Crack cocaine is one of the most infamous drugs in America, representing many of the public images of substance abuse and addiction. But aside from how crack is depicted in movies, it’s a serious and often deadly problem. Recognising the signs and symptoms of a crack addiction is essential in getting treatment as soon as possible.
Cocaine and crack are stimulant drugs derived from the leaves of the coca plant. In its purified form cocaine looks like white, powdered crystals whereas crack is in chunks or rocks that are white, yellow or pink Cocaine and crack are both listed as Schedule II drugs.
According to reports, it takes as little as one hit of crack for the brain to be rewired. As soon as it’s smoked, it affects the brain’s mesolimbic dopamine system. It essentially stops the brain from breaking down and reabsorbing dopamine making the user feel immense reward and pleasure. And because the high is so short lasting, there is an overwhelming anticipation for more, creating an almost instant ‘hook’.
What’s the Difference Between Crack and Cocaine?
While cocaine and crack are similar, they affect people differently due to how they’re made and used. They are both derived from the coca plant, but crack’s smokable rocks deliver a more rapid, intense and euphoric high. Crack is an impure form of cocaine and is usually much cheaper.
Some of the major differences between cocaine and crack:
- Duration of effects: Smoking crack causes an immediate high that diminishes in less than 10 minutes.
- Intensity: Crack causes an instant high that is much more intense than cocaine in its powder form.
- Addiction: Because the high is so intense and short lasting, people tend to use it repeatedly, increasing the risk of addiction.
- Cost: Crack is much cheaper than cocaine which is why it became so popular.
How Crack is Made
Cocaine is dissolved in water and cooked with baking soda to separate the solids, cooled and cut up into rocks. Crack, called this because of the distinctive cracking noise made during the boiling process, is then smoked in a glass tube like pipe.
Cocaine is derived from the leaves of the coca plant which is native to South America and has been used for its pleasurable effects for thousands of years. Cocaine has a long history of use and abuse all around the world.
Crack was developed in the late 1970s in the United States. At this time there was more cocaine on the market than could be consumed. This led to a price drop resulting in suppliers getting less money. In an attempt to address this issue, crack was created. While the use of coca leaves as a stimulant drug dates back three thousand years, crack cocaine was just developed during the cocaine boom of the 1970s with its use spreading in the mid 1980s.
According to the US Drug Enforcement Agency, by the late 1970s there was a huge amount of cocaine being shipped into the US which caused the price to drop by as much as 80%. Faced with concerns in making more money, drug dealers converted the powder to ‘crack’ which could be sold in smaller amounts, to more people, with bigger profits. It was easy to produce and provided users with an easy to use and cheap alternative, making it highly profitable for dealers.
As early as 1980, First reports of crack use started in the early 1980s in LA, San Diego, Houston and the Caribbean.
The largest surge in use spread across American cities during the ‘crack epidemic’ between 1984 – 1990. This led to a huge spike in use and by the end of 1986, crack was available in 28 states as well as Columbia and by 1987, it was reportedly available in all but 4 states. Over the past few decades, crack use has continued to spread to all parts of North and South America, into Europe and across the globe.
In 2002, the UK experienced their own ‘crack epidemic’, with the number of people seeking help for crack addiction rising by nearly 50%. There was a reported 74% increase in seizures of crack cocaine between 2000 and 2006.
The majority of crack users in Europe are located in London, Paris and Hamburg but use has also been a significant problem in the French territories of Guadeloupe, French Guiana and Martinique as well as throughout the Netherlands.
Crack is a powerful stimulant that provides users with a euphoric feeling and increased energy. The flood of dopamine in the brain numbs pain and makes users feel pleasure.
Smoking crack causes the drug to reach the brain faster than snorting cocaine and although the high is more intense, it only lasts 5 to 10 minutes. So the person experiences this rush but it is quickly followed by a hard come down that leaves the user feeling low and depressed and with strong cravings for more of the drug putting users at a greater risk of addiction than cocaine.
Repeated use of crack can cause changes in the brain’s reward circuitry, making people use it compulsively, despite any of the negative effects and harm it causes. People therefore need to smoke more of the drug, more often, to achieve the same high and to prevent withdrawal symptoms.
Effects of smoking crack is characterised by:
- High levels of energy and mental alertness
- Sensitivity to touch, sound and light
- Irritability and aggression
- Bizarre, unpredictable and sometimes violent behaviour
The high is also accompanied by physical side effects including:
- Increased blood pressure and body temperature
- Dilated pupils
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Tremors or twitches
Chronic use of crack cocaine can damage the heart, brain and other organs and is particularly dangerous for people with cardiac problems. Here are some of the side effects seen among heavy users:
- Heart attack or stroke
- Sudden cardiac death
- Sexual dysfunction
- Respiratory issues such as ongoing coughing, asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia
A person is at risk of overdose if mixed with alcohol or heroin. Cocaine is sometimes cut with other substances including amphetamines and fentanyl. It is indeed possible for someone to overdose the first time they smoke crack.
There are obvious signs that indicate if someone is using crack. They will exhibit excessive and usually uncharacteristic surges of energy, far beyond any normal level, resulting in talking very fast, consuming food at a disturbing rate or perhaps not eating at all, or seeming nervous and agitated. When the effects wear off, users become extremely fatigued, often nodding off – falling asleep wherever they are and possibly staying asleep for a long period of time, up to a few days.
The drastic swing between high energy and exhaustion has impacts on day-to-day life and behaviour. Using crack makes normal sleep routines impossible which in turn affects attendance and work, school and other things in one’s life. It can also cause unpredictable and sometimes violent mood swings. Chronic use can also lead to paranoia and hallucinations. Crack use can also cause involuntary movements that look like tremors resulting in users being unable to control the shakes and spasms in their limbs.
Of course, seeking out crack is in itself an obvious sign of addiction. Most addicts will deny that crack is the cause of their problems.
Crack, like other stimulant drugs, delay the pupils’ ability to react to light leaving the person with bloodshot eyes and dilated pupils, a condition known as mydriasis.
When you use crack regularly for a long period of time, your brain and body adapts and becomes physically dependent. When crack use is reduced or stopped, brain chemistry is altered, resulting in strong withdrawal symptoms as the brain works to rebalance its dopamine and other neurotransmitter levels.
While most of these symptoms are uncomfortable, they are not likely to cause physical harm. It is important to seek professional addiction treatment to help manage withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse.
- Depression and feeling suicidal
- Muscle aches
- Exhaustion, sleep disturbances and nightmares
- Increased appetite
- Difficulty focusing
- Paranoia or hallucinations
- Strong cravings
- Slowed reflexes, thought and speech patterns
There are no medication-assisted treatments (MAT) approved to specifically manage crack cocaine withdrawal symptoms as there are for opioid and alcohol addiction so the detox focuses on rest and relaxation, hydration and nutrition in a comfortable and supportive setting. The doctor may choose to administer antidepressants or antipsychotic medications to manage depression or psychotic symptoms. The Hills provide detox in a private hospital onsite with 24/7 nursing care. The serene environment at The Hills is the perfect place to undergo treatment. Give the team a call to learn more.
Seeking help for crack cocaine addiction is crucial as if left unchecked, it can lead to permanent psychological and physical damage and can easily result in death. Detox and therapy provide stabilisation and tools to address the addiction and underlying issues and achieve a life of sobriety.
The first step towards recovery is to stop using. This is difficult to do on your own due to the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms likely leading to use again. Detox under medical supervision at a treatment centre away from home where there is no access to crack is the best option. Choosing The Hills in Chiang Mai, Thailand allows you to relax at a safe and comfortable detox and treatment centre far away from the triggers of home with zero access to crack.
As the body adjusts to functioning without crack cocaine in the system, you may experience a number of uncomfortable symptoms, from diarrhea and fever to intense cravings and depression.
There are various evidence-based therapies that have been successful in treating crack addictions. Depending on the individual needs of each client, different therapies can be delivered to address the issues at hand.
Possible therapies include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): this therapy teaches awareness around how one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours impact recovery from addiction.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): this therapy teaches skills to help people stop using, including emotional regulation, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness and mindfulness.
Motivational Interviewing (MI): this therapy helps people take responsibility for their actions while focusing on a life of sobriety.
Family therapy: helps to build relationships between family members that have been affected by addiction.
Group therapy: by talking and listening to peers who share similar experiences, one feels a sense of belonging and undering, important for anyone in recovery.
12-Step groups: AA and NA are examples of 12-step groups that provide members a strong sense of connection and belonging, essential in maintaining long-term recovery.
As discussed above, there are no specific medications available to treat cocaine use disorder or the cravings associated with it but your doctor may prescribe antidepressants or antipsychotics to manage the depression or mood related issues.
If you or someone you care about are using crack and are considering treatment, give The Hills a call to discuss how their detox and treatment program can help you get your life back.