“To Numb Out and Start to Feel Nothing”: Experiences of Stress Among Crack-Cocaine Using Women in a Midwestern City

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The study uses qualitative interviews conducted with 19 crack using women to explore their experiences of stress and their views regarding the relationship between stress and drug use. Fifteen of the women participated in follow-up interviews conducted 5–7 years after the baseline. Life history interviews unveiled a pattern of close connection between the intensity of women’s drug use and the level of stress they experienced in relation to their past adversities and current life circumstances. The majority of the women viewed stress as an important causal explanation of their drug use. Tensions related to romantic relationships, traumatic childhood, motherhood failures, unabated grief, and humiliating experiences of “crack life” were discussed as the most common sources of psychosocial stress. Most women had very limited positive coping resources and skills. Crack use was perceived as a very common, although highly maladaptive, way to deal with stress. Implications for interventions are discussed.