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Crack Withdrawal and Detox

Written by Thomas Christiansen

& Medically Reviewed by Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD

Medically Reviewed

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Last Updated - 12/29/2022

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Updated 12/29/2022

Key Takeaways

  • Crack cocaine withdrawal symptoms occur because of imbalanced brain chemicals from drug use
  • Withdrawal symptoms often start shortly after crack use stops and can continue for days
  • A months-long period of mood changes and cravings may follow withdrawal
  • Medical detox can manage withdrawal safely and control symptoms
  • Successfully managed withdrawal leads to a higher chance of maintaining sobriety

A well-managed crack detox is an invaluable component of crack addiction treatment. Learn how detox and withdrawal is crucial to lasting sobriety.

If someone uses crack and wants to stop, they may have questions about crack cocaine withdrawal effects. People may hear about crack detox and wonder if it is something they need. They may also wonder how long crack withdrawal lasts. Understanding how crack withdrawal unfolds and the purpose of detox regarding crack withdrawal treatment are important so people realize why professional detox is most beneficial for long-term, good health.

What Causes Crack Withdrawal?

Crack cocaine works by increasing the level of brain chemicals such as:

  • Norepinephrine, which causes feelings of energy
  • Dopamine, which causes feelings of euphoria
  • Serotonin, which causes feelings of confidence

When the brain starts expecting extra amounts of these chemicals, it starts to rely on them. If the supply of these chemicals drops suddenly, withdrawal symptoms develop.

Crack Withdrawal Symptoms

Crack withdrawal signs and symptoms often start soon after the drug begins to wear off. Avoiding uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms is a common reason why people keep using crack — even if they want to quit. Because the withdrawal symptoms are caused by the body craving more crack, if the individual takes crack, their withdrawal symptoms are relieved. However, by doing so, the individual essentially resets their progress toward stopping crack use.

Although the type of withdrawal symptoms may change over time, they often occur in some form over both the short and the long term.

Acute withdrawal crack cocaine withdrawal side effects are the ones that start right after stopping the drug. Compared to other drugs, there are few physical withdrawal symptoms from crack. Most side effects are instead mood-related and include symptoms like:

  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Low mood
  • Fatigue
  • General discomfort
  • Appetite changes
  • Dreams that are scary or vivid
  • Slowed activity
  • Cravings

Protracted Withdrawal Symptoms

Over time, as the body gets used to being without cocaine, withdrawal symptoms may change. Low mood and cravings are two of the symptoms that may last a long time. In certain cases, those symptoms may last for months. More concerning is that the person may develop thoughts of self-harm.

Diagnosing Crack Cocaine Withdrawal

The diagnosis of crack cocaine withdrawal is often a simple matter. Doctors can diagnose crack cocaine withdrawal based on a couple of factors like:

  • Toxicology screens (blood tests or urine tests for drugs)
  • History of cocaine use

Depending on a person’s medical history, doctors may want to run extra tests to make sure the withdrawal symptoms are not actually due to another problem. For example, if someone has a change in appetite, doctors might want to make sure it is not due to a problem with the stomach rather than caused by crack cocaine withdrawal.

Crack Withdrawal Timeline

Everyone experiences withdrawal differently. Therefore, no single crack cocaine withdrawal timeline exists. Although symptoms of withdrawal from crack often start within 24 hours if not sooner, the rest of the withdrawal course varies. A person should not compare their withdrawal to others’ withdrawal experiences. In general, however, the acute crack withdrawal symptoms timeline is three to five days. Protracted mood-related withdrawal symptoms from smoking crack may last for months.

Factors Affecting Withdrawal Duration

Withdrawal can last for different amounts of time in different people. Some factors that may impact the duration include:

  • How much crack the person uses
  • If the person uses other substances along with crack
  • The person’s overall health
  • The person’s nutritional and hydration status
  • The person’s mental health

Crack Detox for Treatment of Withdrawal

Having well-managed withdrawal symptoms is important for long-term sobriety. Therefore, choosing the detox setting that best suits a person’s needs is important. Factors that doctors take into account when advising one setting or another are:

  • The potential for serious withdrawal symptoms developing
  • Health problems
  • Mood problems
  • How ready the person is to detox
  • Potential of relapse
  • The person’s home life

Medical Detox

The first step in addiction recovery is detox. During medical detox, crack use is stopped while the client remains under medical supervision. This type of detox takes place in an inpatient environment. Going through detox in and of itself does not prevent future crack use over the long term. Instead, the medical crack detox process safely helps manage withdrawal symptoms. However, because poorly managed withdrawal symptoms are linked to challenges staying sober, a detox program can help with long-term success.

Outpatient Detox

Outpatient detox may be appropriate for some people. One of the factors to take into account is whether the person has a safe living space and a positive support system. In outpatient detox, the person lives at home, not in the facility. Outpatient services are provided in settings that include:

  • Doctor’s office
  • Healthcare facility
  • Addiction treatment center
  • At home

Detoxing at Home

Crack detox at home without medical supervision is not recommended. Without medications to ease withdrawal symptoms, continued drug use is much more likely. People experiencing crack withdrawal can have psychotic symptoms such as extreme agitation. In some cases, they can be a danger to themselves or others. For this reason, having a medically supervised withdrawal is very important and self-detox from crack should not be tried.

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Finding a Detox Center

Many crack cocaine detox centers are available. Each center is different and has different options. Finding one that meets your needs is beneficial to long-term success. Some factors people should take into account when finding a center are:

  • Setting: consider if the facility does just detox, or a blend of inpatient, residential, or outpatient rehab.
  • Location: some people may wish to detox out of town and away from drug triggers.
  • Program length: some programs may only last a certain period, while others may be flexible.
  • Specialty: some programs may have more experience with crack detox than others.
  • Insurance: having insurance coverage can reduce the cost of rehab.

Location: Close to Home or Far Away?

Picking a detox center that is close or far from home is a personal decision. Some factors to consider include:

Mental distance: For some people, leaving the place where they struggled with drug use is a symbol of a fresh start. It can be easier for them to get into a recovery mindset if they leave the place linked to drug use.

Personal connections: Some people may prefer to stay close to home, especially if supportive family connections are available.

Confidentiality: Some people prefer to keep their crack struggle private. Going to a local rehab center may mean less privacy.

Transition: After detox is complete, further rehab and aftercare are critical to continued health. Going to a detox program that is far away may mean people do not have the supports in place if the person goes back home right after detox completes.

Cost of Detox

Costs vary for crack rehab. Factors used to determine the cost of detox programs include insurance coverage and the type of rehab needed. A rehab center may be able to work with clients and give them financial options if they cannot otherwise afford it.

Effectiveness of Detox Program

Detox in and of itself is successful if a person can get through a withdrawal period safely. One of the biggest predictors for success in stopping drugs is being able to manage withdrawal symptoms. An effective detox program sets clients up for lasting success.

Staff to Patient Ratio

The staff to patient ratio is one of many factors to consider when picking a rehab center. However, there is no single recommendation on an ideal staff to patient ratio. Different centers need different amounts of staff to provide optimal service. Many factors are taken into account when rehabs design their ratio. These factors include:

How acute the patient’s needs are: A center serving mainly medically stable patients would not need as much staff as a center with patients who have more needs.

Type of detox: A center serving patients who need to be constantly assessed to prevent deadly problems, such as delirium tremens from alcohol withdrawal, may need more staff than a center that does not.

Staff specialty: A rehab program with staff that is specialized in crack detox may be able to handle more patients than staff without this type of experience.

Number of admissions and discharges: A program with a constant turnover of patients may require more staff than a program where patients stay longer

Cultural diversity: Patients who are more culturally diverse may need extra staff (e.g., staff who speaks a different language).

The layout of the facility: A facility where patient areas are easily seen and accessed by staff may need less staff than a facility with a wider different layout.

Technology, resources and support systems: A center where tech is available and reliable may need less staff than a facility where it is not.

View Sources

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Medical Detoxification.” February 2016. Accessed July 16, 2019.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Cocaine Withdrawal.” July 10, 2019. Accessed July 16, 2019.

Association of Rehabilitation Nurses. “Factors to Consider in Decisions About Staffing in Rehabilitation Nursing Settings.” 2017. Accessed July 16, 2019.

Sinha, R. “New Findings on Biological Factors Predicting Addiction Relapse Vulnerability.” Current Psychiatry Reports, October 2011. Accessed July 16, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).” January 2018. Accessed July 16, 2019.

The University of Arizona MethOIDE. “Cocaine Overview: Pharmacology.” Accessed July 16, 2019.

World Health Organization. “Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings.” Published 2009. Accessed July 16, 2019.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment.” Published 2006. Accessed July 16, 2019.