Throughout my time in active addiction and recovery, I’ve only met three people whose drug of choice was crack cocaine. There have been plenty of cocaine and meth addicts but only those three people specifically sought out crack. To me, it seemed like a rare drug. It was never around while I was out there. Maybe I just didn’t know the right people. I didn’t know much about it except that it was supposedly big in the ’80s, that it is powerful but doesn’t last long, and that it’s made somehow with baking soda. What I knew of it I had seen on TV.

One of those three people I had met was a roommate of mine throughout treatment. At some point, I asked him, why crack? Why not just cocaine or meth? I knew him to be a business-minded kind of guy. He told me that he had been big into cocaine and that he knew he could make more money selling it as crack. He said that to make good crack, you needed good cocaine (which he had) and his dealer showed him how to cook it. Being an addict, he inevitably tried it and very quickly, he was hooked.

I was familiar with cocaine and knew from experience what it was like. That exciting initial rush, the sexual stimulation, the heightened awareness and sociability, the ability to drink more alcohol without passing out. Those sensations are intense but start to fade rapidly and you want to do more soon after your first dose. I never experienced too much physical withdrawal but the depression and paranoia after a night of binging were awful. The worst for me was hearing joggers starting to run by outside early in the morning which made me reflect on what I had been doing with my night and my life. My friend told me that the effects and after-effects were the same as with cocaine, just intensified.

What is Crack?

Basically, crack is cocaine that has been purified through a cooking process. The name “crack” comes from the sound it makes when smoked. Supposedly it came about through dealers who wanted to maximize their profits back in the ’70s when cocaine was relatively cheap. By a relatively easy cooking technique, cocaine can be purified and converted into crack which produces an intense but momentary high. Regular powder form cocaine doesn’t burn well but the purer form or crack can be smoked which rapidly absorbs it into the bloodstream.

The Side Effects of Smoking Crack

Smoking crack has a host of side effects. Increased chance of heart attack, stroke, and seizures. “Crack lung” will cause smokers to cough up blood, have trouble breathing, and create fluid in the lungs. Crack smoking can cause delusions, paranoia, and hallucinations. Readers who are interested should look up how crack exploded through the country in the ’80s. There’s a whole story behind a dealer named “Freeway” Rick Ross, the Iran-Contra affair, and the CIA.

When I was in IOP, the counselor showed us a documentary on crack cocaine. I had been exposed to a lot through my own addiction and the addiction of others but this documentary was deeply disturbing to me. It showed a poor inner-city neighborhood that used to be nice but had been ravaged by crack. Many residents had moved away. There were dilapidated buildings with junk-filled yards. The crack den interiors were disgusting. Holes in the walls, no electricity or water and filthy rooms with nothing in them except piles of trash. Sometimes an egg crate to sit on and a cinder block used as a makeshift table. Maybe a soiled mattress. Urine and human excrement on the floors and walls.

The film showed one den with a bathroom containing a toilet and tub, neither of which worked, both filled with human waste. There was a woman who performed sexual favors for a $5 worth of crack. A man wandering the street at night in a crack psychosis. The filmmaker was speaking with him and the man was completely out of touch with reality. Violent and sexual crimes were rampant in the neighborhood.

Another time I had watched another very troubling documentary called Last Days Here about Bobby Liebling. He was the lead singer of a heavy metal band called Pentagram that had formed in the 1970s and had a lot of talent and potential. Bobby had become hopelessly addicted to crack and heroin and the band struggled with lineup changes and forward progress because of it. The film came out in 2011 and Bobby was living with his parents at the time it was made. They estimated that they had spent about 1 million dollars over the years trying to help and take care of their son. Bobby looked terrible, about 20 years older than he was. His eyes bugged out and he had a hard time speaking and moving. He looked frail. Bobby’s arms were bandaged from his armpits to his wrists because they were covered in deep sores and abscesses from needles and constantly picking at his skin. He was convinced that bugs were crawling around under his skin and he had to get them out. It was truly sad to see a human being in that state. I couldn’t believe that this man was alive.

I didn’t focus too much on the science behind crack cocaine in this blog. I’m going to cover the story behind Rick Ross in another blog because it’s a fascinating tale that includes governmental involvement in drugs on a large scale for political goals. That’s a subject that I think demands attention.

Addiction to any drug is a destructive force in life. Different classes of drugs are associated with specific physical, mental, and emotional effects. There are also specific kinds of bodily damage and withdrawal symptoms. However, when it comes to the higher-level consequences that we end up suffering from addiction, the substance itself doesn’t make much of a difference.

In any serious addiction, we do extreme things while chasing that high and put our bodies and minds through the wringer. This lifestyle that would be horrifying for a non-addict becomes normal for us. To me, these movies that followed crack addicts were a terrifying glimpse into the gravity and depravity of hard drug addiction. Any drug can bring you down to the bottom.

For me, crack is a prime example of just how low that bottom can be. I’ve watched many drug documentaries. I’ve heard the harrowing experiences of hundreds of addicts. I saw a lot in my own addiction. Through all of this, those movies I mentioned above probably shocked and disturbed me the most (I wish I could remember the name of the first one). It was heartbreaking to see what these people put themselves through to chase such a momentary high. I would recommend watching these films but not just for shock value or to try to scare yourself straight. They helped me realize how blessed I am to have gotten into recovery and where I could have ended up. They strengthened my gratitude for the good things in my life that are easy to take for granted. Most importantly I was reminded of the importance of carrying the message of recovery to other addicts so that hopefully, they won’t have to suffer through experiences like that.