Crack is one of the most commonly used and highly addictive drugs known today. A national survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that 4.1% of Americans had tried crack at least once in their lifetime.
What's more, the relatively low cost of the drug and the short duration of the high makes it especially dangerous and particularly habit-forming.
The information covered here will explain some of the basic facts about crack, like what it is, how it affects the brain, and what are some of the signs of crack addiction.
The information provided below about crack (including its effects on the body, how to identify a disorder, and more) comes from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Health and the U.S. National Library of Medicine's MedlinePlus unless indicated otherwise.
Crack is the solid form (known as a rock) of the stimulant cocaine which typically comes in the form of a powder. This stimulant is one of the most popular drugs in the world and is derived from the leaves of the coca plant from South America.
While one of the first uses of cocaine was as a local anesthetic for surgical purposes, the most common use is as a stimulant. One of the most dangerous aspects of cocaine is how common it is to mix it with other drugs.
Crack users may be at an even higher risk of consuming impure cocaine due to the fact that it's difficult, if not impossible, to identify other substances in the rock.
Given the widespread use of this drug, it's no surprise that there are a variety of street names for crack including:
Crack cocaine, like other stimulants, affects the brain through the overproduction and release of massive amounts of dopamine. This particular neurotransmitter is responsible for the majority of our feelings of reward, whether it be from a good conversation, delicious food, or sex.
Crack cocaine stimulates the production of this pleasure chemical and also prevents it from dissipating after it's been produced. As such, a crack cocaine user's nerve cells are continually being flooded with dopamine, resulting in the stimulant high associated with the drug.
This high is characterized by a short burst (5-15 minutes) of extreme happiness and energy and greatly increased mental alertness. Other effects of crack cocaine also include hypersensitivity, irritability, and paranoia.
Before going into the warning signs of crack abuse and addiction, it's important to recognize that these terms do not refer to the same thing. Abuse, for instance, is defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) as the misuse of a legal drug or the use of an illegal one. Addiction, on the other hand, refers to the system of behaviors and physical effects of such substance use.
The distinction is important to note because addiction and abuse don't necessarily go hand in hand. An individual can become addicted to, say, a prescription medication even though they were following their doctor's instructions. This, therefore, would not constitute abuse. In that same vein, someone can abuse a substance without showing any signs of addiction as well. Abuse often leads to addiction, especially if the person continues to use on a regular basis or increase their use. Since crack is a highly addictive substance, it can quickly turn into addiction with just a few uses. You may find you or your loved ones are addicted to this drug before you realize what is happening.
Substance disorders used to be categorized either as "substance abuse" or "substance dependence." However, recent changes to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) have combined these two categories into a single one called the "substance use disorder."
The eleven symptoms described below (provided by NIDA) are signs of a crack use disorder as categorized by the DSM-5. If you or someone you know is exhibiting or experiencing more than two of these symptoms in the past year, then it is likely indicative of a crack use disorder and should be treated immediately.
Crack abuse can lead to a variety of short-term side effects such as nausea, heart irregularities, tremors, restlessness, and constricted blood vessels. Long-term effects might include malnourishment, movement disorders, irritability, restlessness, and paranoia.
Overdose can also occur from the use of crack cocaine. Some overdoses come from using too much of the substance while others occur due to mixing it with another drug such as alcohol or heroin which can exacerbate the drug's effects. Overdose can result in heart attacks, seizures, stroke, and death.
If you've seen the signs that point to your loved one having a substance abuse problem, it's important to get them the help and professional treatment they need. Like many people with substance use disorders though, it may be difficult to convince them that their crack abuse is actually a problem. As such, it might be particularly useful to give them the DSM-5 test above to prove that their behavior is indicative of addiction.
If they still refuse to admit they have a problem, try to get them to see a professional physician. Sometimes hearing a professional diagnosis is enough for a substance addict to realize they have a problem and seek out the help they need. More than anything else, let them know you are acting out of love and concern for their health.
In some cases you may need to hold an intervention. This is a time when you and other concerned family members and friends get together to talk to the addict. Everyone talks about how the addiction is impacting them or their concern for the person. This meeting is incredibly helpful and often leads to the person admitting their need for treatment. If you aren’t sure how to hold an intervention or want a professional to lead it, you can find intervention services with drug rehab.
Crack cocaine interacts with on of the brain's powerful and integral neurotransmitters, dopamine. This chemical controls pleasure and happiness.
Dopamine also plays a powerful role in creating and storing memories. For example, if an experience triggers a high release of dopamine, the creation of a memory is more likely.
Crack creates a large rush of dopamine through the brain. Therefore, the memories associated with the drug will be stronger than others. This creates what professionals call triggers. Or events that make the addict crave a substance.
You may decide to stop using the drug on your own or you may run out of it before you can buy more. In these cases, you may go through withdrawal.
Withdrawal symptoms from excessive crack cocaine use can be difficult to deal with. You may experience depression, insomnia and unpleasant dreams, slowed thinking, and fatigue. There is risk for suicide when someone becomes depressed and isn’t thinking clearly.
The mental symptoms are more severe than any physical ones, which can lead to relapse.
You don’t need to try to recover from an addiction to crack on your own. In fact, it’s safer to reach out for help. You’ll need to find a drug rehab center that treats substance abuse and addiction. The first step will be to go through detox if you’re still using.
Because the drug releases so much dopamine, the system has become dependent. Without the drug, you suffer from the withdrawal symptoms. You must get it out of your system to start treatment.
You’ll do this by going through detoxifying your body. The goal is to cleanse your body of the drug completely and bring balance to your brain.
Detox can take several days or even weeks for your body to function normally. The first few days are usually the worst. The first signs of withdrawal usually begin within the first day after you stop using. The physical symptoms of crack withdrawal are less than other drugs. However, the mental symptoms are often unpleasant and may lead to relapse.
The worst of the symptoms will go away after about a week. You may continue to experience cravings for this drug for several months afterward.
Some detox facilities offer medication to help with the detox process. You may be prescribed a beta-blocker. A medication that helps with hypertension or heart issues during this process. Anticonvulsant medications treat seizures, that may occur in long-time users or those who were abusing.
Other medications may be given to help reduce cravings for the drug. This has shown to help reduce relapse and promote long-term recovery. The negative side of medical detox is the risk of addiction for the medications being used.
It can also slow down the process so that it takes longer to begin treatment. But, it may be helpful for those who have relapsed in the past. Or those who are afraid to go through detox without the help of medication.
More detox facilities are turning to a holistic approach. They focus on nutrition and a healthy lifestyle instead of medication. The benefit with this method is a reduced risk for addiction to other drugs. It also helps the person learn to be healthy for the long-term.
Vitamins and minerals may be part of the program to help the body get back to normal function. Many times, crack addicts spend all their time using or sleeping and eat very little.
Since it is an appetite suppressant, the person may not be hungry. In detox, eating healthy meals can help your body start working without the use of drugs.
Exercise is another important component to detox. When you work out, the body releases endorphins in the brain that make you feel good. This helps reduce the symptoms of withdrawal so you can focus on treatment.
Once you complete detox, you may feel like you’re ready to begin your new life. You are feeling stronger in body and clearer in thinking. You have an appetite and more energy. However, you’re not ready to go out on your own because you haven’t dealt with the reasons behind your addiction. This is an important part of the process to prevent you from relapsing in the future.
You have several options for treatment when it comes to your crack addiction. For many, inpatient treatment is the best choice to help addicts get the therapy they need. They stay in the facility for several days or weeks, up to 30 days, and focus on getting better. If the addiction is even more severe, a person may need a residential treatment center where they can stay for several weeks.
When choosing the right type of treatment for your addiction, you need to think about what’s best for you. Crack is a difficult drug to overcome, and you need a rehab center with a strong history of successful recovery. You need to think about how much support you have or what temptations you may face before your treatment is complete. You want to choose the best rehab to help you reach your goals.
When you go to rehab, you’ll be given a treatment plan to help you begin recovery. It will most likely consist of many components for the greatest chance of success.
You’ll need to attend individual counseling, which will allow you to work with a therapist. You may discover underlying problems that led to your addiction. This can take some time and it’s not always easy, but it’s necessary to help you move forward.
You’ll also have group meetings which will provide support and education. These meetings include addicts who are in recovery. Their stories may be similar to yours. They may be able to provide tips and information to help you with your own problems.
Medication is another important part of treatment for some addicts. You may need to control the symptoms of a mental health disorder that led to your drug abuse. Many people turn to drugs to hide their addiction, and they must learn how to deal with it in a more positive way.
Socialization is often part of treatment. Group activities help you learn how to have fun without the use of drugs.
Community involvement is often another aspect of treatment. This gives the person the opportunity to give back to the community. It also helps them develop a sense of purpose that they may have been missing since starting their drug use.
Health and wellness is part of many treatment plans. As you get healthy, you’ll feel more self-confident and better able to handle the triggers that lead to drug use.
There are a variety of resources available to help you and your loved ones find more information on crack use disorders and how to cope with them.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) - Focusing on substance abuse as well as other mental illnesses, SAMHSA is an agency founded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
MedlinePlus - A branch of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus provides access to a wealth of information on various substance use disorders.
How to Confront and Addict in Your Life - A great resource on how to approach someone you care about concerning their substance use disorder.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) - Created by the National Institute of Health, the NIDA offers drug information as well as publications concerning addiction and treatment.
Crack is a very serious drug and can easily turn almost anyone into a habitual user. As such, it is crucial that you get treatment for you or your loved one's crack use disorder as soon as possible.
Ashwood Recovery offers you a new start in life with our addiction treatment program. Our treatment options include cognitive behavioral therapy, family counseling, 12-step principles and more. Every person receives an individualized plan. Treatment is personalized, which increases your chance of success.
Our intensive outpatient treatment program provides you with at least nine hours of therapy each week. Families can get involved to help them deal with the repercussions of addiction. If you want to know more about addiction treatment or just information about crack abuse, contact us today.