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Crack Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms and Stages

Crack cocaine is an extremely addictive drug. Because it is smoked or heated, and the vapors inhaled, it produces rapid effects throughout the nervous system.

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Crack cocaine is an extremely addictive stimulant drug. Because it is smoked or heated, and the vapors inhaled, crack cocaine produces rapid effects throughout the central nervous system. It stimulates the dopamine, or reward system, of the brain.1

People who use cocaine quickly develop tolerance, meaning that as their bodies become accustomed to the drug, they require more of the substance to produce the same results. Tolerance often develops alongside dependence, in which the person’s brain comes to rely on crack to function normally.

When you try to stop using, you will likely experience crack cocaine withdrawal signs and symptoms that can make it hard to quit on your own. These symptoms may include depression, fatigue, anxiety, and strong cravings. The timeline for withdrawal effects varies but usually begins within a few hours to a few days after you stop using and can last for up to 28 weeks. The withdrawal process often plays out in 3 stages.

Crack Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms

Even if they want to stop, many people continue using crack cocaine simply to avoid withdrawal symptoms.Withdrawal signs and symptoms include of crack cocaine may include:1,4

  • Depression.
  • Irritability.
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Increased need for sleep.
  • Vivid, unpleasant dreams.
  • Anxiety.
  • Severe drug cravings.
  • Psychosis.

Many factors can affect the intensity and severity of crack cocaine withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • The extent of your addiction.
  • The length of time you have been using.
  • The amount and frequency of use.
  • Whether you use additional drugs or substances, including alcohol.
  • Whether you have any co-occurring mental or physical health conditions.

Unlike users of other drugs such as heroin or benzodiazepines, crack cocaine users may not suffer visible withdrawal effects, such as shakiness, vomiting, and sweating.6 But this doesn’t mean that withdrawal is easy. Some people find cravings to be so intense that they can’t imagine not ever using again.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms

You may also suffer from post-acute withdrawal symptoms that persist long after you’ve actually stopped using, especially if you have been a heavy abuser. Some of these symptoms may continue for weeks after your last use. Post-acute crack cocaine withdrawal signs may include:2

  • Difficulty with short-term memory.
  • Mood changes, including depression or anxiety.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Panic attacks.
  • An inability to experience pleasure, also known as anhedonia.

Not everyone will experience post-acute withdrawal symptoms, and many people who do experience these symptoms experience them for only a short time. The thing to remember is that these symptoms are the result of drug use and are not a disorder or a fundamental problem with you that crack can reverse. 2

Generally, however, the crack cocaine withdrawal timeline differs from person to person. It usually occurs in 3 stages.

Crack Cocaine Withdrawal Timeline

  • Crash. Most users experience a crash within a few hours to a few days after they stop using crack. Symptoms in this stage include increased appetite, exhaustion, irritability, need for sleep, and restlessness.3
  • Withdrawal. After this period has subsided, you may enter the second phase of withdrawal, which can last up to 10 weeks.3 During this stage, you may experience crack cocaine withdrawal effects such as increased cravings, irritability, sleepiness, and problems with concentration.
  • Extinction. The third phase of the crack cocaine withdrawal timeline is known as “extinction.” 3 Former users may experience intermittent cravings that are largely dependent on social situations and triggers, such as people with whom you previously used or being in environments where crack cocaine is available.

Medical Complications of Crack Withdrawal

Crack cocaine withdrawal can cause a range of mild to severe physical and mental health complications. The possible medical complications associated with crack cocaine withdrawal symptoms include: 3,4,6

  • Cardiovascular problems. You may experience chest pain, elevated blood pressure, or an increased heart rate.
  • Pulmonary disorders. You may experience difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, or coughing up blood for up to 48 hours after your last use (especially common when cocaine is used in freebase form, such as crack).
  • Neurological problems. Many users experience headaches during the withdrawal phase. Some may even suffer from seizures.
  • Cravings and overdose. Cravings can lead to overdose, especially if you relapse after a period of abstinence.
  • Depression. You may experience an inability to feel pleasure during withdrawal. You may also have a risk of developing clinical depression, which is characterized by symptoms such as a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, angry outbursts, feeling frequently sad or tearful, sleep and appetite problems, difficulty with memory, problems with thinking, and a lack of energy. 5
  • Suicide. Feelings of depression can become so intense that some people experience suicidal ideation, meaning they have thoughts about harming themselves. In some cases, people may take action on those thoughts.