Crack cocaine addiction

From its origins as a by-product of the cocaine boom to its devastating impact on communities worldwide, crack cocaine has left an indelible mark on history. These days, just the name “crack cocaine” is synonymous with addiction and for good reason. Its rapid and intense high has ensnared countless individuals in a relentless cycle of dependency. If you are grappling with crack addiction and searching for a way out, it is important to know that help is available and you can break free.

Crack cocaine addiction - pile of crack cocaine

What is crack cocaine?

Crack cocaine is a potent, crystalline form of cocaine, a powerful stimulant drug derived from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America. The term “crack” was coined due to the crackling sound the rocks make when heated and smoked.

Crack is created by mixing cocaine hydrochloride with water and a base, such as baking soda, and then heating the solution until it forms solid “rocks” or “crystals.” This is done both to increase its potency and to increase profits for cocaine dealers. Once cooled, these rocks are broken into smaller pieces, which can be smoked using a glass pipe, producing a rapid, intense high. Effects include:

  • Intense euphoria
  • Increased alertness and energy
  • Heightened self-confidence and sociability
  • Decreased appetite
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Rapid or irregular breathing

The high from smoking crack cocaine is intense but short-lived, usually lasting only five to ten minutes. This fleeting rush compels users to smoke the drug repeatedly, often in a binge pattern, in order to maintain the euphoric sensations.

Crack in the UK

Crack addiction and abuse are an ever-present issue in the UK as can be seen by these figures:

  • Following cannabis, cocaine, in both its powdered and crack forms, is the second most prevalent drug consumed in the UK.
  • In 2021, treatment was sought by 21,308 individuals for crack and opiate addiction and a further 4,545 for crack alone.
  • In 2017, there were an estimated 180,748 crack users in the UK with this number having likely risen year on year.
  • Cocaine poisoning claimed 840 lives in 2021, a rise from 777 in the previous year, with a significant portion of these fatalities attributable to crack.

With the numbers of both users and those developing addictions to crack remaining stubbornly high, it is crucial that more is done to prevent people from using the drug in the first place and to provide help to those who need it.

What is crack addiction?

Crack addiction is a complex, chronic brain disorder characterised by compulsive drug-seeking behaviour, loss of control over drug use and continued use despite the negative consequences it brings. Due to the powerful and short-lived high produced by crack cocaine, users often find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of dependency, where their lives become increasingly centred around obtaining and using the drug.

On a physical level, the development of crack addiction can be traced to the drug’s profound impact on the brain’s reward system. When crack cocaine is smoked, it rapidly raises dopamine levels, creating a flood of pleasurable sensations. Over time, the brain adapts to these elevated dopamine levels by reducing the production of the neurotransmitter and the sensitivity of its receptors. This results in a decreased ability to experience pleasure without the drug, driving users to seek out and consume more crack cocaine to achieve the desired euphoric effects.

Crack cocaine addiction - bag of crack cocaine

What underlying factors can increase your chances of crack addiction?

While the physical addictiveness of crack cocaine is a significant contributor to the development of drug addiction, various underlying factors can increase an individual’s vulnerability. These factors can be biological, psychological or environmental in nature and often interact in complex ways to shape a person’s risk profile.

Common factors include:

  • Genetic predisposition: A family history of substance abuse may increase the likelihood of developing an addiction to crack cocaine or other drugs.
  • Mental health disorders: Individuals with pre-existing mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder may be at a higher risk of developing a crack addiction as substance use can become a maladaptive coping mechanism for managing the symptoms of these disorders.
  • Exposure to trauma or chronic stress: Experiencing traumatic events, such as abuse, neglect or witnessing violence can also increase the risk of crack addiction. Chronic stress, stemming from factors like poverty or unstable living conditions can also contribute to a greater likelihood of crack abuse and addiction.
  • Early initiation of drug use: Starting to use drugs at a young age, whether they be crack itself or other drugs first, can increase the risk of addiction later in life. This is because early drug use can interfere with the development of the brain, leading to long-lasting changes in the brain’s reward system and other cognitive functions.
  • Social and environmental influences: An individual’s social environment can significantly impact their likelihood of using crack cocaine and developing an addiction. Factors such as peer pressure, exposure to drug use in the community, and lack of access to education or employment opportunities can all increase the risk.
  • Family dynamics: Dysfunctional family relationships and a lack of parental supervision or support can increase the chances of an individual turning to drugs, including crack cocaine, as a coping mechanism.

Do I have a crack cocaine addiction?

It is not always easy to recognise or admit that you have an addiction to crack and the condition will try its best to deceive both you and your loved ones.

However, crack addiction is accompanied by a range of physical, psychological and behavioural signs and symptoms, including:

  • Intense cravings for crack cocaine
  • Increased tolerance, requiring larger or more frequent doses of crack to achieve the desired effects
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not using crack such as agitation, fatigue, depression and anxiety
  • Inability to reduce or stop crack cocaine use, despite multiple attempts
  • Neglect of personal responsibilities, such as work, school or family obligations
  • Engaging in risky or illegal activities to obtain crack
  • Isolation from friends and family members and a loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed

If you notice any of these signs of crack addiction in yourself or a loved one, you should seek professional support and advice.

What are the effects of crack abuse and addiction?

Crack cocaine abuse and addiction can have severe and wide-ranging consequences on an individual’s physical, mental and social well-being.

Physical health issues…

Crack addiction can lead to a range of severe health problems, including:

  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes
  • Seizures
  • Respiratory failure
  • Lung damage
  • Weight loss
  • Malnutrition
  • Weakened immune system

Crack cocaine addiction - woman with weak immune system

Mental health issues…

Prolonged crack cocaine abuse can also result in various psychological problems such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Exacerbated pre-existing mental health disorders
  • Cognitive impairment

Chronic crack cocaine use can negatively impact cognitive functions, including:

  • Memory
  • Attention
  • Decision-making
  • Impulse control

Social and financial consequences…

Crack addiction can strain relationships with friends and family, leading to social isolation. Financial difficulties may also arise as you prioritise crack use over employment or other responsibilities and you may find yourself needing to engage in illegal activities to fund your crack cocaine addiction.

Legal problems…

Crack cocaine possession and distribution are illegal, and individuals caught using or selling the drug may face criminal charges, incarceration and a permanent criminal record.

Increased risk of infectious diseases…

Crack cocaine users who share pipes or engage in risky sexual behaviours have an increased risk of contracting infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.

Pregnancy complications…

Crack cocaine use during pregnancy can lead to premature birth, low birth weight and developmental problems in the child.

Crack overdose…

Using excessive amounts of crack cocaine, especially when combined with other substances, can result in a life-threatening overdose. Symptoms of a crack overdose may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Extreme agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of consciousness

In severe cases, an overdose can lead to a heart attack, stroke or death so prompt medical intervention is crucial to minimise the risk of permanent damage or fatality in case of an overdose.

What help is available for crack addiction?

Overcoming crack addiction can be challenging, but with the right support and resources, recovery is possible. Various treatment options are available for crack addiction, but the most effective involve:

Crack cocaine detox: This is the process of clearing the drug from your body and managing withdrawal symptoms under medical supervision.

Crack cocaine rehab: This provides a structured environment for you to focus on your recovery while receiving evidence-based treatments that address the underlying causes of crack addiction.

Together, these two stages provide a holistic approach that addresses both the physical and psychological aspects of crack addiction. Recovery Lighthouse offers both of these stages in our residential crack addiction recovery centre so get in touch to find out more.

What to do next

If you or someone you know is struggling with crack cocaine addiction, get in touch with Recovery Lighthouse today. We have helped many people break their addiction to crack and repair the damage done by this awful drug. With the right support and guidance, you can transform your life and build a bright future in recovery.

Frequently asked questions

Is crack more addictive than powder cocaine?
Crack cocaine is generally considered to be more addictive than powder cocaine due to its method of administration and potency. When smoked, crack cocaine enters the bloodstream rapidly through the lungs, reaching the brain within seconds and producing an intense but short-lived high. This immediate and powerful rush compels users to consume the drug repeatedly, increasing the risk of addiction. In contrast, powder cocaine is typically snorted, resulting in a slower onset of effects and a longer-lasting high (though it is still highly addictive.)
How can I help a friend or relative with a crack addiction?
To support a friend or relative struggling with crack addiction, start by educating yourself about the nature of crack addiction. You can then approach your loved one with empathy and express your concerns from a place of knowledge. After that, encourage them to seek professional help and maintain open lines of communication and emotional support during their recovery process. It’s important to remember that recovery can be a long and difficult journey, and relapses may occur so stay patient and be there whenever they need you.