Crack Cocaine Addiction

Almost from its first use, crack cocaine produces an effect so euphoric that users succumb by constantly trying to recapture the magic of that first high. When smoked, crack’s immediate effects are intense euphoria, an increased sense of well-being, confidence and vitality, alertness, and an almost instant desire for more of the drug. Within minutes, these effects begin to wear off, causing the user to smoke more and more of the substance to regain that first taste of pleasure. Created by “washing” cocaine with either ammonia or baking soda (sometimes both), crack is the smokable formation of a pea-sized, crystalized rock. Named due to the noise it makes when it begins to burn, crack is most often smoked in a glass pipe. The user will take a hit, or puff, off the pipe to ingest crack. The inhaled smoke is the fastest transport of the euphoric drug to the pleasure center of the brain, where it begins to form a pathway that becomes more deeply entrenched with further use, followed quickly by addiction. In many drug cultures, crack cocaine is believed to be the most addictive drug of abuse.

How It Begins

Dopamine courses through the brain of the user instantaneously with the first use. As it becomes depleted below the level prior to the use within a few minutes, the user will smoke more to maintain this level of dopamine. The levels of dopamine in the brain of the user begin to spike and plummet, never attaining the initial high peak, but going lower and lower when each hit leaves their system. The ensuing depression creates a sensation of craving for the user; thus, the addiction cycle begins.

Who Uses Crack?

Crack became popular with lower socioeconomic populations in the '80s since it had all the pleasurable effects of cocaine, but was less costly to use. Today it remains popular with those who are less inclined to use cocaine. Its low cost plays a factor, but also the immediate euphoric high that users get from smoking it (as opposed to injecting cocaine with a syringe) is also part of its appeal.

Why Is Crack So Addictive?

Addiction to crack is nearly immediate, according to those who have used it and become addicted. The intense pleasure is a sensation that is hard to turn down and yet impossible to reproduce. While scientists may argue about the types of persons who become addicted to crack, few argue about the seductive lure of its initial impact on the user. The ensuing depression and loss of pleasure experienced when the high is gone are reason enough to continue to use crack. Many report feeling suicidal as they came down from crack, even though they did not consider themselves to be addicted to it. As the dependence on it grows, so does the state of depression following use. The intense euphoric feelings created by use do not reach the same levels for those who continue to use. They describe their use as a protection from the onset of depression more than a return to the good feelings they once received. Finding professional help to get off crack is essential, as users aren't able to quit cold turkey.

What Happens to an Addict's Brain?

Dopamine flooding in the brain of an addict is the method by which the euphoria is produced. After several uses, this process creates a pathway in the brain, much like a well-trodden piece of ground will be recognized by the foot-worn path through grass or underbrush. This pathway becomes more entrenched as use progresses. Addiction is the need of the brain to continue to flood dopamine along this pathway for the user to feel normal. Without continuing use, depression becomes the offset. The user can no longer experience pleasure in anything, other than use of more of the substance that created the flooding.
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