When you see headlines focusing on the use of various drugs, you are likely to notice more stories about people who are addicted to meth, heroin, and prescription drugs. We are now in an opioid epidemic; in fact, President Trump has declared it a public health emergency and has mobilized his administration to tackle it. A drug that you might not hear about often but that is still causing deaths and wreaking havoc on communities is crack cocaine.
What is crack cocaine?
Cocaine is a white powder that users typically inhale through their noses. Crack, on the other hand, is the solid form of cocaine. Rather than snorting it, people smoke crack. It goes by many other names, including rocks, candy, dice, gravel, nuggets, and base. Because crack produces not only a strong high but also some very severe side effects, it is important to be aware of the signs of crack cocaine use and to get help right away if you suspect that your teenager or another loved one is using it.
Dangers of Crack Cocaine
Crack cocaine is extremely addictive. In fact, an individual can try it once and, because the high is very strong and very short-lived, find themselves bingeing on the drug over and over again in rapid succession. This can lead to an addiction. They will often plan when they can binge on the drug and, since it is not as expensive as pure cocaine, it is easier to acquire and use.
One of the main dangers of using crack cocaine is that it rapidly increases the heart rate and the blood pressure. Using crack cocaine can cause a heart attack, cardiac arrest, or stroke. This can happen the first time it’s used or after years of use.
Overdose can lead to very high body temperatures, convulsions, and hallucinations. They are often confused and disoriented and might be reacting violently to the hallucinations that they are having. If left untreated, an overdose can cause death.
Many times, crack cocaine is cut with other substances to make it look like it is a larger quantity than it actually is. These substances can be extremely toxic and can cause side effects of their own, and these can be fatal.
Another way that people can get very ill or die from using crack cocaine is if they ingest it. Sometimes people swallow their drugs to avoid detection if they are being arrested. Some might swallow it in a balloon or tied-off condom to smuggle it. If the balloon breaks (or if they simply swallowed it without enclosing it in latex), the resulting toxicity can be fatal.
Finally, a high from crack cocaine often leads to the feeling of invincibility that can cause the user to take risks such as jumping off of a roof or racing in their car. These actions can, of course, lead to fatal injury.
Signs of Crack Use
The high that crack cocaine produces is very short-lived, lasting from two to 20 minutes, at most. This means that you probably will not see your loved one under the influence of crack cocaine if they are using it elsewhere. There are symptoms you can watch for, however, and these include
- Dilated pupils
- Increased heart rate, racing heart
- Decrease in the amount of sleep they need
- Being hyperstimulated and hyperalert
- Weight loss
- Twitching muscles
In addition, there are some behavioral signs that might indicate that an individual is using or addicted to crack cocaine:
- Not going to work or school because acquiring and using the drug takes a higher priority
- Aggressive behavior
- Hallucinations and paranoia
- Spending a lot of money and not being able to account for it
- Saying that they can stop using and not being able to
Identifying Crack Cocaine
If you are concerned that your teen or another loved one is using crack cocaine, it can be helpful to know what it looks like. As its nickname of “rock” or “rocks” would imply, it looks like small, irregularly shaped white rocks. They often look crystalline and not solid all of the way through. Sometimes, crack cocaine will melt if it touches water, but since it can be cut with other substances, this is not always the case. The paraphernalia used is typically a pipe, a tube, and a lighter of some sort.
Treatment for Crack Cocaine Addiction
Many individuals who smoke crack cocaine also use other drugs. While their addiction might be to the crack, the use of additional drugs must also be addressed during treatment. While there are no medications designed specifically to treat crack cocaine addiction, there are some medications that have shown some promising results. One of them is disulfiram, which is used to treat alcohol addiction. Another is lorcaserin, which has shown promise in animal studies. In addition, researchers are trying to create a cocaine “vaccine” of sorts that would make a relapse more unlikely.
In addition to medical intervention, behavioral treatment is also essential. Motivational incentives have been shown to work well in encouraging those addicted to crack cocaine and some other drugs to make better choices. In the beginning, the incentives are prizes such as movie tickets or a gym membership. Cognitive behavioral therapy is another treatment that helps users learn to cope with their troubles and make healthier choices.
How to Get Help
If you think that someone you know is struggling with a crack cocaine addiction, the first place to start is with their primary care physician. The doctor can screen them for an addiction. Many people who use crack will eventually become addicted to it; some will become addicted the first time they try it. If you know that someone is using the drug, it is imperative that they get help whether or not they think they are currently addicted. A primary care doctor can refer them to the appropriate addiction specialist who can manage their recovery plan.
While it is difficult to overcome any addiction, comprehensive treatment can boost the odds that the individual will succeed with recovery.
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.