Crack is a free-base version of cocaine that can be smoked. It delivers a short but very intense and addictive high. Knowing the signs of crack addiction can be the first step to getting them help.

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 this doesn’t include all those 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

Signs of Crack Use

Immediate Signs 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 last for five to ten minutes. Some of the immediate signs of crack use include:

  • Euphoria or feeling of intense pleasure 
  • Feeling of speed or a burst of energy 
  • Talking rapidly

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.

Visible Signs of Crack Use

Some of the visible signs of crack use include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Muscle twitches
  • Burns on fingers
  • Blistered or burned lips from smoking from a pipe
  • Restlessness
  • Blisters on the skin
    • This is a result of formication, also known as “coke bugs,” which are sensations that insects are crawling on or under the skin. As a result, the person is constantly scratching or picking at their skin and may appear jumpy or on edge.

Psychological & Behavioral Signs of Crack Use

Some behavioral signs of crack use include

  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Suppressed appetite
  • Aggressive or volatile behavior
  • Hallucinations 
  • Psychosis
  • Paranoia
  • Mania
  • Obsessive desire to smoke crack


Crack is almost always consumed by smoking. This supplies large amounts of the drug to the body through the lungs, resulting in a strong and immediate effect. The paraphernalia, or the equipment used to consume crack, include pipes, mouthpieces, plastic syringe plungers and wooden push sticks. The sale of drug paraphernalia is illegal. 

What Does Crack Look Like?

Crack is generally sold as rocks. These rocks are crystalline and white to off-white in color. The size and shape of the rocks can vary.

What Do Crack Pipes Look Like?

Crack pipes are typically made of glass or metal with a thin cylindrical shape. Since glass and metal pipes conduct heat, many users will experience blisters and sores on their lips and mouth area. Some users may attach a mouthpiece made of vinyl or other material to avoid this issue. 

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 time frame at escalating doses. The slang names for such high-frequency users include addict, junkie, crackhead and fiend. Signs that someone has potentially binged on crack can include extreme irritability, paranoia and anger. 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 severe paranoia and extreme violent behavior.

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 of the drug 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:

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 heart, 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 avoid their responsibilities. They may stop attending school or work, paying bills or taking care of their family. Relationships will often suffer 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.

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Editor – Abby Doty
Abby Doty graduated from Hamline University in 2021 with a Bachelor's in English and Psychology. She has written and edited creative and literary work as well as academic pieces focused primarily on psychology and mental health. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Michelle Giordano
Michelle Giordano has been a licensed pharmacist in New York State for nearly two decades. She received her doctorate in pharmacology from St. John’s University, where she earned an academic merit scholarship throughout the course of her studies. Read more
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.