The Addiction Potential of Crack Cocaine

Crack, or crack cocaine, resembles white little crystal rocks (cocaine also may be a white powder).1,2 It was estimated that, in 2018, 3.4% of individuals 12 years old and older (over 9.1 million individuals) had used crack cocaine at least once in their lives.3,4 Crack , or “freebase cocaine” or “cocaine base”, has shapes that are irregular.1,2 Very addictive, cocaine is able to alter the brain in lasting ways.1

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration lists cocaine among Schedule II drugs.5,6 Cocaine’s danger of being abused is high, but it can be used medically, though this is uncommon in America; being utilized to decrease mucous membrane bleeding and being a local anesthetic are ways cocaine could be utilized.5

How Crack Is Used

An individual could smoke crack.1,2 When heating crack, an individual may hear a crackling noise, and the term “crack” refers to this noise.1

Compared to snorting, smoking cocaine results in the drug’s high occurring faster and being more powerful; smoking might result in a high that endures only 10 minutes or might result in an even briefer high, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) indicates.1

To stay high, individuals might binge by smoking multiple times in a brief period, bigger and bigger doses.1

Tobacco or marijuana might be smoked with crack.1

Possible Effects on the Body

Crack use is able to result in great dopamine quantities in the area between two neurons.1 Dopamine is usually transferred back inside its releasing cell, thereby ending the signaling; cocaine is able to obstruct the transferring of dopamine back inside its releasing cell, thus there could be a lot of dopamine creating a stronger signal.1,7 Using crack again and again might alter the reward system in an individual’s brain, possibly inducing addiction.1

In the short-term, some things someone who uses cocaine might experience include:8,9

  • Being aggressive
  • Alertness
  • Being paranoid
  • Raised heart rate
  • Anxiousness
  • Euphoria
  • Burns on fingers and/or lips, caused by pipe
  • Having a seizure
  • Being irritable
  • Having a headache
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Having muscle spasms
  • Being restless

An individual who uses crack might suffer a stroke, have a heart attack, go into a coma, and/or even die.8

After euphoria, there might be a crash, which could include depression, cravings, tiredness, and sleeping.5,9

An individual’s heart and/or lungs might be harmed by smoking crack; respiratory distress, coughing, and/or exacerbated asthma might occur.1,10 They might suffer infections like pneumonia (they can have an elevated risk).1

Individuals who use crack might get HIV since cocaine is able to worsen judgment, which could result in sexual activity that is risky, and an individual might get hepatitis C and/or HIV from sexual activity that is risky.1,11

Women who use crack when pregnant might have a miscarriage; additionally, the baby of a woman who used crack when pregnant might have a shorter length, weigh less when born, and have a smaller head when compared to a baby whose mother had not used cocaine.12

Overdose

Someone might accidentally overdose or overdose on purpose.1

An individual might die due to an overdose the first time the individual uses cocaine.1

Issues someone who overdoses on crack might experience include:1

  • Being agitated
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Having a stroke
  • Having hallucinations
  • Having seizures
  • Elevated temperature
  • Having a heart attack
  • Being anxious
  • Heart not beating regularly
  • Trouble breathing

Call 911 immediately if you or someone else might have overdosed.

Crack Addiction

Individuals might wonder if they have an addiction to crack.

A stimulant use disorder in which cocaine is the drug used is a cocaine use disorder.13

For a stimulant use disorder, there are multiple possible symptoms, including:13

  • Craving stimulant
  • Due to use of stimulant, decreasing doing or quitting doing important things that are related to recreation, are social, or are related to work
  • Trying to control or lessen use of stimulant but not succeeding, or persistently wanting to control or lessen use of it
  • Not fulfilling responsibilities at home, school, or work that are important due to repeated use of stimulant
  • Expending a lot of time doing things needed for using or getting stimulant or for recuperating from stimulant’s effects
  • Frequently using more stimulant or using stimulant for more time than intended
  • Experiencing stimulant withdrawal* (and/or to alleviate or evade symptoms of withdrawal, using stimulant or using another substance that is similar)
  • Though knowing stimulant probably brought on or worsened a mental or physical issue that repeatedly occurs or lasts, still using stimulant
  • In circumstances where using stimulant is dangerous physically, using it repeatedly
  • Though stimulant’s effects brought on or worsened interpersonal or social issues that repeatedly occur or last, still using stimulant
  • Experiencing tolerance* (still using a consistent stimulant amount has significantly less impact, and/or getting the effect wanted or becoming intoxicated requires significantly more stimulant)

*If an individual is only using stimulant medicines under medical oversight that is suitable, neither withdrawal nor tolerance are considered symptoms of a stimulant use disorder.13

Withdrawal Symptoms

An individual experiencing withdrawal from cocaine might experience things including being paranoid, not caring about things, being depressed, having a slow heart rate, being disoriented, being tired, and craving cocaine.9

An individual might become suicidal and/or might overdose.14,15

If you or someone else is suicidal, call 911 or a suicide hotline. If you or someone else might have overdosed, call 911.

Getting Help

It was estimated that in 2018, of individuals 12 years old and older with a cocaine use disorder in the last year:4

  • A quarter received, in the last year, substance use treatment for illicit drugs
  • Less than a third received, in the last year, any substance use treatment (including receiving treatment for alcohol)

For treating addiction to cocaine, zero medicines currently have the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval; however, NIDA indicates that medicines are undergoing testing.16

Types of therapy that might be beneficial for an individual addicted to cocaine include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management (also known as motivational incentives).16

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) might be used for treating cocaine addiction; CBT might assist an individual to be better able to identify and stay away from situations where the individual would be at a high risk for using cocaine and better able to cope with various issues related to drug use.16

Contingency management (CM) might be beneficial to those who wish to stop using crack; it could provide incentives for negative drug tests, and incentives can be prizes or vouchers (with a voucher system, individuals given vouchers might be able to trade these vouchers for membership to a gym or other things that promote a healthy lifestyle).16

Other interventions and/or services may be incorporated into a person’s treatment plan.1,12,16,17

Cocaine Anonymous, a 12-step group for people wishing to quit cocaine use (as well as quit use of every additional substance that is mind-altering), and/or a similar group could provide support and the opportunity to share, which may assist an individual in avoiding cocaine use.16,18

Sources:
  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2018). DrugFacts: Cocaine: What is cocaine?.
  2. United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Cocaine.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. National Survey of Drug Use and Health.
  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019). Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed tables.
  5. Drug Enforcement Administration; U.S. Department of Justice. (2017) Drugs of abuse: A DEA resource guide: 2017 edition.
  6. United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug scheduling.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Cocaine: How does cocaine produce its effects?.
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Cocaine: What are the short-term effects of cocaine use?.
  9. Couper, F. J. & Logan, B. K. (2014). Drugs and human performance fact sheets.
  10. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Cocaine: What are the long-term effects of cocaine use?.
  11. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Cocaine: Why are cocaine users at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS and hepatitis?.
  12. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Cocaine: What are the effects of maternal cocaine use?.
  13. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.
  14. A.D.A.M., Inc. (2019). Cocaine withdrawal. In A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia
  15. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2015). Detoxification and substance abuse treatment: A treatment improvement protocol: TIP 45.
  16. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Cocaine: How is cocaine addiction treated?.
  17. National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2019). DrugFacts: Treatment approaches for drug addiction.
  18. Cocaine Anonymous® World Services, Inc. About C.A.
About The Contributor
Sophie Stein, MSN
Clinical Editor
Sophie Stein received her master’s of science in nursing from Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. She previously worked as an advanced practice registered nurse at an outpatient psychiatric practice providing mental health care for children,... Read More
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