Crack cocaine is considered to be a worldwide public health problem. While the initiation of crack use continues, more than 8.5 million people admitted to have used crack in one point of their lives. However, crack has high abuse and dependence liabilities and has been linked to a multiple cardiovascular, respiratory, neurological, and psychiatric problems.
Crack dependence is a medical disorder of the brain which trigger numerous changes in the brain’s complex neurochemistry. Dependence on crack can develop quickly. However, it is important to establish the clinical difference between dependence and addiction. Dependence on a drug is defined by the appearance of a set of withdrawal symptoms when you stop using a drug, or significantly lower doses. On the other hand, addiction is characterized by the psychological compulsion to use crack and manifests as cravings and obsessive thinking.
While it is possible that a person can be physically dependent on crack without being addicted to the drug, addiction is commonly present in people who develop physical dependence on crack cocaine. In fact, studies have shown that over 30% of people who have smoked crack experience dependence symptoms within 2 years of initial use. What makes crack so difficult to quit is the physical and psychological dependence that it creates.
Cocaine addiction can develop in only a few months of binge use. In most cases, addiction develops more rapidly when a drug is smoked (the way crack is commonly used). This is why it only takes several days for addiction to crack to develop. So, smoking crack only a few times has the potential to develop to addiction.
Crack dependence time: How long to be dependent on crack?
When smoked, crack it is rapidly absorbed into the pulmonary-circulatory system and is transmitted to the brain in less than 10 seconds, offering a high that lasts about 5 minutes. Crack provides the user with a rapid and intense drug experience, which makes it highly addictive
Crack users can develop crack dependence, on average, about 5 months after first use. Crack causes strong psychological dependence and compulsive use, which makes mortality rates of crack addicts seven times higher than for the rest of the population. So, it is safe to say that dependence is the rule rather than the exception among people who smoke crack for long periods of time.
Physical dependence on crack
Crack is a strong central nervous system (CNS) stimulant that increases the levels of dopamine in the brain. But, retention of dopamine changes brain activity, signaling an intense craving for more of the drug. This craving causes the user to take crack obsessively just to function normally. Even though users might be aware of the adverse side effects crack, they are unable to fight the urge and if given unlimited availability and use, they can literally self-destruct.
Psychological dependence on Crack
It’s a well known fact that crack cocaine causes the strongest mental dependency of any known drug. Strong psychological dependency can occur with only one “hit” of crack, but mental dependency usually occurs within several days. Although crack causes euphoric high in only seconds, its effects last about 5 minutes. As the high-feeling quickly wears off, the user gets depressed and experiences an intense drug craving.
Dependence on crack symptoms
According to the American Psychiatric Association, only three of the following conditions must be present for a patient to be diagnosed with crack cocaine dependence:
becoming tolerant to the euphoric effects of crack and needing more drug to produce the desired effects
being occupied with obtaining and using cocaine, which leads to isolation from friends and family
continually using crack despite knowing the adverse mental and physical symptoms
discontinuing the use of crack results in withdrawal symptoms (such as fatigue, sleep disturbances, agitation, or depression), which are relieved by smoking crack again
engaging in unlawful activities such as shoplifting, theft, burglary, or homicide to get hold of money to buy crack
inability to reduce the amount of crack one smokes
job loss due to ineffectiveness at work, increased absenteeism, or inability to find work
using crack in large doses whenever it is available
Crack dependence and withdrawal
Crack magnifies the intensity of almost all normal pleasures in life and causes patterns of effects that arise with the discontinuation of crack use. These effects are officially called the crack abstinence syndrome, and often involves a “crash” and a withdrawal phase. During the withdrawal phase, nervousness, aggression, paranoia, and depression are observed. At this time, the levels of neurotransmitters norepinephrine and serotonin are radically lower due to the chronic depletion caused by crack use.
So what’s a realistic crack withdrawal timeline? Physical withdrawal from crack does not usually last longer than a week. However, psychological withdrawal symptoms of crack persist for many weeks and even months after users stop taking the drug. The duration of crack withdrawal varies in accordance with how long it has been abused and how frequently it was smoked. Heavy users usually experience PAWS (Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome) within three to six months after cessation of crack. PAWS occurs when the brain has been overly damaged by the drug and it can take a very long time for the brain to restore normal functioning.