//Crack Addiction, Withdrawal and Treatment
Crack Addiction, Withdrawal and Treatment 2018-09-17T18:16:33+00:00

Crack Addiction, Withdrawal and Treatment

Crack Addiction

Crack is a highly addictive, concentrated freebase form of cocaine. It is made by cooking powdered cocaine with a base, such as baking soda, to form a solid. The name crack actually comes from the noise made when heating the substance for consumption, generally through smoking. The solids produced from the cooking process are known colloquially as rocks. The drug is known by a variety of other street names, including Rox/Roxanne, ball, hardball, base, jelly beans, kryptonite, topo, or any variety of other names depending on the geographic vernacular.

The chemical composition of crack and powdered cocaine differ slightly, but the chemical effects on the body are generally considered the same. Both increase dopamine levels in the brain. Due to its concentrated form and the fact that it is inhaled through the lungs, the euphoric effects of using crack are more immediate and intense. Although it provides a quicker, higher “high,” it generally wears off within 15-30 minutes. The nearly instant effects of using crack, coupled with the shorter life cycle of the “high,” make the drug prone to frequent, repeated use and addiction. Addiction can occur with the first use, and progressive tolerance impacts how much is needed, and how often, how often to achieve feelings of euphoria. Cost, access, ease of manufacture and use, as well as the rapid and intense psychological and physiological effects, have made crack use a widespread social issue, particularly among economically disadvantaged populations.

Crack is widely associated with the War On Drugs, and more specifically, with the Reagan Era “Just Say No” campaign.  During the late 1980s, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act established mandatory minimums for drug offenses, with penalties for crack incurring longer sentences than those for powdered cocaine despite the drugs’ relative similarities. This difference in sentences has been criticized as targeting racial and socioeconomic differences between users of the two substances, and led to a rapid increase in prison populations, particularly among people of color. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 sought to remedy this imbalance, and a relaxing public view of recreational drug use has made treatment for addiction a preferred option over incarceration.

Signs & Symptoms of Abusing Crack

The signs and symptoms of crack abuse are similar to those of cocaine. The effects can be physical, psychological, or both, with a few subtle differences, and overdosing can be deadly.

Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Short but excessive bursts of energy followed by a long crash that could last for days.
  • Abnormally rapid speech.
  • Hyperactivity, including restless limbs, shakiness, trembling, or jitters.
  • Nosebleeds or loss of sense of smell.
  • Hoarseness or raspy voice (crack specific, due to smoking).
  • Bloodshot or dilated eyes.
  • Erratic behavior or paranoia.

While powdered cocaine is widely thought of as a white collar drug, crack is often associated with poverty.  When addiction and poverty intertwine, it can also lead to violent and random criminal activity and prostitution, with which comes an elevated risk for sexually transmitted infections and diseases (STIs and STDs), HIV/AIDS, and Hepatitis C, among other conditions. Any increase in risky behaviors such as those could potentially indicate a substance abuse problem.

Crack Withdrawal & Detox

Withdrawal from crack can be as intense as the “high” achieved when using it. Users suffer both acute (immediate) as well as post-acute (lasting or appearing weeks or months later) symptoms when withdrawing. Immediate effects can include exhaustion, nightmares, and moodiness, while anxiety, depression, disrupted sleep patterns, cravings for the drug, and irritability can last for extended periods of time.

Withdrawal can begin as soon as the high wears off, and potentially last up to 6 months.  While the physical symptoms disappear quickly, this may not be a good thing, as it increases the likelihood of relapse through the misperception that the user is cured.  

Treatment for Crack Dependency

Behavioral therapy is the only approved method of treatment for crack dependency.  Therapies can include 12-Step and Community Reinforcement Programs, Contingency Management (CM), and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  

All of these focus on self-awareness, impulse control, and training that supports natural dopamine production, which boosts happiness and provides the individual with a greater sense of well-being. While no medications are currently recommended for use in treating this addiction, medications commonly used to treat depression may be prescribed as part of a CBT program to aid recovery.


Cocaine – National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

How does cocaine produce its effects? – National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

The War on Drugs – History.com

Cocaine and Psychiatric SymptomsThe Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry

How Do I Tell If Someone Is Smoking Crack? – Livestrong.com

Commonly Abused Drug Charts: Cocaine – National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Treatments for Substance Use Disorders – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)