Has crack cocaine taken over your life? Is your family, career, and health suffering due to crack cocaine use? You are not alone. Crack cocaine is a powerful, addictive drug that can destroy lives. Luckily, help is available for those willing to make a simple call.

If you’re in need of help for yourself or a loved one, calling our crack hotline for addiction is the first step in accessing resources that can help you get your life back.

Substance Overview: Crack Cocaine
Around $20 per gram and up
Annual deaths
24,486 from cocaine
Side effects
Cardiac rhythm abnormalities, increased blood pressure, irritability
Also known as
candy, rocks, base, chemical

What Is Crack?

Crack is the crystalline form of the illegal drug cocaine which is typically sold in powder form. Cocaine is derived from the dried leaves of the coca plant which is native to Central and South America. Crack is made by heating cocaine powder with baking soda until it forms solid chunks or rock crystals. These crystals can vary in color from white to yellow to pale pink. Therefore, crack is a smokable form of cocaine. It has been heavily abused in the US since the 1980s when it was first developed. [1]

People use crack by smoking (heating) the rock crystals. This produces vapors which are inhaled directly into the lungs, from where the drug is absorbed into the bloodstream. The name “crack” comes from the crackling sound made by the rocks when they are heated.

Crack is an extremely potent form of cocaine. It produces rapid stimulant effects when smoked. While it is chemically identical to cocaine, crack is made differently and has a faster onset of action. In other words, smoking crack produces a faster, shorter, and more intense high than snorting cocaine.

Crack cocaine is sold under a range of different names by street dealers, including candy, rocks, base, and chemical.

Differences Between Crack and Cocaine

As mentioned, crack is almost identical chemically to cocaine. It differs mainly in how it is made and how it is used. Drug users typically mix powdered cocaine with water and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and snort the mixture. Powder cocaine is also processed to form crack by boiling it with baking soda so that it forms rock crystals. These crystals, when cooled, can withstand higher temperatures. This results in a smokable form of cocaine called crack.

Unfortunately, because it is an illegal substance, crack is usually manufactured by people without any formal training in chemistry. Some people even use a microwave oven to make the drug. [2] As a result, contaminants are frequently introduced into the product during the crack extraction process, affecting the purity of the drug. Adulterants and substitutes, such as glucose, talcum powder, and boric acid, are also sometimes added to crack to increase profits. Some adulterants enhance the effects of crack, thereby putting users (who may not be aware of the drug’s potency) at considerable risk of an overdose.

As noted above, smoking crack produces a faster, shorter, and more intense high than snorting cocaine. The lungs rapidly absorb the inhaled drug and it reaches the brain in less than a minute. The concentration of crack in the blood peaks almost immediately. The drug’s effects last for 5–10 minutes. In contrast, snorting or injecting cocaine powder produces a high with a more gradual onset. Peak concentrations in the blood are achieved in 15–30 minutes and the effects last for up to 1 hour.

The faster and more intense high associated with crack makes it especially dangerous and increases the risk of abuse and addiction. Research has shown that the risk of addiction among crack users is up to three times higher than powdered cocaine users. [3] Crack cocaine use is more common in populations with a lower socioeconomic status, while powder cocaine is used by more affluent drug users. Both crack and powder cocaine use carry extremely high risks for abuse and addiction and can result in similar devastating consequences to a person’s life. 

The Crack Epidemic in the United States

Cocaine is smuggled into the United States mainly from Central and South America via the Mexico–US land border, with smaller quantities being imported through coastal routes from the Caribbean.

Crack first made its appearance in the United States in the early 1980s. The target consumer base was the economically weaker section of society. Crack quickly became popular due to its immediate effects, high profits, and relative affordability. The drug was easy to produce and cheap to buy, making it accessible to large numbers of less-affluent drug users. A pebble-sized piece of crack, equivalent to one-tenth of a gram of powder cocaine, sold for as little as $5 to $20. Crack usage soon became prevalent, especially in major US cities, including Los Angeles, Detroit, and New York.

As more and more crack users became addicted to the intense high, there was a surge in crack cocaine addiction in the mid-1980s in the US. Between 1984 and 1987, emergency-room visits related to cocaine use increased fourfold. [4] There was also a dramatic increase in crime during this same period. African-American populations living in poor, inner-city neighborhoods were hit particularly hard by the crack epidemic. As arrest rates soared, a campaign to combat the epidemic was launched, but unfortunately it resulted in unfair laws being passed.

Under the Reagan Administration, a “War on Drugs” was declared, mainly targeting crack cocaine users. The spread of misinformation convinced the public that crack was far more dangerous than cocaine. A law was passed in 1986 which penalized people for the possession of 5 grams of crack, with an equivalent punishment for 500 grams of cocaine.

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 mandated a minimum 5-year federal prison sentence for possession of 5 grams of crack cocaine or 500 grams of powdered cocaine. In 2010, the Fair Sentencing Act reduced this disparity from a 100:1 ratio to a 18:1 ratio. This disparity, although it is an improvement, still affects poor and minority populations unfairly. [5]

Crack Usage Trends and Statistics

  • The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) 2022 showed that among people in the US aged 12 years and older, 15% reported using powdered cocaine and 3.6% reported using crack at least once in their lifetime. Past-year use of cocaine was reported by 1.9% and of crack by 0.3% of people in this age group. Past-month use of cocaine was reported by 0.7% and of crack by 0.2% of the population. [6]
  • Recent data shows that the street price of powdered cocaine ranges between $90 to $160 per gram while that of crack is approximately $60 to $100 per gram depending on purity, demand and supply, location, and other factors. Because of its relatively lower cost, crack is more accessible for poorer Americans compared to powder cocaine which tends to be used by more affluent Americans.
  • African Americans have a higher chance of conviction for crack-related offenses. On the other hand, White people have a higher risk of conviction for powder cocaine offenses.
  • Many people believe that the harsher sentences associated with crack disproportionately penalize African-Americans. Roughly 80% of people sentenced for offenses involving crack are African American, even though two-thirds of crack users are Whites and Hispanics. [7]
  • The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2014 allowed shorter prison terms for non-violent drug offenders. This act lowered certain drug mandatory sentences and allowed federal judges to determine, on a case-by-case basis, when the harshest penalties should be applicable. It allowed nearly 9,000 federal prisoners (more than 85% of whom were African American) imprisoned for crack offenses to be resentenced. [8]
  • Even with the changes in laws, surveys show that crack users are at a higher lifetime risk of arrest and multiple arrests compared to powder cocaine users. [9]
  • Studies also show that the likelihood of violence associated with crack abuse is higher compared to powdered cocaine, although these differences are not significant when accounting for demographics, non-cocaine substance use, and mood disorders. [10]
  • Females are at lower risk than males of using both crack and powder cocaine. However, females have higher rates of addiction and co-occurring conditions.

Crack Methods of Use

The most common method of using crack is by heating the rock crystals in a glass pipe to produce vapors that are inhaled. The drug is absorbed by the lungs and directly enters the bloodstream. Some people smoke crack in a cigarette by sprinkling it on tobacco or marijuana.

Smoking crack appears to be less dangerous than injecting cocaine in terms of transmission of infections like HIV/AIDS, since it does not expose the user to needles. However, crack use is associated with high-risk sexual activity and sex-for-drugs transactions which can contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Moreover, although it is less commonly used this way, crack is sometimes used as an injectable drug. Injecting crack is preferred by many drug users because it increases the intensity and duration of the high. However, cocaine is a water-soluble powder, which makes it easy to inject. In contrast, drug users who want to inject crack must first transform the crystal rock into a soluble form that can be pulled into a syringe. Injection crack users accomplish this with various methods, such as mixing crack with acid (vinegar and lemon juice). [11]

Cost of Crack in the United States

Purity, availability, and location are key factors that drive the prices of illegal drugs at any given time. Crack is generally believed to be cheaper than cocaine. In fact, this was one of the reasons that led to the worsening crack problem in the United States in the 1980s. Crack is mostly sold by rock rather than gram weight, and it is difficult to compare crack prices to powder cocaine prices gram-for-gram. However, one study that was conducted across more than a dozen US cities revealed that crack is neither more nor less expensive than cocaine. [12]

The price of cocaine powder, from which crack is made, has been falling over the years. At the same time, the purity of cocaine has been increasing. In 2019 and 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted multiple cocaine trafficking supply lines, but did not impact the overall supply of the drug into the United States from Colombia—the primary source country from which cocaine is smuggled into the US. [13] The retail price of crack on the street varies greatly, depending on availability and purity. For example, in a low-income neighborhood where many dealers are competing for customers, 1 gram of crack may be available for as little as $20. In more affluent areas, where users are willing to pay more for purer crack, the price can be as high as $100 per gram.

Effects of Crack

Like cocaine, crack exerts its powerful effects by increasing the levels of a chemical called dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that regulates pleasure and reward. It is often called the “pleasure” chemical because it is responsible for the intense euphoria or high that drug users seek. In healthy people, dopamine is recycled, i.e., it re-enters the brain cells from which it was released, thus shutting down the signals to nerve cells to release more of it after a short period. Crack and cocaine block the brain’s recycling of dopamine. This results in high levels of dopamine building up in the brain. Over time, it can cause the brain’s reward circuitry to rewire itself in ways that cause intense drug cravings, leading to compulsive drug use.  

In people who use crack cocaine regularly, the brain adapts to the drug and develops a tolerance to it. This means users need to take bigger, more frequent doses of the drug to experience the same high or obtain relief from withdrawal symptoms. Taking more of the drug to overcome tolerance accelerates the addictive process, making it a vicious cycle that is hard to break out of.

Crack causes an intense, short-lived high during which the user experiences a euphoric “rush.” This is followed almost immediately by a crash, which is characterized by exhaustion, depression, anxiety, and irritability, and increased urges to eat and sleep. The effects of the crash can last several days. [14] [15]

After the crash, people addicted to crack enter a prolonged withdrawal phase, where they experience exhaustion, fatigue, irritability, and an inability to concentrate. This protracted withdrawal phase can last for up to 10 weeks and is characterized by intense drug cravings.

Risk Factors for Crack Addiction

Crack addiction is a public health problem not only in the United States but also in many other countries around the world, including Canada, Europe, Australia, and Mexico. The 2022 US National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that more than 10 million Americans had used crack at least once in their lifetime. [16]

Some of the risk factors for crack abuse and addiction include: [17]

  • Cocaine addiction: More than 60% of crack addicts have had cocaine dependence at some point in their lives.
  • Race/ethnicity: African-Americans are more likely to use crack but less likely than Whites to develop an addiction to crack.
  • Neighborhood: People living in poorer urban neighborhoods tend to have higher exposure to crack.
  • Social/economic disadvantage: Those who have lower levels of economic and social capital are at increased risk for all kinds of addiction, including crack addiction.
  • Family history: There is a known genetic link for addictive disorders. A family history of addiction increases a person’s risk.
  • Mental health: There is a high rate of co-morbidity between mental illness and addiction. People with mental health issues are more likely to develop an addiction.
  • Trauma: Having a history of trauma or experiencing adverse experiences as a child predisposes a person to addiction later in life.
  • Stress: People who are experiencing high levels of stress are more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol to cope, and when they do, they are more likely to become addicted than those using substances for social or enjoyment purposes.

Being predisposed to addiction does not mean that you will definitely develop a dependence on substances. While these factors can make you more vulnerable to addiction, they can only develop into an addiction when you choose to use drugs on a regular basis.

Signs of Crack Abuse

At first, people who abuse crack are typically able to hide their habit from people close to them. They are able to limit their crack use to certain times, maintain a normal schedule, and keep up with their responsibilities. Over time, the crack habit becomes more intense and starts taking over their lives. As a result, loved ones may begin noticing some of the following warning signs of crack abuse:

  • Becoming less reliable (e.g., missing work)
  • Borrowing or stealing money
  • Having unexplained financial problems (e.g., an inability to pay bills)
  • Acting strange or out of character
  • Lying or making excuses
  • Demonstrating frequent mood shifts such as irritability or anger
  • Withdrawing socially and seeming to enjoy isolation
  • Abandoning normal routines and previously enjoyed activities
  • Changing their social circle
  • Developing burns or sores on the lip or fingers
  • Having symptoms such as itchiness or scratching/picking of the skin
  • Showing restlessness or having trouble sitting still
  • Having a decreased need for sleep and food (possibly with weight loss)
  • Speaking in a fast or pressured manner

Health Consequences of Crack Abuse

Crack is a powerful stimulant that can cause irreversible damage to multiple organs in the body. [18] The damage done to the brain and body becomes more serious over time with continued use of the drug. Some of the health consequences of crack abuse and addiction include: [19] [20] [21]

  • Cardiac rhythm abnormalities
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Insomnia and sleep deprivation
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Convulsions
  • Increased risk of infections
  • Bronchospasms (narrowing of the airways in the lungs) 
  • Mental health effects, including irritability, anxiety, depression, and psychosis

Social Consequences of Crack Addiction

Besides the long list of negative health consequences, crack abuse and addiction also have profound social effects, such as: [22]

  • Increased violence and crime
  • Involvement of the criminal justice system
  • Unemployment due to inability to hold down a job
  • Financial troubles as a result of paying for the crack habit
  • Difficulties in interpersonal relationships

addict sitting on bench

Crack Babies

Babies who are exposed to crack cocaine during pregnancy (from maternal drug abuse) are at risk of several health complications. Crack-addicted mothers are at significantly higher risk of giving birth prematurely compared to women who do not abuse cocaine or other drugs. Crack-exposed infants have low birth weight, length, and head circumference. There is also a higher risk of birth defects in babies born to crack-addicted mothers.  Also, babies born to crack-addicted mothers have significant neurological abnormalities and inferior performance on behavioral assessment tests later in life. [23] Additionally, there are social consequences to crack use during pregnancy. When a baby tests positive for any illegal drug after birth, Child Protective Services get involved, and this often results in the baby being temporarily or permanently removed from the mother’s custody.

Crack Withdrawal

People who abuse crack cocaine, over time, develop a physical and psychological dependence on the drug. As a result, unpleasant and potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms develop when a drug user tries to quit or does not have access to another dose of crack. The presence of withdrawal symptoms is a characteristic of crack addiction. 

During the withdrawal period, the crack addict’s body and brain go through many changes, readjusting and relearning to function without crack cocaine in the system. For this reason, crack users often experience uncomfortable symptoms, such as:

  • Fatigue or exhaustion
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of motivation
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Mood swings
  • Paranoia or psychosis
  • Agitation
  • Uncontrolled shaking
  • Unpleasant or vivid dreams
  • Drug cravings

The appearance and severity of crack withdrawal symptoms depend on various factors, including the severity of crack abuse, the duration of the crack addiction, whether other drugs are also being abused, the user’s tolerance, and the presence of co-occurring mental health conditions and other addictions.

The duration of crack withdrawal symptoms varies with each person’s chemistry, metabolism, and underlying health status. Withdrawal symptoms typically begin within 72 hours of the last dose of crack. While the most severe symptoms usually abate in about a week, some physical symptoms of crack withdrawal can last for 2–3 months (this timeframe can vary greatly from person to person). Withdrawal symptoms that last more than 3–4 weeks are referred to as PAWS or post-acute withdrawal syndrome. The psychological symptoms of crack withdrawal can last even longer, up to 6 months, with the recovering addict experiencing drug cravings, obsessive thoughts, and vivid dreams about drug use. Fortunately, the most severe symptoms of crack cocaine withdrawal typically last about one week. Physicians can use a variety of medications to make crack withdrawal easier, including drugs to reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, treat insomnia, and lower the risk of seizures.

Crack Overdose

Crack is a form of cocaine, which is a stimulant drug. It produces excitement, energy, and alertness. Crack abuse can lead to physical effects such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature, in addition to the euphoric feelings that drug users seek. Since the effects of crack are short-lived, lasting about 5–10 minutes, addicts tend to use crack frequently, a phenomenon which is known as “overamping.” Crack binges not only put users on an accelerated path to addiction but also put them at risk of an overdose.

Crack overdose symptoms are similar to a cocaine overdose, since it is essentially the same drug in a different form. However, crack overdose symptoms can appear more rapidly than powder cocaine overdose symptoms. It can be difficult for users to tell the difference between a crack high and a crack overdose. This is especially true for first-time crack users, who are unfamiliar with the drug’s effects. Some drug users may use larger quantities or more frequent doses of crack without realizing the dangers, resulting in an overdose. The most common symptoms of crack overdose include:

  • Fever
  • Sweaty, clammy skin
  • Increased heart rate
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Itchy skin
  • Excess energy
  • Weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Upset stomach
  • Hallucinations
  • Violent behavior
  • Coma
  • Fast heart rate and high blood pressure

A crack overdose can occur even if someone is using the drug for the very first time. The cardiovascular effects of crack can lead to a heart attack or stroke, resulting in death. Mixing crack cocaine with other stimulant drugs poses an even higher risk of overdose. Other substances like alcohol and opioid drugs may counteract some of the effects of crack, but this practice is also dangerous because it can mask overdose symptoms, sometimes resulting in fatal outcomes.

Crack Addiction Treatment

People who have developed an addiction to crack typically require professional treatment at a drug rehab facility to overcome their dependence on the drug. Crack rehab programs are staffed by experts in addiction treatment who can use evidence-based treatments and tailor them to the patient’s needs.

It’s worth noting that while crack withdrawal is uncomfortable, it is usually not medically dangerous. Some people are able to withdraw from crack on their own. However, many people find that getting inpatient care at a crack rehab center is helpful in preventing relapse.

Stopping crack use is only one aspect of recovery. Continuing treatment with professional group or individual counseling is of vital important in addressing the root causes of addiction and teaching people more effective methods of coping. In addition, group counseling and support groups like NA or Smart Recovery can help people develop a support network of people they can rely on during times when they have cravings.

Crack addiction treatment teaches patients to recognize triggers and manage them in a healthy manner. Ultimately, the goal of crack addiction treatment is to help addicts make a new beginning, re-establish healthy relationships, and become positive contributing members of society once more. Although overcoming crack addiction is challenging, it is not impossible—in fact, most people who become addicted eventually do get clean and sober.

When to Call A Crack Hotline for Addiction

Crack is such a potent, addictive drug, and the sooner you call a hotline specializing in this kind of drug abuse, the better your chances are for a lasting recovery. Unfortunately, some people wait until they’ve hit “rock bottom.” Yet, research shows that early intervention can prevent many of the health, career, family, and legal troubles associated with crack addition before they become big problems.

You can call our crack cocaine hotline even if you are simply seeking information and are not yet ready to start treatment. Many people turn to our hotline to help a loved one or even if they are wondering about suspected crack use in someone they know and ways to prevent it.

What Happens When I Call a Crack Cocaine Helpline?

Many people hesitate to call a crack addiction hotline because they don’t know what to expect. It doesn’t help that the decision to make this call often needs to be made at a very confusing and scary time in a person’s life.

Fortunately, there are no right or wrong questions or topics when calling our crack addiction hotline. The advisors on the other end of the line are people who are trained and experienced in providing support. We can even connect you to treatment facilities in your community, if you are interested. On the other hand, if you just want someone to talk with, our addiction hotline can provide you with the support you need.

Calling our hotline can be an emotional experience. But you will find that doing so will release whatever frustrations, regrets, or fears you have bottled up about your life or the struggles of a loved one. Think of our crack addiction helpline as a helpful and understanding friend, an extended support network that you may not have among friends and family. There is no need to be embarrassed during your call. Speak frankly with the advisor to get the maximum benefit from your call. In fact, the more information you provide, the bigger the chances that we can find you the most appropriate crack addiction treatment.

Nobody needs to struggle with crack addiction alone. A simple call can change your life. Call the National Drug Helpline today and see for yourself what we mean.

Last updated: March 12, 2024

Hailey Shafir, M.Ed., LCMHCS, LCAS, CCS

Hailey Shafir is a licensed addiction specialist and mental health counselor. She graduated from North Carolina State University with a master of education in clinical mental health counseling in 2012, and has developed deep expertise in the areas of mental health, behavioral addictions and substance abuse. She is passionate about using this knowledge to raise awareness, provide clear and accurate information, and to improve the quality of treatment for these disorders.

Hailey is an LCMHCS (license number: S9539) under the North Carolina Board of Mental Health Counselors, and an LCAS (ID: LCAS-21333) and CSS (ID: CCS-20721) under the North Carolina Addictions Specialist Professional Practice Board.


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