Understanding crack cocaine addiction

For many outside the US, crack cocaine might feel like a distant reality, depicted only in the intense drama of Hollywood movies and TV shows. However, the substance is not just a fictional plot device; it’s a potent and highly addictive form of cocaine that has real and devastating effects on individuals and communities. In this blog, we take a look at the reality of crack cocaine addiction and the dangers surrounding it.

What’s the difference between crack cocaine and powdered cocaine?

While you might be familiar with powdered cocaine, you’ve likely also heard of crack cocaine. But what sets them apart?

Well, crack cocaine and powdered cocaine are both forms of the same drug, yet they have notable differences in how they look, how they’re used and the intensity of their effects.

Powdered cocaine is a fine, white powder extracted from the coca plant leaves. It’s commonly snorted through the nose where the nasal tissues absorb it.

Crack cocaine, on the other hand, comes from powdered cocaine mixed with water and either baking soda or ammonia. This mixture is then boiled until it solidifies into a substance that, once cooled, breaks into small, rock-like pieces. These pieces are called “crack” because of the crackling sound they make when heated.

Crack is primarily smoked, which allows it to reach the brain much faster than snorting does, resulting in a more intense but shorter-lasting high. This is because the drug is inhaled straight to the lungs and then swiftly absorbed into the bloodstream and the brain.

Here’s a short table depicting the key difference between the two forms of cocaine:

FeaturePowdered CocaineCrack Cocaine
Physical formFine white powderSolid blocks or crystals (rocks)
Active compoundCocaine hydrochlorideCocaine base (freebase cocaine)
Method of useSnorted, injectedSmoked
Onset of effectsRapid but less intense than smokingVery rapid and intense
Duration of effectsLonger than crack; usually 15-30 minutesShorter; usually 5-10 minutes
Addictive potentialHighVery high, due to rapid onset
Economic costGenerally more expensive per gram due to higher purity and formLess expensive per dose, making it more accessible but also leading to more frequent use

The origins of crack cocaine

The origins of crack cocaine trace back to the early 1980s, primarily in cities like Los Angeles, New York and Miami. Crack emerged as a cheaper, more accessible form of cocaine, appealing to those unable to afford the more expensive powder form.

The potent high achieved from smoking crack accelerated its widespread use, and it wasn’t long before communities experienced economic hardships, poverty and a wave of new drug dealers looking to cash in on the quick profits generated from the distribution of crack.

The ensuing crack epidemic wreaked havoc on communities, triggering a strong political and law enforcement reaction. This led to stricter drug laws that disproportionately impacted African American communities, deepening social and racial disparities.

The dangers of crack cocaine addiction

Crack cocaine addiction is associated with numerous dangers and adverse effects, impacting almost every aspect of an individual’s life. Here’s an overview of the key dangers related to crack cocaine addiction:

Physical health risks

  • Immediate effects: Increased heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and risk of cardiac arrest or respiratory failure.
  • Long-term damage: Chronic use can lead to severe damage to the heart, liver and kidneys. Respiratory issues, including coughing, bleeding, shortness of breath and lung damage, are common among smokers of crack cocaine.
  • Neurological effects: Increased risk of strokes and seizures. Long-term use can lead to cognitive deficits, including problems with attention, impulse control and decision-making.

Mental health issues

Crack cocaine can worsen existing mental health issues or even lead to new ones, including anxiety, depression and psychosis. The sharp highs followed by deep lows can cause extreme mood swings and emotional instability. Because of how the drug interacts with the brain’s reward system, it can become all-consuming, with users often prioritising it over everything else, neglecting their duties and interests.

Addiction and dependency

The intense high from crack cocaine makes it highly addictive, as users chase after that initial rush of euphoria by consuming more. This pattern can rapidly spiral into addiction. Users often find themselves physically and psychologically dependent on the drug, making it incredibly challenging to stop using it without expert assistance.

Social and economic consequences

The intense craving for crack cocaine often causes individuals to overlook their personal and work responsibilities, hurting their relationships and leading to serious financial problems. Because the drug is illegal, getting caught with it can lead to legal consequences, including arrest, jail time and a criminal record. These legal issues can make it even harder to secure a job and maintain healthy social ties.

Risky behaviours

To fuel their addiction, people might find themselves taking dangerous risks, like stealing, engaging in prostitution or dealing drugs. These actions not only heighten the chance of facing more legal problems but also increase the risk of encountering health issues, such as sexually transmitted diseases and becoming involved in violent situations.

Case study

“When I start, I don’t want to stop anymore”


“you spend the whole day busy (using it).”


“I already hurt myself with a knife, fooling around with a knife. I stabbed my foot, I had six stitches”


“I worked as a hooker, I had my clients. So, I would do what they asked. I did not care; I didn’t feel pain”


“I used it fifteen days straight. Not sleeping, no food, no nothing. Fifteen days. I received from my workload, received my salary and ended up smoking. Stayed at home, locked in my house, smoking, smoking, smoking, smoking”


“I know it’s stronger than me, my hands are sweating, I‘m shaking, I’m going to step on the house, I’m going shake again I’m sweating and I put it into my head that I want it, I want it. I can’t stop thinking about it. I‘m craving for it and it already gives me a stomachache, headache, body pain”


“So I went to my friend’s garage, he’s a mechanic and asked for twenty reais. He wants to have sex with me, so I had sex with him, right? I got twenty reais and went to buy drugs. I got ten and I smoked it. I got more ten and also smoked it. Then I had sex with… I kind of… drug dealer to get more crack stones, so he gave me more.”


Without any context, these comments may feel like a script for a TV show or film about drug addiction. But then the reality sets in; these are real people. The quotes above are from real-life interviews conducted in a detox centre in Brazil.

The quotes paint a deeply troubling picture of life gripped by crack cocaine addiction. They speak to a world where the next high trumps everything else, including health, safety, and dignity. It’s a cycle of desperation, where the drug’s hold is so strong that users go to extreme lengths to get their fix, whether it’s neglecting sleep and food for days on end or dangerous sex work.

The physical crack cocaine withdrawal symptoms described, such as sweating, shaking and experiencing pain when craving the drug, further illustrate the intense hold it has on their lives and the terrible cycle they find themselves in.

What provides some relief is that these individuals were under the care and supervision of medical professionals who attempted to save their lives from crack cocaine addiction. Although the study did not share the outcomes for these individuals, we remain hopeful that they were able to overcome their addiction and lead sober, drug-free lives.

Getting help for crack cocaine addiction

If you or someone close to you is battling a crack cocaine addiction, know that there is a way out of this. Assistance is readily accessible at UKAT, offering comprehensive inpatient rehab services tailored to combat crack cocaine addiction.

The rehab programme encompasses crack cocaine detox, meticulously designed therapy sessions and steadfast aftercare support, ensuring a holistic approach to recovery. UKAT’s dedicated team is committed to providing the best crack cocaine addiction treatment, offering personalised care and support every step of the way.

Help for crack cocaine addiction is just a decision away; embrace the journey towards a healthier, drug-free life with UKAT.

(Click here to see works cited)

  • Crack Cocaine Fast Facts, www.justice.gov/archive/ndic/pubs3/3978/index.htm. Accessed 26 Feb. 2024.
  • Turner, Deonna S.. “crack epidemic”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 16 Feb. 2024, https://www.britannica.com/topic/crack-epidemic. Accessed 26 February 2024.
  • Dolapsakis C, Katsandri A. Crack lung: A case of acute pulmonary cocaine toxicity. Lung India. 2019;36(4):370-371. doi:10.4103/lungindia.lungindia_193_19
  • Treadwell SD, Robinson TG. Cocaine use and stroke. Postgrad Med J. 2007;83(980):389-394. doi:10.1136/pgmj.2006.055970
  • Rebelatto FP, Ornell F, Roglio VS, et al. Gender differences in progression to crack-cocaine use and the role of sexual and physical violence. Braz J Psychiatry. 2022;44(5):478-485. Published 2022 Jul 28. doi:10.47626/1516-4446-2021-2248
  • Tractenberg SG, Schneider JA, de Mattos BP, et al. The Perceptions of Women About Their High Experience of Using Crack Cocaine. Front Psychiatry. 2022;13:898570. Published 2022 Apr 29. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2022.898570
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