Is crack cocaine taking over your life? Has your use of crack affected your family, career, and health? Crack is a powerful, addictive drug. It destroys lives. Luckily, help is easily available for those willing to make a simple call.

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

Substance Overview: Crack Cocaine

Legality

Illegal

Cost

Around $20 per gram and up

Annual deaths

7,000 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 normally comes in powder form. Both drugs are cultivated from the leaves of the coca plant native to Central and South America. Crack is a smokable form of cocaine that has been heavily abused in the US since the 1980’s, when it was first developed.

Crack consists of solid chunks of rock crystals varying in color from white to yellow to pale pink. 1 People abuse crack by heating the rock crystals, which produce vapors that are inhaled directly into the lungs, where it is then absorbed into the bloodstream. The name crack comes from the crackling sound the rocks make when they are heated.

Crack is an extremely potent form of cocaine that produces rapid stimulant effects when smoked. It is chemically identical to cocaine and differs only in how it is made and how it is used. Smoking crack produces a faster, shorter, and more intense high than snorting cocaine.

Crack cocaine has a range street names, including candy, rocks, base and chemical.

Difference Between Crack and Cocaine

Crack is almost chemically identical to cocaine and differs mainly in how it is made and how it is used. Powdered cocaine is mixed with water and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to produce a powder that can be snorted. Powder cocaine can be further processed into crack by boiling it into a substance that when cooled, can withstand higher temperatures. This results in a smokable form of cocaine.

Crack is usually manufactured by people without formal training in chemistry and who often use a microwave oven to make the drug. 2 Contaminants can be introduced during the crack extraction process affecting the purity of the drug. Adulterants and substitutes, such as glucose, talcum powder, and boric acid, are sometimes added to crack to increase its weight and increase profits. Some adulterants enhance the effects of crack, thereby putting users at risk who may be unaware of the drug’s potency.

Smoking crack produces a faster, shorter, and more intense high than snorting cocaine. The lungs rapidly absorb the drug and it reaches the brain in less than a minute. The concentration of crack in the blood peaks almost immediately and the effects last for 5-10 minutes. In contrast, snorting or injecting cocaine powder produces a more gradual onset with the blood reaching peak levels in 15-30 minutes and the effects lasting for up to 1 hour.

The faster and more intense the high is, the higher the likelihood of abuse and addiction. For this reason, the risk of addiction among crack users is estimated to be up to three times higher than powdered cocaine users. 3 Crack cocaine use is more closely associated with lower SES populations while powder cocaine is more often associated with more affluent users. Both crack and powder cocaine use carry high risks for abuse and addiction and can result in the same devastating consequences to a person’s life. 

The Crack Epidemic in the United States

Cocaine is imported into the United States mainly from Central and South America via the Mexico/America border or coastal routes from the Caribbean. The first appearance of crack was reported in the United States in the early 80’s, and poorer individuals were largely the target consumer base. Crack usage soon spread to other major US cities, including Los Angeles, Detroit, and New York.

Crack became popular due to its immediate effects, high profits, and relative affordability. Crack 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.

Users quickly became addicted to the intense high, leading to a surge in crack cocaine addictions in the mid-1980s. Between 1984 and 1987, emergency room visits related to cocaine use increased fourfold. 4 There was also a drastic increase in crime during this same period. African American populations living in poor, inner-city neighborhoods were particularly hit hard by the crack epidemic. Arrest rates soared, and a campaign to combat the epidemic resulted in unfair laws being passed.

Under the Reagan Administration, a “War on Drugs” was declared, and mainly targeted crack cocaine users. Misinformation was spread to convince the public that crack was far more dangerous than cocaine, and a law was passed in 1986 which penalized the possession of 5 grams of crack equivalent to 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 100:1 to 18:1, which is still a disparity that affects poor and minority populations. 5

Crack Usage Trends and Statistics

  • A nationwide representative sample of adults in the US found that 12% have used powdered cocaine and roughly 4% have used crack. 6
  • Because of its relatively lower cost, crack cocaine is accessible to 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, whites 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 proposes shorter prison terms for non-violent drug offenders. This would allow nearly 9,000 federal prisoners (more than 85% of whom are African-American) imprisoned for crack offenses to be resentenced.
  • Crack users are at higher lifetime risk of arrest and multiple arrests compared to powder cocaine users. 8
  • Studies 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. 9
  • Females are at lower risk of using both crack and powder cocaine. However, females tend to 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.

Moreover, although it is a less common method of use, crack is also used as an injectable drug in the United States. Injecting crack is preferred by many drug abusers because it increases the intensity and duration of the high. 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). 10

Cost of Crack in the United States

Price, purity, and availability are key factors that drive drug use and addiction over time. Crack is widely believed to be cheaper than cocaine. This was one of the reasons for 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 compared to cocaine. 11

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. 12The retail price of crack on the street reflects this change. Crack prices can vary 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 for purer crack, the price can be as high as $100 per gram.

Effects of Crack

Like cocaine, crack’s effects are the results of increased levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that regulates pleasure and reward. In healthy individuals, dopamine is recycled, i.e., it re-enters the cells from which it was released, thus shutting down the signals between nerve cells after a short period.

Crack and cocaine block the brain’s recycling of dopamine, which results in high levels of dopamine building up in the brain. Dopamine is often called the “pleasure” chemical because it is responsible for the pleasurable high drug users seek. Dopamine can cause the brain’s reward circuitry to rewire itself in ways that cause intense drug cravings, explaining the compulsive use.

Over time, the brain adapts to the drug and develops a tolerance to crack. This means users need to take bigger, more frequent doses of the drug to experience the same high or obtain relief from withdrawal. Taking more of a drug to overcome tolerance accelerates the addictive process.

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.  13 14

After the crash period, those addicted to crack will enter into a prolonged withdrawal phase where they experience exhaustion and fatigue, irritability, and an inability to concentrate. This protracted withdrawal phase can last for up to ten weeks, and is also characterized by drug cravings.

Risk Factors for Crack Addiction

Crack addiction is a public health problem not only in the United States, but also in Canada, Europe, Australia, and Mexico. The 2007 US National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that more than 8.5 million Americans had used crack at least once in their lifetime. Some of the risk factors for crack abuse and addiction include: 15

  • 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.
  • Neighborhoods: People living in poorer urban neighborhoods tend to have a 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 in addictive disorders, and 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, and people with mental health issues are much more likely to develop an addiction.
  • Trauma: Having a trauma history or experiencing adverse experiences as a child predisposes a person to addiction in later 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, are more likely to become addicted than those using for social or enjoyment purposes.

Being predisposed to an addiction does not guarantee that you will develop one. While these factors can make you more vulnerable to addiction, they can only develop into an addiction when a person chooses to use drugs, normally on a regular basis.

Signs of Crack Abuse

At first, people who abuse crack may be able to hide their habit from people close to them. They may be containing their use to certain times and be able to maintain their normal schedule and responsibilities. Over time, this becomes less true, and loved ones may begin noticing some of the following warning signs:

  • Becoming less reliable (i.e. missing work)
  • Borrowing or stealing money
  • An unexplained inability to pay bills
  • Someone acting strange or out of character
  • Frequent mood shifts
  • More irritability
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Abandoning normal routines or activities
  • A change in a person’s social circle
  • Burns or sores on the lip or fingers
  • Itchiness or scratching/picking of the skin
  • Restlessness or trouble sitting still
  • Decreased sleeping and eating (possibly weight loss)
  • Fast or pressured speech
  • Lying or making excuses

Health Consequences of Crack Abuse

Crack is a powerful stimulant that can lead to irreversible damage to multiple organs 16 The damage done to the brain and body become more serious over time. Some of the health consequences of crack abuse and addiction include: 17 18  19

  • Cardiac rhythm abnormalities
  • Increased heart rate or blood pressure
  • Increased risk of heart attack or stroke
  • Insomnia and sleep deprivation
  • Loss of appetite, weight loss
  • Convulsions
  • Increased risk of infections
  • Lung spasms (bronchospasms) 
  • Mental health effects including irritability, anxiety, depression, and psychosis

Social Consequences of Crack Addiction

Besides the host of negative health consequences, crack abuse and addiction can also have profound social effects, such as: 20

  • Increased violence and crime
  • Involvement with 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

Crack Babies

Babies who are exposed to crack cocaine during the pregnancy due to maternal drug abuse are at risk of several health complications. Crack-exposed infants have lower birth weight, length, and head circumference. Crack addicted mothers are at significantly higher risk of giving birth prematurely compared to women who do not abuse cocaine or other drugs. Also, babies born to crack addicted mothers have significant neurological abnormalities and inferior performance on behavioral assessment tests. There is also a higher risk of birth defects in babies born to crack-addicted mothers. 21 When a baby tests positive for any drug after being born, child protective services gets 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 develop a physical and psychological dependence on the drug. Crack addiction is characterized by the presence of withdrawal symptoms when an addict tries to quit or does not have access to a dose of crack.

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

  • Fatigue/exhaustion
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of motivation
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Mood swings
  • Paranoia or psychosis
  • Agitation, shaking
  • Unpleasant, vivid dreams
  • 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, the user’s tolerance, and the presence of co-occurring mental health conditions and other addictions.

The duration of crack withdrawal varies with each addict’s chemistry and metabolism. Withdrawal symptoms typically begin within 72 hours of the last dose of crack. Physical symptoms of crack withdrawal can last 2-3 months, but the 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 up to 6 months with the addict experiencing cravings, obsessive thoughts, and vivid dreams about drug use. However, the most severe symptoms of crack cocaine withdrawal typically last about one week. Physicians use a variety of medications to make crack withdrawal easier, including drugs to reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, treat insomnia, and lessen 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 like increased heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature, in addition to euphoric feelings. 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 cocaine overdose since it is a form of the same drug. However, crack overdose symptoms can appear more rapidly than powder cocaine. It is sometimes 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 may use larger quantities or more frequent doses of crack, 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
  • Rapid 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 they are no less dangerous because they can mask overdose symptoms, sometimes resulting in fatal outcomes.

Crack Addiction Treatment

People who have developed an addiction to crack often require 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 tailor the therapies to the patient’s needs.

While crack withdrawal is uncomfortable, it is usually not medically dangerous. Some people are able to withdraw from crack on their own while others find that getting inpatient care is helpful in preventing relapse.

Stopping crack is one aspect of recovery, but professional group or individual addiction counseling is also important in addressing root causes of addiction and teaching people more effective methods of coping. Group counseling or support groups like NA or Smart Recovery can also help people develop a support network of people they can rely on during times when they have cravings.

During crack addiction treatment, patients learn 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 again. While overcoming crack addiction is difficult, it is possible and in fact, most people who become addicted eventually do get clean and sober.

When to Call A Crack Hotline for Addiction

Since crack is such a potent, addictive drug, the sooner you call a hotline specializing in this kind of drug abuse, the better your chances are for a lasting recovery. Some people think they need to wait until hitting “rock bottom”. This is not the case. Early intervention can prevent career, health, family, and legal troubles before they begin.

In fact, you can call our crack cocaine hotline even if you are simply seeking information. Many people turn to our hotline when wondering about suspected crack use or ways to prevent it.

What happens when I call a crack Cocaine Helpline?

Some people hesitate to call a crack addiction hotline because they don’t know what to expect. The decision to call can come at a very confusing, scary time in a person’s life.

There is no right or wrong question or topic when calling an addiction hotline. The people on the other end of the phone are people who can provide support and even help connect you to treatment if you are interested. Even if you just want to talk, an addiction hotline can provide you with this support.

Calling can be an emotional experience. Whatever fears, frustrations, or regrets you have bottled up about your life or the struggles of a loved one may be released. That’s okay. Our crack addiction helpline is meant to be an extended support network. There is no need to be embarrassed or restrained. In fact, the more information you provide allows the hotline an opportunity to find you the most appropriate care.

Nobody needs to struggle with crack addiction alone. A simple call may change your life.

Last updated: September 9, 2020

About the author

Hailey Shafir
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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