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Crack Cocaine Symptoms and Warning Signs

Crack cocaine is a potent drug that can cause addiction after only one hit. Thousands of people nationwide struggle with an addiction to this powerful drug.

Signs of Crack Abuse

crack symptomsAlthough the effects of crack cocaine are intense, people who are addicted to the drug may be good at hiding it.

People who are using crack usually exhibit overconfidence and hyperactivity.

Other signs of crack abuse to look for include:

  • Frequent disappearances (to get high)
  • Dilated pupils
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Restlessness
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Uncharacteristic irresponsibility
  • Cracked or blistered lips from smoking out of a hot pipe
  • Burns on fingers

The Alarming Availability of Crack

Considering how destructive the consequences of the drug are, the availability and widespread use of crack can be surprising.

Percentage of Students Reporting Easy Accessibility to Crack
Grade of Students

According to a survey conducted in 2010, children as young as 13 have been exposed to the drug. In fact, 23 percent of eighth-graders, 32 percent of tenth-graders, and 45 percent of twelfth-graders reported that crack was “fairly easy” or “very easy” to obtain. Considering that one hit can spark a lifelong addiction, these numbers help illuminate the severity of the issue.

The Dangers of Crack Cocaine

One of the greatest dangers of crack is its addictive potential. Crack forces a release of excess dopamine, the neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s pleasure and reward centers. As early as the first time you smoke crack, your brain has already started rewiring itself because it finds the resulting “high” pleasurable.

Immediate Effects of Crack Abuse

Due in part to the unpredictability of the drug’s contents, the effects of smoking crack can vary from person to person. Crack’s effects are both physical and psychological, and the severity increases the more a person smokes. Some immediate side effects of crack abuse include:




Nervousness or paranoia


“Coke bugs,” or the hallucination that bugs are burrowing under a cocaine or crack user’s skin


Heart failure

Potential death from respiratory failure

Long-term Effects of Crack Abuse

The long-term effects of abusing crack can be detrimental. Long-term crack abuse can cause damage to most of the body’s vital organs, such as the liver, kidneys and heart. Additionally, crack cocaine users are more susceptible to infections because the drug compromises the immune system. The dangers of long-term crack abuse include:


Sexual dysfunction


Paranoid behavior

Respiratory failure

Kidney failure


Heart attack


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Recognizing a Crack Cocaine Addiction

Because of its potency and addictive quality, any amount of crack use should be cause for concern. Those addicted to crack put getting their fix above all else, including breaking the law. Knowing what to look for could save your life or the life of someone you care about. The symptoms of addiction as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders includes ignoring responsibilities to use and doing more than initially intended.

Anyone exhibiting these symptoms may meet the clinical definition of crack cocaine addiction. If someone has four to five of the symptoms, their addiction is categorized as moderate. Anything more than six is considered a severe crack addiction. Learn more about diagnosing an addiction.

Intervention for a Crack Cocaine Problem

Once it has come to light that someone is addicted to crack, the next step is to get them help. However, when a person’s brain has been reprogrammed to compulsively abuse crack, it isn’t always easy to convince them to start treatment.

This is where an intervention can come in handy. Interventions are a good way to coax an addict into recovery.

When someone addicted to crack is surrounded by people who care, he or she is more likely to accept treatment.

Because people addicted to crack often exhibit violent or paranoid behavior, it may be beneficial to hire an intervention specialist. Learn more about staging an intervention.

Withdrawal from Crack Cocaine, Treatment and Next Steps

Someone seeking treatment for a crack cocaine addiction will experience symptoms of withdrawal within the first few hours after their last dose. The brain’s dependence on crack causes these symptoms because it can no longer function normally without the drug.

The symptoms of crack withdrawal are predominantly psychological. Symptoms include fatigue, unusual sleep patterns and intense cravings.

Professional treatment can help addicts cope with the symptoms of withdrawal and make a successful, lasting recovery. Depending on the individual, treatment can range from outpatient therapy and support groups to an inpatient rehabilitation center. Treatment for crack addiction is a long road, but recovery is possible. Find out how you can beat the odds and take your life back.

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Sources & Author Last Edited: January 22, 2016

  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2004). Overview of Findings from the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Retrieved on December 28, 2013, from:
  2. Center for a Drug Free World. (2006). Short- and Long-Term Side Effects of Smoking Crack. Retrieved on December 28, 2013, from:
  3. Center for Substance Abuse Research. (2013). Crack Cocaine. Retrieved on December 28, 2013, from:
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