While more people are starting to use crack cocaine, an estimated 8.5 million people admit to using crack at one point. Crack has highly addictive properties with links to multiple health risks including cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness and other neurological or psychological consequences. Learn more about dependence on crack cocaine and how it develops.


Dependence vs. Addiction

Dependence on crack is considered a mental disorder of the brain which triggers many changes to the complex neurochemistry happening inside. The line between dependence and addiction can seem blurry but there are obvious differences which include:


  • Dependence is a set of withdrawal symptoms which appear when a dose is lowered or stopped
  • Addiction is a psychological compulsion including cravings and obsessively thinking about obtaining the drug
  • Addiction typically is present in people who develop dependence on crack cocaine
  • Crack is difficult to quit due to physical and psychological dependence


Cocaine addiction can develop in only a few months of binge use. Addiction develops more rapidly when a drug is smoked (like crack) which is why it takes several days for addiction to develop.


Dependence Timeline

Crack, when smoked, is rapidly absorbed into the pulmonary-circulatory system and is transmitted to the brain in less than 10 seconds. The high only lasts about 5 minutes. Crack provides a rapid, intense experience which leaves an individual wanting more, creating higher probabilities of addiction. The following are some basic guidelines as to how dependence develops to crack:

  • On average, it takes about 5 months from first use to develop dependence
  • Crack creates strong dependence psychologically with higher than average mortality rates
  • Strong psychological dependence can occur with only one ‘hit’ of crack but mental dependency may occur within several days with highs lasting approximately 5 minutes



Only three of the following conditions must be present for an individual to be diagnosed with a crack cocaine dependence, according to the American Psychiatric Association:

  • Tolerance for euphoric effects of crack (needing more to produce effects)
  • Preoccupation with obtaining and using cocaine
  • Continuous use of crack in spite of consequences
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Inability to reduce amount used
  • Job loss, increased absenteeism or inability to find work
  • Using crack in large doses when available


During withdrawal, nervousness, aggression, paranoia and depression may be noted. The levels of neurotransmitters norepinephrine and serotonin are radically lower due to chronic depletion caused by use of crack. Withdrawal can take longer than a week physically but psychologically, symptoms may persist for weeks or even months after the last dose. Heavy smokers may experience PAWS (Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome) within three to six months after cessation of crack. The brain will need time to repair itself to normal functioning following extended use of the drug.


Hired Power provides support and resources for families and individuals dealing with addiction to crack cocaine. If you want to quit crack or help someone who is addicted, contact us to find out how we can support your journey.