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The No.1 drug synonymous with the 1980s urban drug scene is crack. During that decade and into the early 1990s, crack use surged and was seen in many major US cities, especially in urban areas where crime and violence were widespread. The popular street drug first emerged on the scene in the late 1970s, the time when drug dealers produced it in response to falling prices brought on by the surplus of cocaine supply in the United States. 

In response to the lower prices, drug dealers made cocaine powder into a solid rock form that could be broken into small chunks and smoked with a glass hand pipe or water pipe. The process to make the new drug was cheap and simple to carry out, and dealers made larger profits by selling smaller quantities of this new, highly addictive form of cocaine. 

Because crack is cheaper than cocaine, it is sold at prices that make it easy for just about anyone to obtain, including teenagers and young adults. The expenses begin to pile up, however, as users try to pay for a crack habit in which the desires for it grow stronger with each use. For many people, all it takes is one time to get hooked on this drug. One hit sparks cravings for more of the drug, which all lead to adverse effects, including addiction.

What Is Crack?

Crack is a potent crystallized version of cocaine, a stimulant, that became popular in the mid-1980s. The rock crystal, or freebase cocaine, is processed with other ingredients, such as baking soda or ammonia, and heated. After that, users inhale the vapors to get an immediate, intense, euphoric high that lasts no more than five to 10 minutes. 

The name “crack” refers to the crackling sound of the rock as it is heated. Rocks can appear yellow, white, or pale pink. 

The most common way to use crack is to smoke it, which produces a stronger high because it hits the bloodstream faster. However, some users may opt to dissolve it into an acidic solution, such as one containing lemon juice or vinegar, and inject it, or they may snort it. In addition to the rush feeling, users also may experience increased alertness, excitability, and increased heart rate, among other effects. 

Once crack reaches the brain, it affects its levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter chemical that is linked to pleasure and is part of the brain’s reward center. When crack interacts with the brain, the reward center is altered, and users will crave the drug to satisfy the brain’s demand for more crack. 

Alternative names for crack include Candy, Cookies, Flake, Gravel, Nuggets, and Rock, among many others.

What Are the Signs of Crack Addiction?

  • Higher tolerance levels for crack. Prolonged use increases tolerance, which results in users taking more of the drug to achieve stronger effects
  • Becoming preoccupied with finding and using crack
  • Feeling unable to stop using crack despite previous attempts
  • Using illegal methods to obtain crack, such as stealing from others
  • Withdrawal symptoms that occur when crack use stops or is reduced

Crack withdrawal symptoms include depression, irritability, extreme fatigue, anxiety, strong cravings for crack, and possibly psychosis, which is when a mental disorder causes users to lose touch with and disconnect from reality.

What Is Involved in Crack Addiction Treatment?

People in active crack addiction who want to end their dependence on the drug will likely need to seek professional treatment at a licensed drug rehab facility. This ensures they safely detox from the drug and manage uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms to help avoid a relapse. Detox is traditionally the first step to take before the start of an addiction recovery program. Crack users are strongly advised not to quit the drug abruptly, or cold turkey. Doing so can do more harm than good. 

Professional treatment starts with a 24-hour medically monitored detox that is administered by medical care personnel who understand addiction and what is needed for a successful recovery. During this process, clients’ vitals are observed, such as their heart rate and breathing rate, and they may be given medications for nausea, insomnia, and other conditions that make withdrawal a challenging period. 

Medical professionals also may decide to have their clients go through a taper process in which they are slowly and safely weaned off the addictive drug as they work toward stability. 

After stability has been achieved during the detox process, which can last three to seven days or longer, depending on the severity of addiction, the next step is to enter a recovery program. Enrolling in such a program gives you or your loved one the time needed to face crack addiction head-on and learn how to maintain full-time sobriety. There are plenty of options available to ensure that your recovery program meets your unique needs.

Popular ones include detox, residential treatment, and outpatient treatment. Residential treatment requires at least a 30-day stay and, therefore, requires more commitment than an outpatient program. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to drug recovery, but research shows treatment that lasts a minimum of 90 days, or three months, is the most effective for significantly reducing or stopping drug use. 

Treatment for crack addiction may include cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches recovering users how thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes affect behavior. Life skills and healthy coping strategies are also taught in recovery treatment programs.

How Dangerous Is Crack?

Crack is a stimulant that affects the central nervous system and places a strain on the body, which can worsen with each use. Not getting help for a crack addiction could very well mean dealing with a host of health problems during one’s use, and many of them are life-threatening.

Users who smoke the drug repeatedly to chase the highs they felt when they started using the drug are also developing a tolerance for the drug, which means they need more of it to achieve the desired effects. Increased drug use is risky and can lead to overdose and death. Users are on a slippery slope as they continue to use the drug to avoid uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Use can lead to overdose, and overdose can lead to death.

Prolonged crack addiction can result in many physical and mental health complications for users. Severe depression, mood disturbances, aggressive and paranoid behavior as well as brain seizures are among them. Chronic users may also experience respiratory failure, stroke, and heart attack and heart disease. They also are at risk of developing “crack lung,” an injury to the lung that develops over time due to the long-term smoking of crack. Fever and respiratory failure are signs of this condition.

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Crack Abuse Statistics

  • The cocaine market is the second-largest drug market after that of cannabis (valued at between $183 billion and $287 billion). It is valued at between $94 billion and $143 billion, according to a report by Global Financial Integrity.
  • In 2015, among people age 12 and older in the U.S., 38,744,000 people had used cocaine at least once in their lifetime; 1,876,000 people had used cocaine in the past month.
  • As of 2016, Colombia was the No. 1 global producer of coca, the plant from which cocaine is produced.

Start Your Journey to Recovery Today

If you or someone you love is struggling with crack addiction, call Pathway to Hope at 844-311-5781 to learn more about your treatment options. We can help you find a program that’s ideal for you. If you would like to join a network of support after your program ends, we offer an alumni program that connects you with people who are on the path to recovery and lasting sobriety.


Mavrellis, C, (March, 2017). Transnational Crime and the Developing World. Global Financial Integrity. Retrieved September, 2018 from

(September, 2016). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. SAMHSA. Retrieved September, 2018 from

(January, 2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved September, 2018 from

(January, 2016). Prevalence of Cocaine and Crack Use in the US by Demographic Characteristics. Drug War Facts. Retrieved September, 2018 from

Tharoor, A, (April, 2017). Report: Global Drug Trafficking Market Worth Half a Trillion Dollars. Talking Drugs. Retrieved September, 2018 from

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