By Vanessa Cort
LIKE the ripple effect of a stone dropped in a pond, drug abuse does not only negatively affect the user but also family, friends and society as a whole.
Years ago, while browsing in a local store, I came across a poem on the subject of crack cocaine, written by a Guyanese man who had obviously been a user.
Those lines, some of which have stayed in my mind until now, give a sharp glimpse into the harsh reality of crack abuse. The poem begins:
“My name is cocaine, call me coke for short. I came into this country without a passport…” and goes on to say, “I turn millionaires into paupers…” This line alludes to the ‘craving’ experienced by crack smokers, who often think about nothing more than getting another ‘hit’, spending all their money to get more and more of it, because of the highly addictive nature of the drug.
When the money runs out, some resort to selling their belongings, including household items, jewellery and even their cars and houses, borrowing from friends and family with no plan to pay back and even stealing from those around them.
One man told a tale of ruin. “I retired a successful corporate exec, who had put two daughters through college and earned my retirement. My retirement party was, however, the beginning of five years of hell. That was when I was introduced to crack cocaine for the first time. Over the next five years, I would lose my home, my wife, all of my financial resources, my health and almost my life. I also spent two years in prison.”
However, because crack was intended for use by those who could not afford the more expensive powdered form of cocaine, it found a ‘home’ in the ghettos of the United States and areas around the world where poor folk dwell.
Here ‘crack heads’ or ‘junkies’, as they are usually referred to, take on menial work, which they may not have previously considered, and resort to petty crime and prostitution to support their ‘habit’. The ‘call’ of the drug is so strong that use is difficult to conceal as addicts take regular breaks – every 15-20 minutes – to smoke.
The Addiction Centre in the US observes: “The mental obsession associated with Crack Cocaine can be so severe that many cannot hold a regular conversation.” They also find it virtually impossible to hold a job because of their shortened attention span.
The writer of the poem put it this way:
“I make preachers forget how to preach and teachers forget how to teach.”
What makes the drug so addictive is its ability to force the excessive release of dopamine – the neurotransmitter that helps the brain’s pleasure a reward centres.
So from the first smoke the brain begins ‘rewiring’ itself because the ‘high’ is so pleasurable. However, this is immediately followed by feelings of depression, edginess, paranoia in some and a craving for more.
As someone who has battled abuse of this drug for several years and overcome it, I can attest to its devastating effect and the fact that it is not necessarily immediately addictive, but can become a ‘go to’ and a ‘prop’ for other emotional problems, building dependency over time. It can also lead to suicidal thoughts and has led many to take their own lives.
“The only thing on my mind was crack cocaine,” one smoker confessed, “And if somebody offers you any of it, you’ll jump at it and take it. It’s like offering a starving man a loaf of bread…” Another recalled his despair: “Things came to a head for me when I’d been smoking constantly for a couple of weeks. One day I just decided I’d had enough – I couldn’t live like this anymore. And I tried to commit suicide.”
The health risks are many and varied, from sleep loss and lack of appetite – which weakens the immune system – to heart spasms, convulsions, respiratory failure and organ damage.
People with substance abuse disorders (SUD) are desperately in need of positive interventions from family and friends, in the same way as anyone with a mental health issue. While forcing someone into a rehabilitation programme is not the solution and rarely succeeds, with care and concern one may be encouraged to relinquish the drug of one’s own accord and seek professional help.