Are your neighbours middle-class cocaine addicts like me It's more likely than you think, as this startling confession reveals
21:47 GMT, 23 May 2012
Cocaine use amongst the middle-classes is more likely than you think
There was no question about where I’d spend the day of the Royal Wedding last April, since my jolliest invitation came from a successful friend throwing a party in a smart garden square in London.
There was a mixed crowd of interesting professionals at the party: film people, entrepreneurs, an interior designer, an architect, media types and an author.
Everyone mingled, and the children dashed about, squealing with pleasure as their parents relaxed and chatted on a long, lazy Bank Holiday.
We were a hard-working, ambitious, social, middle-class crowd — and many of us were also users of cocaine. Not heavy-duty junkies, you understand; we just like to indulge every now and again.
So, that afternoon, we finished our food and relaxed with glasses of ros and champagne in the spring sunshine.
I’m a hopeless lunchtime drinker — it makes me woozy and listless — so I was mightily relieved when the wife of a magazine publisher asked me if I’d like a line of cocaine. I knew it would stop me feeling so lethargic and, I’ll admit, a teeny bit bored.
We strolled, a little excitedly, arm-in-arm to her nearby apartment, where a handful of people were gathered around a coffee table. Several small lines of cocaine, about the length and width of a match, had been chopped out in neat little racks on a back issue of a glossy magazine.
We each took our turn to snort a line through drinking straws cut in half, and the day seemed to take a livelier, happier turn as a result. I felt elated, like I had so much more energy, and was suddenly very talkative.
Well-to-do middle-aged people like those at the party that day are, apparently, part of an epidemic. Studies frequently reveal that the UK has the highest cocaine use in Europe, and one claims that among young people, we have the highest use of the drug in the world.
It’s people like me (married, working in the corporate world — I can’t tell you any more for obvious reasons) that Bernard Hogan-Howe, the head of the Metropolitan Police, was talking about last week when he suggested employers start testing their workers for recreational drug use.
Hogan-Howe suggested employee drug-testing could be a useful efficiency tool for employers, and a weapon in the fight against the UK’s booming drug culture. It seems to be a rite of passage for Metropolitan Police Commissioners to have their ‘crackdown on the middle-class drug user’ moment.
In 2005, for example, Sir Ian Blair, speaking on his first day as Commissioner, declared: ‘We will have to do something about it, make a few examples of some people.’
The only person who appeared to be made an example of that year was the supermodel Kate Moss —allegedly by her junkie boyfriend’s greedy friend selling pictures of her inhaling an unspecified white powder in a music studio. But the police had nothing to do with it, and the charges were later dropped due to lack of evidence.
Kate Moss looking worse for wear after a night out
Since 1999, when Keith Hellawell, the first of the Labour government’s drug tsars, highlighted the issue of middle-class drug use, authority figures have been trying to force it higher up the political agenda. But the truth remains that taking the occasional line of cocaine remains as unremarkable as a glass of wine for many apparently successful members of our community — people who contribute lots of tax and raise money for charity.
It was always a society drug. My generation got a taste for it in nightclubs in our early 20s and never quite quit the habit. Unlike other drugs, cocaine is fairly compatible with the nine-to-five lifestyle. It doesn’t make you out of your mind and high all night. If you don’t overdo it, it won’t affect your sleep patterns. But it will often kill your appetite.
It replicates the high-stress energy of ambitious urban living. Cocaine boosts users’ confidence, meaning that naturally chatty people often become repetitive bores on it, entranced by the sound of their own voices.
That said, taking it is a criminal offence. In 2010, Professor Les Iverson, chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, said the crime committed by cocaine users was as bad as that of crack cocaine addicts.
Even though I use the drug from time to time, I know it is not right to do so. I know it causes cancer, strokes, relationship breakdowns and the trade in it fuels terrorist and criminal organisations.
The only thing it doesn’t cause, in fact, is the arrest of the middle-class people who take it. These people are educated and cosmopolitan. They are the types who can hold forth (for rather too long) on the causal links between the heroin market and terrorism in Afghanistan. They will know the cocaine trade is devastating to rainforest ecosystems.
However, they are often hopelessly deluded about the effect cocaine is having on their body. Take the man who’ll have what is commonly known as ‘a big weekend’, involving cocaine and alcohol on a Saturday, perhaps even starting at lunchtime that day.
On Sunday he might go to the gym or play football, believing this will in some way ameliorate his ‘big weekend’. I call these men ‘the heart attacks in waiting’.
To offset our cocaine use, women will go on a detox, drink masses of fruit juice and slog through Bikram yoga or park workouts with ex-Army personal trainers. This bingeing and purging will clearly take a huge toll on the body’s organs over time.
Then there is the danger of taking cocaine and drinking alcohol at the same time. Yet, among middle-class users, the two go hand-in-hand. In fact, cocaine has replaced cheese as the obvious partner for wine.
A ‘big weekend’ is often followed by a depressing few days known as the come-down.
If I ring one of my female partners-in-crime midweek, for example, she’s likely to tell me she’s been in bed at 8pm for the past three nights and will never take cocaine again. Until the next time.
I started using cocaine in my 20s, and there have been casualties among my extended social circle since then. One man had a heart attack during a particularly heavy drug-taking session, others went on to become full-blown addicts. Some died, others joined Narcotics Anonymous. One was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, while many moved away in search of clean new beginnings.
The lucky ones among the women started having children (I have often heard pregnancy described as ‘nature’s rehab’).
The frightening health effects of cocaine are becoming slowly evident now I am in my late 30s, particularly when I compare my cocaine-taking and my ‘clean’ friends. The clean ones definitely have better skin and general health.
I certainly don’t want to follow in the footsteps of a woman acquaintance who was recently rushed to hospital with what is known as a ‘coke stroke’ — a stroke caused by cocaine use. The drug causes the blood vessels to constrict, raising blood pressure and increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Since 2002, there has been a five-fold increase in the number of women cautioned by police for possession of cocaine, says the Ministry of Justice
Luckily, she survived to tell the tale, but does not even drink any more.
You may think cocaine use is confined to high-flying city dwellers, but you’d be wrong. The countryside is rife with cocaine. In some areas, there is a veritable blizzard of the stuff flying around.
I have friends who fled the city thinking they were escaping temptation, only to find temptation followed them. Last summer, I went to a barbecue in a conservative part of the Home Counties, in Betjeman country. It was all golf clubs and large, expensive mock-Tudor houses constructed in the 20th century.
The female guests were manicured, expensively dressed and hardened drinkers. They had a far stronger head for alcohol than me and I couldn’t keep up. Jokingly, I said to one of them that either I had to go to bed, or I needed a line of cocaine to keep up.
With a few nods and strategic touching of arms, I was immediately ushered into a splendid bathroom and offered a line of cocaine from a glass shelf. ‘Sorry,’ one of them apologised. ‘The cocaine’s rubbish down here compared to London.’
These days I’ve given up making assumptions about who does and doesn’t do cocaine. I have high-powered girlfriends who do it occasionally, perhaps at a wedding. I have wild, Bohemian, anti-establishment friends who think cocaine is for losers. And I have met dull types who keep their homes antiseptically clean, belong to horrible country clubs, insist you put your drink on a coaster and take cocaine every other weekend.
Quite where the police would start with any serious campaign against the middle-class user I’m not sure, since there is no convenient criminal stereotype for them to target. It used to be supermodels and rock stars; now sometimes it feels like everyone’s at it.
Over the years, cocaine has been found in toilet cubicles everywhere from the Houses of Parliament to police stations. Among my crowd, many people have got over cocaine and moved on, having finally come to the conclusion that it’s a rather sad sort of activity. Others, like me, wish we could stop, but find it hard to say ‘no’ after a few glasses of wine. It’s a social habit.
I’ve virtually given up drinking during the week and rarely smoke. I am health-conscious. I’ve said: ‘Right, that’s it — no more’ so many times. But the truth is I’ve got a little habit, and it’s proving much harder to kick than the Silk Cut.
It also has its dark side. I’m not especially promiscuous. Yet on cocaine, occasionally, I’ve ended up having one-night stands that have been degrading and soul-less.
Cocaine can stimulate the libido but it can also kill it. It can make men very sexually aggressive and women vulnerable. Sometimes, even with my husband, things can feel sort of odd and transactional.
I know from my own experience that there is plenty that’s bad about cocaine. My husband and I have some miserable fights when we’re recovering from what he euphemistically calls ‘a late night’.
Perhaps the time has come for us both to stop, before our health or relationship is destroyed by it. Or, if the latest police crackdown gathers pace, one of us gets arrested.
The writer’s name has been changed.