The Long-Term Effects of Crack Cocaine Addiction on Users
Crack cocaine is a well-known substance with a hard and mineral-like appearance that is colored off-white. Other names for crack cocaine include sleet, kryptonite, cookies, candy, base, or rock(s). It is cocaine’s crystalline form as the drug is usually found in powder form. Crack is formed when ammonia or baking soda is mixed into cocaine powder, thus drying to form the crystals, which are smokable and more potent. The name ‘crack’ comes from the popping and crackling sound that is typically made when the substance is heated prior to smoking it. Crack is cocaine’s most potent form and has a percentage purity of roughly 75% to 100%. Even though there is a very high risk when one uses cocaine in any form, crack is the riskiest form to use.
Smoking crack enables the substance to get to the brain at a faster rate, thus generating an immediate and intense high that is very short-lived lasting for only 15 minutes more or less. Anyone who tries crack for the very first time can easily become addicted since addiction to the substance may develop even faster if it is smoked instead of snorted.
Since cocaine is so expensive, it has always been deemed a rich person’s drug, but crack is sold so cheaply that even teenagers can afford it initially. In essence, when someone develops an addiction to crack cocaine, the expense tends to escalate directly in relation to the additional amounts he or she will require in order to support this habit. Crack cocaine was developed initially in the 1970s during the cocaine boom and its use was enormously popularized in the mid-1980s more so in urban areas. It is currently a highly popular and problematic drug because it is cheap to produce and buy.
After producing crack from cocaine powder, it is formed as a white-yellowish rock, which is then broken or cut to for smaller rocks that weigh roughly several tenths of a gram. Generally, crack cocaine is smoked using a water pipe or a glass hand pipe. Less commonly, the drug has been snorted and injected intravenously. A majority of users have reported having combined crack with other drugs such as marijuana and heroin during use to produce various, and increasingly intense effects. Users of crack cocaine can also rub it onto the gums for oral use. Crack is also dissolved in water and injected into the bloodstream, which releases the drug into the bloodstream directly thus intensifying the desired effects. Smoking of crack cocaine involves inhalation of the drug’s smoke or vapor into the lungs for absorption into the bloodstream to take place. This ensures the effects are produced and peak quickly only to end after 2 to 20 minutes.
Given that crack is a highly potent stimulant, using the drug can give the user a euphoric high instantly. The stimulant’s effects on the user’s body will greatly increase certain physical and mental processes thus enhance increasing his or her energy levels and giving one a feeling of control. Given that the methods of crack use usually ensure the users feel the effects quickly and for a short time, users typically abuse the drug in binges. This binging and crashing cycle of crack abuse increases the risk of dependence, tolerance, and addiction. People who use crack typically want to experience the following the effects:
- A reduced appetite
- An increased sense of alertness
- A feeling of increased self-importance and sense of self
- A feeling of intense euphoria
However, these desired effects become replaced with negative effects, as is the case with other drugs of abuse. As mentioned before it is very easy to develop an addiction to crack cocaine since it is a highly potent substance not to mention it can happen very fast for any first-time user. This addiction can be attributed to the fact that the euphoria experienced is extremely short and pleasurable for the user that he or she needs to take more of the drug to even feel normal. Once the user reaches this point, he or she will start experiencing withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop using the drug. The reason for this is that crack encourages the production of excessive dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical produced in the brain and it is responsible for feelings of happiness. Smoking crack greatly diminishes dopamine’s natural production in the brain.
Users who have developed an addiction to crack will abuse the substance compulsively without caring about the negative consequences of this. Someone with a crack addiction may:
- Experience legal problems from their crack use
- Spend money on crack without taking care of any bills due
- Present a behavioral change or change in personality
- Change activities and interests
- Ruin former relationships
Crack use alone is not a sign that someone has an addiction to the drug but given how addictive the drug is, users are likely to develop an addiction sooner or later. One of the primary reasons why addiction develops is physical dependence. Physical dependence is a reference to the point when the user’s body starts acting like it needs the drug in order to exhibit proper functioning. Someone with a dependency on crack will experience the distressing withdrawal symptoms of the drug frequently unless he or she takes the drug.
Short-Term Effects of Crack
Using crack generally produces more intense short-term mental and physical effects on users in comparison to using powdered cocaine. The effects produced by crack are also quite similar to other stimulants that are commonly abused including methamphetamine. Considering crack is normally made from cocaine that is inconsistent in quality and purity in unregulated settings, the exact effects of the drugs will differ significantly but they generally include:
- An intense craving to use the drug almost immediately after the high comes down
- An elevated heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure
- Enlarged or dilated pupils
- Reduced appetite or appetite loss
- Increased state of excitement
- A feeling of euphoria
- Increased breathing rate
- Dilation of the pupils
Even though crack users claim to experience a high or a feeling of euphoria when on the drug, there is a paradox in the drawbacks associated with using crack for any specified period. For one, the initial feelings of euphoria can rapidly become feelings of paranoia and depression. Users with crack-induced paranoia may find themselves believing that other people want to attack them, they are being followed, or someone is attempting to get into their place of residence. This may result in unprovoked attacks or behavioral aggression on other people, thus causing dangerous situations both for the user and for any innocent bystanders.
The intense but fleeting euphoria associated with crack use can pale in comparison to the negative effects that follow soon after. However, these negative side effects can also be as variable as the desired effects and they include:
- Sudden death caused by stroke or heart attack
- Paranoid, aggressive behavior
- Abdominal pain
- Psychosis and panic
- An intense craving for the drug
- Tactile hallucinations whereby the user gets the illusion that there are bugs burrowing beneath the skin
- Violent, erratic or bizarre behavioral changes
- Disturbed sleep patterns
Long-Term Effects of Crack
In terms of mental health, crack users typically become confused, defensive, and paranoid. Even though there is a false sense of power that is exhibited when one uses crack, once the high comes down, there is a high chance the user will become secretive, isolated, and depressed. Hallucinations will also occur. Dexterity and performance may improve for a short time but one the high is gone, a crack addict will possibly suffer from serious mood swings and lose concentration. This can cause driving accidents since drivers who are on the drug may make unpredictable moves when driving and lose control of the respective car. Crack users are usually forgetful and as such, unable to meet deadlines and complete projects. A long-term crack user will find it challenging to moderate responses in relation to life situations. This often causes homelessness and job loss.
Crack cocaine users can experience serious respiratory issues long-term including lung bleeding, lung damage, shortness of breath, and coughing. The long-term effects caused by using crack cocaine include severe damage to the kidneys, liver, and the heart. Additionally, users have a higher likelihood of contracting infectious diseases. Crack, being a highly potent stimulant, puts a lot of stress on the brain, the lungs, the vascular system, and the brain. The blood vessels will constrict due to constant stimulation by the drug with time and in the process, they can harden. Eventually, when there is additional stimulation, the damaged blood vessels may succumb to rupture, which can lead to a stroke. Any damage to the heart caused by crack use can result in a fatal cardiac arrest or heart attack. Due to the effect that crack has on the arteries and the brain, the user may experience premature ageing. Crack addicts typically live marginal lives coupled with terrible diets and non-existent medical care. The more a user consumes crack cocaine, the more damage is caused by crack addiction.
Some crack users will experience a problem often referred to as “crack bugs” or “coke bugs”, which is a form of tactile hallucination or ‘formication’. This effect makes the user feel as if there are bugs crawling beneath his or her skin. As such, you will find that users may have long scratch marks on their skin caused by excessive scratching to try getting rid of these drugs. These hallucinations can make it hard to sleep thus contributing to sleep deprivation in crack addicts, which causes delusional and disordered thinking. Other long-term effects caused by using crack cocaine include:
- Infertility and reproductive damage
- Sexual dysfunction
- Increased risk of developing crack lung, which is an acute lung injury whereby the smoke from crack cocaine constricts the lung’s blood vessels thus restricting adequate circulation in the organs. Permanent scarring and damage can occur over time contributing to chest pain and difficulty breathing.
- Systemic toxicity caused by inhaling the harmful vapors emanating from volatile compounds such as ammonia that are used when making crack
- Oral health problems such as yellow teeth, broken teeth, tooth decay, infection
- Painful cracking, bruising, and blistering of the lips due to constant exposure to hot crack pipes when pressed onto the lips
Daily continued crack use can lead to sleep deprivation not to mention appetite loss, which can cause malnutrition. Paranoid behavior and aggressive behavior are also long-term effects of crack use.
When users come down from the high caused by the drug, they can experience severe depression and this will become deeper with each use. In fact, this depression can become so severe that the user will do anything to obtain crack even murder. In such cases, when the user is unable to get the drug, this depression can become so severe that the addict can even commit suicide.
Someone who engages in crack use persistently can build a tolerance to the drug very easily. This tolerance will occur when the body adapts to the amount of crack that is already in the system meaning it will need greater amounts in order to exhibit the same desired effects. The user will no longer become satisfied with just a small amount of the drug and he or she will feel the need to take added amounts every time. After tolerance to the drug is established and the user needs larger amounts of to overcome it, addiction follows almost immediately. You will know when someone has a crack addiction if he or she engages in problematic, dangerous, and risky behaviors in order to continue getting and using the drug. When one is suffering from crack addiction, he or she will become less logical and rational and will find it increasingly difficult to maintain relationships because of the drug’s influence.
Additionally, someone abusing crack or suffering from an addiction to crack will have:
- Social problems
- School problems
- Work problems
- Interpersonal problems
- Legal issues and
- Financial issues
Even though anyone can have problems in the above-mentioned areas without necessarily suffering from crack addiction, it is not uncommon to find crack addicts having trouble in all the areas at once. In a crack addict’s mind, the drug takes first priority over everything else and as such, all areas of the person’s life may suffer as they try to get their next fix. Some indications of financial problems as a result of crack addiction may include:
- Stealing money
- Asking family or friends for money on a continuous basis
- Selling family valuables or precious heirlooms to get more money for buying crack
- Declaring bankruptcy
- Spending one’s life savings
- Spending one’s retirement funds
- Loss of employment
Even though most of the financial problems experienced by crack addicts can stem from buying the drug, they can also experience hardship financially because of the legal troubles associated with crack use. Paying bail or even hiring a lawyer can be quite expensive particularly when one has to do it on a regular basis. Some indications that someone is experiencing legal issues caused by crack addiction include:
- Getting a divorce
- Loss of the driver’s license
- Losing child custody privileges
- Getting arrested
Some interpersonal problems that may occur when one has a crack addiction include:
- Ignoring one’s parental responsibilities
- Becoming violent with friends, family, and loved ones
- Speaking or visiting loved ones more infrequently
- Picking fights with a partner or spouse
Work problems that can stem from crack addiction include:
- Receiving complaints from supervisors, co-workers, or customers
- Being fired due to negligence or poor performance at work due to crack use
- Showing risky behavior at work i.e. getting into fights with superiors, operating machinery without using safety gear
- Being high on the job
- Taking excessively long breaks at work to do crack
- Missing work days
- Coming late
Some problems that crack addicts may experience at school include:
- A low academic performance which may render the person unable to graduate
- Being expelled from school
- Being suspended from school
- Earning bad grades regularly due to drug use
- Receiving various forms of punishment including detention for delinquent behavior
- Presenting risky behavior while in school such as picking fights with teachers or other students
- Appearing high while at school
- Skipping classes to do or purchase crack
- Not coming to school or coming late to school constantly
Some social problems that may result from crack addiction include:
- The user alienating himself or herself from former communities
- The user abandoning his or her favorite hobbies
- The user avoiding his or her favorite hobbies such as sports or church
Risks of Crack Addiction and Abuse
Most of the time crack abusers and addicts place others and themselves in harm’s way due to their compulsive and dangerous drug-seeking behaviors. These users tend to engage in behaviors such as:
- Engaging in law-breaking activities: most crack addicts tend to steal to support this unhealthy addiction and engage in illegal activity to get money so they can buy more crack cocaine. Aside from this fact, crack possession is illegal and so legal problems will be inevitable
- Neglecting of responsibilities: Crack addicts will often put the drug first before other responsibilities including caring for their children, maintaining relationships with loved ones, attending to work matters, and paying bills
- Involvement in risky situations to get crack: Users will frequently go to dangerous neighborhoods or engage in risky activities to get the drug.
- Increased violent tendencies: Crack usually intensifies the user’s emotional experiences rage and anger included. Someone who is high on the drug can exhibit violent behavior towards others or cause harm to themselves or to others either unknowingly or knowingly
- Risky Sexual behavior: The drug can intensify the user’s sexual desire and eliminate his or her inhibitions. Someone who is high on crack may have a higher tendency of having sex with many partners and a higher likelihood of engaging in unprotected sex. Aside from the risky behaviors one may engage in while under the drug’s influence, other users may opt to provide sexual favors or engages in sexual activity in exchange for the drug
Detoxification may be the first step in treating crack abuse and it involves controlled withdrawal from the drug. it is typically conducted at detox centers under the monitoring of a doctor to watch for any severe symptoms resulting from crack withdrawal.
Even though crack withdrawal and that of cocaine, in general, will not result in as many physical symptoms as is the case with other recreational drugs, it can have very intense psychological effects such as:
- Intense cravings for the drug
The withdrawal period can range from 1 to 3 weeks. Aside from the withdrawal symptoms mentioned, the person may also suffer from hunger, disorientation, apathy, and exhaustion. The withdrawal period will vary based the period during which the substance abused and the amount of the substance abused.
The ideal option for any crack users looking to get rid of their addiction is an inpatient treatment center. Such centers are highly effective in helping to keep the user away from crack and any triggers that may cause him or her to relapse. These inpatient programs can also offer intensive therapy and counseling required for users to recover successfully from an addiction to crack cocaine. This is not enough to maintain successful sober lives free from crack addiction as recovering addicts also need to look into sober living programs or additional aftercare programs.