What Are the Signs of Crack Abuse?

Crack Cocaine Addiction

In its powdered form, cocaine users typically snort the drug to get high.

Some people might even inject it intravenously. Due to its chemical properties, it cannot be smoked. However, in the mid-1980s, a new type of cocaine emerged. Called “crack” or sometimes “rock” is cocaine is converted using ammonia or baking soda into highly concentrated nuggets that can be easily smoked or dissolved and shot up. 

Relatively inexpensive and highly potent, crack creates an almost instant high. As noted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “This fast euphoric effect is one of the reasons that crack became enormously popular in the mid-1980s.” The high is so intense, crack is generally considered to be the most addictive form of cocaine, which created an epidemic of addiction throughout the country with ripple effects we are still dealing with today.

History of Crack

Crack cocaine has a tangled and somewhat convoluted history, and the legal fallout remains incredibly controversial and a political hot-button issue.

In the 1970s, powdered cocaine was an immensely popular club drug in the United States and around the world. As the United States began to clamp down on the Mexican border, cocaine began flowing abundantly through the Caribbean and the Bahamas. Money earned from this trade helped support the rebel Contras in Nicaragua, which were fighting the communist government. 

As cocaine flooded the market, profits fell. History.com notes that, “the price of illegal cocaine dropped by as much as 80 percent during the late 1970s.” In order to sell more, dealers increased its potency by adding sodium bicarbonate or ammonia, which enabled it to be smoked. This form is not only more powerful, but it also made cocaine much cheaper.

Crack began to be sold widely in poor, African American communities. Crime began to spike in some cities and a moral panic followed that was widely inflated by the media. The public outcry lead to The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which mandated that crack cocaine be punished at a rate of 100 to 1 as compared to powdered cocaine. Along with this came a five-year minimum sentence for possession of crack cocaine. The act was seen as a racist attack on African American communities, and in 2010, the penalty ratio was reduced to 18 to 1 – many believe that the penalties are still too high since crack and cocaine are essentially the same drugs.

In addition to physical cravings, someone with an addiction issue will also spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about their drug of choice. These thoughts become a compulsion and impossible to control, which leads to drug-seeking behavior that can sometimes be criminal.

Feelings of depression, sadness, anxiety, despair, and the like are often at the root of substance abuse. The substance might temporarily mask these feelings, but they return once the high wears off, creating a vicious circle of drug abuse.

Taking a substance will temporarily stop the cravings and compulsion for it, but soon the same feelings return. In time, it takes more and more of the same substance to achieve the same effect it once had.

People addicted to drugs and alcohol may feel like they have no control over their drug use. Refraining from using or stopping seems to be an impossibility for them. The substance controls them, rather than the other way around.

Someone addicted to drugs or alcohol will continue to seek them out even if their addiction has made them lose friends, family, spouses, and jobs. Drug-seeking behavior can even lead to diseases such as hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.

Signs of Crack Abuse

Crack cocaine creates a fast, intense high that is also very short.

The brevity of the high leads crack addicts to seek frequent hits throughout the day. This desire for the drug and obsession to get it affects just about any personal or moral cost. The user may also be unable to hold down a job and might even destroy personal relationships with friends, family, and other loved ones.

If you suspect someone you know has an issue with crack, you might also look for these other signs of abuse:

  • Mysterious and frequent disappearances
  • Aggressive behavior and wild mood swings
  • Loss of finances due to spending money on crack
  • Restlessness
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Changes in behavior/irresponsibility
  • Burns on fingers
  • Dilated pupils
  • Cracked or blistered lips that develop from smoking a hot pipe all the time
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Twitching
  • Nosebleeds

Physical and Mental Effects of Abuse

Crack cocaine takes a massive toll on its users.

In a short time, crack creates:

  • Cardiovascular risks
  • Higher breathing rates
  • Nausea
  • Bizarre behavior
  • Delusions and paranoia
  • Anxiety and panic

Consistent, prolonged abuse increases these effects and adds a whole slew of other issues such as:


  • Major heart problems, leading to heart attack, stroke, and heart disease
  • Cognitive decline
  • Confusion and psychosis
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Damage to the lips, mouth, and teeth
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Permanent damage to blood vessels
  • High blood pressure
  • Respiratory failure
  • Kidney failure
If all of this wasn’t enough, chronic users can cause severe damage to many of their internal organs like their lungs, kidney, and liver. They also have a diminished immune system, which can lead to a variety of other major health issues.

If you are considering treatment for yourself or a loved one, call us today.

Understanding Crack Withdrawal

Chronic use leads to physical changes in the brain, making crack very difficult to get off of.

Chronic use leads to physical changes in the brain, making crack very difficult to get off of. Because the brain gets used to such an intense high, withdrawal symptoms start rather quickly after the last hit – as fast as 30 minutes for some users.

The emotional toll of no longer having this high can make an addict feel incredibly depressed and anxious, leading to suicidal ideation. This is often accompanied by physical side effects. Taken together, these physical and emotional withdrawal effects often lead people to relapse and start using again.

Users have difficulty with stopping this vicious cycle, which is why a medical detox under a doctor’s supervision is almost always the recommended way to withdraw from crack. 

In the short term, users can expect to experience:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Exhaustion
  • Unpleasant dreams
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability and mood changes

Over the course of the withdrawal period that can last for several weeks, users will also experience a variety of other unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • Agitation
  • Shaking
  • Intense cravings
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of motivation
  • Inability to feel pleasure
  • Anger and other emotional outbursts

To address these symptoms, drugs that treat things like anxiety, sleeping, and blood pressure issues are often prescribed.

Considerations in Treatment

People can and do recover from crack cocaine addictions, but it can be tricky and almost always requires supervised counseling, group session, 12-step programs, and other therapeutic modalities. People are often given inpatient or outpatient programs where patients participate in some sort of therapy for six or more hours a day during the week. 

These sorts of programs often involve cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), as well as experiential therapies to help patients better understand their emotions like what brought them to their habit. Then, they can develop ways to cope with those situations and feelings in the future without turning to the drug.

Crack has destroyed countless lives in the United States, but it doesn’t have to destroy yours. If you or someone you love needs help, please reach out to Nexus today for a free and confidential consultation.

If you or a loved one are suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, we’re here to help. Contact us today and speak with one of our trusted recovery advisors.

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