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Short & Long-Term Effects of Crack Cocaine Use (& How to Recognize)

Cocaine comes in several different forms, including powdered cocaine, rock cocaine, and altered cocaine products meant for injection use.

It is an illegal substance classified as a Schedule II drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

This means it has a high potential for abuse but some accepted medical use; it can be administered by a doctor under some circumstances.

Learn more about the dangerous drug crack cocaine, the effects of crack cocaine use and abuse, and how you can help yourself or a loved one overcome addiction.

What Is Crack?

When cocaine is in rock form, it is known as crack and ingested by smoking it in a glass pipe. Crack cocaine is highly potent, and people who use the drug in this form can quickly become addicted.

The high that results from smoking crack cocaine lasts only about 15 minutes, leaving users craving more of the drug as effects quickly wear off. The potency of this form of the drug along with the quick rate of absorption and fast-acting effects contribute to the elevated risk of addiction.

Cocaine use rates have remained relatively stable since 2009, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, with about 1.5 million people age 12 and over having used cocaine in the past month.

What Is the Impact of Short-Term Crack Use?

Crack cocaine use can have an immediate impact on the body. While the intended impact is the euphoric high, there are many associated side effects.

The effects appear immediately after smoking the drug and result in a euphoric, energetic high that makes users alert, talkative, and hypersensitive to stimulation.

Crack users often binge on the drug, taking multiple doses of it repeatedly, sometimes for days at a time. This bingeing behavior occurs partly because of the short-acting effects of each dose and partly because of the highly addictive nature of the substance.

Short-Term Physical Effects

  • Increased heart rate
  • Higher body temperature
  • Amplified blood pressure
  • Boosted energy
  • Alertness
  • Narrowed blood vessels
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Nausea
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Heart attacks
  • Stroke
  • Seizure
  • Coma
  • Convulsions
  • Sudden death

Short-Term Mental Effects

  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Panic attacks
  • Erratic behavior
  • Psychosis

All these effects can occur within the acute period of times when a person is high from crack cocaine.

Even short-term crack use can result in triggers that lead the user down the path to long-term addiction and serious adverse outcomes.

What Is the Impact of Long-Term Use?

Long-term repeated use of crack cocaine can have other adverse health effects. The brain becomes adapted to the presence of the drug stimulating the reward centers and thus, becomes less sensitive to other pleasurable stimulation. This causes long-term crack users to have more difficulty experiencing pleasure without the drug.

Long-Term Physical Effects

  • Loss of sense of smell
  • Damage to the nasal passages
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Tissue infection and death
  • Development of tolerance
  • Poor nutrition
  • Weight loss
  • Lung damage from smoking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chronic cough
  • Heart damage
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Insomnia
  • Tooth decay

Long-Term Mental Health Effects

  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Anxiety
  • Addiction
  • Irritability
  • Delirium
  • Altered brain structure/function
  • Aggressive or erratic behavior

Some of these long-term effects may be reversible over time with abstinence and treatment, but some of the damage may be permanent.

How to Recognize Crack Cocaine Abuse

If you suspect a loved one may be using crack cocaine, common signs of addiction that you can look for include:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Disappearing for days at a time
  • Loss of financial stability
  • Disheveled appearance
  • Involvement with crime
  • Stealing or pawning objects
  • Frequently asking for money
  • Unexplained loss of money or property
  • Discovery of drugs or drug paraphernalia
  • Changes in mood, behavior, appearance
  • Decreased personal hygiene habits
  • Dental damage

Level and Length of Use

As with all illicit and addictive drugs, the impact on the individual will depend on the amount of crack being used and the length of time the person has been using.

Addiction is a progressive condition. An individual might start out using recreationally at a party or with friends but become addicted over time as the drug begins to change their brain physiologically and psychologically.

The longer a person uses crack and the more of the substance they ingest, the higher the likelihood that they will develop more of the long-term side effects. Over time, tolerance develops, and people must use more of the substance to achieve the same desired high. This increases the risk of overdose as increasing amounts of the drug are used over time.

Unfortunately, because of the highly addictive nature of this particular form of cocaine, some users can become addicted after very short-term use.

The amount of crack used can also affect how severe the long-term side effects are. Using higher dosage amounts will cause more severe side effects over time. The quickly diminishing effects of the associated high from crack often result in consumers using large amounts of the drug at once, often smoking doses of crack repeatedly over several days.

cocaine depression

Can the Damage Be Reversed?

There are ways to reverse some of the effects of crack cocaine use, but some of the damage may be permanent. The best way to reduce the effects of such use is to stop ingesting the drug and seek professional treatment for addiction.

Some of the effects, such as the swelling of the heart tissue, can be reduced over time with abstinence as well as proper nutrition and heart-healthy behaviors. Other impacts, such as scarring in the respiratory system, will be permanent.

While healthy habits are always going to result in better resilience and faster recovery in all areas of the body, good nutrition, and regular exercise are not enough to mitigate the damage of long-term crack use.

Some of the difficulties that researchers have in studying the ability of the body to reverse the damage done from crack use are related to the high relapse rate among users. Low rates of abstinence among crack users result in a lack of information about the potential of reversing long-term damage.

Researchers have found, however, that damage to the cortical structure and function is an important predictor when it comes to successful recovery from addiction. This means that there appears to be a point at which the brain damage caused by crack use makes full healing much more difficult for those with dependency problems.

People who seek treatment before significant structural and functional damage has occurred in the brain have a greater chance of being successful in recovery. Once the cortical structure and function have changed, the damage to the brain is permanent.

How Is Addiction Treated?

There aren’t any current pharmacotherapies used to treat stimulant use disorders. However, there is some research being done on the impact of cannabis as a treatment to reduce crack cocaine use.

One longitudinal study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors found that periods of intentional cannabis use were associated with reductions in the frequency of crack use. More research needs to be done to determine if cannabis can be used as a potential treatment for crack addiction.

Current models of cocaine addiction recovery include a detoxification period, in which clients are monitored for withdrawal symptoms and given medication as needed to reduce the distressful withdrawal period. Detox is followed by addiction therapy and support groups to aid clients in adhering to a long-term sobriety program.