Crack Cocaine Addiction and Detox

For many years, cocaine has been considered more socially “acceptable” and associated with successful people and celebrities. It is also often assumed you can occasionally take cocaine and are unlikely to develop a cocaine addiction.

On the other side of the coin, crack cocaine has always been viewed as an extremely dangerous and highly addictive drug used by people who engage in illegal activities and sex work. This page aims to cover the information you should know about crack cocaine, risk and treatment for crack addiction.

What Is Crack Cocaine?

Crack cocaine is the name given to the solid form of powdered cocaine. It is also referred to as blow, rocks, Percy, base, stones, and most often, crack.

Crack cocaine is created by mixing the powder form of cocaine with baking soda or ammonia, which is then heated to produce rocks that can be smoked. Typically it is smoked in a glass pipe, which may also be called a stem or a rose. Empty cans of pop or aluminium foil can also be used to heat the rocks to inhale the smoke. 

It is referred to as “crack” because of its cracking sound when heated and is typically found as small rocks that are off-white or yellow in colour. Crack cocaine can also be dissolved and injected. Crack has become increasingly popular as it is cheaper and faster-acting than cocaine and because of the intense high it produces. 

What is Crack Cut With?

Dealers make crack by boiling powdered cocaine in water with a binding agent. This creates a solid that can be broken into smaller amounts, often called “crack rocks”. Because cocaine is generally cut with a wide range of substances, crack will typically contain:

  • Baking soda
  • Cornstarch
  • Laundry detergent
  • Talcum powder
  • Creatine.

Although these substances might be relatively or completely harmless, when smoked they are absorbed into the bloodstream. This can cause blockages in blood vessels and arteries, which can be fatal.

Cocaine is also regularly cut with other highly addictive drugs to increase its potency and make it appear purer and of higher quality. Common drugs used are:

Crack Cocaine Use and Effects

The most common way to use crack cocaine is to smoke it, although crack can also be injected once dissolved into a liquid form. Both smoking and injecting crack cocaine mean the drug reaches the brain more quickly, resulting in an intense and immediate high. This high, however, is short-lived, which makes crack cocaine addiction especially dangerous as more is required to maintain a high for any period.

Crack cocaine works by stimulating the central nervous system (CNS), causing high levels of dopamine to be released. Long-term use of crack cocaine can cause permanent changes in brain cells and nerve cells. During the initial effects of crack, you may alternate between extreme energy and fatigue. When the short-term effects have worn off, hyperactivity will change to severe exhaustion, and you will want to sleep for long periods. 

There are several giveaway signs of crack cocaine use, and the effects include:

  • Euphoria
  • Hyperactivity
  • Confidence
  • Excessive excitement
  • Talking rapidly
  • Agitation.

The intensity of the effects of using crack can vary because of the unreliability of its ingredients. However, while it can cause euphoria and a heightened sense of confidence and sociability, the effects only last around 10 minutes. Alongside the immediate effects, crack addiction can also result in other physical and psychological changes.

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Crack Cocaine —Physical and Psychological Signs

Different drugs have different effects on the pupils of the eyes, and crack is no exception. Key symptoms of crack cocaine use are bloodshot eyes and dilated pupils, a condition known as mydriasis because of how the drug changes the chemical functioning of the brain. Crack is also sometimes snorted, which can cause a permanently runny nose, a hoarse voice, and a constant sore throat. 

Additional physical symptoms of crack include:

  • Seizures
  • High body temperature
  • Nausea
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • High blood pressure
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Abscesses
  • Tooth decay
  •  Involuntary jitters.

Higher rates of comorbid disorders and crack cocaine use, such as anxiety and depressive disorders, are often present and will also fuel crack addiction. 

Psychological symptoms of crack use include:

  • Risk-taking
  • Nervousness and anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Aggression and violence
  • Mood swings
  • Disorientation and confusion.

Signs of Crack Cocaine Overdose

Regardless of whether you are a regular or first-time user, you risk suffering from an overdose every time you use crack. The risk of overdosing on crack is high because of its short-term effects. Users will often take more crack to prolong the effects, increasing the potential of a fatal overdose. The signs of overdose include:

  • Seizures
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Heart attack
  • Chest pain
  • Respiratory depression (shallow or fast breathing).

Do not wait to call emergency services if you suspect you or someone else has any symptoms that could indicate a crack cocaine overdose. The emergency services will not call the police and are only concerned about making sure they attend to you or the person who needs medical attention.

Crack Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms

During the initial effects of crack, you may alternate between extreme energy and fatigue. When the short-term effects have worn off, hyperactivity will change to severe exhaustion, and you will want to sleep for long periods. 

Crack cocaine withdrawal symptoms will differ depending on how much you use and how often. The severity of withdrawal will also depend on your method of use. Crack detox and withdrawal rarely follows a consistent timeline; however, crack cocaine only stays in the body for around 90 minutes. Once the effects have worn off and the drug is no longer in your system, you may encounter what’s known as a “crash” or “comedown.” 

Crack Cocaine addiction causes both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms.

Physical withdrawal symptoms might include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Increased heart rate
  • Muscle pain
  • Exhaustion.

Psychological withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Agitation and anxiety
  • Depression
  • Psychosis (hallucinations and delusions)
  • Seizures.

Physical withdrawal symptoms typically reduce after the first week, although lesser physical symptoms can continue for up to three months. Psychological withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, exhaustion, depression, insomnia, nightmares, paranoia, and erratic mood swings can last six months or longer.

What Is Crack Cocaine Addiction?

Crack is extremely potent in comparison to powdered cocaine, and crack addiction can develop rapidly, with an intense desire to continue using after just one hit. Addiction takes away the ability to control the compulsion just to have “one more hit”, regardless of the consequences and damage it is causing. 

When you are unable to use it or do not have access to it, crack cocaine addiction will typically leave you experiencing intense cravings, irritability and increased anxiety. In the throes of addiction, it is often impossible to think about anything else.

Behavioural Signs of Crack Addiction

In addition to withdrawal symptoms, there are behavioural signs that you have developed a crack cocaine addiction. Even after the first time you use crack, you can become addicted. Seven common signs of crack addiction include:

  1. Neglecting day-to-day responsibilities and personal relationships
  2. Avoiding family and friends
  3. Socialising only with other crack users
  4. Obsessing over when you can next use crack
  5. Anxiety when your supply is running low
  6. Poor personal hygiene and not caring about your appearance
  7. Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy.

Long-Term Effects of Crack Cocaine Addiction

Long-term use of crack cocaine will cause permanent changes to brain function and can cause various long-term health issues, including:

  • Liver damage 
  • Kidney failure
  • Cardiac (heart) attack
  • Stroke
  • Infertility.

Additionally, because crack cocaine is most commonly smoked using a pipe, this method of use comes with several serious long-term health risks, including:

  • Respiratory failure
  • Lung damage.

Regular use of crack cocaine can also compromise the immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to infections.

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Crack Cocaine Addiction Treatment

Once you’ve stopped using crack for a short while, your body will naturally begin to expel the toxins that have built up in your system over time. This is referred to as a detox. However, in doing so, your body attempts to adjust to functioning without the presence of crack, and, as a result, you may experience some very intense and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. While undergoing a crack detox on an outpatient basis is possible, attending residential rehab is considered the most effective way to prevent relapse following detox.

During a crack detox, you will be monitored and given medication to ease the severity of withdrawal symptoms. During residential rehab, crack addiction treatment will consist of various psychological treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), group counselling, one-to-one counselling and psychotherapy, alongside holistic activities such as music therapy, meditation and creative activities. 

Traditional approaches might include 12 Step therapy, especially in the community or NHS addiction treatment centres. Although it is possible to be referred for private residential rehab paid for by the NHS, this will generally only be considered following outpatient treatment and subsequent relapse. 

At Step by Step Recovery, we want to help individuals live free from drug, alcohol and crack cocaine addiction. Please complete our online assessment form or call our friendly team on 0800 170 1222 for free, confidential advice to discuss addiction treatment options in London or at our residential rehab in Essex.


Cocaine is generally found as a white powder, while crack resembles a white or yellow rock, and the manner of use is typically different. The main difference between cocaine and crack is the highs experienced, depending on the method of use. When cocaine is snorted, it takes longer to feel its effects resulting in a longer-lasting high. When crack is injected or smoked, this results in a more intense but shorter high, increasing the risk of repeated use and crack cocaine addiction.

The effects of crack tend to be almost immediate and reach their peak approximately two minutes after it is used. These only last up to 10 minutes, resulting in constant cravings and continued use.

Although crack cocaine can produce intense feelings of pleasure, these feelings are incredibly short-lived, leaving users constantly chasing the feeling of euphoria. However, The drug’s powerful effect on the brain’s dopamine regulation means using crack cocaine repeatedly weakens its impact due to the build-up of tolerance over time.

The method of use determines how quickly a drug reaches the brain. Crack is typically smoked, which means it’s absorbed through the lungs and into the bloodstream before reaching the brain. Once it hits the brain, your dopamine levels spike, producing the immediate feeling of intense pleasure. 


When the brain becomes accustomed to the presence of crack, it begins to rely on the drug to create dopamine, and you stop feeling pleasure and enjoyment from other activities.

Yes. After a while of no drug use, your body will naturally attempt to flush the remaining toxins from your body. However, this process isn’t always easy and can result in severe withdrawal symptoms, often intensifying the desire to use again. To help control the worst withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse, it is recommended that a medically assisted detox is completed and addiction treatment is provided in residential rehab for a minimum of 28 days.

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Page revised in March 2023, by Danielle Byatt, a Level 4 addictions counselling, Level 5 in Leadership & Management, BA applied social work. and Treatment Director at Step by Step Recovery.

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