When Steve first tried cocaine at his
fraternity he had no idea that the drug would cause him to lose 30
pounds, his girlfriend and a semester of University life.

Janna Hutz
Steve, an LSA senior, talks about his struggles with cocaine addiction and how he fought back to regain his life. (EUGENE ROBERTSON/Daily)

But as he sat with seven buddies, dividing an eight ball, Steve,
an LSA senior who asked that his real name not be used, was
becoming part of a statistic that has seen college cocaine use
double in the past decade. Cocaine use among college students has
gradually increased at a nearly steady rate from 5 to 9.2 percent
from 1995 to 2003, according to a University drug study called
“Monitoring the Future.”

In addition to the upward trend of cocaine use by college
students, on average, young adults between the ages of 21 and 24
have the highest cocaine usage of any age group, said Survey
Research Center Prof. Jerald Bachman, who worked on the
University’s study.

This age group has the highest rate of substance use because of
lifestyle changes that they are faced with. They live away from
their parents, are unmonitored are not married, Bachman said.

“Twenty-one to 24 is the peak age in general for substance
abuse. It goes down after because people’s lifestyles change.
Most importantly, they get married and substance use goes down, and
if they have kids it goes down even more,” Bachman said.

Just as cocaine use across the nation rose overall for college
students, Steve said the increased prevalence of cocaine coincided
with the decrease of ecstasy use on campus.

“It happened that time ’cause the rave scene
stopped. It tapered off in 2000 or early 2001, a lot of people who
I knew did coke had raved,” Steve said.

With the ecstasy-fueled rave scene dying, Steve said he was
looking for another high. He wasn’t interested in heroin or
crack, however. Heroin was a one-way street and crack was a drug he
was never exposed to because of its stigma as a drug for the lower
class. Instead, he turned to cocaine, a substance that is often
connected with the upper class, he said.

To find a new high, he looked to the social network that he was
closest to — brothers in his fraternity.

 

The Cocaine Scene

Steve illustrated how his social life was involved with his
first cocaine experience. “I was in my fraternity house. I
was a freshman. I didn’t want to do it in my dorms, and it
was the easiest place to do it because that is where I
socialized,” Steve said.

Steve’s best friend Trevor, who also requested to remain
anonymous, rationalizes that the Greek system’s involvement
in drugs such as cocaine is not coincidental. With 40,000 students
attending the University, communities like the Greek system make
large universities more intimate, and bring otherwise hard-to-get
drugs and people that would want to use them into one location,
Trevor said.

But Steve denies that his fraternity brothers knew about his
cocaine use in the house. And he pointed out that the Greek system
in general does not sanction such activity.

“No one else knew that we were doing it. Most people in
frats don’t do it, or know their brothers are doing
it,” Steve said.

Jared Stasik, executive vice president of the Interfraternity
Council, echoed Steve by saying there is nothing inherent to the
Greek system or the people in it that encourages cocaine abuse. He
said members of the Greek system are more educated about substance
abuse because of programs set up in the fraternities.

“I think if you’re in the Greek system you’ll
be in a lot more seminars about alcohol and drug abuse than the
average student. Every member of the Greek system has to go to (an
educational) presentation … (that) focuses on alcohol,”
Stasik said.

But despite the education, Steve chose to try cocaine —
but was not initially taken with it. When comparing cocaine to
ecstasy, cocaine fell sadly short. But he continued to snort it
recreationally until the spring of 2003.

 

From Recreation to Addiction—Spring 2003

Things were different that year for Steve, who now lived on
Greenwood Street — notorious for partying — and he was
bored without classes, he said. He increased his party lifestyle
and with it, cocaine use.

“Coke had a unique high that I liked. It allowed me to
stay up all night and talk to anyone I wanted to. We had parties at
my house three nights a week. I was drinking and smoking weed three
times a day, and yeah, maybe I just wanted something
different,” Steve said.

At the height of his cocaine abuse, Steve said he was doing it
four or five times a week. He said he bought $100 of cocaine once
every week and would throw it on the kitchen table for him and his
housemates to share.

“You cut pieces off with a razor blade, crush it up with a
card, then you split it up into lines. Withdrawal sets in 20
minutes after the last line,” Steve said.

Steve said they would do lines all night, often ordering more at
five or six in the morning. The cocaine binge often lasted until 10
or 11 in the morning, when at last Steve would pass out, exhausted
from the night’s escapades.

His best friend Trevor watched as cocaine, once a boredom
buster, became a way of life for Steve.

“There are key warning signs that clue you in to the
ability to tell the difference between recreational use and
addiction. There is a point where they’ve crossed the line,
where they don’t know the difference between recreational use
and being dependant on the substance,” Trevor said.

That spring, Steve was whittling away. In a few short months,
Steve who is 6 feet tall, said his plummeted from 160 to 130
pounds. Steve said it made him sick to his stomach to eat, and
shrunk his body tissue.

“I couldn’t get out of bed if I didn’t do
cocaine first. My addiction to it was greater than my desire to
stop,” Steve said.

But it wasn’t just Steve’s body that was wasting
away with his abuse of cocaine. A domino affect of destruction
spread through Steve’s social circle.

 

Snow freezes over relationships

Steve said he watched as his relationship with his girlfriend
deteriorated. Although he was addicted, Steve said he did not want
to drag his girlfriend into a lifestyle of cocaine use. He stopped
her from experimenting excessively with cocaine, but ended up
isolated from her.

“I was a mess you know, I was a terrible boyfriend. At a
certain point I preferred doing cocaine to hanging out with
her,” Steve said.

Steve added that he hung out more with girls who snorted cocaine
and also cheated on his girlfriend. Eventually, cocaine became one
factor that led him to break up with his girlfriend of more than
nine months.

Trevor was also hit by Steve’s drug problems. He said
during that time their friendship was almost nonexistent.

“It’s difficult when you have someone as close to
you as a brother that you can’t even have a conversation
with, who you’ve lost trust with and whose life you’re
worried about,” Trevor said.

Steve said as his addiction to cocaine increased, he became less
likely to return his parent’s phone calls. Instead he hid
from them behind a cell phone that they could not longer reach him
on.

“He did not have a good relationship with my parents for a
long long time. He didn’t return any of their phone calls.
And he was constantly asking (me) for money,” said Mark, his
twin brother who also attended the University and wished to be left
unnamed.

Steve said he reached an all-time low when, he binged on cocaine
before going to his parents house.

“Once I drove home after having done it all night, I came
home at five in the morning. I woke up to both my parents over me
shaking yelling ‘wake up.’ I guess it took like 20
minutes to wake me up — that was bad, really bad,”
Steve said.

It was that incident — having his parents screaming,
almost not waking up — that jolted Steve back to reality. He
tried to quit cocaine for a month in August, but when school
started back up, so did his cocaine habit. It was then that he
realized he needed drastic help. He withdrew from all of his
classes and he escaped from the University’s party scene and
decided to fight for his life.

 

Rehabilitation…Facing the beast

In the winter semester of 2004, Steve moved back home. He left
his dealers and friends to begin rehabilitation at Pine Crest
Clinic. At the same time, he enrolled at Grand Valley State
University.

At first Steve said he suffered huge mood swings, as he quit
pot, alcohol and cocaine. He said he was always on edge and felt
miserable.

But eventually he began to feel better than he had in years,
Steve said.

“The first month or two after I quit I had huge mood
swings, but six weeks after I stopped doing coke, I quit drinking
and weed and de-toxed for 30 days. I felt a lot better than I had
for four years,” he said. Steve attributed much of win
against cocaine addiction to his family, who he said despite
everything supported him through the ordeal.

“(My parents) definitely weren’t happy, they
didn’t know why I started but they just wanted me to get
better,” Steve said.

After a semester at rehab Steve came back to the University, for
one last semester to finish up what he started. He said he wants
something good to come out of his personal struggle with
cocaine.

“I think it would be helpful if there was a visible
program on campus that students could go to if they needed help
with a substance abuse problem,” Steve said.

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