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How is Crack Addiction Defined?
Crack is the “rock” form of cocaine (also known as coke), a powdered hydrochloride salt. Crack is created from combining cocaine (sometimes with a mix of other fillers) with baking soda and water to solidify it and break it into chunks. People smoke crack with a crack pipe, which creates a crackling sound that gives it its name.
Crack is typically much cheaper than cocaine, which is why it tends to be more prevalent in lower-income areas. It also differs from cocaine in that it produces an immediate effect. An intense and rapid euphoria (known as a flash high) is produced when smoking crack. The cocaine molecules reach the brain in less than 10 seconds.
The high then lasts about three to five minutes, followed by an unpleasant crash that comes with irritability, agitation, and a craving for more. This is due to the high concentration of the drug in the bloodstream. Addiction is likely since the first high is never reached again. And, the lows only get lower.
A crack addiction (or cocaine addiction) can take a severe toll on one’s physical and mental health. Crack abuse, like all substance abuse, can be challenging to quit. Crack withdrawal symptoms can also lead to many dangerous health problems. This is why navigating a detox from any substance is best done with professional help.
Cocaine vs. Crack High
The effects of cocaine peak within about 15 to 20 minutes when it’s snorted. When injected, it produces an effect within 30 seconds, peaking in five minutes and lasting about a half hour. Injecting cocaine with unclean needles increases one’s risk of contracting hepatitis, AIDS, and other infections.
Low doses give users a quick burst of euphoria and feelings of increased energy, sensory awareness, alertness, and self-esteem. It also artificially depletes your body's energy, reducing the need for food and sleep. Mood changes commonly occur as well.
Despite their differences, crack is an addictive drug, just like cocaine.
The drug gained popularity in the 1980s and has been the source of many drug addictions since then. In 2013, cocaine accounted for six percent of all admissions to treatment centers in the United States for drug abuse. Sixty-eight percent of people who sought help for cocaine abuse also smoked crack and were likely to be polydrug users.
Signs & Symptoms of Crack Addiction
Because the effects of crack peak quickly and end in a matter of minutes, the rapid cycle can cause people to smoke more, increasing their tolerance and dependency. When this happens, they can easily become a crack addict.
Crack users can experience a wide range of symptoms if they become addicted. Here are some of the most common signs of crack addiction:
- Extreme bursts of energy
- Inflated confidence and sense of self-importance
- A quick and fleeting sense of euphoria (due to the influx of dopamine)
- Bouts of being hyper-focused
- Bouts of depression and anxiety
- Intense cravings for more crack
Side Effects of Crack Addiction
The side effects of smoking crack can range from uncomfortable to seriously dangerous.
The short-term effects include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Increased heart rate
- Bizarre behaviors
- Mood swings
- Dilated pupils
- Loss of appetite
The long-term effects include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Dental damage
- Damage to lips and mouth
- Cardiovascular issues like heart attacks and strokes
- Severe decline in cognitive ability
- Extreme weight loss
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Uncontrollable muscle tics
- Involuntary tremors
- Hyper-aggressive behavior
- Sexual dysfunction
Dangers & Risks of Crack Addiction
Even if you’re smoking crack for the first time, crack is a dangerous drug.
In addition to the above symptoms of crack, a crack addiction can make people paranoid, angry, and aggressive, putting them and those around them at risk. Because of this rapid cycle, many people who are addicted to crack may spend all of their money replenishing their drug stock. They may fail to pay for other responsibilities like rent or mortgage bills, health insurance, groceries, and other necessities. This can lead them down a dark path.
Crack may also be contaminated with drugs like Levamisole, which can cause serious infections characterized by high fevers and black patches on the skin. You never really know what crack has been mixed with, so it’s difficult to tell the effect it will have.
Overdosing on crack, like any drug, can be fatal.
How to Help Someone With a Crack Addiction
If a family member or someone you know is struggling with a crack addiction or stimulant use disorder, help is available. Consider talking to a professional at a treatment facility (like a drug rehab center) or seeking out support groups. Your loved one doesn’t have to navigate the journey to a drug-free recovery alone.
You can also do your best to keep drugs and alcohol away from them and help them establish healthier habits. For example, exercising releases endorphins, which produces a natural high.
The key is to be supportive without being an enabler. This means doing things like going to support groups with them if it makes them more comfortable. Do not give them money to fund their drug addiction or make excuses for their bad behaviors.
Addiction Treatment Options for Crack Cocaine
At this time, there aren’t any U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medications to treat crack cocaine addictions, but researchers are heavily studying this subject.
Scientists are currently testing medications that affect the dopamine D3 receptor (a subtype of dopamine receptor abundant in the brain’s emotion and reward centers) and serotonin receptors. Others are testing certain compounds that’d restore balance disrupted by long-term drug use.
Until then, traditional substance abuse treatment options are still available. Here are a few to explore:
- Inpatient rehab treatment program — These are live-in rehabilitation centers where patients have 24/7 support from medical professionals.
- Outpatient rehab treatment program — These are rehabilitation centers where patients still live at home but follow a strict rehab program with regular visits.
- Support groups — Support groups are usually led by a health professional for a group of people who struggle with drug and alcohol use — or for people who know someone who struggles with substance use.
- Therapeutic communities — These are drug-free residences where people in recovery share living spaces to help each other understand and change their behaviors.
- Psychotherapies and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) — Traditional therapies can help patients identify their triggers, unpack their behaviors, and develop healthier habits to quit their drug addiction.
Health professionals largely agree that the combination of behavioral and pharmacological treatments tends to be the most effective approach to detoxing from a drug addiction.