Crack’s Addiction Potential: How Addictive Is It Really?

Medically Reviewed

The public has some misconceptions about crack cocaine, but it is at least as dangerous as powdered cocaine.

Crack is highly addictive, and its abuse is inadvisable. It wears on the body and can lead to deadly overdose.

Crack Cocaine

Crack is a form of cocaine that has been processed with other chemicals to form a solid crystalline “rock.” This rock is generally smoked in a pipe (a crack pipe).

Crack cocaine (like powdered cocaine) is a powerful stimulant that should not be underestimated. It can be addictive and quite harmful to the body. It is a powerful stimulant.

While there are some perpetuated myths about crack, there is no question that using crack is an unwise choice that could have devastating consequences for your life.

How Does Crack Affect The Body?

Crack affects the body more or less as cocaine does. The primary difference between crack cocaine and most other types of cocaine is that crack is generally smoked where powdered cocaine tends to be snorted.

Because it is smoked, crack reaches the brain faster than snorted cocaine. This causes more intense highs that generally last about 15 to 30 minutes.

As discussed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), cocaine temporarily rewires the brain, causing dopamine to build up rather than getting recycled, as it usually does. Dopamine is a key chemical for the reward centers of the brain and helps you feel happy.

Notably, this process also opens a person up to dependence. This abuse can wear on the brain’s natural ability to interpret dopamine as it adapts to the excess. In turn, this can make it difficult to feel happy or like an activity that is rewarding without abusing more cocaine.

In the short-term, crack will cause:

  • A sense of extreme happiness
  • Hyper (and potentially very distracting) alertness
  • High sensitivity to light, sound, and touch
  • Irritability or overall crankiness
  • Paranoia (an unreasonable and potentially dangerous mistrust of others)
  • Irregular heart rhythm, which can lead to a host of other potential issues, including heart attacks

In addition to wearing on the heart, cocaine can also have dangerous effects in the long term. Over time, cocaine may cause the following (bold symptoms are specific to crack):

  • Depression or persistent sadness
  • Increased dependence and addiction
  • Hallucinations or psychosis
  • Movement disorders
  • Mild to severe respiratory issues
  • Epiglottitis (a potentially life-threatening throat condition)

Cocaine abuse, like essentially all drug abuse, is dangerous. In the short run, it can lead you to make rash and misguided decisions while risking heart complications. In the long term, its impact on your quality of life can be extremely devastating, especially if you become addicted.

If you struggle with cocaine abuse, seek help as soon as possible.

The Myths and Realities of Crack Addiction

In the early days of the War on Drugs, crack cocaine was touted as so addictive that smoking it even once was likely to result in addiction — a claim repeated by even some generally reputable sources. This was repeated primarily by politicians and law enforcement agencies. Like many elements of drug abuse, the truth is more complicated.

Researcher Carl Hart has in recent years been doing work to dispel the overblown myths of crack’s addictive properties. As noted earlier, he is not claiming that crack is safe — only that it is treated as more disproportionately destructive by the public and law enforcement than it actually is.

In his research, he claims only about 10 to 20 percent of people who use crack end up addicted. He also notes that those who do become addicted are not the maniacs they often are portrayed as by the media. They are simply people who struggle with a serious problem.

This does not mean you only have a 10 to 20 percent chance of becoming addicted to crack if you continually abuse it. It means 80 to 90 percent of users do not end up consistently abusing crack and also may have at least some support system to resist further abuse. The more you abuse crack, the more likely you are to become addicted.

Whether Hart’s numbers prove true is subject to more research. However, his work is respected and a good instance of researchers needing to be careful not to be swayed by public opinion or law enforcement. His findings are at least a signal that more research should be done on exactly how potent crack is.

Crack users may sometimes perform serious, criminal, and potentially violent acts to acquire the drug, but this is true of people who suffer from any serious addiction. Addiction is a grave issue, but it is important not to paint an unrealistic image, positive or negative, of what it looks like.

The Complexity of Addiction and Drug Abuse

Abusing drugs exposes a person to a host of health risks, not to mention opening them up to a risk of addiction, criminal prosecution, social problems, and more. Drugs, especially cocaine, wear on the body, and they can cause long-term damage and even death.

Crack is likely less addictive than is often cited. More research needs to be done on the matter. This does not mean it should be willfully abused.

Many things drive a person to abuse drugs. Crack is popular in poorer areas, as it is relatively cheap, widely available, and can give people a sense of happiness when they otherwise feel hopeless or without opportunity. Those conditions put people at higher risk of abusing drugs. The more one abuses a drug, the more likely addiction is to occur.

Fighting Crack Addiction

A big element to overcoming crack addiction is to improve the lives and opportunities of those in at-risk areas. This is not a unique approach. Giving people healthy outlets to feel fulfilled will naturally help them fight their inclination to abuse drugs.

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