Crack cocaine addiction is one of the toughest substance addictions to beat. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The secret is in knowing how to fight crack cravings and prevent relapse as well as where to find help.
Crack Cocaine Cravings Signs and Symptoms
Crack cocaine cravings are experienced on both a physical and a psychological level. The onset of unpleasant crack withdrawal symptoms often spurs those struggling with crack addiction to use again and again.
This is why it’s important to know what to expect about cravings – the signs, symptoms, onset, and duration – and to be prepared. Preparation greatly aids in preventing relapse.
Onset of Cravings
Crack cravings do not typically occur within the first few hours or days after you stop using crack. In fact, strong cravings usually begin one week after last use, with physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal generally persisting for up to 10 weeks. 1
Psychological vs. Physical Cravings
Crack cocaine addictions develop and are reinforced both psychologically and physically. So it’s not surprising that cravings can be felt “in the head” as well as throughout the body.
Psychological cravings of crack cocaine involve the mental and emotional symptoms of quitting. These can be so unpleasant that they create a strong desire to use again.
Examples of psychological cravings include:
- Obsessive thoughts about crack cocaine.
- Vivid, unpleasant dreams.
- Dreams of using crack.
- Poor concentration.
- Paranoia and suspicion of others. 1
Physical characteristics of crack cocaine cravings that occur during withdrawal can include:
- Strong physical cravings for crack cocaine, similar to hunger pangs.
- Exhaustion and fatigue.
- Erratic sleep.
- Increased appetite.
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation. 1
Cravings Treatment Therapies
Multiple treatment therapies are available for treating crack cocaine addiction. From new and hopeful research on pharmaceutical approaches to psychotherapy and meditation, something is available for everyone.
Every day, counselors, medical researchers, professionals, and drug addiction specialists continue to work together to discover and introduce new, effective treatment approaches. Here are some treatment therapies that have shown great success in treating crack cravings. 2
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT coping strategies work to change your thinking and, therefore, behavior. The following CBT approaches have shown great promise in treating crack cravings:
- Distraction – The concept of distraction is busying yourself in an effort to focus thought elsewhere. Physical activity is a highly recommended form of distraction, as it ultimately releases endorphins, which result in natural relaxation and stress reduction, decreasing cravings and the desire to use. 5
- Mindfulness, or “going with the craving” – The idea here is to simply sit with the craving and neither fight it nor flee from it. Allow the craving to hit a climax and pass. 5
- Avoidance of trigger situations – CBT helps you become aware of situations that trigger cravings and potential relapse and how to avoid them. This elementary CBT approach empowers you with self-awareness and keeps you in control of your recovery.
- Talking it out with friends, family, a sponsor and/or a counselor – A sober support network prevents isolation, increases accountability and allows the opportunity to talk about cravings. This helps relieve the anxiety associated with cravings and withdrawal.
CBT does not focus on 12-step language, on your past or on your subconscious motivations for crack cocaine use. 4
Some programs award prizes or vouchers for staying off drugs.
Behavioral therapy strategies, such as contingency management or motivational incentives, have also shown great promise in fighting cravings.
Contingency management is a new approach that some programs are implementing. A voucher or prize-based system is used. For instance, a clean urine sample earns a prize or voucher for a free dinner or a gym membership. The point is to reward the clean and sober behavior and encourage healthier behaviors.
Therapeutic communities and community-based recovery groups are also recognized as treatment therapies:
- Residential treatment programs – Residential treatment programs generally provide 28 days or more of inpatient drug treatment. They are typically recommended because they provide a safe haven and eliminate access to the drug, drug dealers and active users. 8
- Intensive outpatient programs[/link] (IOPs) – IOPs allow for more affordable, convenient drug treatment and include access to group and individual therapy. Affordability and convenience make IOPs a viable option for people who have few financial resources. 8
- 12-step meetings – These meetings are in group format and are typically facilitated by other recovering addicts or addiction professionals also in recovery. They provide a safe place for recovering addicts to discuss struggles with and recovery from their addiction. 9
- Sober living communities – These communities provide apartment, duplex or condo-style housing in which all residents are sober and in active recovery. They allow recovering addicts a recovery-safe place to live and thrive after residential treatment or while attending an IOP. 10
- Collegiate recovery communities (CRCs) – These communities provide a drug- and alcohol-free community for college students in recovery. Some CRCs provide group meetings, access to individual counseling and degrees in various fields of addiction. All provide sober events and activities as well as a drug- and alcohol-free congregation hall or house. 11
Medications for Cravings
Though there are no FDA-approved medications for treating crack cravings, there is quite a bit of research on medications that could be used. The focus of these medications is their craving reduction and drug-induced euphoria-blocking abilities. The most prominent are:
- Balcofen – A muscle relaxer that causes a reduction in dopamine release and, therefore, could prevent crack cocaine-induced euphoria.
- Disulfiram – Marketed as Antabuse and primarily used to treat alcoholism, Disulfiram decreases euphoria but increases the anxiety associated with crack cocaine use – preventing the desire to use again. It shows the most promise and greatest reduction in crack cocaine cravings and relapse.
- Modafinil – Modafinil strengthens glutamate-neurotransmission and could reduce relapse because cocaine abusers experience an extreme depletion of glutamate, which results in continued cravings/use. It has also been shown to reduce euphoria induced by cocaine use.
- A-CD vaccine – Medical researchers and developers are currently working on a potential cocaine vaccine that would prevent cocaine from entering the brain and would, therefore, greatly reduce the risk of relapse. 2, 12
- Tiagabine – A GABA blocker used to treat seizures that has shown success in relapse reduction in recent studies.
- Topiramate – Topiramate is also showing success in relapse reduction because it increases GABA-neurotransmission and inhibits glutamate-neurotransmission.
Can You Stop Cravings Naturally?
Who Answers? today to talk to a treatment support specialist about recovery programs for crack addiction and cravings.
While numerous articles online suggest herbal remedies and natural cures for crack cravings, no hard research exists to support herbal or natural cures. That does not mean there are no natural alternatives to proven or promising medical treatments. But it is a cautionary statement.
However, a few natural processes have been shown to reduce cravings and decrease relapse potential:
- Diet – Cocaine abuse results in weight loss, malnourishment and a depletion of electrolytes. Restoring balanced nutrition and hydration regulates brain chemistry and mood, resulting in a lowered desire to use. 13
- Exercise – Exercise increases dopamine levels, leading to relaxation and mild euphoria. Because this increase in endorphins is similar to what occurs with crack cocaine use, exercise can be substituted to achieve the same result and prevent cravings and relapse. However, exercise addiction is a concern, specifically for cocaine addicts. This particular preventative process should be used with caution. 14
Detox and Withdrawal Risks
Physicians can administer medications to ease withdrawal symptoms.
You might experience sugar cravings while undergoing detox from crack cocaine because your body has been deprived of food during active crack addiction. This leads to decreased blood sugar levels along with caloric intake. As such, the body craves the quickest means of replenishing both.
This sugar craving may also be a result of your body’s need for a quick release of endorphins, such as dopamine. Crack cocaine increases dopamine levels in the brain. Sugar – especially chocolate – has been shown to increase endorphins, as well. 6, 7
With regard to strong cravings as well as some of the more serious withdrawal developments, such as severe depression and associated suicidal ideation, it is important for some to seek medically supervised detox from crack cocaine. Simply stopping use without professional help can be not only extremely difficult, but also potentially deadly. The FDA has not approved medication for crack cocaine detox, but a physician can administer medications to ease the withdrawal symptoms.
- Poor concentration.
- Increased appetite.
- Vivid and unpleasant dreams.
- Strong physical cravings.
- Exhaustion and fatigue.
- Erratic sleep.
- Suicidal thoughts.
- Poor concentration.
- Psychomotor retardation or agitation.1
When Will I Stop Craving Crack?
The full duration of crack cravings varies from person to person. However, the characteristics of the cravings may change, increase and decrease over time.
- First phase – The initial onset of symptoms, which typically does not involve crack cravings, includes irritability, exhaustion, increased appetite, and anxiety. This first phase, also known as “the crash,” typically begins within a few hours after cessation of use and lasts a few days.
- Second phase – The second phase of symptoms generally begins within one week after cessation of use and includes strong cravings, irritability, poor concentration, and lethargy or psychomotor retardation. This craving or withdrawal phase typically lasts up to 10 weeks.
- Third phase – The third and final phase of cravings or withdrawal symptoms, also known as “extinction,” includes intermittent cravings typically associated with external cues (i.e., seeing an old drug dealer, hanging out with other users, etc.). This craving or withdrawal phase typically lasts up to 28 weeks 1.
Urges and Relapse
Relapse often begins in the mind. Constant or obsessive thoughts about crack cocaine use can lead to relapse.
Exposure to environmental cues, or triggers, can also cause these thoughts to develop and, consequently, lead you to seek out and take the drug even after time away from it. These cues may include friends you formerly used crack with, places where you used to do crack, personal situations and issues you used to associate with crack, and even songs you associated with the drug.
Relapse Warning Signs
Signs of a possible relapse include: 3
- Obsessive thoughts about crack cocaine use.
- Rationalizing involving yourself in high-risk situations, i.e., meeting up with active crack cocaine addicts/users, reconnecting with a drug dealer, dating an addict, or visiting a place where crack is/was commonly used.
- Refusing or resisting new, healthier coping skills.
What to Do
You can take several steps to prevent a relapse, including:
- Attend weekly recovery meetings at 12-step programs, such as Narcotics Anonymous or Cocaine Anonymous.
- Find a sponsor through a 12-step program whom you can call if you are experiencing a craving.
- Seek individual or group counseling, where you can receive support and learn coping skills.
- Avoid external cues or people and areas with/where crack cocaine was used (i.e., bars, empty warehouses, dealers’ homes, etc.).
- Become involved in recovery communities, sober activities and events.
Additionally, stay informed about recovery programs and events offered in your community and new or upcoming research regarding relapse prevention. Keep in mind that medical researchers and addiction professionals are constantly working to create safer and more effective means of recovery and relapse prevention.
If you are currently using crack cocaine and need help to quit, have relapsed, or are experiencing relapse thinking and need help to prevent relapse, call our toll-free helpline right now at 1-888-319-2606 Who Answers? .
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. Avena, Nicole M., Rada, Pedro and Hoebel, Bartley G. (2008). Evidence for Sugar Addiction: Behavioral and Neurochemical Effects of Intermittent, Excessive Sugar Intake. In Neuroscience Biobehavioral Review. Retrieved December 23, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2235907/.
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