Crack cocaine, which is often just referred to as crack, is a free-base version of cocaine that can be smoked. It’s described by most substance abuse research and professionals as the most addictive form of cocaine, and it first gained widespread worldwide attention during the 1980s, when inner city neighborhoods were overrun with its use. That time was often called the crack epidemic, and it hit places like New York and Los Angeles particularly hard.

While it’s no longer the 1980s, crack is still used by people, leading many people to wonder how to know if someone is on the drug.

What Does Crack Look Like?

One of the first ways you can start to identify whether or not someone is on crack is to know what it looks like. Typically pure crack will appear as off-white “rocks” which aren’t very dense and may seem crystalline. When someone puts a crack rock on their tongue, it numbs it. Pure crack will also melt when introduced to a flame or water. In many cases, however, crack isn’t pure when it’s sold on the street, and it’s often cut with many other substances to increase how much it seems like a person is buying. Some of the substances crack is cut with can be incredibly dangerous.

crack cocaine in baggie

Another important way you can determine if someone is on crack is to know paraphernalia used to take the drug. Some of the common forms of crack paraphernalia include a smoking pipe, tube, an antenna or something similar, and a lighter or even a small torch.

The Immediate Effects of Crack Use

Since crack is a stimulant, when someone takes it, it tends to speed up the processes happening in their body, mentally and physically. Since crack is smoked, the effects of taking it occur almost instantly. The drug is absorbed straight from the lungs of the user into the bloodstream, but these effects usually end after 5 or 10 minutes.

The short-term effects of being high on crack are one reason why it’s highly addictive and abused. As people try to chase the high of initially smoking, they may take more and more crack, or become obsessed with it.

Common Signs of Use

  • Some of the other common signs include:

    • Right after taking it they will feel euphoric or have an inflated sense of self
    • A burst of energy occurs almost right away
    • The person will be very focused at first
    • Dilated pupils
    • Insomnia
    • Suppressed appetite
    • Muscle twitches
    • Nosebleeds
    • Increased rate of breathing
    • Burns on fingers
    • Blistered or burned lips from smoking from a pipe
    • Restlessness
    • “Coke bugs” which are the hallucination of bugs crawling under the skin

  • Some of the mental & behavior signs include:

    • Mood swings
    • Amplified aggression or volatile behavior
    • Hallucinations and other psychotic episodes including hallucinations
    • Obsessive desire to smoke crack

Crack is a drug that is conducive to binging for many addicts. The reason, as mentioned, is the short amount of time the high lasts. This can lead someone who is addicted to the drug to take it repeatedly in a short window of time, at higher and higher doses. Signs that someone is on crack and potentially has binged can include extreme irritability and paranoia as well as restlessness. In some instances, a large amount of crack may lead to a complete psychosis. Signs that someone is on crack and experiencing psychosis can include a loss of reality and hallucinations.

Using crack in large amounts can also lead to very erratic, strange behavior, tremors, and vertigo.

Even if you know the signs of someone being on crack presently, you may not know how long they’ve been using the drug. One of the biggest signs of addiction and dependence is smoking large amounts of the drug. Users of crack tend to develop a tolerance quickly, and they require more for the same effect. There are a number of health risks associated with crack that occur in the short-term and the long-term.

  • Other potential adverse side effects may include:

    • Extreme weight loss and malnutrition
    • Long-term cardiovascular problems that can lead to heart attack and stroke
    • Cognitive decline
    • Confusion and psychotic problems
    • Damaged mouth, teeth, and lips
    • Severe depression and anxiety

People who are on crack for a long period of time are more likely to experience infections because of a compromised immune system, and they may have damage to organs including the liver and kidneys.

When someone is addicted to crack, they’re likely to engage in illegal or dangerous activities to keep getting the drug. This could include illegal activities such as stealing, violence or dangerous sexual behaviors. People who are addicted to crack will stop paying attention to their responsibilities, including attending school or work, paying bills, or taking care of their family. Relationships will often decay because crack is such an addictive and all-consuming drug.

Being addicted to crack can ultimately lead not only to the breakdown of relationships and the end of careers, but also to legal troubles that come not just from trying to obtain the drug, but also the potential ramifications of being caught possessing or using the drug.

With some drugs such as prescription medications, it can be difficult to determine when there’s abuse and an addiction and when use is normal. Crack is not one of those drugs. Crack is an incredibly addictive and powerful drug, and it’s not likely that someone can do it recreationally without becoming addicted and physically dependent on it. If you sense a person is using crack at all, even if they’re acting as if it’s recreational, it should be a huge cause for concern.

Virtually anyone who is using crack, but particularly if they’re letting their responsibilities go or using more than they intend to, particularly in the face of negative consequences, they can be described as having an addiction to crack. If this is the case, treatment is necessary, and if you recognize signs that someone is on crack, you should contact a medical professional or addiction specialist.