Crack cocaine, typically referred to as just crack, is a free-base form of cocaine. This means it is made by taking powdered cocaine and combining it with water and a second substance—usually baking soda— and then boiled until it becomes a solid, which is then broken into pieces and sold as crack. Crack gets its name from the “crackling” sound that the drug makes when it is heated and smoked.
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Because it’s such a highly concentrated form of cocaine and also is absorbed differently into the body, even though it is chemically basically the same as cocaine, it carries a more intense high and an even greater risk of addiction than cocaine in its powdered form.
Its use did not become widespread until around the 1980s, but, from there, it rapidly grew into an epidemic in just a few short years.
In 2015, just under roughly half a million Americans were reported as regularly using or dependent on crack, with teens being among the most vulnerable demographic for abuse.
Unlike the sense of glamour often associated with cocaine as the drug of choice for the wealthy and famous, sellers and distributors targeted economically-depressed areas, similar to the rise of methamphetamine use, now commonly known as the “poor man’s cocaine.”
Under the DEA’s Controlled Substances Act, crack is what’s known as a Schedule II Drug, which means it has a very high potential for abuse, but also has at least some degree of medicinal use. This is due to the fact that crack and cocaine are considered the same drug, despite the fact that, once in the form of crack, the stimulant has essentially no medical usage.
While cocaine use, and by extension crack, has dropped off by a fairly significant margin in recent years, being replaced by methamphetamines and opioids, it is still a threat, as it is possible for someone to become addicted to crack after just a single use.
What Are the Symptoms of Crack Withdrawal?
Crack works in much the same way that cocaine does, namely by greatly stimulating the level of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that regulates what’s known as the brain’s “pleasure centers.”
Crack floods the synapses with dopamine by blocking the brain from reabsorbing it, which is what creates the effects of increased euphoria, energy, and alertness, as well as paranoia, confusion, and suicidal ideation.
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The difference between using crack and using cocaine is that smoking crack means the cocaine vapor gets absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs, which makes it work much faster than snorting it, typically in less than five minutes, and also creates a more intense overall high.
It also means that the high is much shorter, reaching its peak in less than 10 minutes, as opposed to the 30-minute high from snorting cocaine. Because the high is so brief, many users abuse crack in the form of a binge, taking large amounts in a fairly short period of time.
However, because dopamine takes a long time to replenish itself, each high becomes less intense than the first one, which causes the user to take larger and larger amounts and become susceptible to full-blown psychosis from toxic levels of crack in their system, as well as overdose.
While the symptoms of crack withdrawal are very similar to those of cocaine, cocaine withdrawal symptoms are almost always mostly psychological, affecting someone’s mood and state of mind more than their body.
Withdrawal from crack, on the other hand, has several physical withdrawal symptoms more commonly associated with general substance abuse withdrawal that cocaine typically does not. Symptoms of crack withdrawal include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Agitation and mood swings
- Vivid nightmares and sleep disturbances
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increase in appetite
- Severe depression
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Muscle pain
- Suicidal thoughts or behavior
These symptoms will also be more intense than withdrawal symptoms from cocaine due to the severity of addiction that crack’s highly-concentrated form causes.
Something else to keep in mind is that someone undergoing crack detox may experience other, less common symptoms due to the unpredictability of crack’s chemical makeup and purity levels.
The Drug Abuse Warning Network revealed problems with cocaine were responsible for almost a quarter of the 2 million emergency room visits that were due to drug abuse.
Many manufacturers will cut the cocaine they use with other, often toxic, products so it is cheaper to produce. Because of this, many users might not even know how much of what they’re smoking is even cocaine, which can lead to an atypical crack withdrawal experience.
Can Crack Withdrawal Kill You?
Like cocaine, the actual withdrawal from crack is rarely, if ever, life-threatening. However, there are still several aspects of crack withdrawal that can, if left unmonitored or if someone attempts an unsupervised crack detox, put someone in a potentially fatal situation.
For example, many people often find the symptoms of crack withdrawal to be too much to handle, especially without the aid of any medications a professional detox center can provide to ease the discomfort they cause.
The intensity of these symptoms can, and frequently does, cause people to relapse mid-withdrawal and binge a larger amount of crack than they usually would in order to get rid of their withdrawal symptoms, which can lead to a deadly overdose.
Another danger is the effects of the psychological crack withdrawal symptoms, mainly the feeling of severe depression and an increase in suicidal thoughts and behavior, which could cause someone in crack detox to harm themselves or worse.
Beyond that, if someone has been taking crack from cocaine that was cut with something else, or else has been using crack in conjunction with other drugs, this can, as previously stated, lead to unexpected withdrawal symptoms that could be deadly, especially if someone tries to detox from crack on their own.
So while withdrawal from crack cannot directly kill you, the withdrawal symptoms from crack can lead to potentially-fatal scenarios that are much more easily-avoided by going through a crack detox at a professional medical detox center.
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What Are the Stages of Crack Withdrawal?
There is no one answer to the question of how long crack withdrawal lasts because each person’s experience is going to be different based on a number of factors unique to them, including:
- Length of abuse
- Dosage amount
- History of addiction
- Co-occurring disorders
- Physical health
- Attempting to stop "cold turkey"
- Engaging in polydrug use
While the manner in which someone takes a drug also plays a factor in determining how long their withdrawal from crack will last, crack is almost exclusively smoked, which makes it negligible in this case.
Crack is; however, frequently used in combination with other drugs, the most popular of which include:
Depending on the substance, this has the potential to significantly alter the expected timeline for an individual’s withdrawal from crack. Otherwise, crack withdrawal stages are very similar to cocaine’s stages and usually go as follows:
Because the effects of crack peak even faster than cocaine, it has a much shorter half-life as well, meaning that someone can begin feeling the symptoms of crack withdrawal in as little as an hour after their last dose and generally no less than 12. Early symptoms include increased appetite, agitation, and extreme paranoia.
This initial phase can last as long as several days, with the paranoia eventually subsiding over the first 24 hours as the symptoms of exhaustion, insomnia, depression, and anxiety manifest and eventually reach their peak. The crash phase is generally when people are most likely to relapse.
Once past the crash phase, the majority of the physical symptoms will have passed, and the symptoms of depression and anxiety greatly lessened, instead replaced with intense cravings for crack, which are accompanied by mood swings, inability to concentrate, and general restlessness.
The most difficult aspect of the craving phase is that it can last anywhere from one week to 10, depending on the different factors listed above. If someone was abusing large amounts of crack multiple times a day for an extended period of time, then they are much more likely to have a longer craving phase.
After however long the craving phase has lasted, during this last stage of crack withdrawal, the majority of withdrawal symptoms should have either completely disappeared or otherwise greatly weakened. However, they will still experience random bouts of crack cravings and mild depression, which can sometimes linger for as long as six months.
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Why Should I Do a Medical Crack Detox?
While cocaine detox is often done on an outpatient basis, because crack detox can be more intense and unpredictable, inpatient medical detoxification is more likely to be necessary.
Even putting those aside, managing to successfully detox from crack without outside help is nearly impossible and much more likely to end with relapse and increased risk of overdose.
This risk is even greater when someone tries to stop using crack “cold turkey.” Regular abuse and binging on crack will have thrown the brain’s dopamine levels off to such an extreme degree that when someone abruptly stops using it altogether, the body is thrown into an intense shock and withdrawal symptoms become even more severe and difficult to deal with.
Under the close supervision of a medical professional, withdrawal symptoms can be eased with different medications and complications can be handled without putting you in a needlessly dangerous situation that you would find yourself in if attempting crack detox on your own.
What Is the Next Treatment Step?
Once someone has finished their crack detox, the next step in the recovery process is to enter a rehabilitation treatment program. If detox is not followed up with a treatment program or any kind of aftercare, they will most likely relapse back into using, most likely sooner than later, considering how long cravings for crack can remain.
Flushing crack from your body does not cure you of addiction. For that, you need to understand the root of your substance abuse issues and learn the tools and skills to successfully manage it and improve your chances of remaining sober and avoiding relapse.
Most treatment facilities will offer a variety of programs, including counseling, both cognitive anddialectical behavioral therapy, sober living communities, educational workshops, and more. Typically, you will work with your therapist or counselor to create a customized treatment plan that will be most effective for you.
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If you or someone you care about is suffering from a dependency on crack, help is available at The Palm Beach Institute, starting with detox and moving seamlessly to a recovery treatment program.