Eva watched slender glamour girls snort cocaine in the movie “Blow” when she was sixteen. Soon after, she had her first real-life experience with the drug. After meeting a group of 20-something guys one night, she and her four best friends ended up with them in her family’s empty condominium. First the beers came out. Then the pot. And then the white powder in little bags.
In her drunken state, Eva started yelling, “I have a mirror! I have a razor!”
She awoke the next morning to chaos. Her house was robbed. Her face was covered in blood from a tussle near heavy furniture. And she had been the victim of what technically, she said, would be considered rape. It was her first experience with cocaine. But along with the problems the night had caused, she said, she will always remember the euphoria the drug gave her.
“I simultaneously thought: that was the best night of my life, and I love cocaine,” said Eva, who — like all other drug users interviewed for this story — asked to be identified by a pseudonym. “And that was the worst night of my life, and I’ll never do it again.”
For a year, she didn’t.
But Eva did end up trying cocaine again. And again.
She is far from the only one. According to a government drug policy Web site, cocaine is the third most commonly abused drug after alcohol and marijuana, and approximately 14.7 percent of Americans over age 12 have tried it at least once. A 2003 University of Michigan Study found that the percentage of all college students who have used cocaine in the past year has risen almost three points since 1993 from 2.7 percent to 5.4 percent. Though there is no way to know how many Yale students do cocaine, and University Health Services and Yale police could not release information about how many cocaine users they see yearly, users on campus estimated that more than 100 Yale students use cocaine on a semi-regular basis.
Some users might “blow lines” every two weeks, every two months, or simply whenever it’s around. They might snort it off the dresser counter before class to wake up or with a handful of friends on a Friday night before heading to Toad’s Place. Their first time might have been in high school; it might have been at Yale. They might be concerned about addiction, or they might not see their drug habit as a problem. While they have one thing in common — they see the high from cocaine as worth the risks — everything else, from motivations to methods, varies from user to user.
Brian first tried cocaine as a sophomore at Yale. He was surprised that the effects were not as strong as he had expected, and began using it as an occasional supplement to his recreational use of alcohol and pot.
“It’s so dangerous and debilitating, you think the high would be crazy from it,” he said. “It’s really not. You just feel very elated, more social. It just speeds up your personality.”
Craig used cocaine for the first time in Brazil the summer after his freshman year of college. Though he has been on several coke binges, “doing blow” is always a social thing for him, something he does with a handful of friends, he said. For both Craig and Brian, using cocaine is just another form of recreation, like drinking or smoking marijuana.
Craig and Brian both said that despite being purely recreational users, they are also concerned with the social stigma. Because they don’t want a reputation for being campus “cokeheads”, they rarely do blow with more than their closest friends.
But while the more visible coke users on campus use the drug recreationally, not all Yale users blow lines solely in social gatherings. Those who don’t are just less open about it, making other students less aware that nonsocial users exist, Eva said.
“Once you pass the stage when you do coke alone before class or something, you don’t want to talk about it,” she said. “Once my friends went from being recreational to doing a lot of coke, they stopped talking to me about it. They were embarrassed.”
At home, Eva only blows lines at parties. But at Yale, she avoids the coke scene as much as she can, she said, because of the stigma. And, because few people at Yale know that she has done cocaine, Eva said she is not worried about the threat of arrest.
The last arrest of a student for cocaine was two years ago when Brian Tippy ’02 allegedly asked the Yale police to test the purity of a newly-purchased bag of cocaine, said University Police Lt. Michael Patten. But despite the rarity of cocaine arrests, a student would certainly be arrested for possession of narcotics if they were discovered, he said.
Brian said he was concerned about the threat of arrest, but that he is more worried about the drug’s health risks — primarily the psychological ones.
“It should not be taken lightly,” Brian said. “It’s definitely perilous.”
Cocaine activates the same centers of the brain that light up with other pleasurable, everyday activities, like chocolate or sex, said Dr. Marina Picciotto, a cocaine researcher and an associate professor of psychiatry, pharmacology and neurobiology at Yale. But the effects of cocaine are much more intense. And after the resulting 20 or so minutes of euphoria, the user comes down and often feels worse than before, Picciotto said.
With continued use, the brain adapts to the stimulation. The user begins to feel normal only when on the drug. And going off it causes severe dysphoria, an emotional state characterized by anxiety and depression.
And then there are all the other physical effects of cocaine use. Nosebleeds and coughing and hoarseness. A rise in heart rate and blood pressure. Paranoia. Psychosis. A particularly large dosage or continued use could cause a coma, a stroke, a heart attack or seizures.
Craig is cavalier about the drug’s damaging effects.
“I’m not worried about it. I feel like I’m in pretty good shape,” he said. “Quite honestly, I’m more concerned about smoking cigarettes.”
That mindset of invulnerability, Picciotto said, is what causes trouble and, in some cases, addiction.
Approximately one in 10 first-time users become addicted to cocaine, said Dr. Thomas Kosten, a Yale psychiatry professor who has researched cocaine for more than 20 years. And anyone can become addicted, he added.
One of the main factors leading to addiction, Picciotto said, is that there’s no high like the first, so the user keeps doing the drug in an attempt to recreate the same feeling.
For two years, Craig has been trying to duplicate the experience of his first high, he said. So far, he has been unsuccessful.
But not for lack of effort. Though he has only bought cocaine once or twice, he said, he’s lost count of how often he’s done it — maybe 20 or 30 times.
At her most, Eva was doing cocaine every couple of days. Whenever she needed a burst of energy before class or a mood-booster before heading out, she would lock her door and snort lines off her nightstand.
“When you wake up, and you’re down, and there’s no one in the room, it’s just such a great way to start the day,” she said. “It’s like a really happy cup of coffee.”
Sometimes, she said, she would do cocaine when she needed energy to do schoolwork. Once, she said, she blew lines to stay motivated to write a paper. She wrote pages and pages that she thought were amazing, she said. But when she read the paper the next morning, she realized it was terrible.
She has since decided not to touch cocaine, at least for this term. She started to worry she would become addicted, she said.
“Sitting there, being depressed, being like ‘I need coke, I need coke,’ and making four calls to get coke — it’s not the best way to deal with depression,” she said.
Although Eva has decided to quit for the moment, Brian and Craig agreed that more Yale students seem to be using than when they were freshmen. Brian said when he was a freshman, cocaine seemed like a glamorous activity for only upperclassman, but now he said he sees more freshmen involved in the cocaine scene.
But seeing more of her peers express interest in cocaine has made Eva more reluctant to become involved in the social scene, she said.
“Once everybody’s doing it, you look at them and you’re like, ‘Oh wow, I was so much cooler when I did it,'” Eva said. “And then you’re like, ‘Maybe I wasn’t — I was just like all those posers.’ And it loses its allure.”