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Is She Alright, Cocaine?

Before I came to Dartmouth, I had no idea that cocaine could be considered a casual recreational drug. The only people I knew about who had ever done it had either died or ruined their lives due to it. You may be shocked by that assertion, depending on your own experiences in life, and I don’t mean to suggest that what I knew about at eighteen is reflective of what was precisely true. Nevertheless, I first heard that someone I knew was doing cocaine when I was thirteen years old, and a girl in my brother’s grade — eighth — died of an overdose.

My mother picked me up from summer camp and broke the news to me, explaining that my friend had been left on the side of the road to die by her boyfriend after having a bad reaction to the drug. A couple of years later, three kids at my high school including one close friend were expelled for becoming so dependent on coke that they had begun doing it in the school bathrooms. I met a friend at a theater program whose brother’s heart stopped the very first time he tried it, due to a heart condition he didn’t know about. This is all I knew of cocaine at eighteen.

Cocaine line.jpgSo imagine my surprise freshman year to find it was as common as weed at Dartmouth, if not more so — the coke mostly came from New York, so it was never really in short supply. I knew this because a friend had a serious problem with it at the time. Plenty of other friends would partake in a line or two, in upstairs rooms at fraternities or in dorm rooms before going out, to dull that freshman ache of insecurity at a party full of strangers who seem to all know each other yet take no interest in you at all. But for her it was not just for parties; it was to help her finish her papers and study for exams. It was to get a buzz before dinner. It was simply so she could get through the day.

Let me say here that I have absolutely zero interest in talking about anyone and everyone who does cocaine as if they are criminals or addicts or spoiled rich kids or type-A brutes or idiots. Many of them are successful and smart people. Many are my friends. I used to think it was predictable or obvious what kind of people would whip out a vial at a party, but that isn’t true either.

Rather, I want to put into words my gnawing recognition of a precarious potential opened up by the thrilling freeness of the Dartmouth social scene. I have never felt happier than I did during some of those young, thoughtless nights in the basements, screaming along to songs, drinking, forgetting that the world could ever bear any weight on my shoulders at all. For many if not most of us at Dartmouth, those nights were bright moments strung up among countless other instances of joy, the kind that caused no real or lasting harm. Yet for a few, they began to hate the feeling of being sober at all. Becoming lost and numb became their new reality, and the terrifying thing is how easy it was to do.

Cocaine line1.jpgThere are no barriers to actual addiction at Dartmouth other than self-imposed choices (not an addict’s strong suit), because it isn’t difficult to disguise a habit as a hobby if you’re smart (as we all are) and unsupervised (as we all are). We are good at pretending to be manageably out-of-control. What’s more, cocaine is a drug that typically has very different consequences than most other drugs. The addict who was my best friend freshman year maintained a 4.0 at Dartmouth despite her later admission that by the spring she was doing it every 20 minutes. I once had a ‘10 relate to me a story about how his boss at a prestigious investment banking internship gave him a baggie of coke when he asked how people endured the long hours. It is quite often the drug of choice among the successful, and some regular users seem to be downright enviously adept in life.

But therein lies its most sinister appeal. It promises every pro of a recreational drug to the point that its cons can often be overlooked. So many people seem so functional despite obvious dependencies that it is easy to forget that anyone has ever died from snorting a few lines, or that some people have lost everything they had for the sake of the drug; after all, an addiction seems like something that couldn’t possibly happen to an intelligent, self-possessed person like an Ivy Leaguer. What is unnerving is how correct that assertion is for most people, at least for a little while; or perhaps it’s generally correct but doesn’t always apply to everyone; or perhaps it’s a flawed assumption, but it’s difficult to tell because your grades are still so good and no one has commented that you seem to be struggling; or maybe, just maybe it’s flat-out wrong but you’ve gone so deep that you’re even addicted to the ruse itself. It makes you feel powerful to know how many people are fooled into thinking that you’ve got everything figured out, that you are the epitome of success, that with your boundless energy and confidence, you are capable of everything.

If an addiction exists, a Dartmouth student will have every opportunity to cultivate and indulge it. I don’t think a fundamental aspect of the Dartmouth social life is becoming an addict, but it is certainly a common, even fervent, belief among ambitious people that we should never need help. But we all need help somewhere along the way, and sometimes our lives may depend on it. Sometimes.

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