Crack Addiction and Abuse

Americans are developing prescription opiate addictions at an alarming rate. The 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicated about 1.9 million Americans had a prescription painkillers use disorder. Since it came into popularity in the 1980s, crack has been a major contributor to the drug and addiction epidemic in America. Made from cocaine, crack comes in a large, crystal form and is heated and smoked, rather than snorted. Unlike powder cocaine, crack is very inexpensive, making it easy for individuals to receive the same kind of high cocaine can give them, but at a cheaper price. Therefore, just like cocaine, using this substance can easily lead to a crack addiction.

Crack is a form of the illicit street drug cocaine. While people generally know cocaine as a white powder, crack is a solid, crystallized form of cocaine. Cocaine is made from the coca plant common in South America. Crack is made from a mixture of cocaine, water and ammonia or baking soda. Crack is usually smoked in pieces, also known as rocks, in glass crack pipes.

Crack is often considered a more dangerous drug than cocaine because smoking the substance delivers a more immediate and intense high than snorting the drug. Crack is also more potent than cocaine because it is derived directly from the drug itself, also commonly called freebase. Those who smoke cocaine on a regular basis usually have a diluted version of the drug that is often cut with sugar, flour, caffeine, boric acid, laundry detergent or creatine.

Crack can be tan, yellow, light pink or white and looks like small rocks, chunks or chips of crystal. Some describe crack as similar in appearance to rock candy. The drug is opaque. When purchased from a drug dealer, crack often comes tied up in a small plastic bag. When the crack crystals are heated, they emit smoke that can be inhaled.

Crack is a mixture of powder cocaine, water, baking soda, or ammonia. People often ask, what does crack look like? To make crack, drug makers dissolve powder cocaine in warm water. They then add ammonia or dissolve baking soda in the mixture. The mixture is then boiled until a solid separates from the liquid base. Next, the solution is cooled so it can be separated using a strainer or coffee filter. The crack solids are dried further and broken up into smaller rocks to sell.

Crack rocks normally range from .1 – .5 grams in size. A typical batch of crack will contain anywhere from 75 – 90 percent pure cocaine. The glass pipes used to smoke crack are usually five or six inches long. Some crack pipes have small round bulbs at the end, where the rock is inserted. In other cases, crack pipes have a small cup or bulb on top of the pipe where the rock is inserted, with a flat end. Individuals who smoke crack usually use a lighter to heat the crack, which often causes the pipe to turn dark brown or black where the glass comes in contact with the lighter.

Although crack abuse is waning, the drug is still considered a threat to American sobriety because of its wide availability and cheap prices. Crack addiction can be notoriously difficult to recover from depending on the severity and the length of the addiction.

Like with many other substances of abuse, crack addiction occurs because the substance targets the “feel good” chemical in the brain, dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that, when triggered, is responsible for:

  • Attention
  • Behavior
  • Memory
  • Emotions
  • Motivation
  • Reward

Normally, dopamine attaches to certain receptors in the brain to signal reward and pleasure. Eventually, a dopamine transporter removes dopamine from the receptor, and these positive feelings subside. When a person uses crack, the crack attaches to the dopamine transporter and blocks it from removing dopamine, causing a buildup of dopamine and the intense feelings of euphoria associated with a crack high. When the high wears off, the individual may feel irritable, drowsy and lethargic. To avoid having to deal with these feelings, an individual may continue to take crack to keep the happy feeling. This association of pleasure and crack becomes an unstoppable force in a person’s life — causing them to use crack again and again, eventually leading to tolerance, dependence and crack addiction.

When a person needs to take more crack to experience the same level of high, they are building up a tolerance for the drug. If they stop smoking crack and begin feeling withdrawal symptoms, their body is dependent on the drug. Such symptoms can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Excessive sweating
  • Increased appetite
  • Vivid dreams
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability

Eventually, if a person continues using crack, they can develop cravings for crack and might keep using the drug despite experiencing the negative side effects. It can take different people varying lengths of time before they develop a crack addiction. For some, it is possible to begin the path to crack addiction after just one use of the drug. Traits that can influence the length of time it takes to develop crack addiction include:

  • Personal history of substance abuse or addiction (such as crack addiction)
  • Family history of substance abuse or addiction (such as crack addiction)
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Weight
  • Dosage
  • Concurrent drug or alcohol abuse

People addicted to crack don’t just experience struggles within their bodies, but also in their lifestyles. Considering the need for the drug on a regular basis, many individuals struggle financially due to their excessive spending on the drug. Some individuals may lose their jobs, declare bankruptcy or even steal money to be able to afford their addiction. There are also numerous legal consequences that can come with the addiction, since crack is an illegal substance. Individuals can lose their driver’s license, custody of children , or even face arrest and imprisonment.

Individuals who develop an addiction to crack can suffer from a lot of long-term effects that can be difficult to reverse, especially once they get severe. Some of these physical effects include:

  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Lung damage
  • Heart disease
  • Malnutrition
  • Infertility
  • Death

Along with physical side effects, the mind can be impacted by the intake of crack.  Possible psychological symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Paranoia
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Disorientation
crack cocaine in baggie

Since its creation, scientists and researchers tracked crack’s effects on Americans’ health. Given how simple the drug is to obtain and the regularity of the usage, it’s important to educate the public on the severity of the epidemic. Listed here are a few statistics about crack addiction:

  • In 2015, roughly 7,000 people died from a cocaine overdose.
  • In 2010, 23 percent of eighth graders, 32 percent of tenth graders and 45 percent of 12th graders believed crack was “fairly easy” or “very easy” to get.
  • Legal consequences for crack possession are harsher than those for powder cocaine possession. Those found in possession of 28 grams of crack will get a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison. To get the same sentence with powder cocaine, a person would have to be found in possession of 500 grams.
  • Crack abusers can feel the effects of the drug 10 – 15 seconds after smoking it.
  • According to crack and cocaine overdose data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, men are significantly more likely to die from abusing the substances than women. In many cases, the number of men’s cocaine overdose deaths was double that of women.

To avoid developing a crack addiction, it’s best to stay away from the drug entirely. Crack addiction is a medical disease and treatment at a certified detox facility is the safest and most efficient way to manage the withdrawal symptoms associated with the detoxification process.  Doctors at a detox facility are able to use withdrawal medications to soothe symptoms. One in particular that has been proven to be helpful is Suboxone. Just like pure opioids themselves, Suboxone can be habit-forming, so it’s important to take the drug under medical supervision to prevent another addiction from forming.

If you or a loved one are one of the millions of Americans who live with a crack addiction, it is never too late to seek help. Crack addiction is a brain disease that requires medical attention as soon as possible. Seeking out medical attention from a rehab facility is the safest way to receive treatment.

During rehab, patients learn to manage cravings and handle triggers that can spur setbacks .The Recovery Village offers different programs at locations across the nation to assist individuals with their recovery. If you would like to learn more about The Recovery Village programs and locations, call one of our representatives. Each call is free and confidential. Begin your journey to a drug-free life today.

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In The Know Zone. “Street Names.” In The Know Zone, Education Specialty Publishing, LLC, Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.
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Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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