Crack Cocaine Addiction
Compared to other addictive drugs, crack cocaine exists as one of the most addictive substances on the market. A drug’s addictive potential corresponds with the degree of damage it causes in the brain in terms of altering brain chemical functions. Crack cocaine essentially wears away at brain chemical pathways with continued use.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 1.9 million Americans reported using cocaine on a regular basis in 2008, 359,000 of which were regular crack cocaine users. While crack does come from cocaine, its addictive potential far surpasses cocaine’s in intensity and rate of addiction.
Signs of crack cocaine addiction take shape early on with frequent use, affecting most every area of a person’s life. Without needed treatment, addicts continue on in a downward spiral of failing health and psychological dysfunction. Fortunately, there are a range of treatment options available to help addicts overcome the devastating effects of crack cocaine addiction.
Crack vs. Cocaine
Crack starts out as cocaine powder that’s “cooked” to produce a crystallized, rock substance. Users then smoke the drug in rock form. Crack got its name from the crackling sound it makes when smoked.
Compared to cocaine, the “high” effect produced by crack happens much quicker and lasts considerably shorter than a cocaine “high.” When snorting cocaine, drug effects take anywhere from three to five minutes to be felt. These effects can last anywhere from one to two hours.
When smoking crack, users experience the drug’s effects almost immediately, bringing on a much more intense “high” that only lasts for 15 to 30 minutes. The speed and intensity of drug effects accounts for why crack cocaine addictions develop so much faster than cocaine addictions.
In actuality, a person can develop a crack cocaine addiction as of the first time trying the drug, according to the University of Maryland. In most cases, a week’s worth of ongoing drug use is enough for a crack cocaine addiction to take hold.
Effects in the Brain
Crack cocaine addictions take root within the brain’s chemical processes as the drug continually alters neurotransmitter secretion rates over time.
Crack works by stimulating individual brain cells, which release massive amounts of neurotransmitter chemicals, some of which include –
In general, any disruptions in brain chemical levels can offset any number of brain and body functions and processes, while at the same time creating a state of overall chemical imbalance throughout the brain. By the time crack cocaine addiction sets in, brain cells have undergone considerable damage leaving them unable to function normally without the ongoing effects of the drug.
Before crack cocaine addiction develops, users typically develop a physical dependency on the drug at the outset. Within a short period after first starting crack, the brain becomes physically dependent on the drug’s effects.
Once physical dependency sets in, users start to experience withdrawal effects. With continued drug use, withdrawal effects worsen in intensity and happen more frequently.
Withdrawal effects commonly associated with physical dependency include:
- Persistent drug cravings
- Extreme anxiety
- Bouts of depression
- Violent behaviors
- Feelings of rage
- Appetite loss
As with any addiction, psychological dependency most characterizes crack cocaine addiction in terms of how it takes over a person’s life. Psychological dependency develops out of the rampant chemical imbalances that take over the brain with prolonged drug use.
Over time, these imbalances start to disrupt the brain’s reward system, which plays a central role in regulating a person’s motivations, drives and priorities. The neurotransmitter, dopamine acts as the primary chemical messenger within the brain’s reward system.
With each dose of crack cocaine, dopamine levels rise and then plummet once the drug’s effects wear off. As a result, the brain’s reward center comes to define crack’s effects as essential to a person’s daily survival, much like it views food and water. In effect, the drug becomes a top priority within a person’s daily life once crack cocaine addiction develops.
Signs & Symptoms of Crack Cocaine Addiction
Signs and symptoms of crack cocaine addiction develop gradually as the drug’s effects gain increasing control over brain chemical functions. More oftentimes than not, physical symptoms will surface at the start soon to be followed by signs of psychological dysfunction.
Periods of withdrawal will also come and go as the brain and body develop an increasing tolerance for the drug’s effects. Not surprisingly, withdrawal effects become the driving force that supports continued drug use.
Signs of crack cocaine addiction involve a person’s overall demeanor and everyday behaviors. According to Bryn Mawr College, these characteristics support the type of lifestyle that makes addiction possible.
Signs of crack cocaine addiction typically take the form of –
- Severe depression – as brain neurotransmitter levels skew further and further off balance, a person’s emotional stability will see ongoing decline. Bouts of severe depression will likely surface, especially during withdrawal periods.
- Loss of Control – The brain develops a growing tolerance for crack cocaine at a fast rate. With cocaine in particular, it’s not uncommon for addicts to go on binges where large quantities of the drug are consumed at a time.
- Financial problems – as it takes money to support a drug habit, money normally reserved for rent, utilities and food ends up going towards drugs.
- Denial – in spite of the negative consequences brought on by drug use, addicts cannot acknowledge cocaine as a problem in their lives.
- Poor hygiene/disheveled appearance – once crack cocaine takes top priority in a person’s life, other areas start to suffer. Hygiene and appearance see considerable decline once addiction sets in.
- Loss of Interest – Time that used to be spent with friends or engaging in recreational pursuits will gradually give way to drug-seeking and drug-using behaviors.
Symptoms of crack cocaine addiction have to do with the physical effects from continued drug use. Crack cocaine addictions wreak havoc on the body’s health as a whole. In effect, signs and symptoms of addiction grow increasingly worse the longer a person keeps using crack cocaine.
Common symptoms of crack cocaine addiction include –
- Drastic weight loss – cocaine naturally speeds up central nervous system processes, which requires more energy than the body normally uses. As addiction worsens, addicts experience considerable weight loss, which in turn makes them more prone to sickness and injury.
- Mood swings – the toll crack cocaine takes on the brain’s chemical equilibrium sets addicts up to experience frequent and sometimes severe mood swings within any given day’s time.
- Problems sleeping – since cocaine acts as a stimulant drug, crack cocaine addiction makes it all but impossible for addicts to get a full night’s rest.
- Paranoid thinking – crack’s effects on the brain’s cognitive and emotional functions leaves addicts in a state of perpetual anxiety coupled with chaotic thought patterns. These conditions set the stage for paranoia thinking to take root.
- Violent outbursts, feelings of rage – crack cocaine weakens the part of the brain that regulates impulse control. This coupled with mood swings and paranoid thinking can easily give way to violent behavior displays of frustration and rage.
Crack Cocaine Addiction Treatment
Overcoming a crack cocaine addiction almost always requires some form of professional drug treatment help. The widespread damage caused by crack cocaine use leaves addicts hopelessly dependent on the drug’s effects to cope with daily life.
Crack cocaine addiction treatment provides addicts with the types of supports and direction needed to maintain abstinence and live a drug-free lifestyle. Treatment programs employ a comprehensive treatment approach to address and treat the physical, psychological and behavioral effects from crack cocaine abuse.
It’s not uncommon for addicts to develop medical and/or psychological problems as a result of long-term drug use, which makes the recovery process all the more difficult. In most cases, the more severe the addiction the more likely co-occurring conditions will develop as a result of drug use.
Making it through the detox stage is one of the most difficult parts of the recovery process. The severity of withdrawal symptoms experienced can quickly drive a person back to drug use.
According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, crack cocaine addiction treatment programs administer medication therapies to help ease the discomfort that comes with withdrawal. Medications commonly used include –
In essence, stopping drug use leaves the brain in a diminished state, which accounts for the severity of symptoms experienced during detox.
A crack cocaine addiction has more to do with the psychological effects of drug use than the physical symptoms experienced during detox. In effect, addiction stems from the psychological dependency that forms with continued crack cocaine use.
As crack cocaine addiction all but warps the brain’s reward system, psychosocial treatment takes up much of the time spent in cocaine addiction treatment. Psychosocial treatment entails –
- Individual psychotherapy sessions
- Motivational therapies
- Contingency management or reward-based therapies
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- 12 Step support group work
While it may feel like a person has overcome crack cocaine addiction upon completing the detox stage, the actual addiction treatment process doesn’t begin until he or she undergoes in-depth, ongoing psychosocial treatment.