Crack Addiction: Symptoms, Signs and Side Effects

Crack-cocaine is a concentrated form of cocaine that can be smoked for a potent high with a rapid onset and short duration. Since the effects only last for a short period, people often smoke crack multiple times in a row to maintain its pleasant effects, which can include euphoria, confidence and physical and mental energy.

Unfortunately, this pattern of use can quickly lead to addiction. Crack addiction symptoms include the following signs of tolerance and withdrawal:

  • Needing larger or more potent doses of crack to achieve the same effects
  • Using crack in larger amounts or over longer periods than intended
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms like depression, fatigue and paranoia

People who use crack-cocaine frequently have histories of trauma and struggle to cope with mental health issues in stressful environments with limited resources. While crack addiction can be difficult to overcome, a better life is possible with professional treatment.  

Symptoms of Crack Abuse

Crack-cocaine addiction affects every aspect of a person’s life. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the primary reference guide for psychiatric diagnosis, defines substance use disorders not only by signs of physiological dependence, like tolerance and withdrawal, but also by the effect a substance has on a person’s finances, relationships, physical health and performance at work and school. Signs and symptoms of crack-cocaine abuse include:

  • Using crack in circumstances in which it is physically dangerous, like driving a car
  • Continuing to use crack despite medical, financial, legal or interpersonal problems
  • Maintaining crack use at the expense of being able to function at school or work

Crack addiction can affect anyone regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic status. The powerful psychological compulsion to continue using crack impacts the judgment of everyone who uses it.

Side Effects of Crack

Crack-cocaine stimulates the central nervous system (CNS) and triggers the release of excessive amounts of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, learning and decision-making. Stimulating the CNS can also activate the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), trigger the fight-or-flight response and stimulate the release of adrenaline. The side effects of crack reflect the psychological and physical consequences of this internal chain reaction, and include:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Aggression
  • Dilated pupils
  • Loss of appetite
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased body temperature

The withdrawal effects of crack reflect the opposite process in the body. As dopamine levels fall and the CNS slows down, people may feel depressed and tired and crave the drug to counteract these effects.

Side Effects of Long-Term Crack Abuse

Long-term crack abuse can cause people to develop long-term psychological and medical problems. Overstimulation of the CNS and SNS can cause imbalances of key brain chemicals. Recurrent episodes of depression and anxiety caused by these imbalances may develop into chronic anxiety or mood disorders over time.

Many people who use crack-cocaine have histories of childhood neglect and trauma. Co-occurring mental health conditions associated with crack-cocaine use include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders and personality disorders. Crack-cocaine use measurably and predictably impairs memory and other cognitive functions.

Recent research shows that people who use crack-cocaine are more likely to have the psychological trait of anxiety sensitivity, which increases the risk of developing PTSD and intensifies a wide range of mental health conditions. People with anxiety sensitivity may have a harder time completing addiction treatment programs than people who do not have this trait.

Crack use also has powerful effects on the body. Regular crack consumption can negatively impact on blood pressure, blood flow and heart rate and may cause people to develop cardiac conditions and even go into cardiac arrest. Using any form of cocaine can cause stroke and raise overall inflammation levels, which contribute to a wide variety of non-cardiac health problems. Renal problems related to cocaine use can lead to kidney failure. Crack-cocaine use damages the immune system and can accelerate the progression of HIV and other diseases.

Over time, crack-cocaine use can lead to an interconnected series of lung problems colloquially referred to as “crack-lung,” including fluid in the lungs and alveolar hemorrhage, a potentially fatal complication of damage to blood vessels in the lungs. These issues increase susceptibility to infectious diseases like tuberculosis.

Signs of Crack Overdose

Contrary to popular myth, it is possible to overdose on any form of cocaine. An overdose occurs when a drug reaches toxic levels in a person’s system and causes medical complications. A crack overdose can cause a broad range of cardiac complications, including constricted blood vessels, increased heart rate and increased blood pressure. The psychiatric effects of crack overdose may include hallucinations and other symptoms of psychosis. Crack overdoses can be fatal when they cause heart attacks, severe lung damage or stroke.

Crack is a dangerous drug, but it’s possible to recover from crack addiction before suffering an overdose or experiencing other serious crises. Building a strong support system and participating in a treatment program dramatically improves the chances of maintaining abstinence and long-term recovery.

If you need treatment for crack-cocaine addiction in the state of Washington, contact The Recovery Village Ridgefield. A representative can answer your questions, talk to you about treatment options and help you find the program that’s right for you.