How Do People Get Addicted to Crack?Cocaine is a highly addictive substance. People who take it can become physically and psychologically dependant upon it to the point where they can’t control their cravings. Researchers have found that cocaine-addicted monkeys will press a bar more than 12,000 times to get a single dose of it. As soon as they get it, they will start pressing the bar for more.

Crack and other addictive drugs chemically alter a part of the brain called the reward system. As mentioned previously, when people smoke crack, the drug traps the chemical dopamine in the spaces between nerve cells. Dopamine creates the feelings of pleasure we get from enjoyable activities such as eating and having sex. But in crack users, dopamine keeps stimulating those cells, creating a “high” — a euphoric feeling that lasts anywhere from five to 15 minutes. But then the drug begins to wear off, leaving the person feeling let-down and depressed, resulting in a desire to smoke more crack in order to feel good again.

The brain responds to the dopamine overload of the crack high by either destroying some of it, making less of it or shutting down its receptors. The result is that, after taking the drug for a while, crack users become less sensitive to it and find that they must take more and more of it to achieve the desired effect. Eventually, they cannot stop taking the drug because their brains have been “rewired” — they actually need it in order to function. How long does it take to become addicted? That varies from person to person, and an exact number is difficult to pin down, especially when physical addiction is paired with psychological addition.

Of course, not everyone reacts the same way to extended use. Some users actually become more sensitive to crack as they take it. Some people die after taking a very small amount because of this increased sensitization.

When an addicted person stops taking crack, there is a “crash.” He or she experiences the symptoms of withdrawal, including:

* Depression

* Anxiety

* Intense cravings for the drug

* Irritability

* Agitation

* Exhaustion

* Anger

A Culture of Addicts?

In the mid-1980s, crack use exploded in the United States, primarily because of its quick high and relatively low cost: Crack cocaine costs significantly less than its powdered counterpart.

The low cost of crack helps explain its rampant spread through poor, urban areas. The highest numbers of crack users are African-American men between the ages of 18 and 30 who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Crack has touched almost 4 percent of the American population. Nearly 8 million Americans ages 12 and older say they have taken crack at some point in their lives, according to the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health(NSDUH). According to the same survey, the number of users currently taking crack in 2002 was about 567,000.

Crack is not just a problem among adults. A 2003 Monitoring the Future Study by the University of Michigan found that nearly 4 percent of high school seniors and 2.5 percent of junior high school students said they had tried crack at least once.

Crack addiction is taking a toll on America’s health. In 2002, emergency rooms reported more than 42,000 crack-related cases to the Drug Abuse Warning Network. That number was down from nearly 49,000 in 2001, but up from the approximately 34,000 cases reported in 1995.

America is not the only country dealing with crack addiction. Cocaine use has been on the rise in Europe over the last several years, although the biggest problem in most countries (with the exception of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands) is the powder form of the drug. The United Kingdom reports the highest crack use in Europe.

Crack is associated with more prostitution, violent crimes and gang-related crimes than any other drug.

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