“I blew $30,000 on cocaine”
Published in Cosmopolitan, January 2012. Copyright Rachel Hills 2012.
Cocaine use has once again spiked among young women … but at what cost? Cosmo investigates.
Kate Moss was vilified by the British tabloids for using it. Paris Hilton was arrested and charged for possessing it , and her former bestie Nicole Richie was caught on camera allegedly licking it from a plate. The drug in question? Cocaine. And according to a new study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, a growing number of young Australian women are following in their footsteps.
Since 2007, cocaine use amongst twentysomething women has skyrocketed by more than 60 percent , with one in 20 having used the drug in the past 12 months. The Sydney Morning Herald dubbed it a “national cocaine binge” , concentrated amongst young, childless singles with high disposable incomes. That is to say, us.
So, what gives? Talk to women who use cocaine and they’ll tell you that it makes them feel confident, relaxed and less “messy” than when consuming alcohol or taking pills. “Your senses are heightened, but you’re not out of control,” says Talitha*, 27. Mel*, 29, says cocaine makes her feel “articulate and intelligent. It’s obviously not the reality, which is how you can end up cornering someone and talking nonsense all night, but it can be the antidote to that point in a boozy evening where everything seems blurry and out of control.”
“If you’re a woman in your twenties and you’re feeling a bit insecure, cocaine can seem like the aspirational drug of choice,” suggests Lisa Pryor, author of A Small Book About Drugs: The Debate We Need To Have About Recreational Drugs. Pryor has observed a move away from ecstasy to cocaine, “partly due to the false perception that cocaine is less of a big deal [than other drugs]” – and “Cocaine Kate”, Paris and the rest of the young Hollywood crew have played no small part in that.
“In popular culture, cocaine will often be talked about in the same way something like Botox is. They both tend to be criticised, but the more we criticise them, the more normalised they become,” she says. Gone are the scary, 80s style images of coke addicts with collapsed noses - Kate may have temporarily lost her contracts with H&M, Chanel and Burberry , but she remained fashion’s queen of “cool”.
A DANGEROUS LIAISON
Mandy, 34, is more familiar with the pleasures of white powder than most – she first tried it when she was 27 and was a heavy user for two years. She is also well acquainted with the drug’s dark side. “When I took cocaine I felt like I could take on the world,” she says. “Everything felt amazing.”
But the “amazingness” was only skin deep. While she was using, Mandy tore through the $30,000 she’d saved in order to take a year off work to write her novel. She lost of the respect of her friends, and her health suffered. “At one stage about a year into using heavily, my nose started to bleed a lot,” she recalls. “I shrugged it off, laughing. I was in total self-destruct mode.”
Mandy never wrote a thing in those two years. “But I spent a hell of a lot of time organising my money, organising people to do cocaine with and sorting with my dealer when he had some to sell,” she says. ”Ultimately it made me so very sad, and it took me two years to get happy again.”
Cocaine can feel good because it raises your heart rate and stimulates the nervous system, but those same qualities link it to heart disease and an elevated risk of stroke, says Dr Sharlene Kaye, a research fellow at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre. The brief euphoria associated with its highs can translate into just the opposite when the drug’s effects wear off. It’s not surprising then that regular users are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety disorders.
That it doesn’t make users feel “messy” or “out of it” can also make it difficult to know when to stop. “One of the particular dangers is that the vast majority of people take it while they’re drinking alcohol and it makes you feel much less drunk than you otherwise would,” warns Pryor. “You should never think I’ve had five lines already, so what’s five more?”
Kaye agrees. “Reactions to cocaine aren’t dose related, and they’re not always related to frequency of use. You’re playing Russian roulette – you don’t know if the next dose will be the one.”
A ROYAL RIPOFF
Australia isn’t the first country to observe a spike in cocaine use. In 2009, the UK Home Office reported that the street price for a line of coke was a cheaper than that for a glass of wine. Here, it’s a different story. Coke is hitting our shores in greater quantities not because it’s dirt-cheap, but because we’re prepared pay top dollar for it – around $300 to $350 per gram. “It’s not because it’s a better drug, but because it’s a better business model for organised crime,” says Pryor.
And for all its purported meteoric rise, it’s worth remembering that most young women aren’t using the drug. “If five percent of young women have taken cocaine in the past year, 95 percent haven’t,” reminds Pryor. “It’s still quite a rare thing.”
Regular use remains rarer still – the AIHW study found that only 12.7 percent of twentysomething users consume the drug once a month or more. Or to put it in another way, that’s just one in 167 twentysomething Australia.
“You’re actually in a rare and dangerous category if you’re doing this sort of stuff regularly,” says Pryor. “And you definitely don’t need to take cocaine to be normal in your 20s.”
* Names have been changed.