The first time he tried it, he was bitterly disappointed.
“Anyone up close to it for the first time would be surprised by how tame it is,” he said. “The first time you do it you’ll be so underwhelmed, you won’t know what the big deal was.”
But after trying it once, something about the thrill of “doing something that most people aren’t doing and really shouldn’t be doing” led him to do it again– and again– and again.
Cocaine. Although it is sometimes called the rich man’s drug, and Yale has been called a rich man’s school, the relationship between the two is one of limited acquaintance. But as the truism of Yale admissions materials will foretell, whoever you are, you will find your niche at Yale. Now, tucked in the shadows between the pot smokers and the drinkers, a small number of habitual cocaine users have carved out their own domain on campus.
An undergraduate whom this article will refer to as James is a member of that group. James estimates that he is one of about 10 people who use cocaine regularly at Yale. He said although the initial appeal of cocaine was breaking with the convention of more common drugs; for him it is now purely a social thing.
“[Doing cocaine] is like anybody else who got together with their buddies and smoked pot, drank alcohol, do as they will,” James said. “Instead of having a bong or a joint or a hookah passed around the room, everyone sits around and you cut up lines. People come up and take their turn and that’s it.”
But cocaine is also very different from marijuana and other drugs like Ecstasy, James said.
“If you’re doing stuff on the better end, [cocaine] gives you eight or nine minutes per hit, per line,” he said. “It’s like this: if you do Ecstasy, maybe you get a hit of Ecstasy for 30 or 40 bucks, that’ll take care of you for the night. You’ll be euphoric; you want to help people, want to have sex. Cocaine is sort of the same thing, except that it only lasts for a few minutes, whereas a good Ecstacy roll can last hours.”
Maury Steigman, a social worker in the substance abuse division of University Health Services, said that when people’s emotional states are charted before, during and after a hit, they usually end up lower afterward than they were before they got high.
“You can have a rush of euphoria,” Steigman said. “[Then,] in 20, 25 minutes, you wind up below baseline. You probably feel even worse than where you started, which makes people want to do it again immediately.”
James said he can feel cocaine’s addictive pull.
“The thing that coke does is that its primary function as a drug is to make you want more,” James said.
Steigman said that statistically speaking, cocaine is one of the most difficult drugs to get off of once addicted.
“Cocaine is a powerfully addicting stimulant drug,” Steigman said. “And it’s much more quickly addicting [than others.]”
In the long term, Steigman said, cocaine users often have cardiac problems. Sometimes, he said, the drug can even induce heart attacks because of increased blood pressure during a high.
James said he hasn’t experienced many of the short-term negative effects cocaine can cause, including trouble sleeping, frequent trips to the bathroom, and sexual dysfunction overlapped with a heightened sexual desire similar to the effects of alcohol.
Steve, another undergraduate who chose to be identified by a pseudonym, said he is friends with eight or nine of the people at Yale who use cocaine regularly, even though he has never used it himself. Steve said he has turned down repeated offers to join in.
“[People will say,] ‘We’re going to do a line, we’re going to blow, are you in?'” Steve said. “This particular group that I hang out with, they aid and abet each other by making it this cool thing, this ultrachic thing. There’s this one leader and everyone circles around him, and feeds his ego.”
Steve said a smaller subset of his friends who do cocaine use it in secret rather than making a statement.
Although James shows no regrets about using cocaine, he said he would like to give up the drug as soon as possible. He seems so resolved in this determination that it has become a joke within his circle of friends that every weekend he says, “I’m not going to do coke anymore, certainly not tonight — unless we get some.”
James said a girlfriend would be his best hope for quitting.
“I basically need a girlfriend, where I can be in bed with her at 1 o’clock every morning and not be in that danger zone,” he said.
But finding a steady relationship has proved tumultuous for Steve’s friends who use coke. Steve said the most glaring side effect of the drug on his friends has not been that it hurt them physically, but rather that it has wrecked their relationships.
“[Cocaine] has been one of the main reasons for two breakups that I know of,” Steve said. “Cocaine users — are often not aware that their actions are extremely fluctuating, that their behavior is erratic and wild, and that they tend to take their addiction out on people around them.”
James describes his high as enhancing his senses.
“I feel intellectually sharper, that I can express myself better. Physically, you sort of get radiating waves of, I don’t want to say pleasure, but that’s pretty much what it is,” James said. “You feel cool.”
When his friends sit around together and blow lines, James said, they often get bleary and weepy.
“There’s a lot of hugging going on,” James said. “People will sit around and interject over each other. Everybody wants to say something meaningful about their life. — It’s not like you’re getting high and thinking about picking a fight with somebody. [Cocaine] would make me less likely to go out and be destructive.”
The economics of cocaine can be more cutthroat than with other drugs, James said, and it’s easy to get conned.
“You’re basically left to the mercy of your dealer,” he said. “The prerogative of the cocaine or crack dealer, certainly in my case, is to make money.”
Steigman said a single hit can cost as little as $10, but because one line is so short-acting, most people don’t use only one at a time.
James said that when he first started doing cocaine, his dealers would sell him “crank,” cocaine mixed with other stimulants, because he didn’t know any better.
“Crank is — all about ripping people off,” James said. “[Dealers] get a certain amount of product and cut it up with something else to make it look like [they] have more product than [they] actually do.”
But “pure cocaine” is an oxymoron, James said.
“If someone comes up to you and says, ‘I have pure cocaine,’ you should say, ‘Unless you have a Colombian drug lab with Colombians processing this in your dorm room, you don’t have pure cocaine.'”
James said he can now tell how genuine a sample is tell by tasting the powder and by making sure it is pure white.
Friends of Steve’s have told him that if they had to pay for their cocaine rather than blowing lines from their friends, they could not maintain the habit.
James said the financial burden is a deterrent from using too much.
“I don’t know the kind of people who have the discretionary income to do it to the excess where it becomes a problem with them,” James said.
James said the negative perception associated with cocaine bothers him at times. He said he thinks other Yalies who judge him for using cocaine should take a minute to think about their own behavior.
“I know for a fact there are people at this university that drink themselves so sick they can’t find their way home, [and] wake up in someone else’s bed,” James said. “Anyone has anything to say about this drug should really think about what they’re doing.”
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