Cocaine & ”Crack” dependence


Cocaine & ”Crack” dependence

What exactly is cocaine?


Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America. Cocaine is a white hydro-chloride salt in its powdered form. Although health care providers can use it for valid medical purposes, such as local anesthesia for some surgeries, cocaine is an illegal drug.

As a street drug, cocaine looks like a fine, white, crystal powder. Street dealers often mix it with things like cornstarch, talcum powder, or flour to increase profits. They may also mix it with other drugs such as the stimulant amphetamine.

What is crack cocaine?

Crack cocaine is derived from powdered cocaine by combining it with water and another substance, usually baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). After cocaine and baking soda are combined, the mixture is boiled, and a solid forms. Once it’s cooled and broken into smaller pieces, these pieces are sold as crack. It is a rock form that is generally white, cream, tan, or light brown. It is cheaper to buy than pure cocaine. When the drug is heated and then smoked, it makes a crackling sound – hence the name. It is a highly concentrated form of the cocaine and therefore very addictive. It is possible for a person to become addicted to crack cocaine after just one use.

How do people use cocaine?

Cocaine powder can be snorted through the nose, or rubbed it into  gums. It takes longer to feel its effects but the resulting high lasts longer.

The powder can also be dissolved in water and injected  into the bloodstream. Some people inject a combination of cocaine and heroin, called a Speedball.

Another popular method of use is to smoke cocaine that has been processed to make a rock crystal (also called “freebase cocaine”). The crystal is heated to produce vapors that are inhaled into the lungs. The effect is instant and last only 5 -10 minutes. This form of cocaine is called Crack, which refers to the crackling sound of the rock as it’s heated.

People who use cocaine often take it in binges—taking the drug repeatedly within a short time, at increasingly higher doses—to maintain their high.

What happens if you use cocaine?

Smoking or injecting cocaine results in nearly instantaneous effects. Rapid absorption through nasal tissues makes snorting cocaine nearly as fast-acting. Whatever the method of taking it in, cocaine quickly enters the bloodstream and travels to the brain. Deep in the brain, cocaine interferes with the chemical messengers — neurotransmitters — that nerves use to communicate with each other. Cocaine blocks norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters from being reabsorbed. The resulting chemical build up between nerves causes euphoria or feeling “high.” A ”crash” follows a high which can lead to cycles of binging and crashing.

What are the side effects of cocaine addiction?

 The intensity and duration of the drug’s effects depend on how you take it. Desired effects include pleasure and increased alertness.

Short-term effects also include paranoia, raised blood pressure, constriction of blood vessels leading to the heart, increase in body temperature, dilated pupils, stroke, irregular heartbeat, heart failure, convulsions,  and death. Severe depression and reduced energy often accompany withdrawal.

Both short- and long term use of cocaine has been associated with damage to the heart, brain, lungs, kidney and destruction of the nose septum.

When a person stops using cocaine, he will go through a period of excessive sleeping, followed by depression. There is a risk that the person could die of respiratory failure. When cocaine use is stopped or when a binge ends, a crash follows almost immediately. This crash is accompanied by a strong craving for more cocaine.

Please use these figures as a guide only:

Alcohol: 3-5 days in urine, 10-12 hours in blood
Amphetamines: 1-3 days in urine and around 12 hours in blood
Barbiturates: 2-4 days in urine and 1-2 days in blood
Benzodiazepines: 3-6 weeks in urine and 2-3 days in blood
Cannabis: 7-30 days in urine and up to 2 weeks in blood
Cocaine: 3-4 days in urine and 1-2 days in blood
Codeine: 1 day in urine and up to 12 hours in blood
Heroin: 3-4 days in urine and up to 12 hours in blood
LSD: 1-3 days in urine and up to 2-3 hours in blood
MDMA (ecstasy): 3-4 days in urine and 1-2 days in blood
Methamphetamine (crystal meth): 3-6 days in urine and 24 – 72 hours in blood
Methadone: 3-4 days in urine and 24-36 hours in blood
Morphine: 2-3 days in urine and 6-8 hours in blood

Get help

Treatment of cocaine addiction

The majority of individuals who seek treatment for cocaine abuse smoke crack and are likely to be poly-drug abusers, or users of more than one substance.

No medications currently are available specifically to treat cocaine addiction.

Because drug abuse and addiction have so many dimensions and disrupt so many aspects of an individual’s life, treatment is not simple. Effective treatment programs typically incorporate many components, each directed to a particular aspect of the illness and its consequences. Addiction treatment must help the individual stop using drugs, maintain a drug-free lifestyle, and achieve productive functioning in the family, at work, and in society. Because addiction is typically a chronic disease, people cannot simply stop using drugs for a few days and be cured. Most patients require long-term or repeated episodes of care to achieve the ultimate goal of sustained abstinence and recovery of their lives.

Self-Help Programs

Twelve-step programs offer support by helping cocaine abusers accept their problems by learning from, and helping other recovering addicts to realize that there is life after cocaine. These programs include:
• Cocaine Anonymous
• Narcotics Anonymous
• Alcoholics Anonymous
Twelve-step programs emphasize taking responsibility for behavior, making amends to others and self-forgiveness. The first step of Cocaine Anonymous states that, “We are powerless over cocaine and our lives have become unmanageable.” Successful recovery programs strongly urge daily attendance at 12-step meetings for the first 90 days of sobriety.
Individuals who successfully abstain from cocaine attend a lot of 12-step meetings for support and accountability. They often report that a part of them still looks for a good reason to use cocaine. Twelve-step meetings are daily reminders of their powerlessness over drugs.


If you have more questions about cocaine, you can chat to an online facilitator on LIVE CHAT. It is a text-based service and you may remain anonymous.


You can also do a self-test quiz on addiction – Substance abuse quiz.


Terminology and Information on Drugs, Revised Edition, United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, New York, 1999.

Merck Index, 13th Edition, Merck & Co., Inc., Whitehouse Station NJ, 2001.

Main photo: Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay


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