Cocaine has a long history as a highly addictive drug that often leads to severe health complications, overdose,and death, as well as the countless other consequences that accompany addiction. Cocaine has been and remains one of the most addictive illicit substances and continues to be a problem today.
Cocaine is typically found in powder form, and can be snorted, ingested, administered intravenously and smoked. Cocaine is a powerful stimulant, derived from the coca leaf and grown in South America. It has been used for a variety of purposes over the years, and in the 1800’s the process of extracting cocaine into an easily ingested powder was achieved. Cocaine was initially pedalled as a cure-all, said to cure coughs and colds and improve mood. It was sold over the counter and put in everything from cough syrup to Coca-Cola.
Cocaine was a commonplace substance, legal and easily obtainable until the early 1900’s, when it became illegal. This happened because people from children to housewives to doctors were starting to form addictions to the powerful stimulant. Once it was realized that cocaine was not only dangerous and deadly, but produced an addiction that drastically altered the personality of the user, it was banned.
It continued to be manufactured, sold and used, however. Cocaine use waxed and waned over the years, and in the early 1970’s its popularity soared. The “disco era” seemed to spawn a new class of drug users. It became a party drug for young movers and shakers, and the demand drove prices up. An expensive drug overall, the cocaine game changed when crack entered the picture.
Crack cocaine is mixed with water and hydrochloric acid and condensed into a rock form that is smoked. It produced a very intense but short-lived high. Cocaine in its standard form is addictive, but crack is even more so. The invention of crack created a high demand. The drug is, on the surface, inexpensive. But the addiction hits hard and fast, and because the high is so brief, and the comedown so hard, the demand for more crack turns a cheap drug into one that costs far more than what the addict can afford.
Crack addiction renders the user unable to function in normal life fairly quickly. It creates a rapid downward spiral. The person who is addicted to crack cocaine soon becomes consumed with getting more of the drug. Jobs are lost, family responsibilities are neglected, and the pursuit of more crack can result in the user resorting to crimes such as theft, drug dealing and prostitution to maintain the habit.
Due to the highly addictive nature of crack cocaine, it is rarely used on a recreational basis. People who use crack are often addicted at the first hit. And the effects of a crack addiction are many. The following is a list of common physical and mental side effects associated with cocaine and crack cocaine use:
While the high from crack may create feelings of confidence, weight loss, and euphoria, it can often leave the crack user feeling depressed and low once the high has worn off. In fact, the comedown produces such a crashing and profoundly depressing come down that it can render the user suicidal.
The physical toll of a crack addiction is anything from fever, to visual hallucinations, to skin damage. Often times, people who are addicted to crack will get “coke bugs”, where they believe they have bugs under their skin and will scratch. This will leave many crack users with sores on their skin much like those of a meth addict. This is the psychological effects of crack use, which can cause varying degrees of psychosis and paranoia.
Crack addiction doesn’t stop there, though. Constant crack use can lead to constricted blood vessels, affecting heart rhythm. It can also cause an increase in temperature, and an increased heart rate, tremors, vertigo, muscle twitches, irritability and anxiety. Crack related deaths are usually because one of a mixture of these things. The most common cause of death from crack being cardiac arrest or seizures.
The intense desire to recapture the initial high leads people to continue using even after they begin to have consequences. Because the high from crack is so short many users will use it again and again in a futile attempt to get just as high as they did the first time, never getting the results. This is what leads many crack users into a full-on crack addiction where they end up selling their belongings or even stealing to buy crack. It becomes an obsession and a compulsion, chasing that first high. And it leads many crack users to places they never thought they would end up.
Crack cocaine acts on dopamine receptors, flooding the brain with the “feel-good” neurochemical. This activates the brain’s reward system. Dopamine plays a big part in addiction, because the brain continues to crave the dopamine rush that it gets when you use crack. Dopamine is generally triggered as a result of pleasurable activities, stimulating the reward system that gives feelings of happiness and satisfaction. Normal activities such as going to the beach, walking in nature, playing with pets or children, working on a favorite hobby, physical intimacy, flirting, socializing, spending time with loved ones or buying a new outfit are typical activities that trigger dopamine. However, when someone uses drugs, the intense dopamine rush eclipses the reward from any other normal activity. The only thing that matters is the high. This is why people who are addicted to drugs seem to lose interest in normal activities they used to enjoy; they no longer trigger the reward system.
This is just one aspect of addiction. Addiction quickly becomes about habit, ritual and routine. There is an obsessive-compulsive element to it. A person in the grips of addiction is on a kind of autopilot. They are constantly thinking about their drug of choice: How to get it, doing it, how to get more of it. Their life revolves around it to the point where it pushes everything else out. The brain also has a way of constructing elaborate defense mechanisms to help protect the addiction. Denial is a big part of this. Denial keeps the user from realizing the magnitude of their problem, or from fully comprehending the consequences of their using.
This was seen most dramatically in the wave of newborn babies born to crack-addicted mothers in the 80’s and early 90’s. “Crack babies” were a widely publicized tragedy and often used in anti-drug campaigns. Because the addiction to crack was so strong, pregnant women, especially those with limited access to services, were unable to stop using during their pregnancies. Babies born to crack-addicted mothers were addicted themselves, at birth. They also suffered low-birth weights, premature births, heart defects and a host of other medical and developmental issues as a result of exposure to crack cocaine in the womb. At birth, babies would display signs of withdrawal from crack cocaine.
There has been a degree of controversy around crack cocaine due to the powerful, addictive nature of the drug. The drug gained popularity in the 80’s and peaked in the 90’s. The effects of crack were devastating to inner-city communities. The drug was initially cheap, cheaper than regular cocaine. This made it popular among people with lower incomes. Because it was so popular, cheap and plentiful, it soon infiltrated entire communities, with crack dealers making a lot of money from addiction. Law enforcement and government officials zeroed in on the problem, and created laws increasing the jail time for crack dealers and people who possessed crack. This created an issue because while standard cocaine was primarily seen in middle and upper class neighborhoods, crack was mostly seen in poor neighborhood. When people got busted for drugs, those who dealt in crack cocaine were given much harsher sentences than those who dealt in regular cocaine. More recently, it has been suggested that these measures have been discriminatory, filling jails and prisons with people in poverty while more privileged citizens get off with a slap on the wrist.
As powerful and frightening as crack cocaine addiction is, it can be treated and recovery is possible. It’s important to intervene as soon as possible, to minimize risks to physical and mental health. Crack cocaine addiction can have devastating effects, very quickly. Catching it early is ideal.
However, no matter how far into addiction a person is, they can still be treated and overcome addiction. Treatment for crack addiction generally follows the same model as treatment for any other drug addiction. Inpatient, or residential treatment is recommended. Inpatient treatment offers round the clock support and treatment. Inpatient treatment programs typically last from 30 to 90 days. Longer programs are recommended, particularly for those who have been using for a long time, have had trouble staying clean in the past or who have spent a lot of time in the using environment. It’s important to fully immerse themselves in a recovery environment, free from outside influences that can push them back into using.
The first step in treating crack cocaine addiction is detox. Detox is often done in a separate, medical facility. A medically supervised detox allows the individual to withdraw and detox from the drug in a safe manner and in a supportive environment.
Detox is just the first step. A comprehensive treatment program should follow it so that the psychological aspect of addiction can be addressed. Residential treatment for crack cocaine addiction involves individual therapy, group therapy, psychoeducational groups, cognitive behavioral therapy and a structured, supportive setting with access to services that can give the client the best opportunity to remain drug-free when treatment is completed.
It’s important that the individual receive adequate aftercare following treatment. This includes continued therapy, relapse prevention training, and ongoing life skills education and support. Many people who are addicted lack strong support systems in their lives. It’s essential for long-term recovery to have support systems in place in order to be successful.
For many people, the challenge is maintaining abstinence from drugs after treatment. This is often a problem if the person returns to the same environment they were using in out of necessity. This often leads back to using. The problem can be avoided with proper support. Job training and access to affordable housing allows the recovering addict to begin a new, healthy and successful life away from the drug using environment.
Choosing the right treatment center for crack cocaine addiction means being able to assess your needs. For example, if you are a mother, you may want to choose a treatment center that specializes in treating mothers of young children. If you are also struggling with a mental illness, you’ll want to choose a treatment center that offers dual diagnosis services. It’s important that your treatment center be able to address any specific needs you have. Many drug treatment centers are based on the therapeutic community model and offer a secure, homelike environment. This environment stresses cooperation, respect, accountability and life skills and is often the first stable environment that the client has been exposed to.
The right treatment center can help you or your loved one overcome addiction and get free from the devastating consequences of crack cocaine addiction. There is hope for recovery, with help.