Crack is one of two main forms of the street drug cocaine. Although all cocaine comes from the coca plant, the difference comes from how the drug is produced and consumed. When using the powder form of cocaine, users generally snort the drug through their nostrils or dissolve it in water so that they can inject it into their veins. Crack cocaine, on the other hand, can only be smoked. Crack, which is usually mixed with baking soda or sodium hydroxide, looks like a rock or a crystal. When heated, crack produces smoke and makes a crackling sound, which is how it got its name.
When a person smokes crack, he or she experiences a “high,” or an intensely euphoric feeling. People who smoke crack get a short burst of confidence and energy. Crack can cause an addiction very quickly. When a person uses crack, his or her brain gets a rush of dopamine. Dopamine is one of the brain’s main “reward system” chemicals. A release of dopamine makes people feel good. The brain produces dopamine naturally, and small amounts of dopamine help people survive. A huge rush of dopamine, however, causes damage. The brain gets used to this larger amount of dopamine, and that’s why people experience strong cravings for crack cocaine.
A crack high doesn’t last very long. The euphoria and confidence will leave after five or ten minutes.
To prolong the high, people usually consume crack in binges, smoking it over long periods of time. Eventually, though, the high has to end, and then the crash arrives. During a crash, a person might experience any or all of the following symptoms:
- Overall unwell feeling
Each crash, therefore, acts like its own withdrawal. Often, the only thing that can ease these symptoms is more crack. Thus the addiction cycle continues.
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What Causes Withdrawal?
As mentioned above, crack floods the brain with dopamine. The human brain was not built to sustain this level of dopamine, so it responds by getting rid of dopamine receptors. In other words, the brain numbs its own ability to feel normal amounts of pleasure. It gets used to this larger dopamine rush. When a person stops using drugs like crack, his or her brain will have to get used to normal amounts of dopamine again. Eventually, the brain’s dopamine receptors will start to heal, but until then, it will crave the rush. Without the drugs, a person going through withdrawal will experience a range of unpleasant symptoms.
Withdrawal from some drugs causes physical symptoms like nausea. Crack, however, causes more psychological symptoms than physical symptoms. The biggest physical symptom of crack withdrawal is insomnia, though a few people have also reported general aches and pains. The more common psychological symptoms look the same as the symptoms of a crash, though they may arrive more strongly.
What to Do About Withdrawal
Thankfully, crack withdrawal doesn’t last very long compared to other drugs. Crack exits the body quickly. While this does mean that withdrawal begins within a day, it also means that symptoms often go away within five days. The longest crack withdrawals last three or four weeks, but this is rare.
During this time, one can detox in a medical facility. For most crack users, medical detox provides the best option. Although there is currently no medication approved for crack withdrawal, the doctors in a detox facility can provide medication as needed for sleep issues and pain relief. The staff at a medical detox facility can also give support, keeping the patient as comfortable and as healthy as possible during detox.
Although it is possible to detox from home, a person with a crack addiction will find this option much more difficult. At home, the individual might face more temptation to relapse. Anyone who chooses to detox from home should make sure he or she has access to medical care.
After withdrawal symptoms subside, a crack user should seek further treatment to address the issues behind the addiction. A drug recovery program and further counseling can help an addicted person find healthier coping mechanisms.
According to one study, childhood abuse contributed to 60% of crack use.
Your First Step to Recovery
If you want to quit using crack but don’t know how you’ll handle withdrawal, we can help you find the support you’ll need to get through it.