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Treating Crack Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine is a highly addictive substance derived from the leaves of the coca plant, which is native to South America. Crack cocaine is formed when cocaine is “cooked” with a base agent such as baking soda, resulting in the characteristic hard rock form that can be heated, and the resulting vapor then inhaled or smoked. Crack is cheaper to obtain than other forms of cocaine and is often used in “binges,” or smoked frequently over short periods of time to maintain the high.1

It is not unheard of for users to overdose on crack after using it only one time.1 Even if overdose is avoided, frequent users may eventually succumb to addiction, unable to function as a parent, partner, or employee. People who are addicted to crack cocaine need treatment to stop the potentially terrible consequences of using this dangerous drug.

Warning Signs to Recognize

Crack is extremely addictive. Often, only a very short time passes before a person moves from merely abusing crack cocaine to being fully addicted. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) notes that for a diagnosis of addiction to crack, at least 2 of the following criteria must be met during a 12-month period:2

  • Crack is taken in greater doses than originally planned
  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut back on using crack
  • Spends a great deal of time using, obtaining, or thinking about using crack
  • Experiences intense cravings to continue using crack cocaine
  • Unable to attend to his or her roles at home, work, or school due to crack use
  • Relationships with a partner affected by the use of crack cocaine; arguments and complaints from partners are common
  • Continued crack cocaine use despite known high-risk dangers (e.g., driving when high)
  • Activities that once mattered are given up in favor of using crack cocaine
  • Continued crack cocaine use despite serious medical or legal consequences
  • Tolerance develops to crack cocaine: taking greater and greater doses of the drug to achieve the same high as before

Detox and Withdrawal

Callout Image The most important action a person addicted to crack cocaine can take is seeking help. The first step toward getting clean is detoxing from the drug. Detox is the process through which crack cocaine chemicals in your body are removed. Removing these chemicals is necessary to be able to be clear-headed enough to begin to address the root causes behind your abuse of the drug, and defeat your addiction. Read More

Effects and Consequences

Not only is possessing and using crack illegal, leading to possible criminal charges, but crack is also highly physically dangerous to the user. Crack cocaine users experience some initial feelings of euphoria, happiness, and energy, but they are also likely to experience the following side effects:1

  • Irritability
  • Paranoia
  • Sensitivity to light and sound

Over time, other more detrimental effects emerge, which may include the following:1

  • Nausea
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Tremors
  • Extreme restlessness
  • High blood pressure

Eventually, when people smoke crack, they may develop the following:1

  • Malnourishment due to suppression of appetite from crack cocaine
  • Auditory hallucinations
  • Movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease

Additionally, crack use can lead to sudden heart attack, stroke, and death. Attempts to quit crack use often leads users into extreme depression.3

What Can Happen When You Detox?

INSERT DESCRIPTION HEREDetoxing from crack is the first step in long-term recovery from addiction. The profound physical and emotional changes that often accompany withdrawal from crack cocaine addiction can be difficult to manage without appropriate oversight by medical and substance abuse treatment professionals.

A person who is undergoing the detox process from crack cocaine may experience the following symptoms of withdrawal:3

  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Strong cravings for food
  • Intense desire to use crack cocaine
  • Problems with concentration

Occasionally, people experience seizures or heart problems during detox, but generally the physical aspects of crack cocaine addiction are manageable.3 Detox is designed to help people overcome the most difficult period after the discontinuation of crack cocaine. However, people who complete only a few days of detox at high risk of relapse. Ongoing focused treatment efforts and counseling can help reduce the chances of relapse.

Various Rehab Options

Many options are available for crack addiction rehab, but no one program is right for everyone. For instance, programs may vary tremendously in terms of treatment philosophy. Some programs use a “tough love” confrontational style of treatment to which many people respond well, while others prefer a gentler, more nurturing type of treatment program.

Some programs offer only group-based treatment, citing the benefits of group treatment for addicted people; still others use an individualized approach. Many people start at a detox facility, followed by a longer stay in an inpatient facility. Inpatient treatment is often followed by outpatient treatment, where patients go home at night and attend counseling for several hours a week. Typically, while receiving this treatment, a person is introduced to support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous or Cocaine Anonymous, which can then be a source of ongoing, long-term support in the process of recovery.


Programs also vary by cost, as well as the types of amenities that are offered. Some programs are very expensive and offer an environment that resembles a retreat or spa. There may be private rooms with chefs on staff, as well as professionals who give massages and yoga classes. Most programs, however, are more simple, and have shared rooms, hospital-type food, and standard recreational activities such as volleyball and basketball.

Types of Programs

Treatment programs also vary a great deal in their methods of delivery. Some programs are rooted in the 12-step model, while others take a different approach. Some programs offer only group-based treatment, citing the benefits of group treatment for addicted people; still others use an individualized approach. Most treatment programs have some combination of individual and group therapy.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

closeup of mans faceTreating addiction with cognitive behavioral therapy has long been the most common form of treatment. This therapy is designed to teach addicted people new thinking patterns that discourage the use of substances; it also helps them learn new ways to resist using these substances again. Participants are trained to recognize triggers for using drugs, faulty thinking patterns, and new methods of thinking to replace them with healthier options.4

Contingency Management

Some programs use contingency management, in which participants are given rewards for following a drug-free lifestyle and participating in the different aspects of a treatment program. In voucher-based programs, a person receives a voucher for each clean drug screen, which can be traded in for rewards, such as movie tickets. Over time, the vouchers increase in value. Other programs have used prize vouchers, in which each positive drug screen equals an entry in a weekly cash drawing. Initially, some professionals were concerned that such incentives could promote gambling behaviors, but this has not proved to be true.5

The Matrix Model

The Matrix Model is gaining popularity as a mode of treatment specifically designed to work with people who have stimulant abuse disorders. This model trains counselors to be direct, but not confrontational, and to treat clients with dignity and respect. It has many detailed worksheets and manuals to guide counselors through the process of working with people in rehab for stimulant abuse. The specific issues faced by people who use cocaine and methamphetamine are explored as part of treatment, and participants are coached in ways to overcome these challenges effectively.6


Ideally, a person is able to participate in the whole spectrum of detox and rehab services for crack cocaine addiction. The recovery process is not an easy one, however, and a brief stay in detox is typically not enough treatment to help someone addicted to crack cocaine overcome their ongoing cravings to use the drug.

Managing recovery is long-term. Much support is necessary—and available—to help people with addictions change their patterns of thinking, learn new ways of socializing with sober friends, and cut off old, destructive friendships. This support can often help the person return to the workforce or complete formal education.

Ongoing support also helps people in recovery work with family to identify poor relational dynamics and improve them in the face of new, abstaining behaviors. This type of systemic change is generally best accomplished through detox, followed by a rehabilitation treatment program, and then a step-down into several weeks of outpatient treatment and longitudinal aftercare efforts. The addicted person’s participation in ongoing 12-step groups can help to provides the long-term support and accountability that most people in recovery from active crack cocaine addiction require to avoid relapse.

Unsure where to start? Take Our Substance Abuse Self-Assessment

Take our free, 5-minute substance abuse self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with substance abuse. This evaluation consists of 11 yes or no questions that are designed to be used as an informational tool to assess the severity and probability of a substance use disorder. The test is free, confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result. Please be aware that this evaluation is not a substitute for advice from a medical doctor.

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