What is Crack Withdrawal Like? Signs and Symptoms

Ruben Bermea
Calendar icon Last Updated: 08/16/2021

Reading Time: 6 minutes

The withdrawal symptoms of crack cocaine can make it difficult to successfully stop using this addictive drug.1,2 If you experience physical dependence or addiction, you may continue using this substance to manage uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal.3 Detoxification (detox) services can offer a safe treatment to help alleviate some of the effects of crack cocaine withdrawal.4

What Is Crack Cocaine?

The primary method of using crack cocaine is to process powder cocaine into a rock-like crystal that can be inhaled into the lungs; this form of cocaine use is called crack. The name “crack” evolved from the crackling sound the rock makes when it is heated.

Sometimes crack is used by sprinkling it on tobacco or marijuana, rolling it in a paper, and smoking it like a cigarette. Crack cocaine can also be used via injection or snorting the substance.

What Are the Causes of Crack Withdrawal?

Withdrawal refers to symptoms experienced after a person decreases or stops using an addictive substance. There are a wide range of crack withdrawal symptoms.

Crack cocaine use can lead to feelings of euphoria, elevated mood, or a “rush” of energy throughout the body and mind.1,5 The “crash” that develops after you use crack can lead to uncomfortable and overwhelming sensations.5 These sensations often include powerful cravings for cocaine and a desire to use more of this substance to become intoxicated or to counter the withdrawal effects.

Using crack cocaine via any method can result in the onset of withdrawal symptoms, even while you still have the substance in your system.1

Tolerance to the effects of crack cocaine can build up quickly.5 Tolerance occurs when a person’s body and mind adapt to the presence of a substance.3, 4 People with a high tolerance for crack cocaine may notice that they become less sensitive to the desired effects of the substance or that they need more crack to achieve the same effect.3 This can result in binge episodes, or taking large doses of crack cocaine for hours or days at a time to stay intoxicated.3,5

Repeated use, increased tolerance, and cravings contribute to the risk that you may become dependent on or addicted to crack cocaine.4,5 When you become dependent on this substance, your risk of developing withdrawal symptoms grows. When you attempt to stop using crack cocaine after a period of prolonged use, you are likely to experience crack withdrawal symptoms.3

What Are the Symptoms of Crack Withdrawal?

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) classifies crack cocaine as a stimulant due to its effects on those who use it, which include increased heart rate, higher body temperature, and intense brain activation.3 The APA notes that stimulant withdrawal often has the opposite physiological impact of stimulant intoxication. The withdrawal symptoms of crack may include:1,3

  • Powerful cravings
  • Irritability
  • Loss of energy
  • Intense and unpleasant dreams
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Increased appetite
  • Moving too slow
  • Agitated movements
  • Profound mood changes

The primary mood changes experienced during crack withdrawal include depressed mood and dysphoria. Dysphoria refers to a mood state where you feel uneasy or dissatisfied with your life.1,3 When combined with a depressed mood, dysphoria can increase the intensity of troubling thoughts and feelings.3

As you endure crack cocaine withdrawal, you may notice a persistent urge to continue using substances.3 The strength and length of time crack withdrawal symptoms last can depend on the amount and duration of substance use.1

The suffering caused by these symptoms can lead to suicidal ideation or behavior.1,3 Suicidal ideation combined with other withdrawal symptoms can result in a complicated, potentially dangerous withdrawal process.4 Anytime you or someone you know exhibits suicidal signs or symptoms (e.g., a plan to commit suicide) contact emergency medical services right away.

If you struggle with crack cocaine withdrawal symptoms, call one of our experienced treatment specialists to learn about addiction treatment options.

Severe Withdrawal Symptoms

Crack cocaine withdrawal symptoms can include significant physical and mental distress.3 Beyond the suicidal thoughts during withdrawal, several other factors can complicate the withdrawal process.1

Medical and psychiatric complications that crack cocaine withdrawal can cause include:4,6

  • Stroke
  • Severe cardiovascular (e.g., heart and blood vessel) problems
  • Behavioral changes

Other complications commonly linked with crack withdrawal include:4

  • Mental health symptoms
  • Housing instability
  • Financial problems
  • Unstable or unsafe living conditions
  • School or job problems

When Crack Withdrawal Leads to Overdose

Your tolerance increases when you use a substance; stopping or decreasing substance use may decrease your tolerance.6

A reduced tolerance can cause you to become more sensitive to the toxic effects of crack.6,7 Crack cocaine toxicity can accidentally occur. Sometimes overdose results from an intentional effort to take more of this substance than your body can handle (i.e., during a suicide attempt).7

The effects of a crack cocaine overdose can be life-threatening, particularly when you use crack with alcohol or other drugs.7 Crack cocaine “cut with”—or mixed with—other substances, like the opioid fentanyl, can cause an unexpected overdose when the person using the substance assumes that they have taken crack alone.5

Symptoms of crack overdose may include:7

  • Heart problems
  • Breathing problems
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Agitation
  • High body temperature
  • Hallucinations
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heart attack

There is no medical intervention to treat cocaine overdose.7 Every suspected cocaine overdose should be viewed as an emergency. If you have symptoms of crack cocaine overdose, seek emergency medical attention right away. Emergency health care providers work to restore a person’s breathing and adequate blood flow and to address other symptoms of a crack cocaine overdose. 7

Crack Withdrawal Timeline

An addiction withdrawal timeline is the average amount of time it takes for a person to go through withdrawal.3, 4 The timeline can be disrupted if a person uses the substance again to avoid withdrawal symptoms.4 Using multiple substances (e.g., crack cocaine and opioids) may result in withdrawal symptoms that overlap.

Crack withdrawal can develop as soon as within a few hours after your last use of crack cocaine.1, 3, 4 For people who use a large amount of the drug over an extended period, crack withdrawal symptoms may last as long several months.1 For others, withdrawal symptoms may last between three to four days.4, 6

How Are Crack Withdrawal Symptoms Managed?

Withdrawal can occur during detoxification (detox), inpatient (residential), or outpatient treatment. Ideally, you will be offered detox services (e.g., therapy, medication, and other services) for physical and mental withdrawal symptoms in any setting. Detoxification services are also referred to as withdrawal management; these services can help you recover safely from crack withdrawal.4

Withdrawal management is the first step leading to behavioral addiction treatment and long-term recovery.4 When choosing a treatment program, the intensity of your withdrawal symptoms can help get you to be matched with the right level of care. Levels of care include the following types of addiction treatment.

Inpatient Treatment

An inpatient addiction treatment program provides 24-hour care and ongoing medical supervision for individuals dealing with severe complications from crack withdrawal.4 People experiencing extensive medical concerns, suicidal ideation, behavioral changes related to substance use, or dissociative symptoms often need the support of an inpatient hospital staff. A partial hospitalization program (PHP) may be recommended rather than an outpatient treatment setting.

Outpatient Treatment

Intensive outpatient can offer frequent sessions and evaluations to ensure you receive the level of care needed. If you have severe withdrawal symptoms, outpatient providers can refer you to services that match your needs (e.g., a facility primarily providing detox services).4

Sober Living Housing

Sober living housing helps individuals who need a more intensive, long-term approach to recovery.4 In sober living housing programs, you can recover in an environment away from the people, places, and things that could trigger thoughts of crack use. Sober housing staff members can refer you to detox or inpatient treatment for severe crack withdrawal symptoms when needed.

This article offers a brief insight into crack withdrawal, addiction, and a life of recovery. An assessment from a substance use treatment provider can help you see what it takes for you to safely stop misusing crack cocaine or other substances. Call 800-926-9037 (Info iconWho Answers?) today to speak with someone who can help you find a reliable treatment program.

Resources

  1. National Library of Medicine. (2019, January 12). Cocaine withdrawal. MedlinePlus.
  2. National Library of Medicine. (2016, April 21). Cocaine. MedlinePlus.
  3. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. American Psychiatric Association Publishing.
  4. Miller, W. R., Forcehimes, A. A., & Zweben, A. (2019). Treating addiction: A guide for professionals, 2nd ed. The Guilford Press.
  5. Drug Enforcement Administration Community Outreach and Prevention Support Section (2020). Drugs of Abuse: A DEA Resource Guide/2020 Edition. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration.
  6. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2006). Chapter 4 Physical Detoxification Services for Withdrawal From Specific Substances. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45. Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse (2021, April 8). Cocaine DrugFacts.
Pen iconAuthor
Ruben-Bermea
Ruben Bermea, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor, Author
Ruben Bermea, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor who has had the privilege of serving Texans as they navigate personal and mental health challenges. Ruben has provided therapy to clients in inpatient, residential, private practice, and community mental health settings. His personal and professional interests include the intersection between technology and mental health, the impact of misinf