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16 Minutes Read | Published Jan 16 2024 | Updated Jan 16 2024

Crack, also known as crack cocaine, is a highly addictive potent stimulant drug produced by converting cocaine hydrochloride or powdered cocaine into a form that is fit for smoking and which can be marketed in small portions and dispensed to more individuals. The name of the drug comes from the crackling noise produced when the substance is heated and smoked.

To create crack, powdered cocaine is dissolved into a mixture of water and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) or ammonia and then boiled until a solid substance forms. Afterward, the solidified substance is removed from the liquid, dried, and crushed into chunks or rocks. Crack typically appears like off-white soap shavings with hard, sharp edges.

Because it is more cost-effective and easier to produce than cocaine, crack has become a more affordable and accessible option for users, particularly those in the lower socioeconomic demographic who cannot typically afford cocaine and other expensive illicit drugs. Crack cocaine emerged as a popular substance of abuse for its intense and fast-acting effects starting in the mid-1980s, causing a fourfold increase in emergency room crack-related cases, such as overdoses and suicide attempts, between 1984 and 1987.

Unfortunately, crack use continues to plague the United States. According to the 2019 Annual Surveillance Report of Drug-Related Risks and Outcomes by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), close to 800,000 people, or 0.3 percent of the population, reported using this substance in 2018, despite being illegal.

If you want to know more about crack cocaine, read on. Below is an overview of the history, mode of use, and mechanism of action of this drug as well the effects of crack use and signs of abuse. This guide will also provide brief information about  rehab and treatment for individuals facing crack use disorder.

Crack was first introduced in Miami, Florida, by Caribbean immigrants who taught teenagers how to convert powdered cocaine into crack. The young ones eventually made the production and distribution of the drug a lucrative business, marketing crack in other major cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Detroit.

The number of crack users spiked in the 1980s, from 4.2 million in 1985 to nearly 6 million users in 1989. The increase in demand for crack resulted in fierce competition between drug dealers and a dramatic rise in crimes. Admission in federal prison for drug offenses soared. Murder and manslaughter rates, as well as robbery and aggravated assaults, also rose considerably. A 1988 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 32 percent of all homicides and 60 percent of all substance-related homicides in New York City were connected to crack use.

To combat drug trafficking and end the crack cocaine epidemic, President Ronald Reagan expanded the “War on Drugs” initiative started by President Richard Nixon. The campaign included the passage of the federal Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which set a series of “mandatory minimum” prison sentences for different drug offenses.

The massive difference between the amounts of powdered cocaine and crack that resulted in the same minimum sentence prescribed in the law led to a staggering rise of the incarceration rates for nonviolent African-American drug offenders. By 1989, 25 percent of African American males aged 20 to 29 were either imprisoned or on probation or parole. The rate increased further to almost 30 percent by 1995.

As awareness of the racial inequality of the punishments increased in the early 21st century, the War on Drugs lost considerable public support. As a result, the government introduced reforms, and the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 was passed, reducing the crack-to-powder cocaine possession threshold for minimum sentences to 18-to-1 from 100-to-1. Although the effects of crack cocaine are not as alarming today as in the 1980s, this drug problem still haunts the US and the rest of the world.

How Is Crack Used?

Unlike powdered cocaine that can be used through various methods, such as snorting, injection, or ingestion, crack is almost always smoked. Crack smoking, also referred to as puffing or hitting the pipe, is usually done using tools like pipes, plastic bottles, water pipes, or laboratory pipettes. Some users mix the drug into marijuana or tobacco and roll it like a cigarette.

Smoking crack results in the delivery of large quantities of the substance to the lungs, producing instantaneous and more intense euphoric effects. Given the immediate and pleasurable effects of this mode of cocaine consumption, crack smoking, even once, can cause cravings wherein the user experiences a strong urge to use the drug over and over again.

Using crack on its own is already dangerous, but some users even combine it with other substances to enhance its effects. Some of the most common drugs usually blended with crack cocaine include the following:

▪ Amphetamine (croak)
▪ Heroin (moon rock)
▪ Phencyclidine (clicker, p-funk, spacebase)
▪ Marijuana (Buddha, caviar, chronic, cocoa puffs, fry daddy, primo, torpedo juice, woolie)
▪ Tobacco (coolie)

How Does Crack Work in the Human Body?

Smoking enables the entry of crack into the bloodstream almost as fast as injecting the drug directly into a vein. As the substance enters the brain, crack disturbs the dopamine neurotransmitter system by triggering the release of excess dopamine, which causes euphoric feelings, enhanced confidence, and increased energy and motor activity. These pleasurable effects are short-lived, often lasting from 5 to 10 minutes.

After the immediate “high,” the dopamine levels in the brain plummet, causing equally intense “low” feelings, such as depression, dysphoria, irritability, paranoia, mood swings, and anxiety. When this happens, craving or the desire to consume crack usually follows and intensifies as the drug dependency gets stronger. It is worth noting that repeated use and increased doses of the substance could lead to significant and longer-lasting neurological damage, eventually causing cognitive impairment.

What Are the Immediate and Long-Term Effects of Crack Abuse?

As mentioned above, crack’s effects are felt almost instantaneously. It makes the user feel happy, energetic, enthusiastic, talkative, and mentally alert. The drug can also lessen the desire for food and sleep. Other short-term effects of crack use also include the following:

▪ Increased heart rate, blood pressure level, and body temperature
▪ Constricted blood vessels
▪ Dilated pupils
▪ Nausea
▪ Vomiting
▪ Diarrhea
▪ Panic attacks
▪ Aggression
▪ Anxiety
▪ Paranoia

Repeated and prolonged abuse of crack cocaine, on the other hand, could lead to severe physical and psychological consequences. Here are some of the most common risks associated with long-term crack use:

▪ Heart attack
▪ Stroke
▪ Respiratory failure
▪ Lung trauma and bleeding
▪ Asthma
▪ Lung infections
▪ Weakened immune system
▪ Brain seizures
▪ Convulsions
▪ Coma
▪ Loss of ability to perform sexually
▪ Violent and erratic behavior
▪ Confusion
▪ Anxiety
▪ Depression
▪ Decreased libido or sex drive

Apart from the negative effects cited above, crack users can also experience impairment in cognitive functions, as well as movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease after several years of substance abuse. Some of them also lose control over their lives; become disinterested in family, career, and other activities; and lose touch with reality.

Signs of Crack Use Disorder

Perhaps. you suspect that a family member is suffering from crack use disorder, and you want to know if they need help. If so, you may want to answer the following questions based on your observation of their behavior and activities.

▪ Is the person taking the drug in higher amounts or for an extended period than originally intended?
▪ Does the individual want to cut down or stop using crack but unable to?
▪ Is the person spending too much time getting, using, or recovering from substance use?
▪ Does your loved one experience an intense urge to use crack?
▪ Is the person having difficulty managing commitments because of crack use?
▪ Does the individual continue drug use even if the habit causes relationship issues?
▪ Is the person giving up essential domestic, social, occupational, or recreational activities because of using crack?
▪ Does your loved one use crack habitually, even if it puts them in danger?
▪ Does the person continue crack use, even if the habit causes or worsens physical or psychological issues?
▪ Is the individual using more of the drug to achieve the desired effect?
▪ Is the person experiencing withdrawal symptoms?

The questions above are based on the eleven diagnostic criteria for substance use disorder provided in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Two or three yes answers suggest a mild substance use disorder, four or five affirmative responses indicate moderate crack use disorder, while six or more yes replies imply a severe condition.

Rehab and Treatment for Crack Use Disorder

Recovery from crack use disorder usually starts with detoxification, the process of ridding the body of any traces of the substance. Because crack cocaine is a highly addictive drug, users may experience painful withdrawal symptoms, such as muscle tremors, severe headache, fatigue, and depression, within a few hours of detox. Given that these uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms could last for a week, the person should opt for medically managed crack detox to reduce suffering and ensure the safe transition to abstinence.

After detox, the individual may start treatment by staying in an inpatient rehabilitation facility specializing in assisting crack users toward long-term sobriety. Rehab treatment involves participation in counseling and behavioral therapies to help the user understand the harmful effects of crack use, confront the root cause of their addiction, and learn essential life skills to keep them from abusing drugs again.

Two of the most common therapies used in treating crack use disorder are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management (CM). Through CBT, the person in recovery learns to identify and correct addictive and other problematic behaviors. CM, on the other hand, makes use of rewards to motivate the person to remain in treatment and maintain a drug-free life.

In terms of medications, there are no drugs currently approved for treating crack use disorder. Research studies are still ongoing. So far, drugs like psychostimulants, bupropion, topiramate, modafinil, and disulfiram have shown much promise in the pharmacological intervention of crack use disorder. A cocaine vaccine is also being studied to reduce relapse and prevent crack and powdered cocaine abuse. It is worth noting that although there is no specific medicine for treating crack use disorder, individuals in recovery may be given drugs to relieve addiction-related symptoms like sleep problems.

The recovery process for crack use disorder may also include involvement and participation in support groups like Cocaine Anonymous. Such avenues help the person in recovery connect with individuals who know what they are going through. Having a group of people willing to listen and offer practical advice on maintaining long-term abstinence can significantly help a recovering addict avoid relapse and live a better life.

Get the Help You Need

Crack use disorder impacts the person’s physical, mental, and psychological health, ruins relationships, and destroys career and reputation. That is why you should not waste time helping your loved one receive the most suitable treatment to overcome addiction. Do not worry. You do not have to face this burden alone as you can always get in touch with Better Addiction Care (BAC), a third-party information service that can connect you to a vast network of top treatment providers in the country.

BAC can provide you with credible resources so you can understand substance use disorder better. our partner treatment centers can also discuss the different options available to help you or your loved one get your life back on track. With BAC’s help, finding quality professional help is within reach.


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