Crack Cocaine Detox Guide: Symptoms, Timeline, and Effects
Crack cocaine is a smokable, freebase form of cocaine. It is processed from the powdered cocaine hydrochloride formula, water, and ammonia or baking soda. The result is a rock crystal, which is heated to produce a vapor that is smoked and inhaled into the lungs. It is given the street name “crack” due to the crackling sound it makes when lit. Crack cocaine abuse first became a problem in the 1980s due to its intense and immediate euphoric effect.1,2 Because this form of cocaine is much cheaper to produce and purchase than traditional cocaine, it is more popular in low-income communities.10
Over 1.5 million Americans aged 12 and older reported using cocaine in 2013.11 Cocaine is often used concurrently with alcohol or heroin, which can increase the risk of experiencing adverse effects, and it is commonly used by people with co-occurring mental health disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), antisocial personality disorder, and other drug addictions.7
The crack cocaine high typically lasts only about 5-10 minutes, leading many users to binge and take several repeated doses in a short period of time to maintain the high.2 This pattern of frequent, repeated use can quickly lead to tolerance, which occurs when a person needs increasing amounts of a drug to achieve the desired effects. Chronic crack cocaine abuse with ever-increasing doses can lead to the development of significant physical dependence, which means that the body requires the presence of the substance to function normally. When someone who is dependent on crack cocaine suddenly stops using, unwanted withdrawal symptoms are likely to emerge. Users often will use crack cocaine to alleviate crack withdrawal symptoms, a cycle which can eventually lead to addiction. Addiction is a complex and progressive condition in which the user continues to abuse crack despite severe impairment in life functioning.
Crack cocaine is a particularly addictive drug. Once you have developed an addiction, it can be challenging to quit on your own due to cravings, relapse triggers, and distressing detox symptoms. Participating in a professional crack cocaine detox program can help users manage withdrawal symptoms and successfully transition into a comprehensive addiction treatment program.
Start On the Road to Recovery
Short-term Effects of Crack Use
People abuse crack cocaine for the euphoric high, increased energy and confidence, improved concentration, and a decreased need for sleep; however, cocaine also produces many unwanted side effects, some of which can be dangerous.
Short-term adverse effects of crack cocaine use include:1,2,7
- Elevated heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure.
- Chest pain.
- Irregular heart beat.
- Muscular weakness.
- Hypersensitivity to light and sound.
- Anger or tension.
- Impaired judgment.
- Psychomotor agitation (repetitive, purposeless movements).
- Psychomotor retardation (slowed movement and thought).
- Erratic, bizarre, or violent behavior, when taken in large doses.
Some of the immediate effects of crack cocaine use are life-threatening or can lead to fatal consequences. If someone experiences a seizure, call 911 immediately, as this is a medical emergency. Remain with the person until medical personnel arrive.
Consequences of Chronic Use
The longer a person uses cocaine, the higher the risk is of becoming addicted or experiencing other negative consequences. Chronic use of crack cocaine can lead to many medical complications and psychological issues. Cocaine use has been linked to many types of heart disease as well as other adverse outcomes.
Long-term cocaine abuse may cause:1,2,7
- Physical dependence.
- Crack cocaine addiction.
- Significant weight loss.
- Severe paranoia.
- Auditory hallucinations.
- Mood disturbances.
- Movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease.
- Respiratory problems, such as bronchitis and pneumonitis, due to smoking.
- Accidents or injuries from erratic behavior.
- Risky behavior, such as prostitution, theft, and other illegal activities.
- Pathological heart rhythms.
- Increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Increased risk of sudden death due to cardiac or respiratory arrest.
Crack cocaine addiction doesn’t have to lead to severe and debilitating physical and mental health effects. It’s never too late to find a detox or substance abuse treatment program that fits your individual needs. These programs can help you begin on the road to recovery, and ultimately, a happier and healthier life.
How Do I Know If I’m Addicted?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) no longer uses the term substance dependence, but instead refers to addiction as substance use disorders. Substance use disorders occur when substance abuse causes notable impairment and distress in a person’s life.3 It can sometimes be difficult to discern whether you or a loved one is afflicted by a crack cocaine addiction, but there are many signs and symptoms that can indicate drug use has become problematic.
According to the DSM-5, crack cocaine addiction would be classified as a stimulant use disorder. Signs and symptoms of crack cocaine addiction include:3,4
- Experiencing crack cocaine cravings.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when use is abruptly stopped or lessened.
- Developing a tolerance to crack cocaine.
- Exhibiting a difficulty in controlling use.
- Using larger amounts of crack cocaine than originally intended.
- Continuing use despite impairment in one’s personal and professional life.
- Using crack cocaine in hazardous situations, such as while driving.
- Spending a significant amount of time and/or money to acquire crack cocaine.
- Neglecting hygiene and physical appearance.
- Failing to fulfill personal and professional responsibilities.
- Displaying changes in appetite and sleep patterns.
If you or someone you love has exhibited 2 or more of the signs and symptoms listed above within the past year, a substance use disorder may have already developed—professional crack cocaine detox may be an appropriate option to explore.
Crack Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms and Duration
Cocaine withdrawal is not typically associated with many characteristic, outwardly visible signs of withdrawal, such as shaking or vomiting. However, many withdrawal symptoms do occur, many of which are psychological.5 Common crack cocaine withdrawal symptoms include:2,3,5,7
- Irritability and agitation.
- Lack of pleasure.
- Sleep problems.
- Suicidal thoughts.
- General discomfort.
- Vivid and frightening dreams.
- Psychomotor retardation (slowed movement and thought).
- Increased appetite.
- Powerful cravings for crack cocaine.
Everyone experiences crack cocaine withdrawal in different ways. The length and severity of your withdrawal experience may not necessarily be the same as those of someone else who is going through withdrawal. The symptoms you encounter can vary based on factors, such as:
- Your length of crack use.
- The amount of crack used.
- The frequency of crack use.
- Your physiological makeup.
- Your age.
- Your overall physical and mental health.
- Whether you use other substances.
Crack cocaine levels in the blood drop rather quickly post-intoxication, meaning that a rapid crash tends to occur, particularly in those who engage in crack cocaine binges. Generally speaking, crack withdrawal symptoms emerge within a few hours after the most recent dose. Withdrawal symptoms may increase in intensity for about 2-4 days before resolving. These symptoms often resolve within 1-2 weeks.7,8,9
What Does Detox Entail?
The goal of professional detox is to help people safely withdraw from drugs through the use of medical intervention and supervision. Many people do not know what to expect when entering a professional crack cocaine detoxification program. The goal of professional detox is to help people safely withdraw from drugs through the use of medical intervention and supervision. Your professional detox treatment team can provide you with information on the crack cocaine detoxification process and what to expect during treatment. Detox typically involves three steps. If all three phases are not included, the detox program may not be adequate to address your needs. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), these 3 crucial components are:6
- Evaluation: Detox begins with a comprehensive assessment of your current psychological, medical, and social condition. You will be screened for co-occurring mental and physical health conditions. The severity of addiction will be assessed and your blood will be tested for substances of abuse.
- Stabilization: The stabilization phase is what most people imagine when they think of professional detox. During this phase, medical support personnel provide you with psychosocial support and medical intervention, if necessary, to assist you as you progress through the crack cocaine withdrawal period and become substance-free.
- Fostering the patient’s entry into treatment: The last phase is vital as it helps prepare you for the transition into a professional addiction treatment program. It is important to remember that crack cocaine detox is only the first step on the continuum of addiction treatment care. Detox center staff will stress the importance of following up with comprehensive substance abuse treatment in order to address the underlying issues that led to crack cocaine addiction in the first place. Crack abuse treatment will help you to sustain sobriety and prevent relapse in the long run.
Crack Cocaine Detox Centers
Crack cocaine detox can occur in a variety of settings. Since every person is unique, different levels of detox treatment may be more appropriate for different people. Common settings that may be beneficial for those struggling with crack cocaine withdrawal include:
- Inpatient detox center: Inpatient detox centers provide care and supervision 24/7 until a person completes detoxification and is substance-free. This is a suitable option for those with severe addictions who may have trouble resisting cravings and coping with withdrawal symptoms outside of the treatment environment.
- Outpatient detox center: Outpatient detox centers provide detox treatment on an outpatient basis while the patient continues to reside at home. This provides people with the freedom to still attend work or school while detoxing from crack cocaine.
- Hospital: Detoxification may necessitate a brief stay in the hospital since people experiencing acute cocaine intoxication or overdose may first present to the emergency room and later be admitted to either an intensive or critical care unit for continued observation and treatment.
- Physician’s office: Some people choose to detox on an outpatient basis with regular visits to their physician’s office. It’s important to make sure that the doctor has proper training in how to detox from crack. This option may be appropriate for those with mild addictions who do not have difficulty controlling cravings.
Regardless of which type of detox treatment you choose, it’s vital that you take the first step on the road to recovery and seek professional detox services.
Post-Detox Rehab and Care
Once you have completed your detox and your body is free of crack cocaine and any other substances of abuse, your detox treatment team will work individually with you to create a treatment plan so that you can successfully transition into a comprehensive addiction treatment program that is right for your needs. There are many different types of post-detox addiction treatment programs that help patients learn coping skills to deal with stress, cravings, and triggers, as well as relapse prevention skills to help maintain sobriety over time.
Crack cocaine addiction treatment options include:
- Inpatient rehab: Inpatient rehab consists of 24/7 care in a residential facility for a specific amount of time (ranging on average from 30-90 days). Inpatient treatment typically includes a combination of individual and group counseling, support groups, and medical care for any co-occurring physical conditions.
- Outpatient rehab: Outpatient rehab consists of similar treatment modalities as inpatient treatment centers except that care takes place on a part-time basis while the patient continues to reside at home and may remain active in personal and professional duties outside the treatment environment.
- Luxury rehab: Luxury rehab centers provide additional upscale amenities and services that are not typical to standard inpatient treatment centers. Some luxury amenities that may be offered include:
- Private rooms.
- Scenic views.
- Gourmet meals.
- Massage and spa treatments.
- Recreational facilities.
- Housekeeping services.
- Executive rehab: These facilities often resemble those of luxury treatment facilities but they also cater to business executives and those in high-powered or demanding careers. Patients in an executive rehab generally have access to private phones and high-speed internet so their professional lives are not interrupted while recovering from a crack cocaine addiction.
- Holistic rehab: Holistic rehab centers treat crack cocaine abuse and other addictions from a holistic perspective that addresses addiction on all levels: mind, body, and spirit. Some holistic treatment options that may be provided at holistic treatment facilities include:
- Yoga and meditation.
- Nutritional counseling.
- Massage and spa treatments.
- Reiki and energy work.
- Music therapy.
- Art therapy.
- Equine therapy.
- Population-specific rehabs: Many addiction treatment centers specialize in treating specific populations, such as:
- Religiously affiliated.
- 12-step programs: 12-step programs are a popular choice for those in recovery. Cocaine Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are two global 12-step programs suited for those with crack cocaine addiction. These programs provide peer support in addiction recovery by following the traditional 12 steps established by Alcoholics Anonymous.
- Non-12-step programs: Secular support groups can be beneficial for people struggling with cocaine addiction and abuse. Some popular programs include SMART Recovery and LifeRing Secular Recovery.
Each form of addiction treatment has its own strengths and weaknesses. What works for one person may not work for another. Collaborating with your detox treatment team can help you explore all of the options and choose the treatment program that is best suited for you. What works for one person may not work for another. Make a list of what is most important to you when selecting a treatment program so that you can find a program that is well aligned with your unique beliefs, values, philosophies, and treatment needs.
- NYC Health. (2016). Cocaine Abuse and Addiction.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). What is Cocaine?
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Substance Use Disorders.
- Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Warning Signs of Drug Abuse.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2015). Cocaine Withdrawal.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2006). Quick Guide for Clinicians: Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- Gorelick, D. (2017). Cocaine use disorder in adults: Epidemiology, pharmacology, clinical manifestations, medical consequences, and diagnosis.
- Morrison, J. (2014). DSM-5 made easy: The clinician’s guide to diagnosis. New York: Guilford Publications.
- Palamar, J.J., Davies, S., Ompad, D.C., Cleland, C.M., & Weitzman, M. (2015). Powder Cocaine and Crack Use in the United States: An Examination of Risk for Arrest and Socioeconomic Disparities in Use. Drug and alcohol dependence, 149: 108-116.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). Nationwide Trends.