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Crack Cocaine Symptoms and Signs of Abuse

Crack cocaine abuse in the United States remains an area of concern – both in the young adult and adult population. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health report for 2017, 1.3 percent of people aged 18 to 25 reported lifetime use of crack cocaine, and a further 4.3 percent of people aged 26 and older reported lifetime use. Crack cocaine addiction is a debilitating disease; however, treatment is available. In this article, we will explore the crack cocaine symptoms so that you can be more aware of a possible problem in others, or when your use has reached an addiction. 

6 Minute Read | Published Aug 23 2023 | Updated Mar 02 2024 Expert Verified
Emma Collins
Written by
David Levin
Reviewed by
Emma Collins
Written by
David Levin
Reviewed by

Crack Cocaine Symptoms and Signs of Abuse: When It’s Time for Help

Are you concerned you or a loved one might have an addiction? Learn more about the signs here.

What Crack is and Common Street Names

Cocaine belongs to the group of drugs known as stimulants. The main effect of stimulants is an increase in brain and central nervous system activity. It generally produces a strong feeling of pleasure and invigoration.

Crack cocaine is a freebase form of cocaine, which is a processed version of cocaine; instead of a white, powdery substance, crack cocaine is a crystalline substance. The name “crack” comes from the sound that the substance makes when it is smoked; it produces a crackling or popping sound. The vapors are heated, enter the lungs, and quickly make their way to the brain where they take effect.

Common street names for crack include:

  • Dice
  • Base
  • Nuggets
  • Jelly beans
  • Candy
  • Gravel
  • Cookies

The effects of crack abuse are very short-lived; a high tends to last from between 2 and 20 minutes. Due to the short-lived experience and the “downer” effect that it has after the effects fade, people tend to binge on crack, smoking several times in a short period.

Crack Cocaine Symptoms of Addiction and Abuse

The powerful stimulant is also highly addictive, and people quickly start to experience cravings and other crack cocaine symptoms of abuse. Crack addiction behavior is the most concerning as it starts to change important aspects of the person’s life, such as their priorities. What was once important, like work and buying food, may become a distant second to buying and abusing crack.

The short-lived high also amplifies the learned behavior that drugs have; the brain quickly learns that it is greatly rewarded for crack abuse, and as the high fades, immediately wants more. The aftereffects of crack use – even when using it for the first time – include:

  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Craving

These feelings cause a strong desire to continue with the abuse of the drug.

Warning Signs of Crack Abuse

As a parent or loved one, there are several crack cocaine symptoms that quickly become apparent when someone is abusing the substance. Among the physical crack cocaine symptoms and signs that indicate that they might be currently “high” or frequent abusers of the drug include:

  • Reduced need for sleep
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Weight loss due to a suppressed appetite
  • Muscle twitches
  • Nosebleeds
  • Burn marks on the lips from the glass pipes used to smoke crack

Of course, there are distinctive crack addiction behavior signs, too. The behavioral and psychological changes often happen relatively quickly. They include the following:

  • Prioritizing drug use, which causes other important areas of their life to suffer.
  • Volatile and aggressive mood swings.
  • Strong and persistent cravings for the drug.
  • Psychotic symptoms, including paranoia and hallucinations.
  • While there may be a desire to stop, the person is unable to – a classic sign of addiction.
  • Smoking crack even though there are problems in their family and social life, and regardless of financial strain.
  • Activities and hobbies that were once important become neglected.

Additional Signs: Withdrawal

When the person is unable to get a hold of crack for a time, then they begin to experience withdrawal if there is a dependence present. Dependence and tolerance are closely linked; a tolerance signifies that the body has become used to the drug, which means that it has adjusted to the presence of crack to the point where it relies on crack cocaine use.

The common withdrawal symptoms that occur in users who haven’t had the substance recently or are attempting to stop include:

  • Severe depression
  • High levels of anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Intense cravings

While the withdrawal symptoms don’t usually show many physical signs, the psychological signs are severe; the depression can be particularly severe due to the imbalances in the brain and may cause suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Any person going through detox should be closely monitored.

Long Term Side Effects of Smoke Crack

The long term side effects of smoking crack is where the real danger starts. Even though they are categorized as long term effects, due to the nature of crack cocaine, one may experience these effects within just weeks of heavy use.

The more a person abuses crack cocaine, the more at risk they are of developing and experiencing:

  • Damage to the lungs
  • Severe damage to the cardiovascular system, leading to heart disease, strokes, and heart attacks
  • Delirium and confusion
  • Psychosis
  • Seizures
  • Damage to the teeth, lips, and mouth
  • Anxiety
  • Severe depression
  • Irritability
  • Decline in cognitive function
  • Persistent hallucinations
  • Dangerous weight loss and malnutrition

Treatment for an Addiction and Dependence to Crack Cocaine

There are two key areas that need to be addressed in order for a person to begin their road to long-term recovery from crack cocaine abuse: dealing with the initial dependence safely and comfortably, and the addictive behavior that the abuse of the drug leads to.

In the start of treatment, dependence is the most pressing issue since withdrawal symptoms set in after mere hours and last for roughly a week. During this time, the patient is usually monitored around-the-clock. Medications, including prescription and OTC, are used to help deal with the severe symptoms such as depression. It is a crucial time during recovery as many people can return to substance abuse in an attempt to avoid the symptoms.

Once the dependence has been dealt with safely, the next part of treatment begins: traditional therapy in group and one-on-one settings, and possible holistic treatments to enhance to effects of the overall treatment. During rehab, the recovering addict will learn about how addiction works and how to best prevent it from returning through relapse prevention techniques.

Once rehab is completed, the individual’s long-term recovery can begin. The person isn’t out of the woods yet because addiction is a relapsing disease, and in order to prevent relapse, one must actively partake in relapse prevention techniques, and potentially use aftercare services including sober living homes and support groups to ensure that the addiction is managed.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, get help right away. Make a phone call that will connect you to a professional drug treatment center. The call you make may save your life or the life of someone you love. Call us today at (800) 429-7690.


bullet National Institute on Drug Abuse
"DrugFacts: Cocaine"
Retrieved on June 28, 2023
bullet Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
"TIP 33: Treatment for Stimulant Use Disorders"
Retrieved on June 28, 2023
bullet MedlinePlus
Retrieved on June 28, 2023
bullet American Addiction Centers
"Crack Cocaine Abuse Symptoms, Signs, and Addiction Treatment"
Retrieved on June 28, 2023
bullet Mayo Clinic
"Drug Addiction: Symptoms and Causes"
Retrieved on June 28, 2023
bullet Recovery Research Institute
"Cocaine and Crack Cocaine: Signs, Effects, and Treatment"
Retrieved on June 28, 2023
bullet Psychology Today
"Signs and Symptoms of Crack Cocaine Use"
Retrieved on June 28, 2023
bullet Healthline
"Crack Cocaine Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, and Recovery"
Retrieved on June 28, 2023
bullet Drug Rehab
"Crack Cocaine Abuse: Symptoms and Effects"
Retrieved on June 28, 2023
bullet National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD)
"Understanding Drug Use and Addiction"
Retrieved on June 28, 2023

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