:


Crack overdose can be life-threatening and, as such, you should call for emergency help whenever it occurs. The immediate actions that will be taken by emergency responders will be to calm the seizures, restore breathing/consciousness, and keep the vitals of the victim stable. Once this is done, the next stage will involve the addict going through a crack cocaine treatment programme in an addiction treatment facility to end to their compulsive use of the drug.

Is crack cocaine overdose an emergency?

Yes, crack cocaine overdose should be treated as an emergency, because without immediate medical help, the addict may lose their life. Please do not hesitate to call for help the moment you notice any of these extreme signs and symptoms in someone close to you.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How does crack cocaine affect my brain?

Crack is typically smoked, which means it gets to the brain very quickly after being absorbed from the lungs into the bloodstream. When it’s introduced to the brain, it induces a spike in the levels of dopamine, thereby increasing sensations of pleasure and euphoria in a very short time. The effects of crack only last for about 5-10 minutes, causing users to repeatedly take the drug. When the brain gets used to the presence of crack, it begins to rely on the drug to recreate these feelings and reactions causing you to become dependent. With more doses, you’ll end up becoming fully addicted to the drug.

What are crack withdrawal symptoms?

Anyone who’s addicted to crack cocaine has become dependent on the drug. This means that if they stop taking the drug for a while, their body functions may go out of control. This is signalled by the intense withdrawal symptoms that occur whenever an addict attempts to quit using or doesn’t have access to the drug for a while. Due to the high potency of crack, its withdrawal symptoms are more powerful than that of cocaine and, without proper care, dangerous health complications may occur. Some symptoms of crack cocaine withdrawal include:

  • Emotional outbursts
  • Inability to feel pleasure
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Exhaustion
  • Mood swings
What should I do if a friend overdoses on crack cocaine?

The short effects of crack easily put users at risk of overdosing on crack because they want to feel “high” for as long as possible. Any case of overdose is very dangerous and may kill someone. If you have a friend that is a constant crack user, there’s a high chance that they may fall victim to an overdose. Whenever you’re faced with this situation, call for medical help immediately. Before help arrives, you should take safety measures by keeping them away from harmful objects if they’re experiencing seizures, make efforts to keep their body temperature low with cold compresses and stay with them till help arrives.

Does crack cocaine affect my kidneys?

Crack cocaine has dangerous health effects on different organs of the body including the kidneys. While heart conditions have been attributed to crack and other cocaine forms, connection to dangerous renal issues have surfaced. According to research, the most common form of the crack-induced renal disease is rhabdomyolysis, which is a serious kidney issue that, coupled with crack use, has a high mortality rate.

Will my boss notice I’m using crack cocaine?

Drug abuse, especially illicit drugs like crack, are illegal and attract severe punishment in workplaces. In most situations, you may outrightly lose your job if your drug abuse is found out. While you may try very hard to conceal your drug use, continued use of crack will ultimately expose your addiction through your performance, lack of concentration, and change in behavioural traits. You should seek help immediately if you notice that you can’t control your use of crack anymore.

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