Crack works in much the same way as cocaine 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 increased euphoria, energy, and alertness, as well as paranoia, confusion, and suicidal ideation.
The Difference Between Cocaine and Crack
The difference between crack and cocaine is that when smoking crack, the cocaine vapor gets absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs, which makes it work much faster than snorting it. Crack’s effects can be felt in less than five minutes, and using it leads to a more intense 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 by binging, which is smoking large amounts in a fairly short 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 smoke larger and larger amounts.
Users can become susceptible to full-blown psychosis from toxic levels of crack in their system. An overdose is possible also.
Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms
While the symptoms of crack withdrawal are very similar to those of cocaine, cocaine withdrawal symptoms are 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, symptoms typically not associated with cocaine.
Symptoms of crack withdrawal include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Agitation and mood swings
- Vivid nightmares and sleep disturbances
- Difficulty concentratingIncrease 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.
Someone undergoing crack detox may experience other, less common symptoms due to the unpredictability of the drug’s chemical makeup and purity levels.
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 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, actual withdrawal from crack is rarely, if ever, life-threatening. However, there are still several aspects of crack withdrawal that can put someone in a potentially fatal situation, especially if left unmonitored or during an unsupervised crack detox.
For example, many people 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 discomfort.
The intensity of these symptoms can, and frequently does, cause people to relapse mid-withdrawal. It can also cause them to binge a larger amount of crack than they usually would to get rid of their withdrawal symptoms, which can lead to a deadly overdose.
Another danger is the psychological effects of crack withdrawal symptoms. Feelings of severe depression and an increase in suicidal thoughts and behavior are pronounced, which could cause someone in crack detox to harm themselves or take their life.
If someone has been taking crack cut with something else or has been using it in conjunction with other drugs, they can experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. This can occur if someone attempts to detox from crack on their own.
While withdrawal from crack cannot directly kill you, the withdrawal symptoms can lead to potentially-fatal scenarios. These dangers are much more easily-avoided when you undergo detox at a professional medical detox center.
What Are the Stages of Crack Withdrawal?
There is no one answer on how long crack withdrawal lasts because each person’s experience is going to be different based on several unique factors. Those include:
- How long someone has been abusing crack
- How much crack they were taking
- Previous addictions in their past
- Signs of a co-occurring disorder or mental illness
- The current state of their overall general health
- If they attempt to stop using crack “cold turkey”
- If they are using crack with other drugs or alcohol
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 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 and usually go as follows:
- Crash Phase: The effects of crack peak even faster than cocaine, which means it has a much shorter half-life. This means 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 hours. 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.
First 15 Days
- Craving Phase: Once the crash phase ends, a majority of the physical symptoms will have passed, and the symptoms of depression and anxiety considerably subside.
- However, the psychological symptoms will peak. These can include intense crack cravings, mood swings, an inability to concentrate, and general restlessness.
Depending on the factors above, the crack craving phase can last anywhere from one week to 10 weeks. If someone was abusing large amounts of crack multiple times a day for an extended time, they are much more likely to have a longer craving phase.
- Extinction Phase: During this last stage of crack withdrawal, the majority of the symptoms will either completely disappear or significantly lessen. Users are still prone to random bouts of crack cravings and mild depression, which can sometimes linger for as long as six months.
What is Crack?
Crack cocaine, typically referred to as “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 the drug makes when it is heated and smoked.
Because it’s such a highly concentrated form of cocaine, it carries a more intense high and an even greater risk of addiction than cocaine in its powdered form. Yet, it is also absorbed differently into the body, even though it is chemically the same as cocaine.
Its use did not become widespread until the 1980s, but, from there, it rapidly grew into an epidemic in just a few short years. In fact, between 1982 and 1985, the number of cocaine users increased by 1.6 million people, according to Britannica.com.
Unlike the glamour and “prestige” associated with cocaine, which is considered the drug of choice for the wealthy and famous, crack sellers and distributors targeted economically-depressed areas. Similar to methamphetamine, crack is also seen as a “poor man’s cocaine.”
Under the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Controlled Substances Act, crack is a Schedule II Drug, which means it has a very high potential for abuse, but also has some degree of medicinal use.
This is due to the fact that crack and cocaine are considered the same drug, even though, 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, it remains a threat. Also, it is still possible for someone to get addicted to crack after a single use.
In 2015, roughly half a million Americans were reported as regularly using or dependent on crack, with teens among the most vulnerable demographic for abuse.
Short and Long-term Effects of Crack
In addition to those troubling withdrawal symptoms, there is a litany of disturbing effects that occur with crack. These effects can manifest immediately and after a period of long-term use. It’s worth noting that, depending on the composition of the drug, crack can also kill you after one use.
The Center for Substance Abuse Research relays the following are short-term symptoms that can result from crack use:
Short-Term Effects of Crack
- Intense euphoria
- Anxiety and paranoia
- Aggressive, paranoid behavior
- Sudden death – even one use can cause overdose or death
- Constricted peripheral blood vessels
- Increased rate of breathing
- Dilated pupils
- Increased blood pressure and heart rat
- eDecreased appetite
- Intense drug craving
The long-term effects, which are predictably more harrowing, as recorded by the Center for Substance Abuse Research, are:
Long-Term Effects of Crack
- Delirium or psychosis
- Brain seizures
- Heart attack and heart disease
- Tolerance and addiction, even after just one use
- Auditory and tactile hallucinations
- Respiratory failure
- Irritability and mood disturbances
- Reproductive damage and infertility (for both men and women)
- Sexual dysfunction (for both men and women)
- Reproductive damage and infertility (for both men and women)
- Increased frequency of risky behavior
Why Should I Do a Medical Crack Detox?
While cocaine detox is often done on an outpatient basis, crack detox can be more intense and unpredictable, and 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 higher 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 extreme 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 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 and dialectical 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.