In the early 1980s, cocaine enjoyed such popularity that demand far exceeded supply. Drug manufacturers were forced to come up with a cheaper alternative to cocaine, one that anyone – not just Hollywood celebrities and rock stars – could afford. Simple baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) was used to strip cocaine of its purity, making it cheaper to make and cheaper to buy. During this process, the cocaine was heated, and the resultant cracking sound gave it a name: crack cocaine.
Not only was crack cocaine cheaper to produce and buy, it was also incredibly addictive, requiring just a fraction of the time and amount of street cocaine to hook a user. It was so addictive that in 1986, 42 percent of Americans voted in a Gallup poll that crack cocaine was “the most serious problem for society,” beating out alcohol abuse by a full eight percentage points.
What Makes Crack Cocaine So Powerful?
The Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland explains that crack cocaine is the most potent and riskiest form the drug. Part of this is due to the method of administration. While regular cocaine is injected or consumed orally, crack cocaine has to be snorted or smoked. As a result, it reaches the brain more quickly and directly than it would if it were taken intravenously, causing an instantaneous and forceful high. This gives crack cocaine the unique ability of making a user addicted to the substance after minimal exposure, maybe as little as one hit.
The high is instantaneous and forceful, but it lasts only about 15 minutes. When it dissipates, the user experiences a variety of negative and painful symptoms known as a comedown:
- Muscle cramps
- Mood swings
However, because the crack created such a strong connection between feeling powerful and confident and actually snorting the drug, a user in the throes of a comedown often tries to right the situation by taking more cocaine. Eventually, the addiction builds to the point where the user becomes entirely dependent on cocaine to simply make it through the day.
An article in the journal Science and Practice Perspectives details how crack cocaine can form such lethal and devastating connections in the brain. The drug works by forcibly making the brain produce excessive amounts of dopamine, which is a hormone that is normally released when someone does something good. That pleasurable sensation that occurs when you have sex, enjoy a good workout, or otherwise have fun is your brain basking in the glow of dopamine. You remember the feeling, and you remember that the activity preceded the feeling, so you seek out the same activity (and resultant feeling) at a later date.
With crack cocaine, on the other hand, there is no “later date.” Dopamine is pumped out at such an excessive rate and amount that it dwarfs any comparable sensation the user has ever felt. While the sensation of a pleasurable activity eventually fades away and we continue with our lives (with the brain reabsorbing the dopamine), the crack-fueled blast of dopamine means the user’s brain is absolutely overwhelmed with these intense and powerful signals. The drug actually prevents the dopamine from being broken down. Even if they are not immediately hooked on crack cocaine, users inexorably go back to it because no other experience in the world is like it.
Like any addictive substance, crack cocaine builds up increasing levels of tolerance in its users. While a novice addict might require a single hit in order to feel that euphoric high, continued usage pushes that threshold further and further away. Inevitably, the user finds himself snorting up more and more cocaine to chase the highs, all the while poisoning his body and brain to the point of corrosion and death.
Signs and Effects
But what does this poison look like? Generally speaking, crack cocaine has effects that are both short-term and long-term. After that first hit, there will be a number of physical changes to the body:
- Dilated pupils
- Rapid heart rate and breathing rate
- Elevated blood pressure
- Hyperactivity and agitation
- Loss of appetite
- Paranoid behavior
- Mood swings
As stated above, the user will also feel an intense craving for another hit. Sudden death (as a result of seizures or heart failure because of constricted blood vessels), even after the first snort of cocaine, is also possible.
An addict who does not use crack cocaine for a while – because they have run out or because they are trying to quit, for example – can experience painful and severe withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms happen because of how crack cocaine completely suppresses numerous chemical and nerve systems in the brain. When the brain is deprived of crack, those systems unleash thousands of repressed signals, overwhelming the user’s body and causing what we understand to be withdrawal symptoms.The withdrawal symptoms of crack cocaine will generally take the form of:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Oscillating between mild and intense cravings for more crack
- Mood swings and overreactions
The insidious nature of drugs is such that the user may feel compelled to seek out more crack cocaine in order to alleviate these withdrawal symptoms, thereby deepening the downward spiral of addiction.
How Widespread is Crack Cocaine?
In 2014, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration estimated that there were over 1.5 million cocaine users (aged 12 years or over) in the United States, a number comparable to the statistics from the preceding five years. Of that number, 58,000 used crack cocaine for the first time.The journal Primary Care quotes figures from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health that put cocaine use as the third most prevalent form of substance abuse in the United States, with marijuana and prescription drug addiction taking the top two spots. While the estimated lifetime prevalence of cocaine usage among the American population (starting at age 12 and up) is 14.7 percent, crack cocaine use among the same demographic is 3.4 percent.
How Can a Crack Cocaine Addiction Be Treated?
Crack cocaine is an especially potent drug, so treating an addiction has to help the addict get control over both the physical and the mental need to get high.
To address the physical aspect of addiction, treatment involves a complex process known as detoxification. In a controlled environment like a treatment facility, and supervised by trained medical personnel, the user is methodically deprived of cocaine, forcing his body to rewire itself in the absence of the chemical crutch it came to rely on. This can be painful and stressful, hence the need for detox to be carried out away from the temptation to simply use drugs again, and for the presence of doctors and staff members who can step in and help ease the process with the administration of anti-anxiety medication. According to the journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, baclofen is a drug that can help the addict overcome the intense need for more cocaine as his body is put through the wringer.
Getting Help and Information
Crack cocaine is one of the most fatal and unforgiving of controlled substances, but addiction and death do not have to be the end of the story. No matter how bleak the situation, treatment is always a possibility. At Futures of Palm Beach, we want to make hope a reality. That’s why we provide comprehensive treatment programs that cleanse the body of the need for crack cocaine, and psychotherapy programs that teach a patient how to live without the desire to get high to solve life’s problems. Please call us today to speak to one of our trained professionals to find out how we can help you or a loved one overcome a crack cocaine addiction.