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. If you think that you or a loved one might be using the drug, it is important to know how crack is used, and signs and symptoms of abuse.

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.

Crack Addiction Symptoms

General Symptoms

When someone is addicted to crack, they might start showing general symptoms of having a drug problem. Some crack addiction symptoms include:

  • Acting withdrawn
  • Avoiding family and old friends
  • Spending time with new friends
  • Being less interested in things they used to like
  • Having mood swings
  • Being irritable
  • Having sleep problems or sleeping at odd times
  • Missing appointments and deadlines
  • Problems at school or work
  • Having personal or family problems
  • Reckless behavior
  • Having problems with the law

Physical Signs of Crack Addiction

Besides short-term side effects of crack use, physical signs of crack cocaine addiction can include both changes in appearance and health. Some of these signs include:

  • Eating less than normal
  • Being tired and sad
  • Having poor hygiene
  • Having a cough from smoking crack or other drugs
  • Nosebleeds or sniffing from snorting crack or other drugs
  • Track marks from injecting crack cocaine or other drugs

Behavioral Signs of Crack Addiction

Mood changes are a common side effect of crack use. Common mood-related side effects are related to the euphoria of being high, immediately after using crack cocaine. These sign can include:

  • Feeling very happy
  • Having a lot of energy
  • Being a lot more alert than usual
  • Feeling irritable
  • Feeling paranoid

Negative and even aggressive mood-related crack cocaine addiction symptoms are also common. Doctors think some mood symptoms may be more common in people who use crack cocaine compared to those who use than powdered cocaine. These symptoms can include:

  • Having a psychotic episode
  • Hallucinating
  • Getting angry
  • Being violent

Crack Cocaine Psychosis

Crack cocaine triggers a surge in the release of dopamine ⁠— the brain’s feel-good chemical. When the brain releases too much dopamine, crack psychosis symptoms may result. Up to 86% of people who use cocaine will have psychotic symptoms at some point while using cocaine and the vast majority of these people will have hallucinations and paranoia. While these symptoms may improve on their own within roughly 48 hours, sometimes they can take longer to resolve. If someone is high on cocaine and psychotic, acting as a danger to themselves or others, you should seek emergency medical help. Doctors may be able to give the person medicine to stop the psychotic symptoms.

Side Effects of Crack Use

Most of the physical signs of crack use are similar to signs of using powdered cocaine. These symptoms may include:

  • Narrowed blood vessels
  • Wide pupils
  • Nausea
  • Muscle twitches
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Heart attack
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Seizure

Because crack cocaine is most often smoked, side effects related to the lungs are more common with crack than powdered cocaine. Side effects of smoking crack include:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Bleeding in the lungs
  • Lung damage

Side Effects of Crack Use

  • Short-Term Effects

    Besides the physical and mood side effects of crack use, another short-term effect of crack is a high that starts right away. Most of the time, the high from smoking crack lasts for close to 15 minutes. Getting high from snorting or injecting crack may take longer. Since a crack high lasts only a short time, a person needs to smoke it repeatedly to stay high. The risk of addiction increases with this pattern of use.

  • Long-Term Effects

    Long-term effects of crack impact nearly every system in the body. Crack use can damage many organs and lead to long-term damage. Some of the problems linked to long-term crack use include:

     Less blood flow in the stomach and intestines, leading to tears and ulcers
    Appetite loss, causing malnutrition and weight loss
    Brain problems, including long-term effects of crack on the brain like brain blood vessel problems, stroke, seizure, Parkinson’s disease and memory problems
    Heart problems, such as inflamed heart muscle, heartbeat problems and artery rupture
    Lung problems from smoking crack, including worsened asthma

Side Effects of Polysubstance Abuse

The effects of using multiple illicit substances can be profound. Studies have shown that people who use multiple substances like alcohol and crack, or crack and heroin are more likely to have mental health problems like:

In addition, people who use multiple substances are more likely to have high-risk sexual behaviors and be at risk for sexually transmitted diseases.

Crack is sometimes injected along with other drugs, particularly opioids. In these cases, crack is dissolved and injected with the opioid. This practice is known as “speedballing” and “powerballing.” People do this in an attempt to get a more intense high by mixing the drugs and to stop the feelings of crashing when the crack wears off. This practice is very dangerous and many people have overdosed and died in the process.

Side Effects of Using Crack While Pregnant

Using crack while pregnant is dangerous for both the pregnant mother and baby. Side effects of being pregnant and using crack include:

  • Very high blood pressure for the mother
  • Stroke or heart attack for the mother
  • Detachment of the placenta
  • Death of the baby, including miscarriage or stillbirth
  • Early birth
  • Too low birth weight

One of the major problems of using crack while pregnant is that the drug narrows blood vessels. Because an unborn baby relies on its mother’s blood vessels for oxygen and nutrients, anything that compromises the blood vessels can lead to serious health problems that can be lifelong. Doctors have found that babies born addicted to crack have more birth defects and problems with their brains than other babies. The severe symptoms of crack-addicted babies can also keep them in the hospital long after their birth.

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

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. 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.

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.

Can You Overdose on Crack?

It is common for people to overdose on crack cocaine. Because powdered cocaine and crack cocaine are chemically similar, most overdose data is on both types of cocaine as a whole. More than 3,000 Floridians died with some type of cocaine in their system in 2017 alone. Of these, more than 2,000 Floridians died because of an overdose. Furthermore, although most crack is 75–100% pure, it can be cut with other drugs which can lead to overdose, such as fentanyl. If you suspect a crack overdose, you should immediately call 911.

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 treatment, outpatient treatment, teletherapy and dual diagnosis treatment.

Our Drug Detox and Inpatient Rehab

The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health

4905 Lantana Rd
Lake Worth, FL 33463


Key Points: Understanding Crack Abuse

Important points to remember about crack use include:

  • 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

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.

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.