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What Is Crack Cocaine and How Addictive Is It?

What Is Crack Cocaine and How Addictive Is It? - Paradigm Malibu

Crack cocaine is a type of cocaine that is extremely addictive. While all cocaine use in teens and young adults has been declining in recent years, it is still somewhat prevalent.

In 2015, 1 percent of 8th and 10th graders had used crack cocaine. This means that in your teenager’s circle of acquaintances and classmates, chances are good that at least one individual has tried this dangerous substance.

As a parent, it is important to know what crack cocaine is, why it is so addictive, the dangers and signs of using this drug, and how addiction to crack is treated.


What Is Crack Cocaine?

Crack is a form of cocaine. You might know that cocaine is a white powder substance that is usually snorted. It comes from the coca plant, which is indigenous to South America. Further processing and combination with baking soda or ammonia can turn cocaine, which is fairly expensive, into the solid version of the drug, which is crack. Because it is less expensive, it is more widely available, particularly among young people. Crack is smoked with paraphernalia known as a crack pipe; a soda can can also be used if a crack pipe is unavailable.

You can identify crack cocaine by its appearance. It looks like off-white solid rocks. The rocks might have translucent parts and they can have a pink or yellowish tint. They can be smooth or look like they are covered in sugar; the powdered substance is the cocaine or one of the additives.


Why Is It so Addictive?

Crack is much more addictive than the less-refined powered cocaine.

One reason is that it is substantially less expensive, so this means that it is easier for the average person to get large amounts of this type of drug than it is to acquire large amounts of powdered cocaine.

Another reason is that the high from crack cocaine is both strong and short-lived. After the first hit, the euphoria peaks and then quickly recedes, so the user is tempted to smoke it again right away. This might happen over and over again. Meanwhile, the person’s brain is becoming addicted to the high and stops producing dopamine (a feel-good hormone) naturally. Over a short period of time, the individual will need to use more and more of the drug just to feel normal because natural dopamine production ceases. At the same time, unpleasant withdrawal symptoms will begin when the person is not using. This is when full-blown addiction has occurred.


Dangers of Using Crack Cocaine

There are several dangers of using crack cocaine. Some dangers are physical, some are mental, and some negatively affect the user’s lifestyle.

The greatest physical danger is that the drug will cause a cardiac arrest, fatal heart attack, or massive stroke. Because crack cocaine is a stimulant that raises the blood pressure and heart rate, these are very real possibilities. A fatal heart or brain event can happen the first time a person is using, the 10th time, or the 100th time. There is no rhyme or reason; someone can use for weeks, months, or years with no discernible heart issue and then suddenly die from a cardiac arrest the next time they smoke crack. Seizures, high blood pressure, insomnia, and other health effects are also common. Those who use crack cocaine might neglect their diets and their oral health, leading to malnutrition and tooth loss.

Many crack users suffer from paranoia, depression, and hallucinations. They often become forgetful and unable to focus enough to hold down a job or do their schoolwork. Severe mood swings, aggression, and other mental health issues are not uncommon.

All of this leads to a drastic reduction in the user’s lifestyle. In an effort to achieve the next high, they might steal or commit other crimes to obtain money to pay for more of the drug. Some go into prostitution or get involved with gangs. Many lose their jobs or drop out of school. It might be that the only care a crack user has is getting high again, so all other aspects of their lives suffer.


Signs That Someone Is Using Crack Cocaine

If you are concerned that your teen is using crack cocaine, there are some signs you can look for. First, if you find the drug in his or her possession, you can recognize it by its appearance. You can also look for paraphernalia. Since users cannot go and purchase a crack pipe at the store, most will improvise with various types of materials found around the house. Some possibilities might include light bulbs, aluminum foil, soda cans, and glass pipes (such as a test tube or similar).

Here are some of the physical and mental signs that someone might be using crack cocaine:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Anxiety
  • Racing heart, high blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Severe headache
  • Loss of friends
  • Loss of job
  • Dropping out of school
  • Trouble with the law, committing crimes
  • Aggression
  • Severe mood swings

Many of these signs can also be attributed to using other types of drugs in addition to or instead of crack cocaine.


Treatment for Crack Cocaine Addiction

Crack cocaine addiction requires a multi-pronged approach.

First, the individual must go through the withdrawal process. This can be severe and can last up to two weeks. It might take place in a hospital or in a residential facility where the individual can be watched by medical professionals.

After that, behavioral interventions are needed. An inpatient or residential program might be more effective than an outpatient program for some people. Contingency management is one type of behavioral modification that has been effective for those who are addicted to crack cocaine.

Although there are no medications specifically approved to treat crack cocaine addiction, there are some that might be effective. They include disulfiram, which is used to treat alcoholism. There is also some promising research being done on a potential crack cocaine vaccine, which would cause an individual to not be able to achieve a high from crack, eliminating their craving for the drug.

If you are concerned about your teen or young adult child, contact his or her primary care doctor, who can screen him or her for drug use and make the appropriate referral to a specialist.

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.

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