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The thin white line

The thin white line
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First Published: Mon, Sep 13 2010. 10 15 PM IST

Snow patrol: The best way to quit cocaine is to observe complete abstinence, which can be very difficult
Snow patrol: The best way to quit cocaine is to observe complete abstinence, which can be very difficult
Updated: Mon, Sep 13 2010. 10 15 PM IST
It wasn’t like Akaash Jain* didn’t know about the perils of indulging in cocaine. Working with a hedge fund in Hong Kong, he had seen many succumb to the drug. He had seen bankruptcy, divorces, health problems and the general insanity and had pledged never to do it. But when he was offered a line over at a friend’s house he couldn’t refuse. While he just left it at one line that night, he didn’t see the harm in reliving that intense rush of pleasure and energy at other parties.
Very soon Jain was snorting coke every weekend, and because he was so tired, a little bit in the office too. A line or two seemed like the perfect way to begin the evening or deal with a stressful office meeting. Before he knew it, Jain was spending most of his money to sustain his habit. He missed meetings, avoided friends who reprimanded him, broke up with his girlfriend and was speedily losing weight.
Snow patrol: The best way to quit cocaine is to observe complete abstinence, which can be very difficult
But life was great. He had survived the worst of the recession and was one of the lucky few who hadn’t lost their jobs. However, it all came to a grinding halt when he was caught snorting in the office toilet. Jain was given half an hour to pack and leave—no goodbyes and no hefty severance pay.
Jain, who was not a chain smoker, a social drinker at best and hardly the party animal, succumbed to the lure of coke. And he is not alone. In March, a parliamentary report in the UK showed that coke usage in Britain has gone up fivefold among 16- to 56-year-olds. That’s just a reflection of a worldwide trend—from being a drug of the upper crust, cocaine is now a middle-class problem.
Many young executives are falling prey to this drug, blissfully unaware of how slowly but surely it is taking centre stage in their lives. Says Sanjeev Patel, chief counsellor, Living Free Foundation, Mumbai, “At one time, coke was considered the privilege of movie stars or the very rich, but these days because of the economic boom a huge number of executives have started using the drug because they assume they can still be in control and not let the occasional snorting become a habit.” He adds, “But it does take a toll and it doesn’t matter how much or how little substance they may be abusing because sooner or later coke becomes their raison d’etre.”
What’s the big fuss?
Known as snow, charlie, icing, blow, nose candy and Bolivian marching order, coke is considered the caviar of recreational drugs. Users claim and experts concur that while it may be a drug, it hardly feels like one.
It doesn’t give an overwhelming trip, just exhilaration, pleasure and confidence. It doesn’t provide a hallucinatory high, nor does it involve the kind of physically painful withdrawal symptoms drugs such as heroin do. “Because this addiction is more psychological than physical people think coke is not addictive.” says H.K. Chopra, senior consultant, medicine and cardiology, Moolchand Heart Hospital, New Delhi. And the high? The effects of a single line can last anywhere from 5 minutes to half an hour, with the joyous feeling reducing with every line you take. This means more coke, more often, depleting your savings and making your happiness dependent on the rush that you get with the drug. Just 1g of coke can set you back by Rs 3,000-5,000.
The empty chase
“You can never replicate the pleasure you felt with the first line or even the first time you had coke, so an evening on coke is spent chasing that feeling that you will never get again,” says Patel.
Nidhi Walia*, public relations executive, Mumbai, spent three years chasing that feeling. “In those years I spent all my money on coke; I never bought any clothes, ate one meal in a day, and borrowed money to pay for my rent, all the while refusing to accept that it was my habit that was really the problem.” Like Jain, Walia also lost her job because of her unreliable and impulsive behaviour, and inability to stick to timetables. She says, “When you’re on a high, days pass in an instant, you’re either tending to the trip or a massive hangover.”
The psychological effects
But neither Jain nor Walia, when they took the first snort, ever considered that they could get addicted to coke. Bingeing on coke over the weekends is one of the very common ways of doing it but it’s a lifestyle that quickly grows on you. It alters your behaviour very quickly—the highs are very high, the lows are crushingly depressing. It also builds aggression, impulsive, compulsive, suspicious and even criminal behaviour. Dr Chopra explains, “Most people think they can control the habit if they try it just once but that’s seldom the case.”
“Very soon one becomes tolerant and the required dose becomes successively higher; therefore, a lot of time is spent pursuing coke and by then it’s hardly the entertainment drug it’s classified to be,” says Achal Bhagat, senior consultant, psychiatry, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi.
The physical breakdown
Dopamine, one of the chemicals stimulated by coke, is responsible for the feeling of pleasure. In excess, however, it can cause paranoia. All the impulses that are transmitted naturally get disrupted by unnatural chemical reactions (such as excessive dopamine) that distort the thought process.
The most immediate after-effect of coke is exhaustion. People who enjoy the drug talk about extreme exhaustion for two days after a coke binge. Dr Chopra explains that two chemicals naturally produced by the body—ephedrine and norephedrine—are responsible for the worn-out feeling. “When we work out in short spurts, a limited amount of these chemicals is released, which makes us feel rejuvenated; alternatively, if one walks 20km one feels worn out because a lot of these chemicals have been released.” A night on coke then is equivalent to the latter, with cells being stimulated repeatedly to produce massive amounts of ephedrine and norepehdrine that lead to extreme exhaustion.
Over time, the overstimulation of cells leads to cellular damage, building up to heart attacks, respiratory failure, paralysis, strokes, seizures and gastrointestinal problems, ultimately leading to convulsions, even coma.
The cleanse
Patel says that the best way to quit coke is to observe complete abstinence, which can be very difficult. “These days it is available very easily, so the best way to do it is in a controlled environment such as a rehab where we build the patient with a value system, help him learn to respect time, people, money, health and avoid old places, friends and situations.” But most importantly, as Dr Bhagat says, “Like with any other drug, only if you really want to give it up can you give it up.”
Coke is a huge drain on time and resources. We tell you how
Even if you spend three Saturdays each month doing coke, one whole day and night is spent pursuing the drug, with two days needed for recovery. That’s three days each week, thrice a month, which equals nine days. Multiply nine by 12 and the amount of time dedicated only to the usage and recovery is three and a half months in a year. Needless to say, these 108 days have zero productivity—in most cases they are severely counterproductive. In terms of money, 2g of coke costing Rs 5,000 per gram, three Saturdays a month, makes the expenditure every weekend Rs 10,000 only on coke. The money spent each month will be Rs30,000; that’s a staggering Rs 3.6 lakh for a year.
If you can relate to even one of these, then your habit is out of control:
• Changed behaviour pattern – a lot of people can’t relate to you anymore
• Lots of usage of money – you can’t remember the last time you bought a pair of designer jeans yet there’s no bank balance
• Career plummeting – you hate working, are always late, look for excuses to skip office and find difficulty concentrating at work
• Breakdown of relationships – you fight with your parents and people who are close to you. You have started avoiding old friends and made new ones that enjoy the drug like you
• Feeling of righteousness – You thinks the whole world is against you and only you and his friends are right
• Impulsive or erratic behaviour – backing out at the last minute from meetings, infidelity, quitting jobs, taking off on an impromptu drug holidays, getting into violent fights, sleeping in the day and waking up all night
• Physical symptoms – constant cold, hole in the nasal septum, headaches while doing coke (related to high blood pressure), paranoia, palpitations and extreme exhaustion
Narcotics Anonymous, Delhi
Living Free Foundation, Mumbai
Drug Abuse Information, Rehabilitation and Research Centre, Mumbai
http://www.dairrc.com/, 022-22691484
Hope Trust, Hyderabad
Kripa Revival Centre, Bangalore
*Names have been changed
Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Mon, Sep 13 2010. 10 15 PM IST