What Is Crack Cocaine?
Crack cocaine is a form of cocaine that has been crystalized.
Typically, it is found as solid crystals or blocks that are clear, yellow, or pale pink in color. These crystals are heated up and then smoked, and the effects are felt almost immediately. The cracking sounds that comes from heating up the substance is how the drug gets its name.
As the most potent form of cocaine, crack is very risky in terms of addiction and abuse. Addiction can occur after just a single use, as smoking it leads to instant and direct effects on the brain’s pleasure and reward system. The instant high of crack is very intense, but it typically only lasts about 15 minutes.
There are many common street names for crack cocaine.
- Apple jacks
- Hard ball
- Hard rock
- Ice cube
- Sugar block
- Rock star
Although crack is typically smoked through a glass pipe, it can be injected intravenously or snorted. Each of these methods allows users ways to experience immediate highs. Each method comes with its own sent of risks, however, such as contracting infectious disease or overdosing.
Rates of Crack Abuse
According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health as presented by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), approximately 1.5 million people across the United States (ages 12 and older) used cocaine. Of these 1.5 million people, about 354,000 people were current crack users, or about 0.1 percent of the population. These estimates were similar to the data that was collected between 2008 and 2013.
The people most likely to use crack cocaine were ages 26 and older. About 0.2 percent of this population reported using crack in the past month. Of young adults (ages 18 to 25), 0.1 percent of the population reported current crack use, which was also true for adolescents (ages 12 to 17).
In general, cocaine has a history of being a “rich man’s drug,” as it is typically more expensive than other drugs when it comes in its purest form. Crack cocaine grew in popularity because it was thought to be more affordable and could be obtained by more people. This notion is flawed, however, as addiction and the compulsion to use greater amounts of it form quickly, as do the associated expenses.
Crack is a very strong stimulant drug that acts on the central nervous system by causing an immediate release of excessive amounts of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain. As dopamine is released, users experience an intense rush or feeling of euphoria. The high can last anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes.
These are the desired effects of a crack cocaine high:
- Increased alertness
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Intense euphoria
In addition to the above desired effects of crack, there are many side effects that users also experience. The negative side effects vary greatly depending on the user’s response to the drug and what other substances may be mixed into the crack.
Typical side effects of crack use include the following:
- Decreased appetite
- Intense drug cravings
- Sudden death
As a highly potent and effective drug, crack is very risky to experiment with. One bad use can lead to addiction, irreversible damage to your health, or even a fatal overdose.
Long-Term Risks of Addiction to Crack
According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland, prolonged abuse of crack cocaine can cause significant mental and physical health problems. Tolerance and addiction to crack can occur almost instantly, and additional effects can develop with time.
Long-term effects of crack abuse include the following:
- Severe depression
- Mood disturbances
- Aggressive and paranoid behavior
- Heart attack
- Heart disease
- Respiratory failure
- Sexual disfunction
- Reproductive problems
- Increased risky behavior
One of the greatest risks of using crack is the likelihood of developing an addiction to the drug. Tolerance, or the need for greater amounts of the drug to achieve the same desired effects, is likely to set in quickly.
As tolerance increases, addiction is often quick to follow. The longer you struggle with an addiction the more likely you are to experience a combination of the above mental and physical long-term effects.
Addiction to Cocaine vs. Crack
Although cocaine and crack cocaine are derived from the same drug, crack can be far more addictive and harder to break free from. When smoking crack, the drug enters the brain very quickly, thereby creating a very immediate and intense high.
The reward of such a high is incredibly addictive. Users can find themselves addicted to crack far sooner than they might become addicted to powdered cocaine.
Signs of Crack Cocaine Abuse
If you are concerned that you or a loved one might be struggling with crack abuse, there are certain physical and behavioral signs to look out for. Everyone exhibits addiction slightly differently, but there are common characteristics of addiction that indicate the presence of a drug abuse problem.
These are physical signs of drug abuse:
- Sudden changes in weight
- Neglected appearance
- Red eyes
- Dilated pupils
- Sores around injection sites on the body
- Tooth decay
- Mouth sores
- Gum disease
- Lack of energy
Behavioral signs can be harder to pinpoint but are just as indicative of a drug abuse problem. The following are behavioral signs that someone is struggling with drug addiction:
- Unexplainable changes in behavior
- Isolation from friends and family members
- Problems at school or work
- Money issues
- Excessive confidence
- Increased aggression
If you recognize any combination of the above physical and behavioral symptoms of addiction in yourself or a loved one, it may be time to seek help.
How to Talk to a Loved One About Their Addiction
Confronting a loved one about their addiction can be a stressful and intimidating task. You want to convey your sincere concerns for the person while holding them accountable for their drug use and encouraging them to get help. Ultimately, the decision to enter treatment and get sober is solely up to the person struggling with addiction, but there are a few things you can do to initiate a healthy conversation about addiction.
Addiction creates confusion for the person using drugs and the people around them. This confusion makes it difficult to know how to properly confront the situation.
If you need to talk to a loved one about their addiction, keep these points in mind:
- Come from a place of kindness and compassion.
- Do not criticize, insult, or talk down to your loved one.
- Listen more than you talk.
- Stay consistent with your message and your actions.
- Don’t be afraid to set limits and follow through with the consequences of breaking them.
- Be patient with the process of change.
- Provide consistent nonjudgmental support.
Recovering From a Crack Addiction
Crack is highly addictive, both physically and psychologically. Once sober, cravings can persist for months to years in some people, and without adequate help, cravings can lead to relapse. With the right supports in place, however, people in recovery can live the rest of their lives free from crack and other substances of abuse.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains that behavioral therapy can be beneficial for people working to overcome a crack addiction. Types of behavioral therapy that have proven successful in treating a crack addiction include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Contingency management (motivational incentives).
- Participation in therapeutic communities.
- Community-based recovery groups (12-step programs).
Continued participation in any of the above forms of behavioral therapy is one of the best ways for someone with a history of addiction to stay sober. In conjunction with an appropriate treatment program, ongoing participation in recovery groups can be vital to ongoing sobriety.
Depending on the level of crack abuse, there are certain levels of health damage that cannot be reversed. Long-term crack use is associated with various health complications that may be irreversible, such as premature aging, memory loss, heart damage, infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C, and movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease.