Ask the (former) crackhead

I’ve been loathe to start this thread, in light of the very personal and embarassing nature of the behavior, but decided to do so in the interest of making a positive contribution to the Dope’s mantra to fight ignorance.

I’ve been cocaine free for about 3 years now, and my time smoking crack (there was basically two intermittent periods) only amounted to a total of about 1 and a half years of my life. I don’t regret any experiences that I’ve endured in my life, but these were bleak times, and I have a very healthy fear of ever returning to such actions again. Cocaine is a disgusting drug, and smoking it is a disgusting behavior*. It’s led me to places I didn’t belong and to do things I shouldn’t have done.

A little background:
I am an (upper) middle class white kid, the product of divorce who was raised until aged 12 by my mother, and from then until aged 18 by my father, when I went to college. I was completely drug and alcohol free until I was 21 (that birthday was the first time I ever got drunk), but ended up on a random drug binge for the next few years (due to lots of psychological baggage that I won’t get into here, although I suppose I’ll answer questions if asked).

This led me to in-patient rehab. At that point, I had tried cocaine (and anything else I could get my hands on), but was basically a pothead battling clinical depression. Unfortunately, though, I was housed with various “hard” drug users, and ended up leaving rehab feeling inadequate in my drug use (crazy, I know). It was at that point, after rehab, that I gravitated to crack cocaine bought from the ghetto.

This persisted for about a year, but stopped when I re-enrolled in school (I had dropped out of law school to enter rehab) and eventually finished law school.

After school, though, I got a job as a legal assistant that paid shitty (I was dealing with admission to the bar, who wanted an explanation for my sabattical from school, and wouldn’t be admitted as a licensed lawyer for another year). Because of that shitty salary, I lived in a real shitty apartment, and ended up hanging out, and getting high, with the crack-smoking couple who lived downstairs.

Fortunately, I moved away after just 6 months, and was able to distance myself from that behavior. The last time I used cocaine was the weekend after my grandmother died, about 3 years ago. I’m now clean and sober**, attend weekly lawyer recovery group meetings (not exactly AA, but based on the same concept), and am back to the workout/nutrition obsession that was the reason I was drug/alcohol free up until I had turned 21.

*I am absolutely sincere when I speak negatively about cocaine use. It is a very compulsive drug that leads to recklessness and self-destruction. I also hope the Mods don’t find this thread to be in violation of rules about drug behavior. Let me be clear that nothing I speak about is current behavior, nor is it intended to encourage imitation, nor is it in any way intended as an endorsement of anything illegal. If, despite such disclaimers, this is viewed as an improper thread, I humbly apologize to the SDMB for submitting it.

**well, as much as a pothead who doesn’t procure pot, but continues to crave it, can be, but that’s another discussion altogether

So…any questions?

Congrats on being drug free and coming forward here to expand horizons.


Where did you get the money for drugs?

When I left law school (and left the rehab clinic) I moved in with my mom and got a job at a bookstore. I used money I made from work to buy drugs. When I was using after I finished lawschool, I also used money from work to buy drugs. FWIW, I never stole money to get drugs.

IME, many people who smoke crack have jobs. Thinking back to rehab, I knew 2 nurses, a couple of guys in construction, and a guy who worked at a furniture store (and delivered pizzas at night). Granted, we were all wasting significant amounts of our income on drugs, but it was our money.

I think it’s a misnomer to assume that crackheads are all homeless or thieves. The truth is more shocking; there are people who hold down jobs, that you interact with daily, who are going to spend their weekends holed up in their apartment getting blitzed.

It’s also worth noting that crack cocaine is significantly cheaper than the powdered form. With ten or twenty bucks, a person could buy a rock. The problem, at least for me, was that as soon as you finished that, you were going to go right back into the neighborhood to buy another rock. It wasn’t unusual for me to end up spending a hundred bucks on a Friday night, all in $20 increments, each time saying to myself “I’ll just go one more time” (eventually, my dealer would stop answering his phone, and I’d have to call it a night).

Congratulations on overcoming!I’m proud of you, and I don’t even know you!

Do you remember your first experience with coke? Do you remember what went through your mind when you “made the decision” to try it the first time? (I put that phrase in quotes because you said you were in a clinical depression and therefore, I am guess it wasn’t a rational decision, per se.)

I don’t have first-hand experience with addiction, but my mom and her two sisters are alcoholics. My mom hasn’t had a drink in two years since her stroke, but she went through rehab more times than I can count - maybe 15?. Her middle sister just came out of rehab and hopefully will remain sober unless my uncle enables. Her youngest sister is an active drunk.

Sorry if that’s a hijack.

Wow. Just wow. This place continues to amaze me. Kudos to you for being drug free and for starting this thread.

My question: does your former drug use continue to have an effect on your physical health?

ETA: one more question I thought of: how do you feel about the issue of legalizing (soft) drugs and about the way the government tries to fight narcotics generally?

Thank you for sharing these experiences, I’m very happy for you that you got out of that mess.

Even though you’re a good writer, this is certainly hard to answer, but here goes: How would you describe the feeling that you need it?

I thought that “pot” was an American slang word for marijuana? Has that changed?

first of all, congratulations on your freedom and I sincerely hope for your continued success.

Did you kind of see things from the outside and wonder what you were getting into along the way? How did that play out?

What gave you hope, ultimately, to break out of the cycle if I may ask?

My first experience with coke was snorting it in college. I was hanging out with a guy who wasn’t your typical college kid - he had moved down to my town after living on the streets of DC doing hard drugs. He knew a guy who we got it from, and while I snorted it, he shot it with a needle into his arm. The experience wasn’t particularly amazing (the high from snorting is much less intense than that of smoking or, presumably, shooting), but the crash was intense. When I came down, I really wanted to get high again. The guy I was with told me he had thrown the rest away (clearly, I am quite naive, or was back then), so while he went to his room (I’m sure to use more), I was digging through the trash to find the rest.

The thought process that precipitated that decision, or my other hard drug experiences, was one of self-loathing. I didn’t like myself, and didn’t think I deserved the good things that happened to me. No matter what I may have acheived (I had a perfect 4.0 GPA through 3 years of college, before starting drugs), I didn’t feel like a success.

So, I was trying to be “successful” at being a drug addict, and I was also trying to destroy the facade of achievement that felt so hollow and fake (a lot of this has to do with my relationship with my parents, especially my dad, growing up. I never really got any attention growing up, no matter how hard I worked to be a perfect son. Absent any positive reinforcement, I eventually gave up and thought I’d get noticed for my self-destruction. In hindsight, living one’s life to prove something to another is a waste of time).

I’m in excellent health. I eat very healthy, and I work out regularly. People who know me now would say I’m in great shape. The things I notice in the gym (i.e. tendinitis in my elbow and wrist) are things I attribute to a) working out to excess in my early twenties and b) reaching my 30s. That is not to say that cocaine use doesn’t impact one’s heart health, but I haven’t been so affected (again, it wasn’t a prolonged period of my life. I do know a former cocaine user who says that one of the reasons he got clean was a heart attack - cocaine is brutal on the heart, and mine would pound to a scary degree while I was getting high)

Drug cravings are an obsessiveness thing. You get this thought in your head that just won’t go away. It’s like when you get a song stuck in your head that you can’t stop humming. No matter what you do to take your mind off of it, it doesn’t go away. Eventually, without the skills or desires to make it go away, you just give in to the thoughts.

At that point, when you make the decision to use (which is probably well before you actually do), your body will seem to physically respond to the cravings as well. Your heart may start to race, your palms may get sweaty…imagine if you’re craving a steak, and then decide to eat one; your mouth may start to water in anticipation, well before you actually eat. At that point, the actions you take (making a phone call, getting some cash, going to the dealer’s location) sort of operates without thought. You’ve already made the decision. Now, it’s just about acting it out.

I’m absolutely in favor of legalizing soft drugs, and of treating drug problems as a medical issue, and not as a criminal issue. I believe there is a strong correlation between mental health issues (such as depression) and drug use (self medication), and I think we ought to be addressing the root issue, not criminalizing the attempts at coping.

You are absolutely correct. I hope I never see cocaine again in my life. Marijuana, however, IMHO, is something different. The problem, though, is that I am not a responsible marijuana smoker, so I make efforts to avoid it (I’m one of those types who would try and be high 24/7, if I could). But when one has good friends who do smoke responsibly, and when one has the occasion to visit them on a rare occassion…

There is no doubt that I was getting into something completely beyond my normal setting; I was definitely an outsider. For one thing, I was a white guy driving into really bad neighborhoods, which were predominantly black, with my window down, smoking a cigarette. Clearly, there is only one reason for somebody like me to be there (well, actually 2. I was either there to buy drugs or I was an undercover cop pretending to buy drugs).

Many dealers (they would come up to your window or jump into your car) treated me like I was the outsider, too. They might sell you wax (since you were going to be speeding away once you bought it, you wouldn’t know until later, when you tried to smoke it) or try and reach in and grab your money before they sold you anything. One guy (who got in my car and told me to driver to a house so he could get some) spent at least five minutes saying "Are you a cop? You better tell me if you’re a cop?"before he would sell to me. I, of course, just wanted to leave; we were both making each other very nervous.

None of this was possible if I didn’t have this self-destructive sense of lack of self-worth. For a long time, I was just sort of listless, just waiting for something severe (i.e. arrest, attack) to break me out of a zombie-like stupor. When I think back on it, it’s a miracle that nothing like that actually happened.

What broke me out of the cycle was getting back in school. I had been a law student with designs on being some big-shot attorney, and now I was living with my mom and making $6/ hour at a bookstore. I felt like a complete failure.

It was my mother (god love her) who said, “you didn’t mess up. You can still go back to school.” First, I enrolled in night classes to get a Masters degree. Then, I went back to law school to finish up. Suddenly, I was regaining confidence and a belief that I could still fulfill my dreams; I had something to live for.

My drug relapse after school I attribute to a self-pity relapse. I had finished up school by taking a huge courseload and raising my grades. But now, once again, I was dealing with my past, only making about $35K a year, and fighting with the Bar to get my license. I drifted back into self-loathing, and allowed myself to indulge that depressive self-hatred. Moving away from that horrible, roach infested apartment to a beachfront condo definitely helped changed that perspective.

Did you have any romantic relationships during the time you were using? How did they play out? If the women weren’t users, did you tell them about your drug use? What was the response?

And this is a great, brave thing you’re doing. I hope it helps open some minds.

Congratulations, Atomick. You’ve got heart!

This may seem like kind of a weirdly off-topic question, but I’ve got my reasons, believe me. What does your workout routine and nutrition regimen consist of? And does it help with the cravings?

How aware was your Mom of what was going on? I imagine it would be hard not to see something like that swift change to 4.0 college student to crackhead, but I can imagine my mom writing it off as stress. If she did know what was going on while it was happening, how did she cope with it?

Before James Frey was revealed as a fraud, did you read A Million Little Pieces? If so, how did it strike you? I.e., did you see right through it, or were there some grains of truth in his portrayal?

At the time I was living with my mom, I was dating an amazing woman (which is rare for me; I’m perpetually single), but it was a very unhealthy relationship, primarily because there was a very big age difference. She didn’t use drugs (well, I think she smoked pot with me once, and she liked to drink), but she didn’t want to compromise her lifestyle for me. So, she’d want to go out to a bar on the weekend, but would get mad that I was drinking (drinking, as it is wont to do, led to a diminishment of impulse control, which led to desires to do coke, which led to tortured excuses about how I had to leave to get gas for my car, but I’d be back and meet up with her later).

Ultimately, I was the one who broke up with her around the time I got clean. I knew I had to break up with her, because I wasn’t the type of guy (at the time) that she deserved, and because I wasn’t going to get clean unless I gave up with going out on the town (I was basically a hermit after that; hell, I’m posting on the Dope at 8:15 on a Saturday night now! Not exactly the clubbing lifestyle for me.)

This is an excellent question (not that the others aren’t, but this is really pertinent to me)! My workout/nutrition regimen is really regimented and predictable (I can basically go grocery shopping blindfolded).

Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri:
(First thing in the morning) 20 minutes on the elliptical

Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday:
(after workout) workout with weights, about 40 minutes


  1. Myoplex meal replacement powder
  2. Chicken, Quinoa, piece of fruit (usually an apple or nectarine)
  3. Chicken, Quinoa, piece of fruit (usually an orange)
  4. Chicken, fruit salad (usually some strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, rasberries), v8, and almonds
  5. Myoplex
  6. Cottage cheese and some fruit (usually some grapes or cherries)

I’m really obsessive with my exercise and nutrition, and that’s not altogether a good thing. While being completely regimented feels good to me, when my schedule is off, it tends to put me in sort of a downward spiral, and its easy for me to give up working out and living on junk food for weeks at a time. I’m not likely to go right to drugs (I’m not even sure where the dealers are in this area), but it does leave me feeling depressed, and depression has (in the past) led to some really bad decisions.

So, I struggle with how to learn to moderate my lifestyle. Being so strict certainly hampers one’s social life, and as I see friends get married and settle down, I struggle to figure out how to find balance in my life. It’s an ongoing process.

At the end of my Junior Year of college, I was a muscular 205 pounds (I wish I knew how to scan old photos, or I’d post one). When I graduated a year later, I was an emaciated 155 pounds. I wasn’t doing crack then, but I wasn’t eating and I was doing lots of recreational drugs.

My parents basically shrugged and figured I was just “going through a phase.” If they had actually paid attention, I suppose I might have felt the needed attention I was seeking, and I wouldn’t have spiraled deeper. As it was, I tried to get better when I started law school. At that point, I would bounce between good health (including the gym) and drugs. Eventually, the drugs and depression won out, which is why I ended up in rehab.

When I got out and moved home, I didn’t get real skinny again. I was eating okay, and many crack users I know aren’t completely emaciated (some are even rather overweight). My mom certainly was concerned that I decided to take a job at a bookstore (she wanted me to get a job at a law office), but kept silent in the interest of being supportive. It wasn’t until I talked to her about “messing up my chance of being a lawyer” that she spoke up and convinced me to return.

As far as my drug use, we’ve never really discussed specifics. When I was using while living with her, I used while in the car, so I wasn’t home for her to find me. I think she likes to believe that my problems ended before I went to the rehab clinic. She knows I had problems, but doesn’t dwell on the past. I’m actually grateful, since she never uses something akin to “well, you used to…” against me. She’s very supportive of me now.

Sorry. I never read it (and I saw it everyday when I worked at the bookstore).

Honest question : What’s it like being high on crack? I’ve never known anyone who’s done it, and I’m far to afraid of harder drugs to try it myself.

Ah, hah hah. Random woo question: are you perchance a Capricorn (an, ahem, friend of mine has a very similar sounding personal narrative)?

So have you ever felt the need, in law school, say, to start up again from stress or need to escape, or is the trigger more like lack of stress and demand-- boredom, abjectness, and self-loathing (if things are miserable they might as well be fantastically, romantically and awesomely miserable-- a fuck-up’s gotta be the best fuck-up he or she can be!)?

The high on crack is like a warm, tingly sensation that permeates the body. During that time, your senses get very enhanced (you tend to get a ringing in your ears, and there’s a sense that you can hear great distances). Your tongue gets numb, too. Your heart races, your body shakes, and (for me) you get very talkative and introspective (I say “for me” because I’ve smoked with other people who just sat there are listened to me babble incessantly).

OTOH, there is intense paranoia, far more pernicious then anything any pot smoker may be familiar with. Noises you hear may make you jump out of your skin, shadows will seem creepy and sinister - I often thought people were sneaking up on me or trying to come after me.

Also, the high from smoking is intense, but brief. Unlike, say, smoking a joint, where you smoke and are then stoned, when you hit a crack pipe you get this intense rush, then…well, you need to hit the crack pipe again. This, more then anything else, is what makes it so disgusting to me.

Cocaine is one of those drugs you’ll do until you’ve done all there is, then you’ll want more. There were times I’d go into the ghetto to buy a rock, then go to the ATM to get more money to get more before I’d even finished smoking the first rock. I’d keep calling the dealer until it was late, he turned off his phone, and I was forced to go home. I’d keep dialing the phone even I was so high I couldn’t really see the numbers anymore (my vision would eventually get blurry).

The next day, I’d feel like a had the flu. My throat, especially, would be absolutely raw, and I’d feel like shit. I was somebody who’d use on the weekends, and I can’t imagine using every day - the next day effects were horrible. Some of this may have had to do with the fact that I smoked it by putting a rock into tobacco ash, which meant I was also smoking unfilitered tobacco, also a harsh punishment for my throat.

I’m a pisces. Year of the Horse.

I’m intrigued by your second question. I am, by nature, a perfectionist who is deathly afraid of fucking up. So, I took no joy in success; it was what I expected. When I decided that I could never be perfect enough to be satisfied, I went through a period of saying, “screw it. I won’t care about anything.” That’s why I went through my senior year of college not working out and getting C’s in school.

When I went into a period of hard drugs, though, it was more of the mindset that you stated when you said, “if things are miserable they might as well be fantastically, romantically and awesomely miserable-- a fuck-up’s gotta be the best fuck-up he or she can be!” I was going to prove to myself I could do something right, even if that thing was fucking up.

Now, I try and recognize my unhealthy thinking patterns for what they are, and remember the wonderful advice I’ve picked up along the way. Progress, not perfection. Live life one day at a time. What you once were is not a guarantee of who you will be. Live in the moment. That sort of thing.

Thank-you for your courage in posting this. I am really learning and wish you success in your sobriety. You have even made me see things in myself.

How did you know where to buy crack? I did a ride along on two crack buys where the person just drove around the projects. Did you know a dealer before you started and stay with the same one, or did you have to find one?

SSG Schwartz