ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Crack is a highly addictive derivative of cocaine with dangerous health consequences. Withdrawal is tough, but not impossible. Your body and brain are going to need time to resume their natural chemistry. This article reviews what crack withdrawal is like, offers a basic timeline of withdrawal symptoms, and describes what happens during the process.
Crack and the Brain
Let’s first take a look at how crack works.
Crack raises levels of dopamine to get you high. Dopamine helps regulation of movement and is connected to the brain’s reward system. The brain naturally reproduces dopamine, storing it and recycling it for further use. But when you take crack, this system goes haywire. Here’s what happens.
When you smoke crack, instead of recycling dopamine, cocaine causes large amount of dopamine to pile up. For a short time you will feel high, yet cravings can start even within minutes after the last take. The brain will seek out more because crack is so effective (but short-lived).
So, when you quit crack, the body and brain must work heavily to readjust. The brain must learn how to naturally create and recycle dopamine again. Because of this, people often relapse. The uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms can be too much, and we slip back into using for relief.
Is Crack Withdrawal Hard?
The short answer is: yes, crack withdrawal is hard.
Crack causes both physical and psychological dependence. And sometimes, withdrawal symptoms can be extremely difficult to handle. See the list of symptoms below. Mostly, symptoms are the opposite of how you feel when high. You feel fatigued, depressed, and really low.
Plus, withdrawal can be intense. The severity of withdrawal is directly related to:
For example, somebody who needs more crack to get high and has been using it for years will experience a harder withdrawal than someone who’s only been using it for a few weeks and takes it in small doses.
Also, during your first weeks of crack detox, you will be at the highest risk of relapse. Detoxing is a very intensive and uncomfortable process. You must be psychologically ready to overcome its difficulties. This is why medical detox can help.
Anyone going through crack withdrawal can benefit from medical help.
Is Crack Withdrawal Dangerous?
For the most part, crack withdrawal is not dangerous. However, medical symptoms can create complications, so it can be risky. In particular, you need medical supervision for the following symptoms:
So, with the risk of severe symptoms, can you quit crack cold turkey?
When quitting cold turkey, there’s always a strong chance of relapse. It is very difficult to quit cold turkey on your own because cravings are so overwhelming. The experience is very uncomfortable. It can even trigger severe depression or suicidal thinking.
To repeat, there’s a risk of mental disorders during detox, whether through a properly supervised medical detox or if you try to quit on your own. Symptoms of depression are most common due to the fact that the brain produces less dopamine now being deprived from the crack. This depression can lead to suicidal ideation.
A List of Crack Withdrawal Symptoms
Crack withdrawal is different for everyone. You may not feel all the symptoms mentioned in the list below. Plus, your symptoms will not be at the same intensity level as others. Addiction is a very personal experience, manifesting in everyone differently. Thus, each of us reacts differently to withdrawal.
Withdrawal symptoms are caused by drug dependence. However, in the case of crack, withdrawal does not necessarily need time to build up: withdrawal can occur as you’re coming down off the drug. Crack is a drug that makes people feel energetic, euphoric and full of grandeur delusions, so the crash can be a distressing, low state of mind.
The following symptoms can be expected during crack withdrawal:
Aggression and violent incidents
Anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure)
Depression and a lack of motivation
Exhaustion and fatigue
Feelings of paranoia
Irritability and restlessness
Psychosis, hallucinations and other mental disturbances
Sleep disturbances and vivid nightmares
If you’ve compulsively smoked crack, you’ve probably already felt these symptoms to a certain degree. When crack leaves a user’s body (which can happen within minutes), cravings start almost immediately. So, withdrawal often leads to immediate use. Most people take another hit before these withdrawal symptoms peak. Still, these symptoms are relatively minor compared with the symptoms that manifest when you quit for good.
The Basic Timeline
The following timeline provides you a general idea of what to expect when you want to quit crack for good.
0-72 Hours. This is the most uncomfortable stage, the so-called the “crash” period. Your withdrawal symptoms will peak. Your body will go through major adjustments while restructuring it's chemistry. It’s important to surround yourself by a team of medical professionals during this period.
Week 1-2. During this period, your brain must adjust to a drug-free chemistry. People who use large amounts of cocaine may experience psychotic symptoms such as paranoia, disordered thoughts and hallucinations. You might feel extremely distressed and agitated or be a risk of harming yourself or others. These symptoms can be managed using anti-psychotic medications and will usually resolve within a week of quitting cocaine.
Usually, strong crack cravings begin during this time, as well. Psychotherapies are necessary in order to reduce cravings and better understand your behavioural patterns. Talk therapy helps you develop a new lifestyle without the need for coke.
Week 3-4. This period is commonly known as the “honeymoon phase”. You may begin to notice that your cravings are reduced and your mood is improved. The low feelings brought on by the initial withdrawal symptoms are no longer present. Instead, once again you might feel energetic and confident with a strong sensation to go back into normal life and make anew of yourself.
Month 1-3. After the first month, most people begin to understand and manage their emotions. You’ll also start to develop emotional coping strategies after 4 weeks of abstinence. However,
this does not mean that your troubles are behind you. Protracted withdrawal symptoms like poor impulse control can take time to even out. It should be noted that around 66% of those who go through this timeline relapse within three months afterwards. It’s highly suggested that treatment continues long after you get crack out of your system.
Medicines that Help
Currently, there are no FDA approved medicines for crack treatment. However, antidepressants or anti-psychotic medication may be prescribed. Additionally, scientists have been testing several promising medications, such as:
These medications may have simply a placebo effect. The last item on this list is the TA-CD vaccine, shows promise, though. It stimulates production of cocaine-specific antibodies and prevents cocaine from entering the brain. In this way, the TA-CD vaccine may stop cocaine euphoric and reinforcing effects.
Even though no approved medication are in use, you should always consult a medical professional during detox. Short term prescription use of antidepressants can help. Additionally, you may need anti-psychotic medication. Additionally, symptomatic relief can be provided to address withdrawal symptoms as they occur. In fact, a medical detox can help provide more than medications…a good detox clinic will provide mental and emotional support.
Natural Remedies that Help
There are a number of natural remedies people use to ease withdrawal and prevent relapse. These include:
Exercise. Most treatment centers suggest exercising as it promotes natural dopamine to its natural levels and endorphins; thereby, helping counter the urge for cocaine.
Herbal Remedies. Herbal remedies increase protein levels, which in turn reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Studies have found that such is N-acetyl-cysteine, an amino acid, used for a variety of treatments and therapies.
Distractions. Developing distractions is essential during recovery in order to keep your mind occupied. You’re going to need to form new habits in order to break old ones. This can be anything from writing regularly in a journal to painting or to just listening to music.
Where to Go For Help
In order to find help, you must first want it. By admitting you're defeated, you’re allowing something new to happen. Then you’re on the path to seeking medical help.
But where do you look?
You’ll also want to reach out to family and friends. As you go about your recovery, you’re going to be in need of a support system. The people you can always reach out to when things get difficult. Furthermore, even after treatment when recovery is still ongoing, you’ll have people there when need be. If you’re a family member or friend of someone who’s addicted to crack there are a variety of options for you to seek help for your loved one.
Or, you can give us a call. We’re always happy to help. The telephone number listed on this page will connect you to a helpline answered by American Addiction Centers (AAC). The helpline is offered at no cost and with no obligation to enter detox or addiction treatment. We can help discuss your treatment options, which can include detox. So, if you are ready to get help, reach out and pick up the phone.
Do you have a better idea of what to expect during withdrawal?
Still have questions?
If you have any further questions pertaining to crack withdrawal, we invite you to ask them below. If you have any advice to give for people currently going through withdrawal, we’d also love to hear from you. We try to provide a personal response to each comment and get back to your promptly.
NIDA: DRUG FACTS: COCAINE
NIDA: DRUGS, BRAINS, AND BEHAVIOUR:THE SCIENCE OF ADDICTION
NIH: U.S. NATIONAL LIBRARY OF MEDICINE: COCAINE WITHDRAWAL