Crack Abuse Symptoms and Side Effects

There is a heavy stigma surrounding addiction that labels the topic as taboo and those afflicted with this disease as bad people. Often, those who are abusing drugs feel ashamed or embarrassed of their drug problem. As a result, they try to hide it from those they love. Still, it’s not as easy as one might think to hide a crack addiction. The drug wreaks havoc on the body and results in many physical, psychological and social changes. If you’re worried someone you love is abusing crack, look for these classic tells that may give away their crack abuse or addiction. It would also be beneficial to learn what crack looks like.

Article at a Glance:  

  • Crack abuse can affect a person financially, legally, interpersonally, socially, and at work and school.  
  • Long-term health effects of crack abuse include tooth decay, stroke, infertility, and even death.  
  • Long-term psychological effects of crack abuse are hallucinations, paranoia, and aggression.  
  • Children born with prenatal crack exposure may exhibit many health and developmental problems.  
  • Signs of a crack overdose are chest pains, stroke, irregular heartbeat, and unconsciousness. 
Crack is a volatile drug that re-wires a person’s brain to ensure they crave only one thing — crack. This addiction can cause myriad changes in a person’s life. To someone on the outside, it may appear as though the friend or family member they once knew is gone, instead replaced by a person who no longer has any ties to former interested. One of the signs of crack abuse or addiction is experiencing problems in these areas:

  • Financially
  • Legally
  • Interpersonally
  • At work
  • At school
  • Socially

While anyone could experience trouble in these areas and not be experiencing crack addiction, it’s very common for crack addicts to have trouble in all of these areas all at once. In their mind, crack is the most important thing in their life, and all avenues of their life may suffer in pursuit of their next high. Some signs of financial trouble due to crack addiction include:

  • Loss of employment
  • Spending retirement funds
  • Spending life savings
  • Declaring bankruptcy
  • Selling treasured family heirlooms to make money
  • Continually asking friends or family for money
  • Stealing money

While many of a crack addict’s financial problems spur from purchasing the drug, they may also experience financial hardship due to associated legal troubles. Hiring a lawyer or paying bail can very expensive, especially when repeated. Some signs of legal trouble due to crack addiction are:

  • Getting arrested
  • Losing their driver’s license
  • Losing child custody privileges
  • Getting a divorce

Some signs of interpersonal problems due to crack addiction are:

  • Visiting or speaking with loved ones infrequently
  • Becoming violent with loved ones
  • Fighting with a romantic partner
  • Ignoring parental duties

Some signs of problems at work, caused by crack addiction, include:

  • Coming late to work
  • Missing days at work
  • Taking long breaks while at work
  • Appearing high on the job
  • Exhibiting risky behavior while at work, such as operating machinery without safety gear or getting into a fight with a manager
  • Being fired
  • Receiving complaints from customers, co-workers or managers

Some signs of problems at school due to crack addiction include:

  • Coming late to school, or not coming to school at all
  • Skipping classes
  • Appearing high at school
  • Exhibiting risky behavior at school, such as getting into a fight with another student or teacher
  • Receiving detention or other forms of punishment for delinquent behavior
  • Earning failing grades
  • Suspension
  • Expulsion
  • Inability to graduate due to low academic performance

Some signs of social problems, caused by crack addiction, are:

  • Avoiding favorite activities, such as church or a sports team
  • Abandoning favorite hobbies
  • Alienating themselves from former communities
The longer a person uses crack, the more likely they are to experience more serious side effects. Crack is a dangerous drug that consists of many harsh chemicals, especially as it is often mixed with other drugs as it’s made. Over time, these negative health effects compound in the body and can cause extreme physical and psychological reactions. The long-term physical effects of crack abuse include:

Tooth decay
Chest pains
Heart disease
Heart attack
Lung damage
Respiratory failure
Liver damage
Kidney damage
Sexual dysfunction
Partaking in risky behavior
Abscesses at injection sites
Contraction of infectious diseases
The long-term psychological effects of crack abuse include:
Severe depression
Aggression / Irritability
In addition, it’s not uncommon for long-term crack abuse to occur simultaneously as a pregnancy. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are roughly 750,000 cocaine-exposed pregnancies every year. Pregnant women using crack may experience:
Migraines / Seizures
Severely high blood pressure
Premature membrane rupture
Spontaneous miscarriage
Premature labor
Premature separation of the placental lining from the uterus
Preterm birth
Difficult delivery
Low birth weight
In the 1980s, as the popularity of crack swelled, many feared the United States would be inundated with a generation of disabled children who were exposed to crack cocaine in utero. Scientists have long studied “crack babies,” however, and have found that some of this hysteria was unfounded. However, children with prenatal crack exposure have been found to exhibit:

Premature birth
Low birth weight
Smaller head circumference in infancy
Shorter length in infancy
Behavior problems in children
Cognitive deficits in children
Information processing deficits in children
Attention deficits in children
Language problems in adolescence
Memory problems in adolescence
Attention problems in adolescence
Planning problems in adolescence
As this generation gets older, scientists will likely continue studying “crack babies” as they mature into adulthood, when new long-term effects of prenatal crack exposure may manifest.
One possible outcome of short-term or long-term crack abuse is overdose. Overdose occurs when a person ingests too much crack, essentially poisoning themselves. The body is unable to detox this amount of the drug before it causes seriously harmful and often deadly side effects. Sometimes, people overdose on purpose, but most often it’s unintentional.

The risk of experiencing overdose is heightened when an addicted uses crack and another drug, such as alcohol, at the same time. In these cases, overdose typically occurs because the body is trying to detox two drugs at once and it cannot dispel the drugs fast enough to avoid the harmful effects. Symptoms of a crack overdose include:

  • Chest pains
  • Slow, fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Heart attack
  • Seizure
  • Stroke
  • Unconsciousness
  • Slowed or stopped breathing

Overdose is very often fatal and is considered a medical emergency. If you think you may be overdosing, or think a loved one may be experiencing an overdose, call 911. Emergency responders may be able to treat the overdose on the way to the hospital, or doctors may be able to treat the overdose at the hospital. Such treatments include restoring blood flow to the heart in the case of heart attack, administering drugs to regulate heartbeat and stopping seizures.

Center for Substance Abuse Research. “Crack Cocaine.” CESAR, University of Maryland, 29 Oct. 2013, Accessed 14 Mar. 2017.
Foundation for a Drug-Free World. “Effects of Crack Cocaine.” Foundation for a Drug-Free World, Accessed 14 Mar. 2017.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What Are the Effects of Maternal Cocaine Use?” NIDA, National Institutes of Health, May 2016, Accessed 14 Mar. 2017.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “DrugFacts: Cocaine.” NIDA, National Institutes of Health, June 2016, Accessed 14 Mar. 2017.

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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