Even if you don’t know much about the drug, just the words “crack cocaine” can create an ominous feeling. You may be aware that crack is a dangerous drug and that it’s highly addictive. But why is it so addictive? If it’s so dangerous, what makes addicts keep going back for more? What are the signs of crack cocaine addiction? Would you recognize the signs if you saw them in someone you cared about? How is crack addiction treated? Is it possible for an addict to kick the crack for good? Take a look at what you need to know about the causes, signs, and treatment of crack cocaine addiction.
What Causes Crack Addiction?
To understand what causes crack addiction, it helps to understand what crack is. Crack cocaine is made by adding water and baking soda to powdered cocaine and cooking it into a crystallized form. The crystalized cocaine is then usually smoked in a pipe.
The high that users get from crack comes from the cocaine, of course. But cocaine, while addictive in itself, isn’t usually considered to be as instantly addictive as crack. What’s the difference? For one thing, cocaine is usually snorted while crack cocaine is smoked, and cocaine has more bioavailability when smoked than when snorted. That means that the drug is more active in the bloodstream when smoked, and it becomes active faster. In short, it produces a more powerful high.
The other factor to consider is how long the high lasts. While crack cocaine produces a faster, more powerful high than powdered cocaine, the high ends much faster than a cocaine high ends, leaving the user craving more after just a few minutes. This may be one of the main reasons why crack is considered to be so instantly addictive – the craving for more starts right away and can be accompanied by intrusive, obsessive thoughts about the drug.
What Are the Signs of This Addiction?
Unfortunately, there are some persistent but inaccurate stereotypes about what crack cocaine users look like, and buying into these stereotypes can cause you to miss signs of crack addiction in people close to you. Like addicts of all kinds, people addicted to crack cocaine will go to incredible lengths to hide their drug abuse from friends and family. Crack users quickly develop a tolerance for the drug and will begin to use larger and larger amounts of the drug in order to achieve the same effect. One of the most reliable signs of crack addiction is the use of large amounts of the drug, but crack users will often try to conceal how much they use by consuming crack away from home or other places where they might be observed.
Insomnia, restlessness, and nervousness can all be signs of crack cocaine use. The drug can cause users to feel unusually energetic, and after the high wears off, the cravings for more can keep users awake and running on nervous energy. Crack cocaine users may have burns on their fingers or lips from the pipes used to smoke the drug. Because the smoke doesn’t maintain its potency for long, crack pipes need to be short for the user to get the greatest effect from the drug. The short pipes, usually made from glass, quickly get overheated, leading to burns.
Because of the short effectiveness of the drug, crack users are prone to binging behavior, often followed by an unpleasant crash. Users experiencing a crash after binging on crack cocaine are often irritable and paranoid. Binging large amounts of the drug can lead to mood swings, aggressive behavior, and even hallucinations. Users may also obsessively pursue more of the drug or more opportunities to use the drug.
Over the long term, crack cocaine addiction can lead to serious damage to the mouth, teeth, and lips. Because the drug inhibits the appetite, some users may experience noticeable weight loss or malnutrition. Anxiety, depression, and cognitive decline all accompany long-term crack use. Crack cocaine addicts can also develop cardiovascular problems that leave them at high risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Can Crack Cocaine Addiction Be Treated?
Crack addiction is difficult to overcome, but many people do manage it. A person addicted to crack is not a hopeless case, they just need the right kind of support and intervention.
There are no medications that are approved for treating crack cocaine addiction, but some people with addictions do have underlying physical or mental health problems, and properly medicating and treating those issues can be helpful in alleviating addiction.
Behavioral therapy is one of the more helpful and successful methods of treating crack cocaine addiction. With a behavioral therapy approach, people with addictions learn how to develop skills that allow them to maintain abstinence from the drug – for example, how to avoid situations where opportunities to use are likely to arise and what to do instead of obtaining the drug when they experience strong cravings. Many rehab programs focus on helping patients develop and strengthen these kinds of coping skills.
Addiction of any kind is a difficult thing to deal with, and crack cocaine addicts often need support as they work to overcome their addictions. Unfortunately, addiction tends to create tension between the person with the addiction and their families or friends, leaving the person with the addiction without much of a support system. And even when bonds with family and friends remain strong, the person with the addiction may feel misunderstood by loved ones who have never experienced addiction themselves. Various 12-step programs can be useful in providing a crack cocaine addict with a supportive community that understands their experiences and needs in a useful way.
Crack cocaine addiction is scary, but it’s not insurmountable. With a better understanding of how the drug works, what addiction looks like, and what treatments are available, you’ll be better able to help someone in your life get the help that they need if they develop a crack cocaine addiction.
Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.