- What is Crack?
- Signs and Symptoms of Abusing Crack
- What Are the Effects of Abuse?
- Combining Crack with Other Substances
- Diagnosing a Crack Disorder
- Who is at Risk for Addiction?
- Do I Need Rehab?
- Help for Addicted Friends and Family
- Rehab and Treatment Options
- Teen Crack Abuse and Addiction
What is Crack Abuse?
A crack user may be considered "an abuser" if that use becomes problematic, creates difficulties at home, work, and/or school, as well as if other negative behavioral and psychological consequences exist.
The prevalence of crack abuse in the U.S. is around 1.2% of the population, although some researchers have found that crack cocaine use has been on the decline since 2002.
What is Crack?
Crack, or 'crack cocaine,' is a modified, usually less pure form of cocaine made by heating or "cooking" it with a free base, such as baking soda. On the street, crack cocaine is often found in rock crystal form.
Crack is taken into the body primarily by smoking. Usually, a crack user heats the crystals and inhales the vapors that are produced.
It must be noted that, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there is no safe way to use crack.
Signs and Symptoms of Abusing Crack
The use and abuse of crack is quite prevalent due to wide availability and low cost. Signs and symptoms produced by crack inhalation include:
- Psychotic effects.
- Cognitive impairment.
- Withdrawal, craving and drug-seeking.
- Cardiac, neurological and gastrointestinal problems.
- Respiratory problems, such as coughing and chronic bronchitis (usually common with inhaled drugs).
What Are the Effects of Abuse?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there is no safe way to use crack.
Crack produces its effects by altering the dopamine-rich "reward pathway" (or mesolimbic system) of the brain. The alteration of this system is implicated in the cognitive difficulties following crack use.
Crack abuse leads to tolerance, withdrawal and craving.
Some of the short-term physiological actions of crack include:
- Blood vessel constriction.
- Pupil dilation.
- Elevated vital signs (including temperature, heart rate and blood pressure).
While crack users typically do not inject the drug directly into their veins, there are still risks for contracting diseases (such as HIV or Hepatitis) with crack use. These occur as a result of impaired judgment while high on crack that can cause an individual to engage in promiscuous sexual relations or intravenous drug use.
Some of the acute effects of crack inhalation can progress into a more serious disorder called crack lung.
Cocaine constricts the blood vessels in the lungs and prevents oxygen from perfusing the lungs. Crack lung's long-lasting effects include:
- Difficulty breathing.
- Chest pain (sometimes).
In severe cases, crack lung can cause inflammation and bleeding of the lung (at the cellular level), which can lead to acute hospitalization, emphysema, increased risk of cancer, and even death.
Combining Crack with Other Substances
People often mix drugs purposely for a greater effect (termed recreational drug mixing), while other times people accidentally combine drugs by taking several prescriptions
Polysubstance abuse (the abuse of several substances at once) requires more complex treatment than single substance abuse, and should be taken into serious consideration when being evaluated for treatment options.
Diagnosing a Crack Disorder
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), a few criteria that may indicate a generalized crack use disorder include:
- Taking crack in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended.
- Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to decrease or control crack use.
- Great deal of time spent in activities necessary to obtain, use, or recover from the effects of crack cocaine.
- Craving, withdrawal, and/or tolerance.
- Recurrent crack cocaine use that results in problems at work, school, or home.
- Continued crack cocaine use despite social or interpersonal problems associated with its use.
Typically, if users meet 2 or more of these criteria, it is likely they have a crack use disorder, and should seek the appropriate help from a professional.
Who is at Risk for Addiction?
It is very difficult to discern what factors increase an individual's risk for developing crack addiction specifically (though cocaine addiction has been more frequently documented). However, there are some factors that have been suggested based on experimental evidence, such as:
- Genetics (though not always the case, sometimes those with genetic predispositions to addiction do not have the disorder and vice versa).
- Gender (depending on the report, males and females have both been reported to be at higher risk of developing crack addiction.)
- Lower socioeconomic status.
- Concurrent mental illness.
- Age when crack was first consumed.
- Social situations and peer pressure.
- High-stress level.
Do I Need Rehab?
When crack use gets out of control, it is important to seek help from a recovery program.
Remember, crack abuse/dependence can be characterized by several symptoms:
- Craving (a very strong desire to use crack).
- Continued use despite negative consequences.
- Tolerance (an increasing amount of crack needed to achieve the same effect).
- Physical dependence (occurrence of withdrawal symptoms when the user stops using crack).
Help for Addicted Friends and Family
Bringing up the subject of seeking treatment for crack abuse is very difficult. In fact, many friends and family members are afraid of confronting their loved one.
It is important to remember that your loved one needs your support more than anything. Some families approach their addicted loved one using a professional (colloquially termed an "intervention") while others approach their loved one alone or with a small supportive group.
Established support groups exist in general for families of addicted persons, such as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon.
If you feel like a support group is not right for you, then consider seeking help from a professional counselor; it is not uncommon for family and friends to seek counseling.
Rehab and Treatment Options
Detoxification from crack is one of the first steps in the process of becoming abstinent. It is characterized by withdrawal symptoms, including:
- Severe fatigue.
- Insomnia or hypersomnia.
- Vivid and unpleasant dreams.
- Psychomotor difficulties (DSM-5).
Unfortunately, there are no FDA- approved medications to treat cocaine addiction at this time. The available treatment options are outlined below, including both inpatient and outpatient options.
Remember, treatment options can be tailored to each individual's needs and can become as multifaceted as necessary to achieve desired results.
Teen Crack Abuse and Addiction
Teens are more likely to become dependent on crack.
Researchers speculate that teens are at a high-risk for developing crack abuse over time, as the initiation of drug use at a younger age is a risk factor for developing an addiction later on in life.
While these numbers may seem low, remember that the prevalence of crack use in the U.S. is around 1.2%--high school seniors appear to have a higher prevalence than the general population.
Often teens begin drug use with one of the "gateway drugs," such as marijuana, tobacco, or alcohol. However, some teens progress to "harder" drugs such as crack which, due to its short-lasting effect, can have great addiction potential, especially in a young user.
Because teens' brains are still developing, they are at an elevated risk for crack dependence. Teens are also more likely to combine crack with other substances at parties, which can lead to an overdose and even death.