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Crack Side Effects, Addiction & Treatment

Written by Gretchen Koebbe

& Medically Reviewed by Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD

Medically Reviewed

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This article was reviewed by a medical professional to guarantee the delivery of accurate and up-to- date information. View our research policy.

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Last Updated - 06/17/2022

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Updated 06/17/2022

Key Takeaways

  • Crack is a highly addictive form of cocaine that is often smoked
  • Signs of crack addiction can show up in both a person’s behavior and health, as well as their physical appearance
  • Crack use can have long-term effects on many of the body’s organs
  • Overdose from crack use kills thousands of Floridians every year
  • Crack withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant and people might keep using crack just to avoid them
  • Treatment options for crack use are available

Crack cocaine and powdered cocaine are chemically similar but have key differences. Learn more about crack cocaine and why the drug is so dangerous.

Is Crack Addictive?

Crack cocaine is an addictive substance. Because crack is more potent than powdered cocaine, research shows it may be even more addictive. In addition, because a high from crack does not last very long, people need to repeatedly smoke it in order to maintain a high. This pattern of use increases the risk of addiction and overdose.

How Is Crack Abused?

The most common way to use crack is to smoke it. In fact, crack was designed for this purpose. The chemicals in powdered cocaine break down when they are heated. However, by chemically altering powdered cocaine into crack, the drug can melt at a lower temperature than powdered cocaine and be smoked. When the smoke from the drug is inhaled, it reaches the brain very quickly. Therefore, smoking the drug is usually the preferred method of using it.

However, crack can also be snorted or injected. A minority of people who use crack, only about 20%, snort the drug. Besides the fact that it takes longer to get high from snorting crack, this method also produces less of a high.

How Do You Get Addicted to Crack?

Crack is a highly addictive substance that triggers the brain’s reward system. In addition, since a crack high does not last very long, people often repeatedly use the drug in a short period to stay high. Both of these factors on their own cause crack to have a dangerous potential for addiction. However, other additional factors can make addiction more likely. These factors include:

  • Genetics: Gene differences in the brain’s natural opiate system in the brain is linked to cocaine use.
  • Co-Occurring Disorders: Disorders like mood problems are linked to more drug use.
  • Environmental Influence: Lack of supervision and availability of drugs are risk factors for drug use.
  • Gateway Substances: Use of other illicit substances is linked to more drug use.
  • Psychological Factors: A history of aggressive behavior is a risk factor for drug use.

Crack Abuse Facts & Statistics

Cocaine and crack began to gain popularity in the 1970s and 1980s. Although cocaine use dipped as the opioid epidemic surged after the year 2000, cocaine use has now rebounded.

A 2015 study showed that about 6% of Americans have used crack cocaine at least once in their life. This percentage is similar to the number of people who have used crack cocaine in Europe. Nearly twice as many men than women have used crack cocaine, with 8.1% of men and 4.4% of women saying they had used the drug. Crack cocaine use was nearly identical between black and white people in the study, with nearly 6% of both groups saying they had used the drug in the past. However, there were some striking differences between the people who had used crack cocaine in the past and those who had not.

Related Topic: Cocaine Rehab

Overall, people with a history of crack use were more likely to:

  • Be single
  • Have a low education level
  • Have low income
  • Be unemployed at some point during the past 10 years
  • Have a history of intravenous drug use
  • Feel as if they are in poor health
  • Have strained family relationships
  • Have a history of legal problems
  • Feel unhappy
  • Take part in risky sexual behavior
  • Have been tested for HIV

Crack Abuse & Treatment Trends in South Florida

After decreasing in popularity for years, cocaine and crack abuse began to increase in South Florida while national attention was focused on the opioid epidemic. The U.S. Coast Guard has been involved in several enormous cocaine seizures off the coast of South Florida in 2019 alone, seizing close to 35,000 pounds in February 2019 and 26,000 pounds in June 2019. Part of the reason for the increase in cocaine seizures is the surge in production in Columbia after the country’s government started to back off of killing the plants that make cocaine in 2015.

As a result, the United States has since been flooded with cocaine, driving down the price of the drug. In turn, the price decrease makes cocaine and crack easier for people to afford. As a result, cocaine and crack overdose deaths have begun to increase as well, after reaching a low in 2012. As of 2017, a large number of the state’s cocaine overdose cases occur in South Florida.

Related Topic: Cocaine Overdose

Although much attention remains focused on helping victims of the opioid epidemic, people who struggle with other addictions like cocaine may benefit from the increased substance abuse treatment budgets in states like Florida. In 2018, the state of Florida increased funding for treatment for all drugs of abuse by $14 million.

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Crack Addiction Treatment

As of 2013, 6% of drug rehab program admissions were linked to cocaine use. Of these admissions, 68% use crack cocaine and other substances. Although there are no FDA-approved medications to help treat crack addiction, doctors are trying to develop treatments. For now, therapy and counseling remain the main ways of treating crack addiction. Many options exist for treating crack addiction. People struggling with crack use can get different kinds of treatment in different settings, depending on their needs. Options include detox to help with crack withdrawals, residential treatmentoutpatient treatmentteletherapy and dual diagnosis treatment.

FAQs About Crack

What is crack?

Although cocaine is often associated with use during the 1970s and 1980s, it is one of the oldest known drugs. Despite cocaine’s popularity, starting in the late 1970s its price plummeted. To keep making profits, drug dealers came up with a new way to process and sell the drug. The result was an enormously popular form of the drug that could be smoked, unlike regular powdered cocaine, called crack.

Crack cocaine, also known as crack coke, freebase crack and base crack is a potent type of cocaine. Crack is formed when cocaine goes through extra processing with baking soda or ammonia. Normal cocaine has a molecule of hydrochloride, or HCl, attached to it. By processing cocaine with these chemicals, the HCl is removed from the cocaine.

This process turns the cocaine into crack, a stronger form that resembles a rock. The crack cocaine rocks can then be heated and smoked. This type of cocaine got the name crack because of the cracking sound the crack rock drug makes when heated before it’s smoked.

How is crack used?

Crack cocaine can be used in different ways: smoking, snorting and injecting the drug. Taking the drug in different ways can lead to different kinds of highs and even different risks. However, the most common way people use crack is by smoking it.

Methods of Use:

Smoking Crack Cocaine – Most crack users smoke crack. The chemicals in regular cocaine break down when heated. However, due to the extra processing, crack acts differently when it’s heated. Crack will melt at a lower temperature than normal cocaine. So, unlike powdered cocaine, you can smoke crack. When crack is heated, smoked and inhaled, it reaches the brain faster than if it is snorted or injected. A high from smoking crack can start almost right away and last for about 15 minutes.

Snorting Crack – While most powdered cocaine is snorted, only about 20% of crack users snort the drug. Although you can snort crack, one of the reasons that snorting cocaine is not as popular as smoking it is that getting high from snorting it takes longer than smoking it. In addition, snorting crack leads to a less intense high than smoking it.

Injecting Crack – Although you can inject crack, people who want to get high from crack are more likely to smoke it. However, some crack users will dissolve and inject the drug, especially if they are using it with other types of illicit substances. For example, crack injections with opioids like heroin is known as speedballing or powerballing. The opioid of choice and the crack are often injected at the same time, even in the same syringe. In theory, the mixture leads to a more potent high and prevents a crash when the crack wears off. However, in practice, speedballing is very dangerous and has led to the deaths of many people who have accidentally used too much heroin.

What is crack cut with?

Powdered cocaine and crack are both cut with many of the same adulterants. Overall, though, crack is purer than powdered cocaine. Crack is often 75% to 100% pure. However, any added impurities can be dangerous. Sometimes the additives are toxic substances, like insecticides. Other times, they are potentially lethal drugs in their own right, like fentanyl. Often, drugs are cut with other substances either to bulk them up with cheaper products that look like cocaine or to enhance the high. Common adulterants for crack and powdered cocaine include:

  • Benzocaine, an anesthetic
  • Boric acid, an inexpensive bug killer
  • Caffeine, an inexpensive stimulant
  • Creatine, a health supplement
  • Diltiazem, a blood pressure drug
  • Dimethyl terephthalate, a plastic additive
  • Fentanyl, an inexpensive and potent opioid
  • Hydroxyzine, an antihistamine
  • Lidocaine, an anesthetic
  • Procaine, an anesthetic
  • Sugars, inexpensive food additives

What does crack look like?

While most cocaine comes as a white powder, crack cocaine looks like small chunky rocks. The color of crack rocks can range from yellow to a yellowish-white. Crack rocks look like small pieces of rock that weigh no more than a few tenths of a gram each.

What does crack paraphernalia look like?

Crack cocaine paraphernalia includes items to heat and smoke the drug. These items are often common objects that can be found around the house. Items that can be used to heat the drug include burned spoons, empty old lightbulbs, tinfoil or cans, pipes (often with burn marks – some crack pipes look like regular pipes, while others are just the pipe stem), and lighters.

Other household items that can be used to use the drug are small mirrors, short rolled-up items like straws or rolled-up dollar bills, and razor blades.

What are some street names for crack?

Many crack cocaine slang names exist. These crack cocaine street names may vary depending on the area. These street names include:

  • 24-7
  • Badrock
  • Ball, or 8 ball of crack
  • Base
  • Beat
  • Candy
  • Chemical
  • Cloud
  • Cookies
  • Crumbs
  • Crunch & munch
  • Devil drug
  • Dice
  • Electric kool-aid
  • Fat bags
  • French fries
  • Glo
  • Gravel
  • Grit
  • Hail
  • Hard ball
  • Hard rock
  • Hotcakes
  • Ice cube
  • Jelly beans
  • Nuggets
  • Paste
  • Piece
  • Prime time
  • Product
  • Raw
  • Rock, or Rocks
  • Scrabble
  • Sleet
  • Snow coke
  • Tornado
  • Troop

How long does crack stay in your system?

Crack will usually start to show up on urine tests within two hours and on hair tests within eight hours. However, how long the drug lasts in your body can depend on factors like your metabolism, how much of the drug you use, and how often you use the drug.

In addition, estimates of how long crack will show up in your body depends on what is being tested. Because crack cocaine stays in your urine for days, urine tests are among the most common. Conversely, because crack cocaine stays in your blood for only a short period, crack cocaine blood tests are less common. How long crack cocaine stays in your system varies from person to person, but some general guidelines are:

Blood: six hours

Urine: two to three days

Sweat: two to three days

Breastmilk: until expressed. The unique chemistry of cocaine, including crack, means that it does not leave breast milk on its own. Instead, it stays trapped in breast milk until it is expressed. Because of this aspect, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends not breastfeeding while using crack.

Even inhaling secondhand crack smoke, may result in small amounts of cocaine being trapped in a person’s body. Studies have shown these amounts are small and are not enough to show up on most urine tests. However, crack will often show up on hair tests even if you were only exposed secondhand.

If you struggle with crack or cocaine use, you are not alone. Experts at The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health are there to help you. Call The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health today to learn more about how we can help you stop using and live your best life.

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