Prior to the opioid crisis that’s plaguing the nation, there was another drug epidemic that wreaked havoc across the United States. In the 1980s and 1990s, cocaine was the most significant threat to public health throughout the states, and it was responsible for stealing the lives of thousands of people each year. In 1985, more than 12 million people used cocaine, which is a figure that dropped an astounding 50 percent by 1990, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Crack, which derives from powdered cocaine, had a dire impact on the culture and health of the United States when addiction and overdoses ramped up. Although the numbers have dropped dramatically over the years, what is it about crack that represents such an addiction problem? Continue reading to learn more about crack dependence, addiction, and how what causes withdrawal symptoms.
What Is Crack?
Crack comes from cocaine which is a stimulant substance derived from the coca plant. This plant is indigenous to South America and was used as traditional medicine by natives for thousands of years. When you chew the leaves from the plant, it delivers stimulating effects that include increased energy and wakefulness and numbing of the mouth. In 1855, the active ingredient from the drug was isolated, and by the 1870s was used for medicinal purposes.
Cocaine is known for its potent stimulant properties, feelings of empowerment, and euphoria, which is why it’s such a popular recreational drug. However, it can also produce an increase in heart rate, hallucinations, paranoia, and itching. When someone uses cocaine in higher doses, it can lead to something known as stimulant psychosis, which is when the drug produces psychotic symptoms attributed to schizophrenia.
If someone overdoses on cocaine, it can lead to fever, cardiac arrest, tremors, arrhythmia, and sudden cardiac death. If you believe you or someone you’re with has overdosed on cocaine, you must get help immediately and call 911.
Cocaine is also incredibly addictive and may lead to chemical dependency or a severe substance use disorder. Cocaine dependency can cause uncomfortable, or in some cases, severe withdrawal symptoms once the effects of the drug wear off.
The primary ingredient in crack is cocaine, but it goes through an additional step to convert the substance into its freebase form. Cocaine doesn’t burn, so it’s typically snorted to experience the effects. Crack cocaine burns easily, meaning it can be smoked, leading to a much quicker high. Although crack highs are short-lived, they’re incredibly intense, which is what the user will become addicted to having. A crack high will cause intense euphoria before an uncomfortable comedown. Since the high is short, the user will binge on it, and crack works in our brain by blocking the reuptake process of serotonin and dopamine in the brain.
What that means is the naturally occurring chemicals in the brain that cause motivation and excitement are prevented from being recycled or removed, which causes a buildup in your brain. However, for someone on a crack binge, their brain will release dopamine and need some time to produce more, meaning each hit in a binge is weaker than the last.
Binging on crack can lead to physical and psychological consequences like psychosis and addiction. Stimulant psychosis is caused by those who binge for long periods and don’t get the necessary amount of sleep. Once a person becomes chemically dependent on a drug, they’ll experience withdrawal symptoms upon abrupt cessation.
What are the Crack Withdrawal Symptoms?
Crack cocaine has significant effects on the chemicals in your brain that are tied to reward and motivation. The chemical it has the most considerable impact on, dopamine, causes feelings of empowerment, excitement, alertness, and focus.
When a person uses crack for a prolonged period or heavy doses, your brain will get used to the psychoactive effects, and your normal brain chemistry will start relying on crack and elevated levels of dopamine to function normally. If you stop using the drug, your brain chemistry will be unbalanced, and take some time to adjust back to the level it was before you started using crack.
Since crack affects the chemicals tied to energy levels and mood, the most common effects of withdrawal will appear as psychological symptoms, but muscle pain, nausea, and extreme fatigue may also be prevalent at this time. Some users report the comedown from crack is more unpleasant and intense than powder cocaine. Since crack effects are powerful and wear off quickly, the comedown may also be worse.
Crack users also report extremely intense physical symptoms that include aches and pains, discomfort, and tremors. Other common symptoms of crack withdrawal include the following:
- Muscle pain
- Mood swings
- Suicidal thoughts or action
Although crack withdrawal symptoms aren’t life-threatening, they are incredibly uncomfortable and can lead to suicidal thoughts, which can be life-threatening. Despite the actual symptoms not causing concern from a medical standpoint, going through the process alone is risky. A crack binge can cause havoc on your physical and mental health, especially when it continues for days, weeks, or months. When a person stays awake for several days on crack, they can develop psychosis or extreme fatigue that requires immediate medical care.
Crack itself can cause severe depression and suicidal thoughts. If you experience these extreme emotions when you stop using crack, it’s crucial to understand your brain is going through a chemical readjustment that will lead to emotional turmoil. You must speak to a professional or call for help if you experience suicidal thoughts or severe depression.
Crack Cocaine Withdrawal Timeline
It’s important to note that each person will experience the crack cocaine withdrawal timeline differently. Some of the factors that influence the timeline include how much you last used and the size of your standard dose. However, below we’ll address a general pattern of the crack withdrawal timeline. Here is what you can expect moving forward:
- One to 12 hours: Crack withdrawal symptoms can appear as soon as one hour after the last dose, and they will typically manifest within the first 12 hours after the last hit, which is known as the comedown phase. It can include depression, anxiety, insomnia, exhaustion, increased appetite, agitation, and paranoia. This portion of withdrawal can last several days, although some symptoms will peak and subside within 24 hours.
- Three to ten days: Once the initial crash subsides, you’ll experience psychological symptoms like depression and anxiety. You will also notice powerful drug cravings as the brain feels the full effects of the drug it became accustomed to using being taken away. Psychological symptoms will disappear after around seven to ten days but will last longer without treatment.
- One to six months: Without professional help, psychological symptoms and cravings will last for a while. Addiction treatment will treat the underlying issues that contributed to substance use, like poor mental health. You will also learn how to cope with triggers and drug cravings without giving in to your temptation to use.
Crack Cocaine Detox
Crack withdrawal is treated in a medical detox facility or a hospital setting. During a stint in medical detox for crack cocaine withdrawal, you’ll be monitored around the clock and treated with medications that alleviate the worst symptoms you face. The objective of medical detox is to ensure you’re safe, comfortable and avoid potential complications that could arise. Although it’s not life-threatening, drug detox is unpredictable, and checking yourself into a secure setting will ensure your symptoms are kept to a minimum. During detox, physical or mental health issues will be addressed to determine the following steps needed.
In detox, you’ll craft a treatment plan that helps determine the following steps. Clinicians will connect you to the next level of care that’s appropriate for your needs. If you have a history of relapse or severe crack addiction, you’ll need intensive care to address your addiction effectively. Despite getting sober, you could experience psychological symptoms and cravings for a long time until your brain chemistry returns to normal, and checking into an inpatient or residential treatment center will be the best option to maintain sobriety in the long term.
If you’re struggling with crack addiction and you’re afraid of experiencing withdrawal symptoms, it’s time to seek the help that will change your life.