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.
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:
- Chest pains
- Irregular heartbeat
- Severe depression
- Suicidal thinking
So, with the risk of severe symptoms, can you quit crack cold turkey?
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
- Flu-like symptoms
- Irritability and restlessness
- Musculoskeletal pains
- Psychosis, hallucinations and other mental disturbances
- Sleep disturbances and vivid nightmares
- Suicidal thoughts
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 its 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 behavioral 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.