Crack cocaine, which is often just referred to as crack, is a free-base version of cocaine that can be smoked. When it’s smoked, it delivers a short but very intense high to the user, and because of that sense of euphoria it creates, it’s incredibly addictive.

Crack cocaine, which is often just referred to as crack, is a free-base version of cocaine that can be smoked. When it’s smoked, it delivers a short but very intense high to the user, and because of that sense of euphoria it creates, it’s incredibly addictive. 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 regularly used. In 2013, 68% of people admitted for cocaine addiction treatment were crack cocaine users. That’s more than 82,000 crack cocaine users in one year, and even more who did not receive help. This can lead many people to wonder how to know if someone they care about is on the drug.

Article at a Glance:

  • Crack looks like off-white rocks and may be cut with other dangerous substances when sold on the street.
  • Crack speeds up the mental and physical processes almost instantly because it is a stimulant.
  • Someone who has just smoked crack will feel euphoric, focused and energetic.
  • Visible signs of use include muscle twitches, nosebleeds, dilated pupils, restlessness, lip blisters and finger burns.
  • Since crack is highly addictive and has long-term effects, you should contact an addiction specialist if you notice signs of crack usage in a loved one.

What Does Crack Look Like?

The first way to identify whether 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 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.

Small rocks of crack cocaine in a plastic bag
Samples of small rocks of crack cocaine

Another important way to determine if someone is on crack is to recognize 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

Crack is a stimulant. When someone takes it, it tends to speed up the mental and physical processes happening in their body. Crack’s effects occur almost instantly when smoked. The drug is absorbed straight from the lungs of the user into the bloodstream. These effects usually end after five to ten 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, becoming obsessed with it.

Common Signs of Use

Some of the common signs of crack use include:
  • Euphoria or an inflated sense of self immediately after use
  • A burst of energy right after use
  • Heightened focus 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
  • Obsessive desire to smoke crack

Common Signs of Binging

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 has potentially binged on crack can include extreme irritability, paranoia and restlessness. In some instances, a large amount of crack may lead to a complete psychosis, including a loss of reality and hallucinations. Using crack in large amounts can also lead to erratic, strange behavior, tremors and vertigo.

Effects of a Crack Addiction

Even if you know the signs of someone currently on crack, you may not know how long they’ve been using it. One of the biggest signs of addiction and dependence is smoking large amounts of the drug. Crack users tend to develop a tolerance quickly, requiring more for the same effect. Several health risks associated with crack can occur in the short-term and long-term.

Potential adverse side effects of long-term crack use may include:
  • Extreme weight loss and malnutrition
  • Risk of 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. They may also 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 stealing, violence or dangerous sexual behaviors. People who are addicted to crack may stop paying attention to their responsibilities. They may stop 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.

Beyond broken relationships and ended careers, being addicted to crack can ultimately lead to legal troubles. Getting caught obtaining, possessing or using the drug has significant ramifications. 

How Can You Identify an Addiction To Crack?

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.

If this is the case, treatment may be necessary. If you recognize signs that someone is on crack, you should contact a medical professional or addiction specialist.

Melissa Carmona
Editor – Melissa Carmona
As the content manager at Advanced Recovery Systems, Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
Benjamin Caleb Williams
Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) 2003 – 2013. National Admissions to Substance Abuse Treatment Services.” December 2015. Accessed June 16, 2020. “Cocaine.” August 21, 2018. Accessed June 16, 2020.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.