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Crack Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Crack Addiction | Paradigm Malibu

Crack is a type of cocaine that is smoked through a crack pipe. While it is not as prevalent among teens as prescription drug abuse and marijuana, crack is still a dangerous drug. It can be easy for teenagers to obtain. Crack can be deadly, so it is important that parents know what to look for. Read on to learn more about this potentially fatal drug, the signs that someone is using it, and what crack addiction treatment might entail.


How Is Crack Different From Cocaine?

Both cocaine powder and crack are made from the same plant (the coca bush, which is native to South America). This plant has been used for many years to serve as a natural stimulant by the indigenous people who live there. Now, however, it is processed in a way to create both cocaine and crack.

Cocaine is processed into a white powder, and users will usually snort it (inhale it through their nostrils). Crack is dissolved in a base such as ammonia or baking soda, then cooled and broken up into rocks. The rocks are smoked through a crack pipe. One major difference in the use of crack versus cocaine is that a high from cocaine will last a bit longer, while the high from crack will usually wane in a matter of minutes. This can lead crack users to binge – to use it over and over again. It is also why crack is considered extremely addictive, even more so than cocaine.


Signs of Crack Use

It can be hard to determine whether someone is using crack, because the high lasts only minutes. Unless they are using it in your home, it is very likely that you will only notice peripheral side effects and not the signs of the high itself. Some symptoms that you might notice, however, include:

  • Dilated (large) pupils
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Getting less sleep, being extremely alert even with little or no sleep
  • Weight loss
  • Cracks around the mouth, dry lips
  • Sores in the mouth
  • Twitching muscles

A person’s behavior can also indicate that they might be using crack. They might stop going to school or work. They mayhallucinate or behave in a very aggressive, uncharacteristic manner. You might also notice that they are spending all their money. Some people turn to crime to rack up more money to spend on their crack.

You could also find the drugs in your home. Crack looks like somewhat translucent white rocks; they might have a yellow or gray tinge to them. They will often be with the tools needed to smoke the rocks, which include a lighter, a tube of some sort, and a crack pipe.


Signs of Overdose

Crack is a strong stimulant. That means that it increases the heart rate and blood pressure, putting the user in danger of cardiac arrest (when the heart stops suddenly), irregular rhythm, heart attack, or stroke. Sometimes, people die from these major side effects the very first time they use it. Other times, people die from them after years of use. There is no way to tell whether someone will have a heart attack or some other major health event while using the drug, or when. If your loved one has a high fever, is confused, having delusions or hallucinations, or has a very rapid or irregular heart rate, call 911 immediately. An overdose can be fatal.


Other Dangers of Crack

There are other dangers of crack that are not related to overdose.

One is that it can cause people to feel invincible. This feeling may encourage them to take risks that they normally would not take. For example, your loved one might run into traffic on the highway, convinced that they will be able to dodge the cars. Or they might attempt to fly off of a roof or dive headfirst into a shallow pool. All of these are ways that someone using crack might die or become seriously injured.

Sometimes, drugs like crack are cut with dangerous substances ranging from other drugs to inert materials, or even toxic substances. Dealers do this to make the crack weigh more than it otherwise would, so they can sell it for more money. Unfortunately, these other substances can also cause harmful to lethal reactions.

If an individual were to swallow crack, they could become very ill and even die. For instance, someone who is being pursued by the police (or who is under the influence and is feeling paranoid about the police catching them) will swallow their crack. This causes a toxic environment in the body, which can be deadly. There are also cases of people trying to hide their drugs by swallowing them after slipping them into a balloon. But if the latex breaks, the result is the same as if they had swallowed the crack on its own.


Treating Crack Addiction

A person who is withdrawing from a crack high will most likely need medical supervision to ensure that he/she stays safe. Once the effects of the drugs have worn off, treatment can begin. Crack addiction treatment will always have a behavioral component and sometimes include a medical (pharmaceutical) component.

The way that crack addiction is treated behaviorally is often with motivational incentives. The user might be motivated to stop using by the opportunity to earn incentives, which can vary from person to person. Other types of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, can help someone make better choices and cope with daily life in more effective ways.

There are some medications that might be able to treat crack addiction. They include disulfiram and lorcaserin. A cocaine vaccine is also in the works. This “vaccine” is a drug that would make it less desirable for someone to use crack after getting over an addiction.



If you have a loved one who is using crack, getting them the help they need can begin with a visit to their primary care physician. A family doctor can screen them for a crack addiction, and then can refer them to the appropriate addiction specialist or therapist for treatment. Recovery can be time-consuming, but in the end, someone addicted to crack can go on to lead a fulfilling life without drugs.

Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and Founder and Executive Director of Paradigm Treatment Centers, who has been a respected leader in the field of adolescent mental health for more than 20 years. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California, his Master’s degree from Loyola Marymount University, his Doctoral degree from Pacific University’s APA approved Clinical Psychology program, and completed his training at the University of California, San Diego’s APA approved psychology internship program.

Dr. Nalin has provided training and mentoring to students entering the field of psychology at institutions of learning including Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, UCSD, Pacific University, and Santa Monica College. He was also instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.

Dr. Nalin has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King, to CNN, The Today Show and MTV. He was also featured in an Anti-Drug Campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

Dr. Nalin is a Diplomate of the National Institute of Sports Professionals and a Certified Sports Psychologist as well as a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist. He lectures and conducts workshops nationally on the issues of teen mental health, substance abuse prevention, and innovative adolescence treatment.

In 2017 Dr. Nalin was awarded The Sigmund Freud Foundation and Sigmund Freud University’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his work with youth in the field of mental health over the course of his career.

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