A rule of thumb for addiction, like crack addiction, is that addictive substances rank on a scale from highly addictive down to a lower potential for addiction. There is a cycle that occurs when users get high and then the effects wear off and they have to take another dose.
The more powerful addictive agents have a quick time to onset and also require another dose sooner than other drugs.
Crack fosters rapid-fire crack addiction
Crack cocaine is a champion from this perspective. The time to onset of effects is less than a minute from when the fumes are inhaled. The high falls away within 10 to 15 minutes. This means in an average session of using, an addict may repeat the cycle over and over many, many times.
There are two serious consequences to this usage pattern. The first is that they are training their bodies and minds to accept this cycle as normal. The second is that they quickly build up a dependence on the drug. This is one reason why crack cocaine is thought to be one of the most addictive substances.
Powdered cocaine can be inhaled into the sinus cavity, but absorption is slowed because it has to cross into the bloodstream through the tissues that line the sinuses. When modified chemically into the form of crack, the fumes are absorbed directly through the lungs, in the same way oxygen is. More cocaine is absorbed and it goes into the bloodstream much faster.
Economic factors of crack addiction
A surge of popularity in the 1970s led to a glut of cocaine in the illegal U.S. drug market by the 1980s. Dealers were faced with too much product and dropping prices. The ‘invention’ of the crack form of cocaine solved both these problems.
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By selling small doses at low prices (initially as low as $2.50 a ‘rock’) they were both able to reach a new customer base in the inner cities, but also create more ‘customers’ because of crack’s highly addictive nature. By the mid-1980s, crack houses had become part of the urban landscape.
Since then, crack cocaine has moved to the suburbs and rural areas. Currently, no area of the U.S. is crack-free. Once consider a drug for the poor, crack is now abused by all social classes. The only dip seen in crack cocaine use is thought to be from competition with crystal methamphetamine, which can also be inhaled (or injected) to get the quick onset of effects. Meth lasts longer and is cheaper.
photo by Anton Malan