Crack Addiction — Abuse And Treatment Options

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D on April 28, 2020

Crack addiction can lead to long-term damage to health and comes with risk of overdose. Treatment for crack addiction can include detoxification and intensive programs, which help a person stop use of crack and enter addiction recovery.

Crack Cocaine Addiction And Treatment Options

Crack addiction is brain disorder which causes individuals to abuse crack cocaine, seek the drug, and repeatedly use it, despite side effects and risks associated with abuse.

Abuse of cocaine, including crack, has remained steady in recent decades in the U.S. As of 2014, there were 1.4 million people ages 12 and above currently using cocaine.

What Is Crack Cocaine And How Is It Abused?

Crack is a form of the illicit drug, cocaine. To make crack, individuals heat cocaine and it forms into a solid, crystallized form. This solid produces vapors which a person inhales (smokes) through a pipe.

Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant, which means abuse of it results in feelings of euphoria (extreme happiness), high energy levels, and alertness (focused attention).

Repeated abuse of crack cocaine can lead to addiction. Crack, in particular, may lead more quickly to addiction, as smoking a drug leads to the quicker onset of effects.

How Does Crack Abuse Lead To Addiction?

Crack works to increase levels of the happy chemical, dopamine, within the brain. Over time and with frequent use of crack, the brain may stop producing dopamine on its own, relying instead on crack use to produce feelings of happiness and energy.

Once a person forms this mental reliance on crack, an addiction has developed. Managing addiction can be difficult without formal help.

Fortunately, plenty of rehab programs exist to help individuals quit use of crack, manage symptoms of addiction such as cravings, and begin recovery.

Signs And Symptoms Of Crack Addiction

The first signs of a crack addiction may present as side effects, such as random bouts of happiness and energy due to crack abuse.

Frequent crack abuse can also lead to changes in behavior, emotions, and more.

Other signs and symptoms of a crack addiction include:

  • increased breathing
  • increased heart rate
  • dilated pupils
  • constant restlessness
  • nose bleeds
  • insomnia
  • suppressed appetite
  • muscle twitches

Why Do People Abuse Crack Cocaine?

People may abuse crack cocaine for a number of reasons. First, crack is a smokable form of cocaine, meaning it produces a fast high. When a person smokes crack, they inhale it into their lungs and feel effects almost immediately.

Some who abuse crack may believe it it helps them to keep focused or stay awake for long periods of time. Taking consecutive doses of crack is common, also known as binges, for a continual high.

Crack is often abused alongside other drugs, especially depressants. This allows each drug to counter effects of the other and can result in combined effects, like greater euphoria.

Others may abuse crack with other stimulants for the combined effects, like increased energy and alertness.

Side Effects Of Crack Cocaine Abuse

Individuals with a crack addiction may experience a number of side effects due to abuse. Side effects can manifest in a number of different ways, including behavioral, emotional, physical, and psychological.

Short-term side effects of crack abuse begin within a few minutes and usually disappear within an hour. Long-term side effects include damage to a person’s health.

The severity of side effects may depend largely on how much and how often a person abuses crack and if they abuse the drug with other substances.

Short-term side effects of crack abuse may include:

  • extreme happiness
  • increased energy
  • enhanced focus
  • hypersensitivity to sight, touch, and sound
  • irritability
  • paranoia

Long-term side effects of crack abuse may include:

  • asthma, chronic cough, or suppressed breathing (due to smoking)
  • heart damage, including strain to the heart muscles from a frequent increase of heartbeat
  • malnourishment due to constant appetite suppression
  • extreme paranoia, leading a person to behave with aggression or violence
  • hallucinations leading to severe confusion

Risks Of Long-Term Crack Abuse

Long-term crack abuse can have a number of consequences to a person’s health and life which may include:

  • addiction: crack abuse can lead quickly to addiction, which can impact every aspect of a person’s life and health.
  • heart damage or failure: strain to the heart muscles and frequent increase in body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure can be too much for the heart to regulate. This can ultimately lead to cardiac arrest.
  • seizures
  • stroke or heart attack
  • crack overdose, which can be fatal, especially when combined with other substances

Signs And Symptoms Of Crack Overdose

Crack overdose results from either too much crack cocaine used at once or over time. Overdose from crack abuse is most likely to result from mixing crack with other potent substances, like alcohol or heroin.

Crack produces increased breathing and heart rates, while alcohol or heroin depresses these rates. These opposing effects can mask each other. If a person cannot fully feel the effects of the high they desire, they may not continue to abuse one or both substances.

Yet the body can only process so much crack or other substances at a time. Eventually, the excess buildup of toxins in the body from crack abuse or polydrug abuse becomes too much and the person likely experiences an overdose.

Crack overdose signs and symptoms can include:

  • agitation or aggression
  • extreme anxiety
  • hallucinations
  • high blood pressure
  • high body temperature
  • rapid heart rate
  • trouble breathing

Treatment Programs For Crack Abuse And Addiction

There are multiple types of treatment programs for crack abuse and addiction.

The best rehab programs will customize treatment to each person and select a program based on individual needs, such as:

  • the severity of crack abuse
  • how long and how often the person abused crack
  • need for dual diagnosis treatment, or co-occurring mental health or substance abuse
  • specialized treatment considerations: need for LGBT-friendly, women-only treatment, etc.

While crack cocaine addiction is not always life-threatening, the drug is highly addictive. Quitting use can be difficult, so intensive programs work best to treat this addiction. These include residential or inpatient rehab programs and intensive outpatient programs.

These intensive rehab programs ensure individuals are completely ready to enter recovery upon completion of the program. Rehab programs for crack addiction vary by facility, but tend to include behavioral therapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy, counseling, and access to medical care.

Individuals may first spend time detoxifying their body to get rid of any crack in their system, then move on to formal treatment. Most rehab programs have individuals attend multiple types of therapy, called integrated treatment, for a well-rounded approach to recovery.

After treatment, individuals in recovery from crack addiction can seek support in aftercare. Local options also vary but can include sober support groups, individual therapy, and self-help groups.

To help a loved one struggling with crack addiction, speak with one of our addiction treatment specialists today.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D on April 28, 2020
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