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Why is Crack so Addictive?

man smoking crack cocaine out of a glass crack pipe

Article Contents


Crack cocaine
, known as crack is one of the most dangerous forms of cocaine. Why is crack so addictive? Crack is so addictive because it increases feelings of excitement and pleasure in the brain. Users feel alert, alive, awake and confident. They want to replicate those feelings over and over again.

Derived from the coca plant, crack is “free base” which means it has not been chemically neutralized by an acid base. It comes in the form of rock crystals and is also known as black rock and yay.

Sometimes, users sprinkle small doses on marijuana or tobacco and smoke this like a cigarette. This raises the heart rate and body temperature while reducing the desire for food.

Using Crack

Crack is the most potent and riskiest form of cocaine. It is named after the crackling sound the rock-shaped chunks produce when they are burned. These rock pieces can be white, yellow or pink. The colors vary because of the addition of contaminants or the different methods of production.

Users heat the rocks, press a glass pipe against their lips and inhale the vapors. Within eight seconds, the substance enters the bloodstream. Users feel a ‘rush’ of euphoria and pleasure. After the first time, the user will want to try it again, just to see what that first experience was all about. Habitual users end up with cracked and blistered lips.

Once an individual takes a hit of crack, the good moods last for about 15 minutes. During that time, he/she will feel confident, happy, outgoing and clear minded. After the high wears off, comes a low. Often, users will want to take another hit to feel the high again. They will continue to do hits so they can feel the high over and over again.

The cycle can continue this way for days on end. Each subsequent hit is increasingly short lived. Addicts end up feeling wired and exhausted at the same time.

Crack History

Since the arrival of crack in the 1980s, it has become one of the most addictive substances available. The National Drug Intelligence Center (now defunct) notes that crack is easy to manufacture which makes it a popular choice with addicts.

People mix cocaine with ammonia, baking soda and water. Once the water dissolves, dried crystals will form.

Smoking produces a faster, more intense high than snorting. Sometimes, addicts dissolve the rocks in water and inject it. Common cutting agents include Glucose, Ritalin, Boric Acid, Lidocaine.

Effects Of Crack

Individuals build up a tolerance to crack almost immediately. Subsequent ‘highs’ will not be as intense as the first time. On the next go around, a bigger dose will be needed to replicate the same highs.

Crack energizes your entire central nervous system. When you take a crack hit, the muscles tense up and the heart beats faster. You experience exhilaration as a result of the release of specific mood hormones.

You feel alive, alert and focussed. The drug creates a psychological dependence almost immediately. That is why crack addiction is difficult to overcome. Recovery is possible but it requires willpower, determination and perseverance.

Meanwhile, the drug stresses the heart, lungs and brain. Your blood vessels constrict, your blood pressure elevates. This can result in a heart attack or stroke. Other symptoms include sweating, feeling hot or cold, muscle weakness or nausea. Crack addiction is very often associated with a downward spiral in the quality of life. The more you use crack, the more the chemicals will alter your brain chemistry. With a crack addiction, your brain may ‘fool’ you into tolerating the unpleasant effects.

Chemical Crack Addiction

Crack addiction can happen overnight. That is not an exaggeration. Crack addiction happens overnight because it causes an intense high and users feel euphoria at once. Their whole world seems more intense. Crack stimulates the brain’s reward centers which reinforces continued and repeated use of the drug. They feel energetic, alert and ‘alive’.

Read more about how Addiction Changes the Brain.

However, after the intense high which lasts for about 15 minutes, it is followed by overwhelming feelings of depression and edginess and a craving for more. Habitual users experience greatly increased heart rate, muscle spasms and convulsions. Crack addicts tend to feel paranoid, angry, hostile and anxious, even when they aren’t high. They also don’t eat or sleep properly.

After the high, the individual will crave for the next ‘hit’. Until then, the addict is agitated, restless, paranoid, or irritable. These urges are strong, persistent and unyielding. Other side effects include a shortness of breath, heart palpitations and strokes.

Users also tend to feel bouts of severe depression which become deeper and deeper after each use. Depression can get so intense it can drive the addict to have thoughts of suicide.

A cocaine addiction is hard to overcome. An addict lives for the next hit. That is all the addict thinks about. It is more important than food, friends and even work. He/she will do almost anything to get the drug, even beg, steal or borrow.

If you have a crack addiction, you will likely be less rational and logical. It will be increasingly challenging to continue to maintain a relationship with your regular circle of friends. In fact, all you can think about will be getting your hands on the next fix. Crack addiction exerts a dominating and almost numbing influence on behavior and thinking.

Other Side Effects Of Crack Addiction

Once you develop a chemical addiction, you may experience high levels of depression, increased anxiety, stress, worry and intense cravings for the next ‘hit.’

To feed the habit, individuals have a tendency to indulge in:

Risky sexual behavior. Crack removes inhibitions and intensifies sexual desire. This makes addicts more likely to have sex with multiple partners and have unprotected sex. Some addicts even exchange sex for the promise of a ‘fix’.

Anger and rage. Crack intensifies emotional experiences. Addicts have a tendency to abuse themselves and/or those they are around. There is a tendency towards high risk behavior.

Risky behavior. Crack is a powerful motivator. On many occasions, crack addicts enter into dangerous situations or agree to risky behavior to obtain the ‘fix’.

Negligent behavior. In search of the next hit, crack addicts will not care about most things except getting the fix. They will neglect to pay their bills, attend work, maintaining relationships with friends and family members, or even caring for their children.

Illegal activities. Crack addicts will even go so far as to commit robberies or engage in other illegal activity – including prostitution – to gain money to buy crack. Also, crack possession itself is illegal, so some will face legal trouble for using it even if they don’t engage in these behaviors.

Long-Term Effects Of Crack Addiction

In addition to negative short-term effects, there are more long-term drawbacks that affect users even when they are not getting high. This includes increasing tolerance, severe, unpleasant withdrawal syndrome, mood disorders including depression and psychosis and/or paranoid delusions.

Some users will experience a problem that addicts refer to as “crack or coke bugs”. This is called formication, which is a type of tactile hallucination – where the abuser feels that bugs are crawling on or below his skin. As a result, the user scratches his or her skin resulting in long scratch marks on the surface of the skin.

These hallucinations can make it almost impossible for the addict to sleep. As a result, the addict tends to want to stay awake to avoid ‘seeing’ these bugs. His/her thinking become more disordered and delusional because of sleep deprivation.

Long-term addiction to crack poses serious risks to an individual’s health. Some of the health effects are long lasting and may permanently impact the user’s health.These include seizures, convulsions, sexual dysfunction and malnutrition.

Abusers with a crack addiction will use the drug to mask the feelings of depression and anxiety. Their

Crack Compared To Other Addictions

The effects of crack last just a few minutes. In contrast, the effects of cocaine can stay with the user for more than 2 hours. Cocaine addicts take hits in binges, using it repeatedly and in high doses. This leads to increased irritability, restlessness, panic attacks, paranoia, and even a full-blown psychosis, where the individual loses touch with reality and experiences hallucinations. The effects of crack are short lived so people with a crack addiction tend to want to take another hit to counter the lows.

Cocaine addicts who inject their doses have puncture marks called tracks, most commonly in their forearms are at risk of contracting infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis C.

Users of Methamphetamine (meth for short), unlike crack tend to feel the effects for up to 24 hours. Meth can cause damage to major parts of a person’s organs and brains. Meth addicts tend to display violent tendencies.

Sometimes, crack users drink alcohol to intensify the effects of crack addiction. Alcohol is a depressant while crack is a stimulant. Mixing an upper (crack) with a downer (alcohol) makes it a dangerous cocktail which affects coordination. The chemical reactions in crack cocaine and alcohol can cause serious harm to your health.

Statistics Of Crack Abuse

This drug circulates heavily in cities because it is cheaper than most other drugs, even cocaine. Users who don’t have a lot of money tend to use crack because it is cheap, very powerful and fast acting. Habitual users can tolerate high doses of about two grams (at a cost of about $80/gram) a day.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) “Monitoring the Future” survey featured questions that asked school kids if they have ever tried cocaine or were consistent users. The result were shocking: almost 5% of 12th graders had tried cocaine with 2% having tried crack.

In 2010, 23% of 8th graders, 32% of 10th graders, and 45% of twelfth graders said that crack was “fairly easy” or “very easy” to obtain.

A National Survey on Drug Use and Health also by NIDA found that for respondents 26 years or older who had tried cocaine, 3.7% tried crack. This is significant because the 2011 study results suggest an increase of crack in all age groups.

But, people under the age of 18 showed the most vulnerability with increasing rates.

There is a possibility these cocaine users may move on to use crack because it is cheaper than cocaine.

Treatment Of Crack Addiction

As a first step towards recovery, check into a rehab center for detoxification. A professional treatment center has professionals that can help you overcome the nasty effects of withdrawal. This is possibly the most difficult stage of recovery as cravings will be intense and at certain times, seem overwhelming.

Crack addiction is tricky to overcome because it is mostly psychological in nature. Overcoming crack addiction will be tough but can be achieved if the addict is determined and resolute. Professional help is available and can be difference between success and failure.

Each person is unique. Each has different tolerances to crack and may not be affected by the drug as much as another person. Overall, changes in the body occur once you develop a crack addiction. So, crack addiction may affect each person differently.

Recovering patients will have dilated pupils and a dry mouth. They may sweat profusely and have little or no appetite. Recovering addicts are restless and talkative.  Wild mood swings are common.

After detox,  a professional re-hab environment and a 12-step program can help the addict in recovery. Rehab lasts 30 days to 60 days but may last longer depending on the severity of the addiction.

Why Is Crack So Addictive?

Each addict’s recovery is different. It is a personal journey so there are no hard and fast rules on the length of the recovery. How long it will take to recover from crack addiction will depend on the level of dependency and individual needs. The physical withdrawal symptoms will be the most severe within the first week (after the last use) and reduce with each day. However, the psychological withdrawal symptoms will continue for weeks and even months after stopping the use of crack.


When you are trying to recover from cocaine addiction, stay away from people who you use with or who are related to your use.

There are some rehab programs that include a vocational training component to help the recovering addict adjust back to life in society without having to resort to selling drugs to survive.

The recovering addict will need intensive counseling. Remember to keep upbeat and surround yourself with positive people. Learning to re-adjust to a life of clean living and sobriety is well worth the effort.

We understand the challenges of crack addiction, and want to help you with your recovery.  We’ve partnered with the finest detox facilities, and can counsel you on placement.  Once you’ve completed your detox, you can enjoy our holistic approach to crack addiction recovery.  Please reach out when you’re ready to start your recovery.

Written by Recovering Champions Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

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